In 1856, Hamilton and Margaret Hubbard settled in the Town of Peru, Dunn County. They cleared a farm, built a lumber mill and a dock. Their little steamboat stop grew into a bustling village of 350, named Tyrone after a county in Ireland. But after 1870, steamboat traffic slowed. The new railroad bypassed it. The state highway bypassed it. By the 1920s, Tyrone was all but a ghost town.
The remains fell into themselves for 50 years. Then, in 1972, Northern States Power (now Xcel Energy) proposed that location to build “Tyrone Energy Park,” with two 1,150-megawatt nuclear reactors. In 1977, the federal government issued construction permits.
As I expect you know, there’s no nuclear power plant here in Dunn County. So what happened?
Falling power demand in the late 1970s caused the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to rethink the plant, and in 1979 the commission denied permission on the grounds that there would be “insufficient demand for electricity.” NSP then proposed to build a 750-megawatt coal plant (just one-third the size of the cancelled nuclear site). Again energy consumption fell, and now new hydropower and wind produce the 375 megawatts needed.
No to eminent domain
That seems fairly cut-and-dried, but let’s back up to the early 1970s and add another element: protest. Some 27 landowners had been threatened with “eminent domain” (“we need your land and we’re taking it”) and sold “voluntarily.”
But three families resisted: Harold and Lucille Bauer, Henry and Clara Falkner, and brothers Joseph and Stanley Cider, who thought of themselves as the “mayors” of Old Tyrone. They owned the original Hubbard land and lived in the Tyrone Hotel.
Representatives from NSP and “hippie types,” as the Bauers called them, descended on Dunn County. Area environmental groups Citizens for Tomorrow (a farmer-led group) and Northern Thunder held marches and protests and picnics. It went on for years.
These protests were amplified by the national news. First, not closely related except in an emotional sense, there was Love Canal, a Niagara Falls neighborhood built on a toxic-waste site, which was evacuated in 1978.
Much more to the point, in March of 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown — and, in the kind of coincidence that stretches belief — the Jane Fonda movie The China Syndrome hit theaters same that summer. Late in 1979, NSP officially announced it was abandoning plans for the nuclear plant.
After the Cider brothers died, their heirs sold their 960 acres to the power company. The Bauers, who had been required to pay rent to NSP on land they had owned since 1953, were “forgiven” and took back full ownership in 1992. The Falkners also reclaimed their land. In 2016, Xcel sold 1,000 acres to the Department of Natural Resources for a shade under $2 million.
For the curious, here’s the most scenic route to Tyrone from Menomonie: Take 25 south to 10. Turn left (east) on 10 into Durand, then left again a few blocks later onto 85. A couple of miles east, you can take a left on M. You’ll head north, then wind along the river (heading northeast), M will change its name to 50th Avenue. The road will take a sweeping curve to the right (back southeast).
The Chippewa River pokes through the trees occasionally, and you’ll see the Chippewa River State Trail just to your left. If you get out of your car, it’s a fairly easy walk to the junction of that trail and the Red Cedar State Trail. At that point, you’ll be in Tyrone, more or less.
You won’t know it. For a while, you could still see at least two weathered gray buildings – one of them the old Tyrone Hotel. But they’re down now, and there’s no trace of Tyrone at all — no lumber mill, no steamboats, no Cider brothers ... no protest signs.