Lake DuBay History

How did Lake DuBay come to exist? We all know it is a flowage, a lake created by deliberate flooding, but what was it like in the 1800’s. The history of Lake DuBay is described below. More of the history of John DuBay, whom the lake was named after, can be learned on the Portage County Historical Society of Wisconsin Online Archives.

Water has always been necessary to the survival and progress of man. The early Indian tribes in this area depended on water resources for food and travel. The first white men were probably French fur traders or missionaries. They were followed by the British, who took over the land from the French in 1763. Both the French and British were mainly interested in trading with the Indians for furs. Water trails were the principal routes of travel.

In 1834, a Frenchman named John Baptiste DuBay established a trading post for the American Fur Company on the Wisconsin River between Stevens Point and Mosinee. This was the only place north of Petenwell Rock where the Wisconsin River could be forded on foot. It was used by Indians to get to the hunting grounds near the Black River to the west. This site is just to the south of the present site of Knowlton. The trading post site was inundated in 1942 with the creation of the DuBay Flowage.

In 1836 and 1837, the Menominee Indians ceded strips of land three miles wide on each side of the Wisconsin River throughout what now is Marathon County. In 1839, a sawmill was built near Big Bull Falls (Wausau), and in 1842, a sawmill was built at Little Bull Falls (Mosinee). A mill at the present site of Stevens Point was built in 1838. Settlements invariably sprang up around these mills, and the earliest roads were from mill to mill. In 1846, a road was cut out of the wilderness from Wausau to Mosinee to Stevens Point.

Marathon County separated from Portage County, to the south, in 1850. In 1851, four road districts were established, and, in 1855, Marathon County issued bonds to build a plank road to the Portage County line. A travelers’ inn was built between Mosinee and Stevens Point adjacent to this road near the Wisconsin River. Knowlton developed near the site of this inn.

Lumber was rafted down the Wisconsin Rover regularly from 1841 to 1882. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad reached Wausau from the south in 1874. By the 1890s, railroads had largely taken over the transportation formerly done by water.

In 1894, a railroad bridge was built across the Wisconsin River near Knowlton. Later, cantilever beams supporting a 10-foot roadway were attached to this bridge to accommodate Highway 34. This bridge was closed in 1979. The new highway bridge and reconstructed railroad bridge were completed in 1981.

In 1942, a large (8300 KW) hydroelectric generating plant and dam were built by CWPCo near the junctions of the Wisconsin, Little Eau Claire, and Little Eau Pleine rivers. This created the flowage which was named after the Frenchman DuBay.

The DuBay Flowage consists of 6,830 acres and is the fourteenth largest inland body of water in Wisconsin. It was built in the early 1940’s for hydroelectric generation and flood control. The dam is near the junction of the Wisconsin, Little Eau Claire and Little Eau Pleine rivers, between the cities of Mosinee and Stevens Point.

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