The first village of Arpin was started around 1890 when the John Arpin Lumber Company built a sawmill a mile east of the present village, on Little Hemlock Creek. John Baptiste Arpin and his twin brother Antoine came from Quebec and had been logging in this part of Wisconsin since the 1860s. By 1890 they were working with John's sons.[8] To give an idea of their scale of operations, John Arpin's house built in 1889 still stands in Wisconsin Rapids, the beautiful Queen Anne-styled house on First Street facing the river. Back in that first Arpin, a store, a post office, some homes, a Presbyterian church, and a creamery grew up near the sawmill. The first postmaster was John's son, J. Z.

Also in 1890, the Port Edwards, Centralia & Northern Railway[9] (later acquired by the Wisconsin Central) built its line from Rapids to Marshfield a mile to the west of the first village. Martin Pfyle started another little village a mile south on the rail line. It had a store, a cheese factory, a saloon, and homes. However, the railroad had built its depot where it crossed the road that is now County N - not at the sawmill or the second village - but where the current village is. Near that depot a store started, and a saloon, and a blacksmith's shop. Gradually the businesses and most of the homes shifted from the other two villages to cluster around the depot.[8]

Around 1891 the Wood County Railroad built a spur to the mill from Vesper and in 1892 the John Edwards Manufacturing Company built a logging spur NE out of Arpin, three miles into its timber holdings. The Arpin planning mill burned in 1893 and the sawmill in June 1894, but the Arpins still had lumber to cut, so they rebuilt.[9] In 1902 the Chicago & Northwestern built another rail line alongside the first, also running from Rapids to Marshfield.

Arpin in these days was an interesting cultural mix. Through all this time, a community of Potawatomi and other Indians lived at Skunk Hill, four miles to the southwest, welcoming outsiders to some of their dances. And then there was the Jewish settlement.

Arpin was the site of an early twentieth century agricultural settlement of Jewish families from Europe. The German philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch had become concerned about the plight of European Jews who were migrating in increasing numbers to large cities. He established the Industrial Removal Office to settle Jewish families into what were seen as more healthy environments. The Milwaukee branch of the office was the Milwaukee Jewish Industrial Aid Society, headed by Adolph Walter Rich, Milwaukee merchant, manufacturer, and philanthropist. As the trees near Arpin were cut and the sawmill ceased operations, both houses and land were available. The society purchased 720 acres of land just north of town, and Rich eventually added additional acres. Each family was to be assigned a 40-acre (160,000 m2) tract with livestock, implements, a suitable dwelling, and funds to cover incidental expenses. A foreman was to be appointed to supervise the settlement. It was to be "a true Zion" in Wisconsin "on a moderate scale."

On December 1, 1901 the first five families arrived. More followed. Many of the new settlers were from Russia. By May 1906 the new settlers had cleared an average of 10 acres (40,000 m2) each and had begun to produce crops of corn and vegetables and to cut cord wood. With the money from these crops the settlers were able to begin payment of interest owed to the society. Rich made frequent trips to Arpin. In 1915 a Jewish house of worship was built. A strong feeling of community developed among the settlers and they got along well with their Christian neighbors. The number of people in the settlement was never large, about seventy or eighty people at most, almost of all of whom were engaged in agriculture. In the 1920s people began to drift away; bitterly cold winters, better paying jobs in nearby cities, and the difficulties of anyone in Wisconsin trying to making a living on small farms were all factors in the slow decline of the colony.[10] In 2008 Wisconsin Public Television produced a program, Chosen Towns, which features interviews with people remembering Arpin and other similar settlements.

By the 1920s dairying had surpassed lumbering. Four cheese factories were operating near the village. The Dairyman's State Bank had started in 1914. The town had also added various churches, a hardware store, a meat market, a boot and shoe store, a lumber yard, a garage, a restaurant, and a hotel and livery and taxicab stable.