The Mills of Waterford – Site No. 5

1845 Millsite#5 highlited
Mill Site No. 5 highlighted on 1845 Moses Vilas survey map.

After Samuel Chapman and Levi Barnes located the river that was said to have a good fall of water, work immediately began to build the dam to control it. This is the original mill site in Waterford.

Water was harnessed to provide the necessary power to run the first mill – a sawmill. A large water wheel with cups to hold water was connected to a series of wheels and gears to a thick, large tooth, vertical saw, which made it reciprocate up and down, while the log was fed into the saw. Click HERE (link) to see a re-constructed sawmill in operation.

Sawmill at Wisconsin Historical Society’s Wade House, Greenbush, Wis. Photo by R. Gariepy, Sr.

Virgin timber stood in thick forests all around the Waterford area.  Since frame buildings were needed to efficiently build homes and businesses, the sawmill was the natural first choice to harness the water power – and the wood was virtually free.

An early pioneer, Edwin Bottomley, from English Settlement, which is three miles southeast of Waterford, in March, 1843, tells of the available logs in the Fox River: “in Proof of which I can state that theire (sic) are no less than 4000 Logs lying at the Saw Mills of Waterford and Rochester and in the river ready for rafting Down when the Ice Breaks up and the greatest part of these have been cut from government Land.”1

It is not known how long Chapman operated the sawmill.

From the time property tax records started for this Site No. 5 -1863, until 1871, a succession of owners included, James Kehlor, Ole Hedjford, Bronkhorst & Co., and Smith, Parks & Co.

In 1867, Chapman recruited Daniel Thompson of Eagle Lake to move his operation to this site. Chapman was particularly interested in having Thompson’s little steamboat kept on the Fox River for cutting back weeds and taking excursions up to Lake Tichigan.

Letter about river boat and Chapman ca 1868 -wpl00639x
Letter explaining Dan Thompson’s excursion boat, Burlington Historical Society
Steamboat Excursion ad 5-1868 wpl00640x
Dan Thompson’s excursion boat flyer – Burlington Historical Society
Dan Thompson's Yankee Dan boat
Dan Thompson’s “Yankee Dan”excursion boat with old St. Peter’s in the background – Wisconsin Digital Collection

Thompson’s obituary lists the following details of his move to Waterford: “In 1867, he sold his farm and moved to Waterford. The next winter he also moved his boat by means of horses and sleighs to Fox River. The following spring he built his saw mill on the banks of the river. Scarcely had he got settled in his new home, which was not completed, when his wife died after only a short sickness. In 1870 he was again united in marriage to Miss Hattie A. Hutchinson.

“He at once opened up his saw mill and added in connection to this a little retail lumber yard which he conducted for nearly 30 years until failing health obliged him to retire. A few years ago he pulled fo(sic) piece of his first steam boat and built another, which with later improvements and equipment still operated on the river.”2

Dan Thompson-wife ca 1870 -wpl00068l
Dan Thompson and wife Hattie, ca. 1870 -wp1000681

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dan Thompsons- The Daisy-excursion boat
Dan Thompson’s new excursion boat “The Daisy” Wisconsin Digital Collection
Thompson Lumber Yard
Thompson lumber yard just southwest of the sawmill.

Thompson died November 21,1900 from complications of an injury caused by a rolling log breaking his leg at the sawmill. He was several years in recovery, but eventually succumbed to an infection. The land remained in the Thompson name until around 1920.

In 1920, the Huening Bros. owned an ice house on the property. The site became a residence for Frank Huening where he lived for about 40 years.  After that, Clarence Huening became the property owner until at least 1986.3

Frank Huening property1]
Huening Bros. Ice House on the north side of the dam.
Frank Huening property2
Frank Huening home with Waterford Mill in the background.
Huening Park - wpl00838l
Waterford Post Article, June, 1990

Today, a single family residence and a boat launch facility occupy the site.

Dam site3
Looking north from the Waterford Dam.

Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.

NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford.  We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared.  Credit will be given.


  1. Letters of Edwin Bottomley, March 17, 1843 p.41.
  2. Daniel Thompson Obituary, December 20, 1900
  3. Property Tax Records, UW Parkside Archives