Historical Marker describing the 3 miles of rapids that became the source of power for wood and paper mills.
Five rapids covering a distance of about three miles in this area were referred to as Nekoosa (swift water) by the Chippewa Indians, who made their campground on high Swallow Rock overlooking these rapids. At the lower end of the rapids, Wakeley’s tavern served as a rendezvous and resting place for the river traveler and lumber raftsmen. Wakeley’s was the nucleus for the development of a settlement named Point Basse (low point). The name was later changed to Nekoosa.
The settlement became a key town during the colorful era when lumber was rafted down the river from the pineries of the North to Mississippi River markets.
Daniel Whitney built the first sawmill on the Wisconsin River here at Whitney’s Rapids in 1831, making Nekoosa the birthplace of Wood County. From this first harnessing of the river’s power developed scores of power facilities making the Wisconsin River the hardest-worked river in the world.
Photo taken by J.R. Manning
Robert Wakely operated a tavern at the end of the rapids, Wakeley's Tavern was a resting spot for river travelers. The community was known as Pointe Basse ("Low Point") and Wakeley also operated a ferry at Pointe Basse.
Point Basse was eventually renamed Nekoosa. A paper mill was founded in Nekoosa in 1893. The Nekoosa Paper Company later merged with the Port Edwards Paper Company to become the Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company, or NEPCO. NEPCO later merged with Great Northern in 1970 and taken over by Georgia Pacific in 1990. The mill was sold in 2001 to Domtar, a Canadian paper company.
And it all started right here.