The russet tinges, cover now, that old time home.
Where we were welcomed day or night, ‘twas just the same;
If by stage, or raft of lumber on river foam,
We know this place of rest, and, too, its untold fame.
-May Perkins Guenther (1909)

In many ways, the story of Knowlton is a story about the
importance of roads. A small group of people settled here on
the bend of the Wisconsin River in the mid-1800s. It was small
in comparison to some of the other lumbering communities
emerging in the Wisconsin River Valley, but its location on
the main road made Knowlton an important link in the
commerce and community of Central Wisconsin.

In those days, the main way to travel across Northcentral
Wisconsin was limited to horse-drawn wagons and so the
major lifelines for the communities along the Wisconsin
River were a handful of roads such as the Wausau & South
Line Road. A few communities found success offering
places for travelers to stop to change horses or recover
from their journey.

Calvin Loomis was the first proprietor of a tavern in Knowlton,
located halfway between Mosinee and Stevens Point, which
was said to have been built in 1849. In 1856, it was taken over
by James Brands, who also has the distinction of naming the
small community “Knowlton,” after his birthplace in Knowlton, N.J.

The tavern would end up having several names and owners
during its long life. Knowlton House, Loomis Stand, and The
Twin Island House among them. It was also later said to be
called Halfway House.

With the traffic along the road, a growing community also
emerged. A small lumber mill was set up in the 1870s, which
operated until the region’s lumber reserves were exhausted
by 1899. Leonard Guenther and his family invested in Knowlton
to prepare it for the coming of the railroad. But when the
Wisconsin Valley Line went up to Wausau in 1874, it would
bypass Knowlton and cross further upriver. Over the next few
years, the once-thriving trade activity along the South Line
Road dwindled for Knowlton.

Despite this, the Knowlton community found ways to reinvent
itself without a direct railroad stop. The shift in Marathon
County’s agriculture toward dairy farming would lead to the
rise of cheese factories and creameries across the county, and
Knowlton’s local cheese factory, Mullins Cheese, has become
one of the biggest dairy plants in Central Wisconsin.

This was helped by the integration of the former Wausau
& South Line Road into a new U.S. Highway. In 1926, an
“inter-state, surfaced road” was established to connect
Hurley, Wis., to New Orleans, La., to be known as Highway 51.