On June 2, 1837, Robert and Mary Wakely and their two young sons--Chauncey and Robert--arrived at Point Basse on a keelboat that had been poled up the Wisconsin River from Portage City (now Portage). Two years before, they had left their home in New York. The Wakelys found a wilderness basically untouched by the white hand. They began building their dream for their new life on the frontier. They built a trading post, a warehouse, an inn and a home for themselves and their family. Mary was the third white woman to brave this frontier area.
As early as 1846, the Wakely family is reputed to have owned a dozen or so buildings but today only one still exists. All others have burned, been moved, or suffered some other ill fate. Soon after the acquisition of the "Wakely House," a one-room schoolhouse and a log cabin were donated and brought to Point Basse. The Columbia School now doubles as our visitor center complete with restrooms and a kitchen. The log cabin is very rustic and well suited as a setting for our Fur Trade interpretation.
History tells us in 1837, Robert Wakely and wife, Mary, came by boat down several rivers, all the way from New York to just south of Whitney Rapids (Nekoosa), landing at a place called Point Basse. There, they built the Wakely Tavern on the east bank of the Wisconsin River. The lower ferry, which was also the first current ferry, crossed at this point.
Point Basse eventually became a bustling little village of about twelve buildings and by 1845 added one of the first post offices on the river above Portage.
The historical marker states, "Robert and Mary Wakely built a tavern, inn and trading post on this site, beginning in 1837, including piers, a shingle mill, warehouse, and barn. Construction of the remaining residence is in the Greek Revival style reminiscent of the Wakely home in New York."
Robert Wakely's tiny Saratoga town survived until the railroads signaled the beginning of the end for lumber rafting on the Wisconsin River.
The residence you see at Point Basse today is not the original "Wakely Tavern" or Wakely Inn, because that building was dismantled in 1873, the boards made into a raft, and floated down the Wisconsin River all the way to Lone Rock, Wisconsin, where it was rebuilt as a hotel.
Historic Lone Rock records from 1883 tell the history of the Commercial House, as the hotel was now called. One of three hotels in Lone Rock at that time, it was one of two imported from elsewhere, brought in and reconstructed.
The 1884 History of Crawford and Richland Counties, WI, states, "The building used as the Commercial House was built at Point Boss. It was bought a few years since and removed to its present location. It was first used as a hotel by A. B. Hill, now of the Haskell House. It is still owned by A. M. Woodbury, who purchased and brought it to the village." Albert Woodbury, a raftsman, was postmaster of Lone Rock at that time.
By 1885 Albert Woodbury was operating it as the Cleveland House. Through the years it changed hands several times and then at 1:15 AM, Oct. 15. 1925, it burned to the ground.
Several locals papers wrote of the event. "When the fire was at its height the light could be seen in the sky for many miles."
It is too bad that it could not have remained down at Historic Point Basse as the crown jewel of the village, but at least the storied inn went out in a blaze of glory.
The lives of eleven Wakely family members and their contemporaries are interpreted on the grounds at various events.
Education and Entertainment
The Citizens of Point Basse host open-house affairs, with the focus on historic and nature education. However, they are available for other public appearances any time provided advanced arrangements are made.
Click here to view the calendar of events.