Menomonie, Wisconsin History/euvalut
Andrew Tainter (July 6, 1823 - October 18, 1899) was a lumber baron and is one of the many founders of Menomonie, Wisconsin. Tainter was born in Salina, New York. As a boy he was adventurous and hard working. Being one of the oldest boy in the family he labored with his father cutting wood and providing food to his family. Through his vigorous attitude it later shaped him into becoming a wealthy and influential man. Although he came from a difficult background, Tainter was able to become successful through his dedication as a lumberman. He also became an owner of the largest lumber industry in the world from 1870 to 1880. Through his leadership in the lumber industry he built many towns and farms. Tainter also constructed many buildings in Menomonie. There are many important impacts that Tainter has made personally, physically and industrially that helped shaped Menomonie to what it is today.
Background on Tainter
Tainter’s father, Ezekiel Tainter, was gone for most of Tainter’s childhood trying to earn money. His father was a salt miner and later mined copper in Galena, Illinois. Tainter lived in Salina, New York for nine years and then moved with his family to join his father in Prairie du Chien. Tainter's hard work ethic and lifestyle was greatly influenced by his father. Ezekiel Tainter at the time had become a government contractor in Fort Crawford where he supplied the fort with beef and wood. Andrew Tainter also helped his father in providing several services at Fort Crawford cutting hay, providing wood and food to the fort. Ezekiel Tainter later owned a hotel where he entertained many famous people for many years. In Tainter’s childhood he barely had any education at all. Tainter had spent only 2 years in school and at the age of 21 he started working for Edward Pelton in the livery service.
Road to Success
Being adventurous as his father, Tainter left home with his grandfather to cut hay in Chippewa Falls. He also worked for Ben Brunston north of Prairie du Chien and later created a partnership with Blois Hurd in Menomonie. Tainter and Hurd were involved in some work with the Knapp and Wilson firm providing logs for their construction projects. Eventually, Tainter contracted with Wilson and ended his partnership with Hurd. In Tainters work he accumulated timber and delivered them to Wilson for various projects. He worked vigorously and cut about 3 times as needed for his deal with Wilson and was successfully able to deliver the logs against strong forces. There were many times where Tainter worked long hours in the cold and rain. Tainter was later brought into partnership with Wilson because Wilson was unable to pay back Tainter for his work. He soon got promoted and worked as a boss overseeing all of Knapp, Stout & Co. Company logging operations. For a couple of years he had his own logging camp and then moved to other camps supervising and coordinating them. Tainter later became captain of the river driving operations. In this new job he planned and improved ways to deliver logs down the river. From the 1870 to 1880, Tainter worked even more vigorously. He continued long hours of improving river driving operations, supervising buildings and overseeing logging camps. Tainter loved working and in fact he took pleasure in it.
In Tainter’s life he has gone through many challenges in his marriage with Mary Poskin and Bertha Lucas Lesure. Tainter first fell in love with Mary Poskin who was of Ojibwa descent and she was also the grandniece of a local chieftain. He built a small timber house in Menomonie and moved there with his wife. Together they had five children: Julia, William, Charlotte, Thomas and Eliza. Later in the marriage Tainter and Mary were having difficulty due to cultural and personal differences. They disagreed on how the children should be raised, which then in time led them to separate. Their marriage lasted about nine years. Tainter took custody of the children and stayed in Menomonie and his wife moved to Lac Courte Oreilles with her brother. In 1859, Tainter hired Bertha Lucas Lesure to watch and take care of his five children. In May, 1861 he married Bertha and built a new house in Menomonie. Together Tainter and Bertha had five children: Louis, Ruth, Mabel, Irene and Fanny. Sadly, many of Tainter’s children died at an extremely young age. Irene passed away as an infant, Ruth at age eight, and Mabel at age 19. Fanny lived like Tainter actively exploring and traveling and Louis followed Tainter’s foot steps into the logging business and eventually took his father’s old position.
Out of all the deaths of Tainter’s children Mabel’s death was the most controversial. There have been countless rumors of the actual cause of her death. It has been rumored that Mabel died of cancer of the side. In other words she could have passed away because of complications of abortion. The story goes that Mabel fell in love with a boy who worked at Tainter’s logging company. They both were deeply in love, but couldn’t marry because of their social economic differences. Mabel was from an exceedingly wealthy family, whereas the boy was extremely poor. So, Tainter and his wife would not allow the marriage to go through. Mabel though at the time became pregnant and so Tainter and his wife were more open about the marriage, but the boy disappeared. In order to hide Mabel from the shame and embarrassment Tainter forced Mabel to abort the child and she died in the process of the abortion. Tainter feeling guilty decided to build the Mabel Tainter Theater in memory of his daughter. Regardless if the rumors are true or not, Tainter did construct the Mabel Tainter Theater in 1889, which still stands today in Menomonie.
Contributions of Tainter
Probably one of the largest and well known contribution that Tainter has made was the Mabel Tainter Theater. He built this theater to commemorate Mabel’s love for music and art. The building itself was a masterpiece. It was constructed of sandstone, had Moorish style curved surfaces and a series of arches and hand carved designs in the frame of the entrance. Inside of the building there were stenciled walls, marble staircases, stone fireplaces and glass stained windows. Not only did Tainter build the theater for his daughter, but also to the community of Menomonie. He wanted the theater to be shared with the citizens of Menomonie to encourage intellect, social wellness, moral advancement and a sense of community. The theater was used in many different ways. There were professional touring companies that performed at the theater and soon high schools started to perform there as well. The theater was also used for religious purposes for the Unitarian society. Reverend Henry Doty Maxson was able to persuade the Tainters to use the memorial as a meeting hall for the Unitarian society. The Religious services were held on Sundays. In the lower levels of the memorial contained the community room, the women’s sewing parlor, the young men’s club room, and the billiard room. The memorial also had a library and reading rooms. The library contained various historical pictures, books, periodicals, newspapers and articles. Today, the Mabel Tainter Theater is renamed as the Mabel Tainter Center. Its purpose today is to connect with the community by engaging people into various forms of art. The center offers full performing art seasons, outreach programs and an annual fine arts and crafts fair. Another huge contribution that Tainter did was building Menomonie. Tainter planned and constructed many towns and farms. Tainter was also involved in many businesses in Menomonie. He had shares in 20 business and 40 buildings in Menomonie alone. These businesses brought a lot of economic stability and wealth to Menomonie. The Knapp, Stout firm was also considered the largest lumber industry in the world from 1870 to 1880.
Andrew Tainter is probably seen as a villain in the eyes of many people today due to the negative environmental impact he has made, but there were positive things that he did for Menomonie. He was one of the founders of Menomonie and played various roles in building Menomonie. He constructed towns, farms and mills. He also made a great impact economically. Tainter owned many businesses that helped flourish Menomonie and in one point in time Menomonie was an extremely wealthy city. Tainter also built the Mabel Tainter Theater for his daughter and the people of Menomonie. The theater helped encourage social well-being and intellect in the community. It had clubs that people could join and reading rooms to learn and grow in knowledge. Tainter may have made many mistakes in his life, but he did influence Menomonie positively in many ways.
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- Dunn County haunts and folklore: The Mabel Tainter Theater. (2012, October 30). Retrieved October 29, 2015 from: https://uwstoutandabout.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/dunn-county-haunts-and-folklore-the-mabel-tainter-theater/
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