Bio: Lewerenz, William (History - b 1854)

Poster: Jenni Lewerenz


Surnames: Lewerenz, Knuth, Borman, Blaas, Bradley, Hurley, Strenge

 “History of Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties”, 1924, pages 562-564

William Lewerenz, one of the most notable pioneers of Lincoln County, who as builder of railroads, schools and highways, was for many years an important factor in its development, and who is now living retired on his farm in Section 9, town of Bradley, was born in Pommern, Germany, March 28, 1854, son of Mr. and Mrs. Karl Lewerenz, the father being a miller and baker by occupation.

In his boyhood William attended school up to the age of nine years, when he had to quit owing to failing eyesight. Between the ages of 13 and 14 he worked in his father’s gristmill, and having learned not only that trade but also that of baker, he followed them until he was 22. He then had to enter the army, serving first one year and three months in the infantry. As he spoke not only his native tongue, but also English and Polish, together with a little Norwegian, his usefulness was recognized; he was made an officer, advanced to the position of lieutenant and drew a good salary. After serving four years and a half in the army he was allowed to return home and resumed his work in the mill and bakery.

He also married his first wife, Minnie Knuth, and had started a resort hotel of 100 rooms, when, after only a year and a half of freedom, he was again called into the army, to serve an additional period of six months. This completely ruined him, as he had to sell his business at a great loss, and to make matters worse, his wife died while he was away and on his return he found himself a widower, with little or no money and nothing but his trade to depend on.

Quite disgusted, he resolved to leave his native land and try his fortunes in America; so in 1882 he crossed the ocean, and after landing in the United States came west to Mauston, Wisconsin, where he found employment at his trade with Ben Borman, with whom he remained until Mr. Borman died. The business was then sold and for a short time Mr. Lewerenz worked for the new proprietor.

About that time he married his second wife, Elizabeth Blaas, who was born in New York in 1851, and whose father, Diebold Blaas, was in the grocery and restaurant business in Mauston. For this father-in-law he went to work, leaving the mill. In the same year (1887) he obtained a contract to haul material for Mauston’s new schoolhouse, for which purpose he had to buy wagons and teams. Thus began a new era of his life, for while in the German army he had learned the art of railroad building, and being now equipped for construction work, he was ready, when he got through with the schoolhouse to take on another and larger contract, which was to built the C. M. & St. P. Railroad from Irma through Tomahawk to Heafford Junction, where it connected with the “Soo”. On taking this contract he established his home in Tomahawk, where his family were among the first arrivals after the founding of that place, and which was his home until 1892, for his work for the St. Paul road covered a period of five years. He cleared the 160 acres for “flowage land”, and during his labors lived in a tent not far from the site of the Tomahawk depot, employing 160 men. Since his new start in life in a new country Mr. Lewerenz had been making some progress, but fortune was now about to deal him another hard blow.

In 1890 he contracted to build the roadbed of the Wisconsin Central Railway from near Marshfield to Greenwood in Clark County. For this work he employed 150 men, but the season proved a very wet one, which so greatly increased the difficulties of construction that he not only lost all he had but found himself $1200 in debt besides. To borrow the language of the ring, he was “down and out”. But Mr. Lewerenz was not the man to stay down long. He could always make a living at his trade, but he wished to pay his debts and get ahead in the world, and so kept his eyes wide open for another opportunity. The next that presented itself launched him on an agricultural career.

In 1891 the government put the water reserve land on the market, with the sale office at Wausau. To that place, therefore, Mr. Lewerenz hurried, finding when he got there an immense throng of 700 to 800 people in line before the office. He showed his patience and determination by standing in the line for 24 hours, by the end of which time it was Saturday night, the office was closed and the people told to go home. By chance he found that a piece of 120 acres on Section 9, Township 35 north, Range 6 east, four and a half miles from Tomahawk, had not been filed on; and on the next day, Sunday, securing the help of some friends, he hastened there and put up a shack of poles and brush. Then he hurried back to Wausau to be the first in line when the office should open again on Monday morning. Two o’clock in the morning found him in place on the office steps, and there he waited until seven until the office was opened and he entered and filed on the land which is his present home. If Mr. Lewerenz hadn’t got up early enough that morning to beat the birds by several hours he would have “got left”, for as he was coming out of the office he passed a man who was entering to file on the same piece of land. This was the 24th of December, 1891, and the next day Mr. Lewerenz celebrated Christmas with a joyful spirit, for he had made a third new start in life, which was to prove more fortunate than the previous ones—he had got onto the land.

There is much talk just now of the hardships the farmer has to endure, but there are many who would be glad to exchange their lot for his. He is the monarch of all he surveys in the broad acres which stretch out in teeming richness from his doorstep. Though once in a while his bank balance may be low, he never has to wonder where the next meal is coming from, for on his own place he can raise far more than he and his family can consume, of meat; grain and vegetables, to say nothing of milk and dairy products, orchard fruits, and the wild berries, which he can have for the picking but for which the city dweller must pay a good price per quart. In getting started on his farm Mr. Lewerenz was aided by the late W. H. Bradley, who gave him enough lumber to build a home of 16x18 feet.

That he put up in the spring of 1892 and immediately moved his family into it. During the first 18 months he had no team, and in bringing supplies from Tomahawk had to follow a trail, there being no road. When he had secured a team he had to grub out a road for it. In the surrounding timber he cut many a cord of jack pine, which he hauled through the woods to Tomahawk, where he was paid $1.25 a cord for it. It was money hardly earned and was not squandered, for every cent was needed for the running expenses of the household before the farm had begun to be profitable. Mr. Lewerenz was also helped again by Mr. Bradley, who gave him a job of foreman in the woods, cutting wood, clearing land and building road beds for his logging railroads. In this work he was engaged for eight years, by the end of which time he had got on his feet again. In the meanwhile he was gradually developing his farm, clearing and improving the land and from time to time putting up new buildings and he now has 120 acres under the plow. He is doing general farming and dairying, keeping registered Holstein-Friesian cattle, with a registered sire at the head of his herd. Formerly for eight and a half years he had a milk route in Tomahawk and did a good business, building it up to large proportions. It would seem that Mr. Lewerenz’s activities, as heretofore related, would have been enough to keep any ordinary man fully employed, but he has crowded much more action into his life. He served as supervisor for the towns of Rock Falls and Bradley, in all 16 years, being chairman 9 years, and so for the latter period being a member of the county board. For nine years also he was secretary of schools, when there were 16 schools in one district under the town system. He built or had to do with the building of every schoolhouse in the towns of Rock Falls, Bradley, Tomahawk, Somo and a part of Harrison. He also built or superintended the building of nearly every main road in the territory above mentioned. He, with Judge Hurley of Wausau, William H. Bradley of Tomahawk and Governor Hoard of Madison held the first “good road meeting” in Milwaukee. Later a public meeting was held at Wausau to discuss the same subject, and for an object lesson Mr. Lewerenz built a short sample of surface road out of Wausau. He also secured the first subscriptions for the first surface road from Tomahawk north to McGuinness corners.

Mr. Lewerenz’s second wife Elizabeth died July 1,1920. She had been the mother of two children: Roy B., born Feb. 25, 1886, and Mada, born Aug. 24, 1887. The birthplace of Roy was Mauston, while Mada was born in the family tent in Tomahawk that has been previously mentioned, and was the first white child born in the infant village. Roy B., who for some time operated the home farm, is now living three miles away on a farm in the town of Bradley. Mada is employed as manager of the normal school at Whitewater, Wis.

Since the death of his second wife Mr. Lewerenz has married Mrs. Ella Strenge, of the town of Bradley, who was born at Elmore, Ohio, Aug. 27, 1871, and who is the widow of Louis Strenge. By whom she had three children, all now living, namely: Elmer, now in the state of Washington; Oscar, residing in Chicago, and Fred, who is on the Lewerenz farm. All things considered, Mr. Lewerenz has been a successful man, and the success has been well deserved because it has been strenuously worked for. His work has been done with the thoroughness characteristic of those of his race, and he has never spared himself when he had a worthy purpose to achieve. During his active career, for he retired from active work in 1917, he made the acquaintance of men of note, all of whom appreciated his sterling qua1ities. He has interests as a bank stockholder and in other directions, and is a member of the German Lutheran Church.


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