Downtown 1958

Downtown 1958

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gardner Colby

Mr. Gardner Colby, a Bostonian, was the first president of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, incorporated in 1871 at the National Hotel in downtown Menasha.  Aside from that connection though, Mr. Colby remained a Massachusetts resident for most of hs life.  He took over a store his father had started in Charlestown, Massachusetts and eventually started his own store in Boston.  He made his fortune furnishing dry goods to Union forces during the Civil War.  He later became involved in various other businesses including railroads, shipping and manufacturing. As a lifelong Baptist, Colby was very involved in various Christian causes. During the Civil War in 1864 the college in Waterville was facing hardships, so Colby made the first of several large donations to the college and it was renamed "Colby College" in his honor. He served as a trustee from 1864 to his death in 1879 and many of his descendants became involved with the school. Colby also served as treasurer and made several large donations to what is now Andover Newton Theological School, which was a Reformed seminary located near Colby's home in Newton, Massachusetts.

The city of Colby, Wisconsin, west of Wausau in Clark and Marathon Counties, came into existence because the government gave Mr. Colby certain rights through that area for establishing the railroad from Menasha to Ashland.  As towns often did in those days, it named itself Colby after the biggest benefactor, or industry, in town. 

In later years, around 1885, Colby (the town) became the namesake for a new kind of cheese developed at a local cheese factory.  Today, Colby cheese is known throughout the US as a product of the only major natural cheese process native to America.  The name "Colby", lives on in perpetual fame, perhaps more so because of the cheese's popularity than due to the man's beneficence in education and other works of charity.

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