In his April 2000 news story titled “Wrecking Ball Alert,” Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel writer Whitney Gould wrote: “Wakely Road Bridge, Nekoosa: This last remaining stone arch bridge in Wood County was built in 1892 and named after Robert Wakely, a prominent lumberman. It still services a single older home in the floodplain between Wakely Creek and the Wisconsin River. If the house is razed, the bridge, already in need of repair, could be in jeopardy.”
The good news is that the bridge was saved. It was in the top ten on the Wisconsin Endangered Historic Places list in 2000. On March 19, 2001, Federal Register document No. 01-6855 was filed with the National Historic Registry and on April 5, 2001, it was officially listed there as Wakely Road Bridge, Wakely Road over Wakely Creek, Saratoga, Wood County, WI. All this was accomplished mostly through the tireless efforts of Ken Rahn, Jane Runnels, and the late Charlie Sullivan, former Saratoga town supervisor.
The bad news is that after much research, no one still knows for certain where the stones came from, and who built it. Supposedly the rocks were purchased by the cord, from the township of Saratoga, but whether they were brought in from somewhere else, or taken from the River is unsure. According to oral history, passed down from the William Tesser family who also lived on the River a few miles south of the Wakely place, the stone for the bridge came from the river.
A bit of the history of the area where the bridge is located is as follows. In 1837 Robert Wakely and his 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, with the spelling of the same taking many and varied forms, including Bausse, Bass, and Boss, among others. 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.
Robert’s son Newbold Leroy Wakely, known to locals and family as Louie, born July 30, 1847, has been credited in local history with building the bridge across the creek in 1892 or 1893. He died in Billings, MT in October 1925. Further research into this matter and a conversation with Runnels, has shown this to be false. It almost certainly was constructed by someone with knowledge of bridge building and hired for that purpose, although it is possible that Newbold and other locals may have assisted as laborers, and it seems that the bridge was built after the turn of the century also, although the exact year is unknown.
If you look closely at the construction, you will see it has a keystone which is the most important stone in an arch bridge, holding it together; without this stone the arch would collapse. To have withstood 100 years of use, it was built by someone with at least a fair knowledge of such things.
But the questions still remain, who did build the bridge, and when? The answers most assuredly can be found in the town meeting minutes of the early 20th century, if someone wants to take the time to research it further.
In 2005, repair was done on the bridge by the township, after getting permission from the National Historic Register, which controls just how repairs can be done. It was tuckpointed according to proper guidelines and resurfaced at that time.
Notes, information and documents pertaining to the National Historic Registry are being preserved at the Columbia Schoolhouse at the Wakely historic site.
Story and Photo ©Rhonda Whetstone Neibauer/2006 For permission to use the above, please email Rhonda@RhondaWhetstone.com