Site 10 Merritt's Landing

The Fox River was a main transportation route for Indians for thousands of years, just like other waterways. It became the same for first fur traders and then settlers.  In some locations in Marquette County it was lush with wild rice, a food source for the Indian people.  The river also provided waterfowl, crayfish, turtles, fish, clams and other foods. 

            Fur traders and then settlers chose places along the river to settle for the same reasons the First People had….access to resources and access to the river itself.  Before dredging and canals were built, wetlands and swamps or high banks limited where canoes, then boats and steam ships could dock.   What became known first as Brown’s Landing, then as Merritt’s Landing, was one of those natural points of access from the river to the land.

          The map shows the Fox River from Montello to Endeavor.  Endeavor was first called Brown's Landing, then Merritt's Landing.  The building shown on the map was the Endeavor Academy, a very well-known school that is now closed.   The founding of the academy dates to 1890 in a tent in the woods.  A “massive brick house” which still stands in Endeavor, photo below, was the first building for the academy.  Named Logan Hall, it became the girl’s dormitory when Cheney Hall was built on top of the great hill in the small town in 1903.  Merritt’s Landing changed its name to Endeavor because of the well known academy.

            Once a highly regarded and University accredited school with students from all over the Midwest, enrollment dropped after WWI and the academy closed in 1925.  The building, which is now empty and sits on the top of Academy Hill, was then used as the Endeavor High School until that closed. 

          Below is a view from the top of Academy Hill. 

Most of Marquette County bedrock is sandstone with a few areas of dolomite with some limestone, but there are, as Gwen Schultz in Wisconsin’s Foundations calls them, “peepholes” of Pre-Cambrian rocks that were once molten and flowing.  The areas in Marquette County that have these “peepholes” include the Granite outcropping in Montello, the rhyolite Observatory Hill, and three outcrops of rhyolite by Endeavor, including Academy Hill.  All of these high points were important to the First People probably as far back as Paleo-Indians over 10,000 years ago. 

          The two maps below from the Charles Brown collection at the Wisconsin Historic Society tells many stories about Merritt's Landing or Endeavor as we know it today.  The most significant is the story of the first people who lived along the Fox River long before settlers cam here.  The sketch shows a rendering of the locations of mounds, both conical and effigy that were built by the Woodland Indians about 500 BC to 1000 AD.  Some mounds were ceremonial and others contained burials.  Almost all have been destroyed by treasure hunters, roads and railroad beds and farming.  There were once hundreds of mounds around Buffalo Lake alone.  Endeavor is located in the township of Moundville which was given its name because of all the Indian mounds throughout the town.

The second story this map tells is about the rich hunting and fishing tourist site Endeavor became as early as the 1860s and 1870s.  It grew in popularity after the coming of the railroad in 1876. The map was drawn on stationary from the Park Hotel in Endeavor.  The header includes a list of fish and game available around Endeavor to the sportsman.

Remember, the locations represented on these maps are mostly all changed or gone.  While you may drive the roads near these locations, it is never ok to trespass!     

Indian mounds and graves were destroyed by settlement.  John Muir wrote of Indian graves,

 “we ploughed them down, turning the old bones they covered into corn and wheat.”

Close by the location of this sign was a landing for river traffic.  Ships and barges operated soon after the Muirs moved to Marquette County.   The Muirs obtained the lumber for their barn at Hickory Hill from Endeavor.  It came from the northern pine forests, shipped down the Wisconsin River.  In 1856 when the Muirs started their second farm, Hickory Hill, there was no government built canal and locks on the Fox at Portage but there was a hand dug canal between the Wisconsin and the Fox.  The Aquila steamship travelled from the Wisconsin to the Fox in this canal but it was a very difficult trip.  We don’t know if the lumber came on a ship or barge from the Wisconsin to Merritt’s Landing or it may have come part way on the Pinery Road that went from Portage in Columbia County to the pine forests in Northern Wisconsin and skirted Oxford in Marquette County.  Below is a steamboat that regularly ran between Portage and Berlin on the Fox.

 

Plans for making the Fox River more navigable for its access From Green Bay all the way to the  Wisconsin River, leading then to the Gulf of Mexico, began as early as 1832.  The major challenges were the rapids at the lower end between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay, the shallow, bending river on the upper end, and the portage between the Upper Fox and Fort Winnebago/Portage.   Just a reminder that the Fox River flows north with its source just north of Pardeeville and ending at Green Bay. 

          This chart comes from the book Steamboats on the Fox River by D.C. Mitchell.  It shows the fall of the river and the vast difference from the upper Fox and the lower Fox. 

The Winnebago was a steamboat that regularly ran from Portage and down the Fox.  Above, it is as it looked in its heyday.  It was eventually sold to the Army Corps of Engineers and was fitted out as a dredge, below.

    By 1858, there were 53 different commodities being shipped along the river.  Logs, boards and planks were of the greatest number.  Other building products being shipped were sandstone, lime, gravel, and bricks.  Agricultural products also began being shipped including butter, wool, wheat, oats, bran and fruits as well as some manufactured goods like flour, furniture, and ironware.

The most commerce on the Fox River took place in the 1860s and 1870s.  By 1862, though, the railroads were beginning to compete with river commerce.  There were 13 steamboats that ran regularly between Portage and other points on the Fox. Some were just passenger ships and correspondence from the Perkins family in Montello regularly mentions taking the steamship to Packwaukee and back.  Sometimes it was on a cargo ship, other times, a passenger ship.

Despite the railroad competition, shipping on the Fox remained steady, if diminished, because of a rise in rail freight weights, increased need for shipping when the Panama Canal opened, increased production of wheat and other agricultural goods, and WWI which choked transportation on rail with wartime commerce.

By 1922, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that navigation on the Upper Fox was no longer economical.  Dredging stopped in 1937.  Recreational use continued, but by 1951 the Corps closed the Upper Fox to navigation between Portage and Eureka. 

Above shows Montello 4th grade students picking up litter at Merritt's Landin in spring of 2014.  Waterways always find their own course and it didn't take long after dredging stopped for the Upper Fox River to continue its lazy and curving ways.  Wild rice has returned to parts of the river, American Lotus has once again taken root, and invasive Canary Grass also has begun to take over parts of the wetlands and shorelines. 

“No flower was hailed with greater  wonder and admiration by the European settlers ...than this white water-lily.  It is a magnificent plant, queen of the inland waters, pure white...the most beautiful, sumptuous, and deliciously fragrant of all our Wisconsin flowers.  No lily garden in civilization we had ever seen could compare with our lake garden.”                                                          John Muir

Don't get confused between lotus and water lilies (Nymphaea odorata).  Nymphaea odorata is shown above. The lotus, shown below, stands high above the water on a long stem and opens wide.  The lily lies flat on the water.  There is another lily, though, the Nuphar lutea, that is yellow, stands above the water, but does not open wide into a multi-petaled flower.

About the lotus, the DNR says:        

This beautiful wetland plant can be found in wetlands throughout the Midwest and eastern United States. Look for its large yellow flower and 18" umbrella-like leaf to be growing in still, freshwater wetlands, standing up to 10 inches above the water's surface. The yellow flower head measures about 7 inches across, with a hard seed pod center that looks like a huge salt-shaker.

The lotus brightens wetlands with its bloom from June until September. When the flower is done blooming, the petals and leaves fall away, leaving just the "salt-shaker" standing above the water's surface fading to brown. If you look inside, you'll find it filled with hardy seeds that can still grow centuries from now. Sometimes you'll find these unique seed pods used in dried flower arrangements.

          The first Railroad through Marquette County ran through Endeavor. It was built in 1876.  In this photo, the small tool building on the left side of the tracks is now located in Westfield at the Marquette County Historical Society.  It's a stop on the John Muir Nature and History Route so you'll be able to see it when you visit there.  Until the 51/39 Interstate was built, Highway 51 also ran through Endeavor.  This community is one of hundreds of examples of how the closing first of a railroad and then the routing of traffic around villages can effect small downtowns.  Despite this, Endeavor is a thriving place with a new Village Hall, library and senior citizen meeting place.  A large Broilerfest every August pulls in hundreds of visitors and citizens work together on a number of community projects. 

More of interest in Endeavor includes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  All the communities in Marquette County have Veterans Memorials and you can find these locations on the link below.  The history of Veterans living in Marquette County goes back to the Revolutionary War when some Veterans of that war moved here.  There are also Veterans of the War of 1812 and many from the Civil War as well as more recent conflicts. 

          Endeavor has a rich and varied history.  Three stories of note are the building of the migrant school and Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Endeavor, located here because of the muck farms, another fascinating story.  And yet another is Dairyland Poultry, a business that was an integral part of the history of grilling chicken outdoors on grills!  These and other agriculture and food stories can be found in Recipe for the Community: how the growing, harvesting, processing and serving of food built community in Marquette County, Wisconsin.  It is available at the Marquette County Historical Society in Westfield, and in Montello at the office of the Marquette County Tribune, B&B Candy Store, Montello Historic Preservation Society and Reader's Realm Bookstore.  All sales go to the Marquette County Historical Society.