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Durand Town


Durand Town Hall is located at N5986 Brunner Road, Durand, WI 54736; phone: 608-317-8695.

Beginnings [1]

The Town of Durand was created at the same time Pepin County was established by an act of the Wisconsin Legislature in February, 1858. It was, however, known at that time as the Town of Bear Creek. The first meeting of the Town of Bear Creek occurred April 7, 1857.

In 1830, the white population in what would be Wisconsin was estimated at 3,000; mostly located around Green Bay and Prairie du Chien. In 1840, white population of Wisconsin Territory (which did include part of eastern Minnesota) was estimated at 13,600; while the Native American population was estimated at 27,000.

By 1836, logging and sawmill operations had begun to open along the Chippewa River Valley. The French Canadians were the first to arrive and came by the hundreds to work in the pinery. Many of them settled along the banks of the Chippewa and its tributaries, and today that French heritage is evident in names like, Supri, Hei, LaPean, Patnode, and Claire.

Within a few years, immigrants from Europe had begun to arrive to work in the pineries of the Chippewa Valley. They came up the Mississippi to Lake Pepin, where the men would travel by keel boat or along a rugged wild path that followed the Chippewa to the mills and logging operations up river.

In 1846, Perry Curtiss settled near Eau Galle and opened the first farm in the area. Over the next few years, Curtiss watched the flow of men traveling between Lake Pepin and Chippewa Falls increase and saw the need for a convenient stopping place somewhere between. It seemed to Curtiss the mouth of the Bear Creek was an ideal location and in 1855 he started a village there called Chippewa. The first school in Pepin County opened in 1857 in Chippewa and was taught by Emma Eide.

Alexander Babatz in 1850 was the first settler at the site of Durand and was soon followed by Charles Billings, Leon Kralewski and Henry Pattison...and of course, Miles Durand Prindle, who arrived in 1856. Prindle and Billings soon laid out a village, which would eventually become the City of Durand. Early immigrants to settle in and around Durand came from a variety of European countries as reflected in their names, Gerber, Nicolai, Burgess, Smith, Weatherbee and Lieffring. In 1857, Prindle, George Ellsworth and W. E. Hayes built a sawmill to supply the needs of the immediate area. The year before Prindle had built a keel boat to carry freight to and from Read's Landing, Durand and Eau Claire. Businesses and houses were built and Durand prospered.

Meanwhile, upriver Perry Curtiss and the settlers who built houses and businesses in Chippewa had been deceived by several low-water seasons and did not at first realize they had developed their village in the flood plain. As many as thirty buildings were located in Chippewa at one time, including a hotel, a post office, several stores, and numerous residences. Most were eventually abandoned. Some buildings, including the hotel, were moved to Durand. In 1858, according to a first hand account, the little flood-prone village of Chippewa still had the ferry and the post office, and "... you can't have another within three miles." Durand, with leadership of A.W. Grippen, appealed to and received approval of the federal government to move the post office to Durand with D. C. Topping to be the new Postmaster.

About 1859, V.W. Dorwin built the first grist mill on this side of the Chippewa four miles upstream from Durand along the Bear Creek. Dorwin and his descendents were among the Town of Durand's leading entrepreneurs during its first half of existence. He made additions and improvements to his mill, which operated well into the 20th century. He also owned and operated a cheese plant and a carding mill.

The Irish Potato Famine of 1846 caused many Irish citizens to immigrate to America. By the early 1850s, many of them had found their way to the Bear Creek Valley. As evidence of just how many Irish Catholics (with names like Harmon, McDonough, Powers, Gleason, Kelly, Kane, Callahan, Egan, Fitspatrick, Conley & Riley) had settled in this area, in 1865 the first Catholic Mission Church in the area was sited in the Bear Creek Valley and named St. Patrick's.

Most immigrants from Germany and Austria came to this area during the 1860s and 70s. Prior to that the only Austrian settler had been Lorenz Schlosser, and only a few Germans with names like Lieffring, Kralewski, and Nussberger. And, the Norwegians came soon after. Among these diverse nationalities, many who came here were Catholic. It apparently was not uncommon during those early years of the church that the gospel during Mass would be read in three different languages, French, German and English.

Durand was formally incorporated into a village by an act of the Legislature in 1871. The Town and Village may have been governed by a single body for some time after that...the Pepin County History has a notation that on April 28, 1887, the town and the village agreed to separate governments.

Construction of the Chippewa Valley and Superior Railroad began in 1882; one local contractor was Miles Prindle. That same year the CV&S was bought out by the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul Railroad. Here's a note that appeared in one of the local newspapers of the time: "... the railroad workers at Bear Creek went on strike. They were paid $1.75 for a ten hour day and contractors cut them back to a nine hour day for $1.57." Despite the strike, the first train arrived in Durand in May of 1882. Trains served Durand for nearly a century, before being finally shut down in 1981.

  1. Town of Durand, Wisconsin with Cedar Corporation, Comprehensive Plan 2009-2029. www.co.pepin.wi.us, accessed December, 2014.
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