Marshfield, November 1918: Losing a village namesake
By Kris Leonhardt
In mid-November 1918, World War I had come to an end. Many in the country anticipated their loved ones coming home as well as the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. For the Marshfield area community, the celebration was less jubilant upon hearing of the death of local lumberman Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) McMillan.
Born in Fort Covington, New York, in October 1845, B.F. was one of 12 children belonging to David (D.S.) and Harriet McMillan.
D.S. would later bring his family to the vast woods of Portage County, where he began a lumber business.
When D.S. opened a lumberyard in Iowa, he turned management of the Portage County business over to his son B.F. When his father later retired, B.F. took over ownership.
In 1873 B.F. and his brother Charles came to Marathon County and the woods north of Marshfield. There they built a saw mill and began churning out lumber made from the tremendous amounts of pine and hardwood available.
As their lumber industry blossomed, a village was incorporated just west of what is now County Highway E on the Little Eau Pleine River. B.F. became the first postmaster of the village named McMillan.
The population shortly after McMillan’s incorporation was larger than that of the city of Marshfield.
B.F. and Charles hauled their timber to the Wisconsin Central depot at Mann, north of Marshfield. In time the brothers petitioned the Wisconsin Central Railroad to build a line from Mann to the growing village of McMillan.
When the railroad rejected the plan, B.F. and Charles built their own line. The railroad became one of the first steam-driven lines in the state and was later purchased by the Wisconsin Central.
Soon the McMillan brothers’ interest fell on a furniture company in Fond du Lac. Charles moved to Fond du Lac to run the new business branch, and B.F. stayed in the McMillan area to continue running the mill.
B.F. flourished in the community as he obtained interest in a Mosinee sulphite mill and became president of Marshfield’s First National Bank.
At the age 73, McMillan fell seriously ill with pneumonia. After weeks of suffering, B.F. succumbed just a day after the ending of World War I.
Services for McMillan were held at St. Alban’s Church in Marshfield. He was laid to rest near his parents and one sister in Forest Cemetery in Stevens Point.