Black River Stop

About 35 miles north-northeast of Onalaska, Wisconsin (“as the crow flies”) where Emil Borreson made his entry in the world in 1872, the town of Black River Falls is situated along the Black River. This river was one of four pouring white pine into the Mississippi in the 1800s as lumbering boomed across almost the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin. By 1870 Wisconsin had become fourth among lumbering states.

In late spring of 1875, Emil’s future father-in-law Bertinus Estensen, unmarried at the time, would reach Black River Falls. The ship on which he crossed the Atlantic from Norway had a contract to sail dated April 15, 1875. In the company of his parents, a brother, and step-brother, he reached Philadelphia in May, then went on to Black River Falls (Homestead, 3). I wonder if Bertinus and company witnessed the Black River filled with white pine on its way to sawmills in Onalaska and La Crosse. (Here’s a photo of the Black River at Hwy 53 north of La Crosse that would been seen that log traffic; you’d never guess it today.)

Black River north of La Crosse, WI

These log-filled rivers could be awe-inspiring – and even terrifying if the loggers lost control. North of Holmen, the two channels of the Black River still flow through the McGilvray Bottoms. A long-time resident of that area wrote in the 1800s,”In the log booming days I have known the [Black] river to be jammed solid for thirty-six miles. A logjam could be twenty logs deep. When the log that formed the key to the jam was moved, the entire jam moved in one body and would take everything in its path” (The Historic McGilvray Bridges…, p. 9).

But Black River Falls was just a pause for the Estensens. Next stop: Pigeon Falls – we’re getting closer.

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