On October 18, 1849 a treaty was made with the Menomonee Indians giving title to the government for a large tract of land west of the Fox River. Most of present day Waushara County was in this area. This land was formally opened for settlement in the fall of 1852.
John Drake was an early pioneer who traveled with oxen from Albion, WI to the Big Bull Falls (Wausau). In 1847 and ’48 there were few inns and he camped on his journeys. Pilot Knob was one of the landmarks used to mark the trail. In the spring of 1849, Drake resolved to build a tavern and staked out a tract of land on the west side of the prairie. When he returned from the north, he brought a load of lumber and left it at the site. Family illness caused him to postpone the building.
In the meantime, a young man named Stowe and his wife (who was from the Beloit area) came to the frontier. Stowe heard of Drake’s intention to build. He appropriated Drakes lumber and erected a tavern in what is today known as Coloma Corners. This first building was erected in 1849.
When Drake returned and found his lumber gone, he was forced to build with rough hewn logs. A great rivalry was said to exist between the two families for years. Drake’s log structure was known as the “Bur-Oak Prairie House.”
Several of the early settlers followed Drake from Albion, WI. One such settler was Charles White. He settled just south of Drake. He was a blacksmith, but also an educated man who was active in local politics. He started a movement which resulted in the organization of a new town in 1853 which includes the present day townships of Coloma and Hancock. The new town was named Coloma after the town in California where gold was first discovered. White was the first chairperson of the town and served as such for five years. In 1857 and ’58 he was chairperson of the county board.
When this country was first settled, there was a heavy growth of oak, pine and tamarack bordering the eastern side of the marshes west of Coloma Corners. The sawmill was at Richford where there was water power. Logs were cut in present day Richfield Township and hauled to Richford.
A new railroad was being built between Stevens Point and Portage. Elias Follett built his new store in 1875 in Ross Corners where he thought the railroad would go. Differences between landowners and the railway resulted in the line being constructed four miles to the east. A new village sprang up called Coloma Station. This is the present site of the Village of Coloma. The tracks remained until 1946.
As the new trading center prospered, the old Coloma (called Ross Corners after the first postmaster) began a slow but steady decline. The post office at Ross Corners was moved to Coloma Station and the name changed to Coloma. Ross Corners became known as Coloma Corners. Rural free mail delivery was established in Coloma on June 1, 1904. Prior to that people picked up their mail at the post office.
The Follett store continued to operate until the death of Elias Follett in 1901. His son Vilas continued to live in Coloma Corners until the death of his father. He then constructed a home in Coloma and had a thriving business in grain and farm supplies. In 1902 Vilas Follett organized the Peoples Bank of Coloma.
Many accounts of the early history of the area were preserved and recorded by Elias Follett in his store on sheets of wrapping paper. These were later reprinted in the Hancock/Coloma News.
Coloma’s lollipop shaped water tower constructed in early 1940 was one of the first of its kind ever built. It was filled on July 2, 1940 with 57,000 gallons, the capacity of the sphere and pedestal. Coloma attained a bit of fame in the World Book Encyclopedia, beginning with the 1962 edition that reads: Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. A 77 foot high watersphere stores water for the Village of Coloma, WI. It has a 40,000 gallon water capacity.
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