A single sawmill built near a waterfall in the late 1830s marked the beginning of Chippewa Falls. Lumber drove the city’s growth for the next sixty years. The Chippewa River watershed boasted one of the nation’s largest white pine forests, and newcomers, many of them French Canadians, flocked here to cut timber and work in the mills. The town boomed in the 1860s, when settlers rushing to occupy the treeless Great Plains demanded enormous quantities of lumber. In 1881, lumberman Frederick Weyerhaeuser bought the city’s largest firm, the Chippewa Lumber and Boom Company, on his way toward gaining control of almost all of the valley’s lumber operations and, eventually, most of the logging trade on the upper Mississippi. Weyerhaeuser’s phenomenal success fueled Chippewa Falls’ greatest growth. During the 1880s, the population more than doubled, and the downtown burgeoned with new brick buildings.
All of these 1880s buildings have been severely modified, but second-story windows and roofline cornices hint at their original appearance. Italianate design was especially popular, and the two-story Hoenig Building (c. 1888; 116 N. Bridge Street), boasts round-arched windows with hood moldings and keystones and a dentiled and bracketed metal cornice, all enhancing a hardware and furniture shop.
By 1900, logging had almost completely deforested the Chippewa watershed, and the city’s last sawmill closed in 1911. New industries were recruited, including a beet sugar plant and shoe manufacturers. Consequently, Chippewa Falls thrived in the 1910s, and more buildings went up downtown. The former Northern Hotel (1919; 300–306 N. Bridge), now an apartment building, was designed by Lee Bailey of Chicago in Beaux-Arts classical. Terra-cotta stringcourses divide the five-story brown-brick building into three major segments. Shields and pilasters along the base give way to a plain three-story middle segment. The top floor, home to an Elks lodge for many years, has terra-cotta corner pavilions with Ionic pilasters and ornate temple-style pediments framing its windows. Nearby, the U.S. Post Office (1910; 315 N. Bridge) is a Georgian Revival building whose portal features stone pilasters supporting a Doric frieze and a broken-arched pediment. The white stone quoins, cornice, keystones, and balustrade along the flat roof contrast with red brick walls.
Even after the lumber industry disappeared, the wealth it had generated continued to benefit Chippewa Falls. Lumberman Edward Rutledge, who died in 1911, left one million dollars to establish a charitable trust for the welfare of local residents. To house the trust’s offices, three welfare organizations, and the local Woman’s Club, W. J. Kingsley designed the Edward Rutledge Charity Building (1917; 404 N. Bridge) in a spare expression of classicism. The two-story brick box has simple stone pilasters, an Ionic portico, an entablature, and a balustraded parapet.