A popular Chippewa Falls historical site is being brought to life as a fictional lumber baron’s mansion in an upcoming film.
“The Lumber Baron,” written and directed by Chippewa Valley historical scholar Karen Hurd, is expected to debut as early as 2018. Based on Hurd’s fascination with the Chippewa Falls lumber boom, the feature-length film explores the tale of ‘Daniel Rimsdale’, who returns to Chippewa Falls to salvage his father’s lumber business. The character is entangled in a hunt for hidden treasure inside a mansion along the way.
That mansion is heavily inspired by Chippewa Falls’ Cook-Rutledge Mansion, Hurd said. The mansion at 505 W. Grand Ave. is serving as the primary set location during filming until the shoot wraps up in August.
The decision to use the Cook-Rutledge has special significance. The red-brick mansion housed a real-life “lumber baron,” Edward Rutledge, from 1887 to 1911.
Hurd said the building inspired the entire project from the beginning. “I knew general outline of story, but didn’t have a location yet,” she remembered. “When I toured the Cook-Rutledge, I ended up writing the film specifically with that location in mind.”
Kyle Roble, president of the Cook-Rutledge Board of Directors, is optimistic that the film will funnel more tour traffic to the house. “We’d love for something like this to renew peoples’ interest in historic houses, but specifically this one. This house is a reminder of why people came to this area in the first place,” Roble said.
Hurd, a self-professed Chippewa Valley history buff, is preserving every historical detail she can find in the film. The lumber era put the Chippewa area on the map, she said, but she’s surprised that a movie has not yet been made telling the story of the Wisconsin lumber boom. “Every word, every prop, every costume. Everything is downright the way it was in 1910,” she said of the setting of the film.
The film created opportunities for plenty of local talent. “We have a ton of lumberjack (extras),” Hurd laughs. “You can’t put just two lumberjacks in a bunkhouse. The place was crawling with them.”
The film’s director, crew and several starring actors hail from the Midwest. A former UW-Eau Claire professor and award-winning composer, Dr. Ethan Wickman, wrote the score, and the music will be recorded by local musicians.
But without the Cook-Rutledge, Hurd says, the film may never have come alive.
“I want the people of Chippewa Valley to say, that’s my town,” she said. “Characters refer to the Chippewa River and the town by name. In one of the last lines of the film, the characters raise a toast to the Chippewa Valley. ‘A toast to the Valley!’ That will resonate.”
“The Lumber Baron” is directed by Barry Andersson and written and produced by Karen Hurd of Scene & Hurd Productions. Hurd expects the film to be sold to a distributor after production finishes in 2018. “The Lumber Baron” may be available in theaters or online at a future date.