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 floodprone

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


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.

(Sources: Pepin County History, Taylor Publishing Company, 1985; Parish of the Assumption, Anderl,

Rev. Stephen, Weber Publishing Co., 1960. Photos courtesy of Durand Improvement Group)

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