By Kris Leonhardt
MARCH RAPIDS – In the mid-1870s, J.B. and B.D. Holmes started a sawmill operation using the Big Eau Pleine River to operate its water wheel. Quickly the small village of Hope grew up around it.
The mill was later purchased by T.H. March who platted out a town called March. March converted the saw mill to steam operation and added a planer and shingle machine. He also built a stave mill and drying sheds in the growing village.
March continued to grow. In its prime it was home to approximately 40 buildings, which included several stores; a shoe, harness, and coffin shop; post office; dance hall; churches; hotel; saloons; and a two-room schoolhouse.
The village affectionately became known as March Rapids.
The mill was sold one more time before it closed in the 1920s. With the railroad bypassing the village, March Rapids was destined for desolation. Today, little of the thriving village remains, with the exception of a still active parish.
Remaining in March Rapids is the Emmanuel Lutheran parish, who recently removed a church that once served as a landmark structure for a once thriving village.
“Our parish was organized on Christmas Eve 1899 in the former village of March – later March Rapids,” said Pastor Philip Wilde, who has been pastor there since Nov. 15. “Worship services were conducted in German until the 1920s. When the lumber industry left, there were enough farm families to continue the congregation. We shared a pastor with St. Peter Lutheran Church in the town of McMillan until 1997.
“The original church building was constructed on land and with materials donated by the Doud and Sons Lumber Company. The church was on the west side of (County) Highway P, at the southeast corner of the lot, with the cemetery behind.
“In 1927, the building was moved across the highway by a team of horses driven by 18-year-old LaVern ‘Preacher’ Treankler. The new site included a walk-out basement. The front steps were enclosed in the 1960s; classrooms and modern kitchen and restrooms were added in the 1970s.
“By the 2000s it was apparent that the building had reached the end of its useful life. Handicap access would have been expensive to install. The decision was made about ten years ago to construct a new
building, and the Building Fund was established at that time.”
Groundbreaking for the new church facilities was held in Oct. 2016. Construction on the building began in February to the south of the original building and the first service was held in the new church at the end of June.
The original parish church was disassembled at the end of October.
March Rapids was located on County Highway P northwest of Stratford in the town of Eau Pleine, Marathon County.