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Prominent local businessmen of 1876 included, from left, Wellington Vannatta, Charles Smith, David Saunders, Charles Davis, George Fortune and Clyde, the town mascot. Photo courtesy of Pierce County Historical Association

Days Gone By

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Days Gone By
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Prominent local businessmen of 1876 included, from left, Wellington Vannatta, Charles Smith, David Saunders, Charles Davis, George Fortune and Clyde, the town mascot.


Wellington Vannatta

Wellington Vannatta (Dec. 14, 1846-Jan. 22, 1914) was born in Attica, Ohio, and came with his parents to River Falls in 1857. His father had an early general store here and also was a doctor. In 1868 Vannatta graduated from law school and practiced law in Prescott until opening an office in River Falls in 1873. He partnered at different times with Charles Smith, Frank Gilson and Niles P. Haugen, at times he was the only practicing lawyer in town. In 1893 he sold his practice to Allen P. Weld and retired to travel.

Charles Smith

Charles Smith (Oct. 1838-July 2, 1918) was born in Merrimack County, N. H. He grew up in New York, attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut until his health failed and he moved to Minneapolis in 1866 to seek health and fortune. During that fall he went to Prescott to work and met his future wife, Mary Haw, in the wheat fields. Smith studied law under Joseph S. White at Prescott (Charles White of River Falls' great-grandfather), and was admitted to the bar in 1869. He was Pierce County superintendent of schools from 1870-1872, moved to River Falls in 1876, practicing law with Wellington Vanatta, and by himself. In 1893, when the Superior Court was created, he became judge of Douglas County, serving until his death.

David Saunders

David Saunders (1836-1900) was born near Ottawa, Canada. His father, Amos, was a steamboat captain between Green Bay, Chicago and Buffalo, as well as having a general merchandise store in Green Bay. The family moved to the River Falls area in September 1857, where they had a farm. David worked for the Prairie Mill at 421 N. Main St., starting in 1868. In 1874 he bought a Trimbelle flouring mill. In 1884 he moved to Monroe County, where he lived the rest of his life.

Charles E. Davis

Charles E. Davis (Aug 13, 1842-Nov. 20, 1887) came to River Falls with his father, Dr. Shubil M. Davis, the first regular practicing physician in River Falls. The younger Davis attended pharmacy school and opened the second drug store ever in River Falls at 114 N. Main St., in April 1866. In 1870 he built a new store at 110 N. Main St. This building burned down in a series of fires along Main Street in October 1875. Davis agreed to go into retail space in the current Academy of Music building at 100 N. Main St., but eight months later, that building also burned down. After this Davis built again at 104 S. Main St., at a cost of $3,500. Christened the Phoenix Drug Store, the pharmacy opened in December 1875. After 19 years in the drug business and three major fires, he sold it to Joseph and Barton Edsall in January 1885. In January 1890, the Phoenix Drug Store also burned, leaving only the walls. It, too, was rebuilt, and is today Freeman Drug.

George Fortune

George Fortune (Dec. 14, 1840-April 8, 1930) was born at Paisley, Scotland, and came with the family to Canada in 1842. In 1856, he came to Star Prairie, and in 1858 he moved to River Falls and worked at the Prairie Mill for Charles Cox, pioneer miller. After Junction Mill was built in 1866, Fortune was made foreman and owned part of the mill until selling his interest in 1877. Fortune then purchased the Greenwood Mill, expanded and ran it until 1913, when he sold the building and power rights of the mill to the city of River Falls. In connection with the mill, Fortune had a flour and feed store at 107 S. Main St. This building was built in 1879 and later used as a cream station by Curtis Johnson. When it and two other buildings burned in January 1927, they were replaced with two new buildings -- the Falls Theatre and the Fortune building where County Line Insurance is today.

The above information and photo was provided by Dan Geister.

Pat Hunter
(715) 425-1561