The Town of Waterville, located in the northwest corner of Pepin County, was created by action of the Pepin County Board of Supervisors on March 20, 1860. Originally, the town was six miles east-to-west and four miles north-to-south and included all of Sections 1 through 24 of Township 25 North Range 14 West. Waterville was divided from the Town of Waubeek, which had been created by the Pepin County Board of Supervisors on March 15, 1858, during its very first meeting following the creation of Pepin County. Pepin County had been created less than a month earlier having been severed from Dunn County. The first Town of Waterville elections were held at the house of Willard F. Holbrook, who was subsequently elected to be the town's representative on the Pepin County Board of Supervisors.
At the fourth annual session of the Board of Supervisors of Pepin County held on November 12, 1861, the county board ordered that effective April, 1862, "...all of Township 25 Range 14 and Township 25 Range 13 now included in the Town of Frankfort except Sections 31 and 32 of Township 25 Range 14 be and the same is taken from the Town of Frankfort and annexed to the Town of Waterville for all town purposes."
However, at the county board's January 13, 1862 meeting, Henry Barber, who represented the Town of Frankfort on the county board, offered a resolution to repeal the board's annexation order and to leave it "...to the vote of the people of said Towns of Frankfort and Waterville at the coming Spring Election, to decide whether said portions of Frankfort be set off or not." The board minutes from that meeting did not indicate what action was taken on Barber's resolution. At the next meeting of the county board in May of 1862, the minutes of the January 13 meeting were corrected to show Mr. Barber's resolution was adopted. This correction followed the spring election, which had been held in April, when the voters in Frankfort and Waterville apparently approved the original annexation.
At some point(s) later in time a 2-mile-long (north-to-south) by quarter-mile-wide (east-to-west) sliver of land (the east ¼ of Sections 1 and 12, Town 25 Range 14) was annexed from Waterville to Waubeek along their common east/west border and a 2¼-mile-long (east-to-west) by quarter-mile-wide (north-to-south) sliver (the south ¼ of Sections 19, 20 and 21, Town 25 Range 13 west of the Chippewa River) was annexed from Waubeek to Waterville along their common south/north border.
Waterville is bordered on the north by the Town of Eau Galle (Dunn County), on the west by the Town of Union (Pierce County), on the south by the Town of Frankfort (Pepin County), and on the east by Town of Waubeek (Pepin County) and the Chippewa River.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 36.2 square miles (an estimated 23,168 acres), 35.7 sq. mi. of it is land and .5 sq. mi. of it (1.3%) is water. The primary waterways in the town include: the Chippewa River, which borders approximately 1.75 miles of the southeast corner of the town; the Eau Galle River, which flows through an estimated 2.3 miles of the eastern portion; the Arkansaw Creek, which dissects the town from the northwest corner to its confluence with the Eau Galle River about a mile from the Chippewa; and the Little Arkansaw Creek, which flows through an estimated 4.5 miles beginning in Section 3 in the north central part of the town to its confluence with Arkansaw Creek about a quarter-mile north of the village of Arkansaw. The head-waters of the Porcupine Creek flow through the southwest and south central portion of the town.
In the mid-1800s, when the town was first being settled, the land cover consisted mostly of broad-leafed deciduous forests, mostly sugar maple, basswood, and red, black and white oak. There was a minor amount jack pines, scrub brush, oak trees and barrens on the Dead Lake Prairie in the southeast part of the town. There was also a minor amount of wetlands and swamps, primarily in the floodplains of the Chippewa and Eau Galle Rivers in the eastern part of the town. Today, the land cover is a fairly even mix of wooded and open land, with most of the open land under cultivation.
The town includes the unincorporated community of Arkansaw, a community of an estimated 135 housing units, which are served by a sewage treatment facility operated as the Arkansaw Sanitary District. The earliest settlers were attracted to this spot along the Arkansaw Creek, which is a narrow gorge ideal for building and operating dams for milling grist and lumber. Numerous dams and mills were located along this very short stretch of the creek. The dams were regularly destroyed by floods. None remain today.
The 2000 census reported there were 859 people, 331 households, and 229 families residing in the town. The population density was 24.0/sq.mi. There were 351 housing units at an average density of 9.8/sq.mi. The racial makeup of the town was 99% White, 0.12% Asian, 0.23% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.05% of the population, who have come to the area in recent years.
Of the 331 households, 32.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.9% were married couples living together, 6.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.8% were non-families. 25.7% of all households were made up of householders living alone and 29.3% of households included someone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.17.
The age of the population was spread out with 29.0% under the age of 20, 4% from 20 to 24, 30.8% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 15.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. There were 292 females age 18 and over and 344 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $37,292, and the median income for a family was $41,250. Males had a median income of $27,163 versus $19,861 for females. The per capita income for the town was $15,482. About 7.9% of families and 10.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.2% of those under age 18 and 17.0% of those age 65 or over.
Before the incursion of western Europeans into America, the lands within the Chippewa River Valley, including the Town of Waterville, were located between those lands occupied by the Ojibway and Dakota Indians. Both tribes valued the resources of the fertile river valley. No known permanent native American villages have been discovered, however, artifacts found with the town indicate there were several seasonal/hunting villages located in several areas of the town.
The first European settlers in the town came from England, Ireland, France and Germany. The earliest settlers were attracted by the lumber industry, mostly to the north. Many stopped and settled in the hills of Pepin County, including the Town of Waterville. Most began clearing trees and started farming; however, many had received training in their home countries in carpentry, masonry and other crafts and continued to ply these trades here. An important factor in their employment was the Arkansaw Creek, which provided the water power necessary to operate mills and factories.
According to the “History of Buffalo and Pepin Counties” (published in 1919 by H.C. Cooper, Jr., & Co. of Winona Minn.), there were two areas of early development, one on the Arkansaw Creek and the other on the Dead Lake Prairie on the terrace above the Chippewa River near the Waterville/Frankfort town line. Arkansaw was by far the most prosperous and is the only one remaining today.
Located along a sandstone dell of the Arkansaw Creek 2.5 miles from the Chippewa River, the village’s early history centered around the activities of Willard F. Holbrook, who came to the area in 1854. In 1855, he built a log house with the help of his brother George. In 1856, Willard built a sawmill and began making furniture.
Holbrook hired G.C. Wolcott to plat the village of Arkansaw in 1857. About that same time, H.M. Miles put up a small water-powered roller flour and grist mill. The village began to grow and prosper. The first post office came to the village in 1864.
In 1870, Holbrook formed a partnership with James Pauley of Reed’s Landing, Minnesota, enlarged the sawmill, erected a new furniture factory, built a store, and also began the manufacture of potash and pearlash. At one time, the factory employed as many as 35-40 workers. That same year, Abel Parker put up a sawmill and a hotel, the Cropsy House, was built. In 1871, H.M. Miles opened a store in partnership with Miletus Knight. The next year, Forest H. Hillard and Victor Rounds opened a drug and variety store.
Many new residences were built to accommodate the growing population. For the most part, the residences were built on the terraces and plateau overlooking the creek, while the business section was in the valley.
The prosperity of the village was interrupted by the great flood of 1878, which carried away three dams, all the bridges, the grist mill and many barns and residences. A one-room schoolhouse, which had been built in 1856 (the first teacher was Minnie Kelton), was also destroyed in the flood. This school was temporarily replaced by a log building, until 1883, when H.M. Miles erected a two-roomed building and a graded school was established. In 1911, this building was made into a two-story building with four classrooms. This building was destroyed by fire in 1919 and was replaced in 1920 by a two-story brick building with nine rooms and a gymnasium.
Most of the Town of Waterville by 1900 was served by rural one-room schools, which were all formally referred to by number and disrict within Pepin County. Informally, these schools had names like Forest Vale, Little Arkansaw, Big Arkansaw, Plummer, Big Coulee, Maple Ridge, Marble, Knight and others. These names derived from the general locations of the schools or from a family that might have donated the land upon which the school stood. Many of these schools closed by the 1940s. In the early 1960's, all the remaining rural schools closed their doors and were consolidated into larger districts of Arkansaw, Durand and Plum City.
In 1885, Holbrook erected a steam-driven planing mill to produce lumbermen’s supplies and materials for the manufacture of furniture. He operated this mill until his death in 1887, when it was purchased by S.L. Plummer. Two years later, Plummer organized the Plummer Mercantile Company, which he operated until 1900. That year, the Waterville Co-operative Creamery Company (WCCC) was formed and took over Plummer’s business. In 1917, WCCC built a concrete building and began to manufacture of butter. Butter was made at the creamery until 1955, after which it was used as a milk receiving and shipping station for a plant in Rochester, Minn.
Arkansaw was one of the first communities in the area to have electric lights, using the former Holbrook dam to generate electricity. After the flood of 1907 destroyed the dam, all lines and power rights were sold to Ernie Miles, who operated the dam and electric generating station at Eau Galle.
The Arkansaw Telephone Company incorporated in December, 1907. F.G. Hillard was its first president and E.L. Curtis its first secretary. Before this, a single line served Pepin, Nelson, Durand and Arkansaw and each person who wanted a telephone had to set his own poles. This company served the area until 1958, when it was sold to Nelson Telephone Cooperative in Durand.
The first bridge across the Arkansaw Creek consisted of 12”-15” diameter wood poles flattened on the top-side stretching from bank-to-bank and covered with wood planks held in place with wooden pins. It was washed away in 1878 and replaced with a larger bridge, which also was washed away in a flood and replaced by a wood-framed structure, which ultimately gave way due to faulty design. An iron bridge was built and was also carried away in a flood . It was replaced by another iron structure about 75 feet long and 18-20 feet above the water.
For many years, the Catholic community in and around Arkansaw had to walk or drive oxen or horses for ten-to-fifteen miles to attend religious services in either Eau Galle or Durand. In 1888, Frank Meisner, Steven Seiler and Joe Hutter purchased two separate two-acre parcels of land for a church and a cemetery, located in Big Arkansaw Valley about two miles northwest of the village. During the spring of 1892, the cemetery was started and the first wood-framed church was built and named for St. Joseph. Around 1915, the old wooden church, being inadequate for the growing congregation, was replaced with the brick building still being used today.
In 1868, the Arkansaw Methodist Church was erected at a cost of $2,500. This 30-by-40 foot structure was dedicated as a Methodist Episcopal Church during the summer of 1869. In 1900, the addition of a kitchen, parlor, alcove and hall was made and formally dedicated in December of that year.
The first church building of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints was constructed in Porcupine and dedicated in 1896. It under went renovations and additions in 1912, 1944 and 1954. In 1971, a new church was built in Arkansaw.
Landmarks and Points of Interest
Local landmarks include Arkansaw Creek, Arkansaw Creek Park, Arkansaw Memorial Cemetery, Arkansaw Methodist Church, Big Arkansaw School (historical), Big Coulee School (historical), Burke School (historical), Chippewa River, Dead Lake Prairie, Eau Galle Mound, Eau Galle River, Forestvale School (historical), French Cemetery, Holden Park Campground, Little Arkansaw Creek, Little Arkansaw School (historical), Marble School (historical), Missouri Creek, Plummer School (historical), Round Hill, Round Hill Cemetery, Saint Josephs Cemetery, Saint Josephs Church, Silver Birch Lake, Silver Birch Park, Thompson Slough, Wilcox Lake.