TOWN OF CLIFTON -- Early settlers in the Stillwater area began exploring Clifton Township as early as the 1820s, but permanent settlement didn’t happen until later.
Charles W. Cox arrived in 1849 to Clifton Hollow, finding the spot favorable for building a dam to provide water power for a mill on the Kinnickinnick. At first, Cox and his family made use of a local cave as a dwelling until he could build a sawmill and make enough lumber to build a house. For safety, the children were kept in a large dry goods box until a house and yard could be made to provide a safer place for children to play.
Here, the village of Clifton Mills was established. A post office was organized in 1852 with C.B. Cox as postmaster with mail usually arriving once a week.
By 1853, a blacksmith shop was in operation run by Mr. Geckemose and Mr. Heibler. They had a most unusual method of shoeing oxen: a large sling was put under the ox and drawn up and fastened, keeping the animal suspended in midair. This allowed easy access to all four pairs of hooves. Luther Clark used this same shop after Mr. Heibler moved to Prescott.
The village itself never grew to more than a few houses as the valley was so narrow. Oxen were in use but wagons were homemade.
In order to get logs to the sawmill, a two-wheeled cart was built with wheels 10 feet high. The wheels ran on ungreased wooden axles and the logs were slung under the axle at one end with the bulk of the log dragging on the ground. The carts screeched terribly, which became a local joke; the noise was known as "Bill Ricky's band."
A gristmill was also erected at Clifton by Cox by 1850. Farmers came from as far away as Cannon Falls, Minn., to get their grain made into flour. Cox's mill was the first in Pierce County.
Manning ran a boarding house as a trip to the mill was most often a two- or three-day trip.
A cooper shop was built next to the mill in 1853, making barrels for the mill to use to transport the flour. A lime kiln was also in operation by Mr. McDonald and the barrels were also used to ship out lime.
Nick Kohl took over running the mill at Clifton Mills when C. B. Cox relocated upriver by 1853 and started the first mill in River Falls (Prairie Mill).
There was an influx of immigrants in 1853-1854. These new settlers usually stayed in Clifton Hollow until they could build homes on their land. By 1860, John McDonald had built The McDonald House, which provided food and lodging to visitors to Clifton Mills. About this time is when mail began arriving three times a week by stagecoach.
A school was established and the community was served by traveling ministers using the school building for services. In 1858, church services were to be held in the McDonald House basement, usually by Methodist preachers. In 1865, a small church was built along the Prescott road near the top of Clifton Hill.
During the winter of 1869-1870, a debating society was organized and 1876 saw the organization of a Good Templar Lodge, both meeting at the schoolhouse. Periodic floods would wash out the dam and cause a need for it to be rebuilt.
The use of the Kinnickinnic for milling at Clifton came to an end in 1898 when a cloud-burst sent a flood of water like none before, sweeping away everything. Even the cave walls were washed away, collapsing the banks. No other village ever formed.
A large concrete dam was built around 1905 to produce electricity for the cities of Prescott and Hudson. Water power continued to be used from Clifton Mills as late as 1913, but then again a flood caused considerable damage to the dam, and it was soon abandoned.
The land in Clifton includes some of the best farmland in Pierce County, what came to be called the Mann Valley. The Mann brothers were early settlers.
Some of the early settlers besides C.B. Cox and the Mann brothers were David and George Rissue, James Wilkinson by 1850; Steven Chesebro, Luther Clark, the Carl family, Amanda Wells by 1854; Henry Bascom, Joseph Heibler, Magdalene Steiner by 1855; B. Eaton, J. Chinnock, S. P. Clark, J. A. Copley, F. Eckstein, G. A. Fillbach, D. Comstock, W. L. Goodwin, E. Harnsberger, T. M. Manion, J. Mann, F.A. Marshall, C. H. Moyee, A. H. Youngren, D. Bailey, O.T. Maxon, E. Harnsberger, and Julius E. Zell.
If you have an ancestor who settled in Clifton Township by 1880, the Pierce County Historical Association needs your help. We are looking for information and photos for a summer 2017 exhibit on Pioneers in Pierce County. Photos can be copied and your original returned. PCHA P.O. Box 148 Ellsworth, WI 54011, or phone 715-273-0118 and leave your contact info.