Indians called this section of the river "Ahdawagam"—the two sided rapids, while lumbermen knew it as "Grand Rapids"—the most treacherous stretch of the river, accentuated by perilous Sherman Rock. Bloomer, Sampson and Strong harnessed the waterpower in 1838 for sawing lumber. The abundant waterpower resulted in other mills being built and communities developed on each bank of the river. Centralia on the west bank and Grand Rapids on the east side were united in 1900 as Grand Rapids and later renamed Wisconsin Rapids.
Ferries spanned the river until a wooden toll bridge was built in 1867, only to be washed out in 1888. On several occasions, the Grand Rapids have been unable to cope with the ice and flood waters with devastating floods resulting; the worst of these being in 1880 and 1935. The flow of water in 1935 reached a record half million gallons per second, accompanied by the cry, "The Biron Dam has gone out."
The last lumber raft passed over the rapids in 1887. In 1901 the numerous waterpower developments on both sides of the river were combined into one company known as Consolidated Water Power Company, a parent company of the present paper mill on the opposite bank of the river. Thus lumbering gave way to papermaking.