Menomonie, Wisconsin History/schroeja
The Tainter family was vital to the growth of the town of Menomonie including Captain Andrew Tainter, Mabel Tainter, and the Mabel Tainter Theater that was named after her. Andrew Tainter (Jul. 6, 1823-Oct. 18, 1899) was one of the co-owners of the Knapp Stout & Co Company that produced lumber in the city of Menomonie, Wisconsin. Andrew married and had his daughter, Mabel Tainter (Dec. 6, 1866-Jun. 10, 1886) who died tragically at the age of 19. In the wake of her death Andrew built and dedicated to her what was and still is the crown jewel of Menomonie in the Mabel Tainter Theater.
Andrew was born as the first of fourteen kids on July 6th, 1823 in Salina, New York where he lived until he was nine years old. Andrew only attended school for one year in Salina before his family moved to Prairie du Chien, Wi in 1828 to live with Ezekiel Tainter who was working there.  Andrew Tainter attended just two more years of school in Prairie du Chien and all the while kept up working with his father at Fort Crawford. Andrew gained knowledge of all kinds of different tasks while working with his father, he did everything from cutting hay for horses to providing wood, and even running a makeshift tavern for the fort.
Working for Knapp Stout & Co.
Andrew moved out of Fort Crawford and over the next few years gained more knowledge by working an array of other jobs until in 1848 he opened up his own small logging mill. Andrew took on a contract for Knapp, Wilson and Co. who were building a dam at their mill on the Red Cedar and was able to deliver three times as many logs as was called for by the company. They were unable to pay back the large debt they owed to him and were forced to bring him in on their partnership as payment. In 1850, with his new ownership in the growing Co. he built a small house in Menomonie and married an Ojibwa woman named Mary Poskin whom he would have five children with. Tainter and his company built a new mill and slowly began to grow.
Andrew became the head of all logging operations for the company, supplying logs to the mill, taking the manufactured ones down to the Mississippi river and returning with supplies. It was difficult work that Andrew enjoyed. It has been said that he really earned the respect of the men he worked for by still doing back breaking work when he easily could have sat back and watched others do it. Later on when the company began to take off he supervised all of the logging camps along the rivers. Eventually the company prospered enough to even buy a steamboat which they named, “Chippewa Falls.” Andrew Tainter became Captain Andrew Tainter as he began piloting the steamboat in addition to performing his other duties.
Around this time, due to difference in culture and opinions as to where they should live Andrew and Mary Poskin ended their marriage after nine years. Andrew took custody of the kids, and kept them in Menomonie. In 1859 Tainter built a large new house in the now flourishing city. Two years later he got married again to Bertha Lucas and had another five kids, one of those being Mabel Tainter and another being Louis Tainter who would eventually take over his father’s duties to the company.
By the 1870’s the company’s name had changed to the Knapp Stout & Co. Company and they were booming. Andrew and the rest of the owners had become very wealthy and due to their living in Menomonie, the area was thriving too. Menomonie was the headquarters for the whole company and at the height of their production the company employed over 2000 people in Menomonie alone . The city’s economy boomed as it was the major trading hub of the operation, and many rich people moved to and helped develop the town because of that. Later in life all of the owners donated to the community and Andrew Tainter gave Menomonie the famous Mabel Tainter theater. Without Andrew’s skillset as part owner in the company we don’t know if it would have taken off like it did. With the bounty of white pine trees that Menomonie had there’s no doubt another logging team would have moved in if Tainter’s didn’t, but who knows if they would have made Menomonie their main hub, and whether or not they would have helped develop and give back to the city. By the end of the 19th century Andrew owned 20 businesses and 40 buildings in Menomonie. It is clear the city would not be the same today without him and his influence.
Mabel Tainter was born on July 10th, 1886 in Menomonie, Wi to Andrew Tainter and his wife Bertha Lucas. Not much is known about Mabel because she didn’t live a very long or extraordinary life like her father. What is known is that she lived in Menomonie for the duration of her life and that she had a passion for the arts and theater. Mabel lived a well off life, but she never actually had a full portrait made of her, instead she has one of her face on her sister’s body.
There is a lot of controversy that surrounds the death of Mabel. Records show her passing as the result of a quick onset of “cancer of the side” or appendicitis. However, UW-Stout writers: Hallgrimson, Fendt, and Rosin, have published the popular rumor that Mabel was in love with a lumberjack in her father’s company, but because of social status’ they were unable to marry.  The young, unwed Mabel became pregnant and for fear of being socially ostracized, her parents made her have an abortion that directly contributed to her death. Perhaps out of guilt her parents dedicated a memorial theater to their daughter’s memory. So, Mabel Tainter did have a big impact on Menomonie, but it is sad to say that impact was made because of her tragic death. If Mabel had not died at such a young age then maybe her parents never would have built and spared no expense on the magnificent theater that has meant so much to the city.
Mabel Tainter Theater
The Mabel Tainter Theater was constructed in 1889 and sits on Main Street East to this day. It is well documented that the theater is a memorial to the Tainter’s daughter, Mabel who died in 1886 at the age of nineteen. Upon seeing the theater for the first time, a Milwaukee Sentinel journalist remarked that it was, “one of the finest and most imposing buildings in the state.“ The building was built with intentions to be used as a public library, lecture hall, performance venue and the main meeting place for the Unitarian Church, who still uses it today.
The building did and still does catch your eye with it’s Romanesque style, large size, and castle-like look to it. The outside of the building is made with sandstone from a quarry just down the Red Cedar River and it has incredible carvings on it that take up the entire building, including the words “Mabel Tainter Memorial” inscribed just above the door.  The Tainters went all out in building the theater, paying an estimated $125,000 to complete the whole thing. The inside of the building contains everything you could imagine with marble floors, four fireplaces, and a pipe organ with 1597 pipes that at the time cost about $5000. The building also has a huge and very expensive 251 seat theater that hosted local theater acts and attracted performers from all over the country.
The publicity and excitement that Menomonie would have received back when the theater was in it’s prime and having big shows would have been a fun thing to be a part of. The theater gave the public access to shows and books that they had never had before and they got to experience it in grand style. Before his death in 1899 Andrew Tainter paid for full operation of the theater and after passing away he left $65,000 to assist in running the building.  Today the building has undergone a very successful renovation project and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It still acts as a performing arts/cultural center, museum, and all around icon of Menomonie.
- Tainter, Andrew Capt.(2015) Retrieved from:http://www.usgennet.org/usa/wi/county/clark/5data/104/83.htm
- Hirsch, T. (2000, April 27). Our Story, Vol II - Tainter - a legendary figure. Retrieved November 12, 2015, from http://www.usgennet.org
- DCHS: The Knapp, Stout and Co. Company. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from http://www.dunnhistory.org/history/exkscc.html
- Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. (2013, November 1). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from http://www.findagrave.com
- Dunn County Haunts and Folklore: The Mabel Tainter Theater. (2012, October 30). Retrieved November 12, 2015.
- Love's noble tribute. (1890, June 19). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from http://www.wisconsinhistory.org
- Historic Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts – One of “15 Spectacular Theaters in the World” (CNN TRAVEL). (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from http://www.mabeltainter.org/about_us.phtml