Mitchell’s purchase formed development of Stevens Point
By Gene Kemmeter
The first piece of property acquired on a land grant in Portage County was downtown Stevens Point and included the landmarks Mathias Mitchell Public Square and the point along the Wisconsin River known as George Stevens’ point because he reportedly built or owned a warehouse there.
The property consisted of 37.04 acres of Government Lot No. 1, Section 32, Town 24 North, Range 8 East even though a government lot traditionally contained 40 acres. However, when the property borders water, its boundaries are irregular and may contain more or less than 40 acres.
The land ran east from the Wisconsin River almost to Third Street. Its southern boundary was just below Main Street, and on the north it ran nearly to Franklin Street.
Andrew Mullarky, a native of Ireland, made an entry on the property on Sept. 10, 1844, at the U.S. Land Office in Mineral Point. He was issued the patent for the land on April 10, 1848.
In addition to Lot No. 1, the land entries to Lots No. 2 and 3 were filed Nov. 26, 1844. Mullarky and Charles Maddy filed claim to Lot 2, just south of Mullarky’s original property. William H. Johnson filed the claim to Lot 3, which was farther south, an area that includes the site of the Stevens Point Dam at Pixelle Specialty Solutions mill.
Johnson’s claim to Lot 3 triggered some animosity. Abraham Brawley, another pioneer, had built a log cabin and intended to build a sawmill on the site after registering a claim for the property once the government began offering the land for sale. However, Johnson got to the land office first, but he and Brawley worked out an amicable agreement about the mill and the house.
Brawley, a former member of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, then got the Legislature to authorize him to construct a dam across the Wisconsin River at Stevens Point in 1845.
Moses M. Strong, a well-known Mineral Point lawyer and land speculator, filed the first two land claims on the west side of the Wisconsin River in Stevens Point,.He filed entries on the government lot at the west end of the Clark Street bridge on March 18, 1845, and on the lot south of it, at the west end of the present Stevens Point dam on Nov. 11, 1845.
By the time Mullarky and then Mullarky and Maddy together received their patents, they had already sold their properties to Mathias Mitchell, which, technically speaking, was illegal. But it was a common practice in those days, one of many rules honored more than in strict observance of the laws, because of the long delays in receiving the patents for the land grants.
Mitchell purchased Lot 1 for $200 and Lot 2 for $150 on Jan. 1, 1845, according to records in the Portage County Register of Deeds Office.He borrowed $700 from James M. Campbell to develop that property in 1846.
A year later, he filed a plat for development in the downtown Stevens Point area, including a 1.5-acre segment as a public square, an area common in New England states. In 1851 he filed a revised plat, making minor changes to the original document.
Mullarky continued speculating in land, moving to Iowa in the 1850s and purchasing land. The 1860 U.S. Census shows he was farming in Cedar Falls in Black Hawk County, Iowa, with real estate valued at $90,000 and personal estate valued at $15,000. He died in 1863 and is buried in Cedar Falls.
Maddy continued to live in the Stevens Point area and is recorded in the 1855 Wisconsin State Census, but no other references were found about him.
Johnson, who initially owned Lot 3, died in 1848. He became involved in financing with Moses Strong, the Mineral Point attorney who owned the property on the west side, and Strong wound up acquiring the property in 1847. Strong never lived in Stevens Point, but he spent time here because of his financial involvement in land and sawmills.
And what about Mathias Mitchell, who gave Stevens Point its historic Public Square that now bears his name. He has become a mystery man.
Tim Siebert, president of the Portage County Historical Society, told a statewide television audience on Oct. 25, 2021, that the city really doesn’t know anything about Mathias Mitchell, other than he donated the Public Square to the city in 1847 and submitted the first plat for settlement of the future city that became Stevens Point.
Speaking in the premiere broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television of the history program “Wisconsin Hometown Stories: Stevens Point,” Siebert said, “We really don’t know anything about him,” he said.
More than 175 years after the Public Square was deeded to Stevens Point for use by the public, the tradition of a farmers market continues at the location in the downtown.
Area residents still go there daily during the warmer months to purchase flowers, fresh produce and other farm products. The square can be a beehive of activity, especially on Saturdays, as residents arrive to purchase freshly picked produce and other items.
While younger people may associate the Square more with the number of taverns that ring its boundaries, the area got its start as a gathering place for the public.
The area was certainly a gathering space for the early pioneers. The point that jutted into the Wisconsin River from the west end of Main Street signaled a resting place for weary travelers paddling their way north to Big Bull Falls (now Wausau) and points north. Or those returning to civilization in the southern parts of the state.
The earliest pioneers in Stevens Point may have settled there, such as Mullarky, Maddy, Brawley, the Shaurette family, a man with the last name of Allen, Mitchell and others. They may initially have been squatters because the land wasn’t open to development until after the survey of the area was completed by Joshua Hathaway in 1839-40.
Those pioneers may have used Stevens’ warehouse, or built a cabin nearby. Brawley built a cabin at Shaurette Rapids, near the present location of the Stevens Point dam, and his family lived in it for several months. His agreement with Johnson allowed the family to continue to live there for a few years before they moved elsewhere.
And Mitchell now owned Lots 1 and 2 and he would build a home for his family and continue to reside in the area.
More about Mitchell in Part II