Marshfield, July 1922: The explosive Wood County Drainage Feud — Part I
Mill Creek dredging project draws local ire
By Kris Leonhardt
In July 1922 the Mill Creek dredging project was in full swing. The project that pre-empted the great “Wood County Drainage Feud” was designed to drain off standing water in the city while providing an exit for wastewater created by the growing number of factories.
A spring-fed stream located at the intersection of Oak and Arnold was to be opened and scoured as it ran along the city’s west side, down through Wildwood Park, and out into the country.
The project held its share of advocates and opponents. Its greatest opposition came from local farmers, who remained unhappy about the pollution being carried across the city and out to farmlands as well as the taxes levied for the project.
Contention presented itself in mostly verbal form until late July when the sound of an explosion disrupted the city’s calm.
While the initial blast did not bring alarm to city residents — townsfolk had grown accustomed to the sound of dynamite through the entire dredging process — the subsequent fire was enough to grab the attention of those that filled the streets.
As locals made their way to the site of the fire, they discovered that the large dredge machine, owned by a local farmer, had been destroyed.
Upon further investigation, it was determined that dynamite had been used to destroy the costly machine that had been completing the highly disputed project.
Local officials searched for clues to identify the perpetrators in the bombing. Though they were certain it was tied to the dredging project, without much to go on, officials continued to come up empty handed.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months with no arrests made.
City leaders then turned their attention back to the project at hand, and opponents continued their verbal assault on its progression. Summer made its way to autumn, and soon snow began to fall.
Marshfield was aglow with the Christmas spirit as residents prepared for holiday celebrations and welcoming family and friends.
As Wood County Commissioner James Chapman and his wife readied for the holiday season, he was relieved to see 1922 coming to an end. The year had been a rough one for Chapman and his constituents. Between the passing of the county’s Prohibition ordinance and the dredging project, the politician was receiving backlash from bootleggers and farmers alike.
A knock on the door that December, however, would present an unseen danger neither Chapman nor his wife could have ever imagined.
(To be continued next week.)
Kris Leonhardt may be contacted by mail at P.O. Box 51, Marshfield, WI 54449 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.