Clearing stump lands to bring in new settlers
By Kris Leonhardt
By 1909 early timber barons had cleared the vast woodlands surrounding Marshfield. What was once a bustling gold mine of precious wood now lay still and unwanted. All that remained were sawed-off stumps and remains from the crews of working men.
John P. Hume, a city newspaper founder and editor, looked at the area around the growing city and saw more than worthless stump lands. He saw growth and opportunity. Although there would be difficulties in selling this land, Hume had a plan.
An optimist and a philanthropist, Hume was in the land business but not entirely for himself. While the cutover woodlands lay unwanted, eager families longed to settle in new areas of Wisconsin. Without the funds to provide for their needs while also clearing the cutover northern lands, families opted to settle in the southern counties of the state that required much less labor and capital to get started.
In addition, the government at that time encouraged and assisted settlers moving to irrigation lands as well as the dry, windy lands in the west.
Hume created a way to attract these settlers while enlisting an army of soldiers to clear the lands and expose the fertile soil. After organizing the Consolidated Farm Company, Hume acquired machines to clear the stumps from the land, employing a whole new workforce in the woodlands.
The company also provided settlers with the funds to make it through the first year of living while creating their homestead. Money was lent out to purchase stock and equipment as well and was to be repaid with a minimal interest.
As many of these settlers were employed with the company, Hume was guaranteed repayment from those desiring a home in the region. With a legion of foremen, even those families without experience in farming the woodlands could easily make their way through the first years.
By July 1909 Hume’s plan had been operating for a year without one failed agreement. Newspapers around the Midwest, including the Chicago Record-Herald, ran articles acknowledging Hume’s vision and success in bringing settlers to the Marshfield area.
Today, Hume’s name graces Marshfield’s city streets. His original home is a part of the Marshfield Historic District and may be found at 407 W. Park St.