The area of present day Wausau was founded around 1839 by a guy named George Stevens (left). He was a scout for a lumber company in St. Louis and was sent north in the area where Wausau is now to look for good timber. He responded to his bosses in St. Louis by telling them that "(Wausau) has decidedly the best mill sites I ever saw or heard of in the Union." This was an ideal spot for the logging industry, with the Wisconsin River running right through, it was a natural "highway" and was connected to the Mississippi River and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. It quickly thrived as a little lumber town and by 1847 the population was 350 souls. By 1850 the town was renamed from Big Bull Falls to Wausau. The man who probably had the most to do with that was Walter McIndoe, a Scotsman who moved to the US in 1834. While in St. Louis McIndoe came across a businessman by the name of Jim Moore who would extend him $500 in credit, but was to be paid in timber, thus bringing McIndoe north to Wausau. McIndoe was most likely one of the first to actually want to stick around and make a home here rather than just turn a profit. In 1849, just one year after Wisconsin gained statehood, he was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly and played a large role in Wausau's early history. He died in 1872 but his vision of Wausau continued through various other people.
The Stewarts, John and Alexander, arrived in Wausau in 1849 in a rather peculiar way, by walking from St. Charles IL. north. They would eventually start the Alexander Stewart Lumber Co., one of the largest in the area. John would return to Illinois later down the road but Alexander went on to play a big role in Wausau business and it's affairs.
By 1860 2/3's of Wausau's population was foreign born, with Germans being the dominant group at the time followed in no particular order by the Poles, Scandanavians, and the Irish. In 1860 a man by the name of George Ruder settled in Wausau and opened a brewery here, which would become the largest brewery in Northern Wisconsin by 1880. But far and away the majority of people living in Wausau at this time were involved in the logging industry.
In 1862 Burton Millard, a successful Wausau businessman became the first man from Marathon County to die in the Civil War. He was killed at Lee's Mill, VA while on pickett duty.
In 1872 the city of Wausau becomes official and recieves it's charter from the state. Holding elections in April the citizens of Wausau elect August Kickbusch (left) the first mayor of the city.
Wausau has had it's fair share of problems, manmade and natural, throughout it's history. From floods and fires to murders and lynchings. In 1864 the Great Fire of Wausau occured. Flames menaced the town and it Wausau was saved only by the entire population of the city volunteering at the time as there was no fire department as of yet, that wouldn't come until 5 years later in 1869 (Politics?!?!?).
In 1880 a major flood strikes the town and all railroad and wagon bridges to Merrill were washed out. Wausau was completely isolated and Clarke Island (downtown Wausau) was completely submerged. Just one year later in 1881 another flood strikes and is equal if not more intense than the last one. It changed the landscape of Wausau and a sandbar shifted so that the water would flow through the western most channel. With the floods came a realization that bridges were badly needed and in 1882 the first Bridge St. bridge is erected, known at that time as the Leahy and Beebe bridge.
The flood of 1912 is probably the worst of all the floods in Wausau's history and it was this flood that swept away all the bridges in Wausau at that time. If you go downtown behind where Billy Moys was and the old train depot is now, they have a memorial to the victims of the flood that if i recall correctly starts out " Lest we forget...." It was a serious issue in early Wausau until WPS built the hydro dam in 1920.