The life of Judge Charles Webb
By Kris Leonhardt
The early weeks of August 1911 had drifted by, and excitement was slowly building in Marshfield. With the fair just weeks away, the entry clerk’s office had opened at Ebbe’s store on Fourth Street. While residents awoke to news of the latest scheduled celebrity fair appearances, they were greeted with the sad news of a local celebrity’s death.
Charles Morton Webb was born of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. The fifth child of a Pennsylvania merchant and politician, Webb left school at the age of 12 to work in a print shop when his father died at a young age.
At 16 Webb entered West Point military academy, where he studied for a year and a half before leaving for Washington D.C. Working at a print shop in the busy government town increased Webb’s fascination with legal and political affairs, and he soon returned to his home state to explore studies in the legal field.
Upon passing the bar, Webb came to Wisconsin and began practicing law. When he arrived in Wisconsin Rapids with his young bride, he had but one piece of silver to his name.
With just one other practicing lawyer in the city of 800, it was not long before Webb had made a name for himself. Webb’s personality and lifestyle appealed to the immigrants pioneering the state, and his popularity soared throughout the area.
Though coming to Wisconsin young and with little professional experience, Webb built a successful law business while raising three daughters. He served in the state Senate and served as the district attorney as well. Also, Webb willingly volunteered during the Civil War, serving as an officer with the Union.
In 1883 Webb was appointed to the vacant bench of the Seventh Circuit Court, which included Wood County at the time. He was subsequently re-elected to serve a total of 28 years in that position, longer than any circuit judge of that time.
Twice Webb was appointed to the State Supreme Court, a position he declined both times, opting to stay in the central Wisconsin area that he had grown to love.
Now in his 70s, the prominent, self-made man had begun to grapple with poor health and the community that loved him watched as he slowly declined.
As news of his death made its way to Marshfield, residents recalled the judge’s ethical and fair practices. Though well to do, Webb had stressed the importance of physical work as well as mental and worked as hard at home as he did while wearing his robe.
The Honorable Charles M. Webb was laid to rest that August in Forest Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids.