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History of Northern Wisconsin

Ashland County

Source: History of Northern Wisconsin: Containing an Account of Its Settlement, Growth, Development, and Resources, an Extensive Sketch of Its Counties, Cities, Towns and Villages, Their Improvements, Industries, Manufactories, Biographical Sketches, Portraits of Prominent Men and Early Settlers, Views of County Seats, Etc. Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1881.

pp. 64-66


At the period of first settlement of Ashland, La Pointe County had but one town, which was called La Pointe; but outside of Madeline Island there was no real estate on the tax roll, except perhaps a few sections around Bayfield. On March 12, 1856, a petition was presented and the town of Bayport was set off. This included all the mainland. Election was held on the first Tuesday of April of the same year. Schuyler Goff was elected Chairman. J. T. Welton and Asaph Whittlesey, Supervisors. The annual statement made in 1857 showed the indebtedness of the town to be $25; in 1858 it was $22.75; and at that election $195.50 was levied. The first bills allowed in 1857 were: Edwin Ellis, $9.25; J. T. Welton, $9; A. J. Barkley, $5.50. At the town meeting in 1858, the first bill acted upon was that of Asaph Whittlesey, Superintendent of Schools, amounting to 75 cents.

The town of Bayport organization was kept up about ten years, when the settlers became reduced in numbers, and the town was vacated.

The first United States survey around the head of the bay was made in 1848 by S. C. Morris, Deputy United States Surveyor. George and Albert Stuntz surveyed around Berk Point and Ashland in 1854-5, though it was several years before the survey was completed. It was while on one of these expeditions that young Barber, son of Hon. J. Allen Barber, deceased, of Lancaster, was drowned in the Montreal River, at the foot of the falls, by being sucked into a whirlpool.

In 1860 the county was constructed from a portion of the territory of La Pointe County in pursuance of an act of the Legislature. The first election was held in June, 1860, and resulted in choice of the following officers: Martin Beaser, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Clerk of the Circuit Court and District Attorney; J. O. Smith, Sheriff; Junius T. Welton, Coroner; Andrew Cramer, County Treasurer; John W. Bell, Register of Deeds; Albert C. Stuntz, Surveyor. The first meeting of the County Board, which was a special meeting, was held May 10, 1860. John W. Bell was elected Chairman. The first annual meeting was held November 13, 1860. A petition praying for the vacation of the village of Bay City was granted. The County Treasurer's report showed: State tax collected, $5.93; county tax, $35.58; town tax, $6.27; school tax, $3.96; highway tax, $7.06. Bills amounting to $314.70 were reported and allowed. At this time the assessed valuation of lots in Bay City was $1.04; Ashland 2.08; Houghton, $1.56; La Pointe, $2.33.

In 1867 the county was divided as follows: District No. 1, comprising all of the mainland of the county; district No. 2, the island of LaPointe or Madeline Island; district No. 3, comprising the whole group of the Apostle Islands, with the exception of Madeline Island. This year the town of Bayport was declared vacated, and made a part of the town of La Pointe. July 3, 1867, the County Board ordered a "good Winter road" cut through from some point on the lake shore between Ashland and Fish Creek to Long Lake; from there to Packwayuwang Indian village. At this time the County Clerk's salary was $100. The County Superintendent of Schools received $25. October 17, 1871, the village of Ashland was made an election precinct. In 1872, $3,000 were appropriated to build a turnpike road from Moffett's Bridge to Gooseberry River, and for the grading of Main and Front streets, Ashland, and sidewalks for same. In 1872 the town of Ashland was set off from La Pointe. That year $1,000 were appropriated to the town of Ashland for building bridges across Fish Creek and for work on Moose Lake road.

Ashland for several years was the county seat, until the waning population of the village caused the records to be removed to La Pointe, where the seat was located till 1873, when it was removed back to Ashland.

July 19, 1876, the Board of Supervisors voted $3,500 for the purchase of lots in Block 72, Vaughn's addition, for a court-house site. In April, 1877, the Board adopted the plans of S. V. Shipman, of Chicago; and proposals for the construction were advertised. In Septebmer the contract was let to B. F. Bicksler, of Ashland. The corner-stone was laid October 3, 1877, with great ceremony by the Masons and other societies. Addresses were made by Hon. Sam S. Fifield and Asaph Whittlesey, of Bayfield. The building is now occupied by the county officers, but some parts remain unfinished. The edifice stands in the center of the block, affording a fine view of the bay. It is a two story frame, brown stone basement, with dome on roof, fronting eastward. The basement is used for county jail, the first floor for the county offices, and the second story for court and jury rooms. It is nicely furnished and contains the latest improved vaults. When completed it will be the finest court-house in Northern Wisconsin.

In 1878 the town of Juniper was organized from territory in La Pointe and Ashland towns; but by action of the County Board was vacated March 6, 1879, and made a part of the town of Butternut.

April 9, 1878, two Supervisors, John W. Bell and A. W. O'Malley, appeared at a meeting of the County Board, both claiming to be Chairman of the town of La Pointe. The Chairman of the town of Ashland recognized Mr. Bell, and County Clerk, Mr. O'Malley. Supervisors Wilson and Bell proceeded to organize with Mr. Wilson as Chairman; but the County Clerk refused to record the minutes of this Board, whereupon John McCarty was appointed clerk pro tem.

At a subsequent meeting charges were preferred against the County Clerk, and he was cited to appear before them. Failing to do so, he was removed, and E. F. Prince appointed to fill the vacancy. After Mr. Prince had qualified for office he demanded the records of Mr. Willis, the County Clerk, but the latter refused to turn them over. Action was commenced in the lower courts by Mr. Prince. Considerable excitement and feeling were displayed at this time. The county business was blocked, both clerks had different offices for business, the books being divided between them; the safe was carted back and forth, once in the night time. Finally the case was taken into the Circuit Court and very able legal talent of the State was engaged. In this court it was decided in favor of Mr. WIllis. Mr. Prince took an appeal to the Supreme Court, where the decision of the Circuit Court was reversed, and Mr. Prince took possession.

The county has furnished the following members to the Legislautre:

Assembly— Asaph Whittlesey, 1860; Samuel S. Vaughn, 1871; Sam S. Fifield, 1874-5-6. Senate—Sam S. Fifield, elected to fill vacancy 1876, and re-elected in 1880.

The first County Judge was John W. Bell, who held office till 1877, when Edwin Ellis was elected, and has held it to the present time.

The present county officers are:

Board of Supervisors, James A. Wilson, Chairman, Ashland; John Boch, of Butternut. Sheriff, John Maertz; County Treasurer, W. R. Sutherland; County Clerk, M. J. Hart; Clerk of Circuit Court, John Elsner; District Attorney, J. J. Miles; Register of Deeds, Ernest H. Nelson; Superintendent of Schools, E. C. Smith; Surveyor, George Parker; Coroner, Ira Eble.

The population of the county in 1860 was 513; in 1865, 256; in 1870, 221; and in 1880, 1,559.

The town of Ashland was organized in 1863, being erected from territory once known as the towy of Bayport. Ashland has received several additions, at different dates, and in 1876 some of the area was detached from its jurisdiction. As is incidental to new county governments, changes are made in town lines, for purposes of convenience.

In 1863 the county seat was removed from Ashland to La Pointe; but in 1872 Ashland County was re-organized, and in 1873 the county seat was returned to the original place. At the first town election after the re-organization ninety-three votes were polled, and the result showed the following officers elected:

Board of Supervisors, Sam S. Fifield, Chairman; Antoine Perinier, Benjamin Armstrong. Clerk, N. W. Goodwin; Treasurer, James A. Wilson; Assessor, Charles H. Pratt; Justices of the Peace, Benjamin Armstrong, James M. Davis, James A. Wilson; Constables, James McGuire, George Fleming, Edwin Snow, Napoleon La Rock; Overseer of Highways, Conrad Goeltz; Sealer Weights and Measures, R. W. French.

The first meeting of the Town Board of Ashland was held July 17, 1872, at which meeting committees were appointed "for jail building," "office furniture," the building of bridges, grading of streets, etc. Licenses were established for the sale of beer and ale at $50, and $50 more were added for wines and other liquors; bonds required in the sum of $2,000 under the State law, and $500 under the town license law. July 24, same year, school district No. 1 was organized. August 7, $620 were appropriated for a town jail.

In 1871 a special election was held in town of La Pointe, which then included all the territory in Ashland County, and at which it was decided to issue $200,000 in bonds to the Wisconsin Central Railroad Company, running thirty years at seven per cent., in consideration of $200,000 of the company's stock and the building of the road through Ashland County. The road was finished and cars running in June, 1877. In 1880, the county up to this time failing to meet the interest on the bonds, propositions for a compromise were made by the bond-holders, represented by E. H. Abbott. Prior to this time the railroad stock had no market value. Several different propositions having been made; and, finally, in January, 1881, the railroad stock having gone up to twenty-five cents on the dollar, an agreement was entered into, whereby the whole amount of the bonds was to be returned by the issue of new bonds, called "county of Ashland funding bonds," amounting to $100,000, running twenty years at five per cent., and the turning over of the railroad stock, $13,000 in cash, and all the tax certificates and deeds held by the county. At this writing $168,000 of the old bonds have been taken up and canceled.

Wisconsin Central Railroad.—During the Spring of 1870, a preliminary survey was run from Ashland to the southeast corner of the county. Capt. Rich ran a second line from Penoka Gap to Ashland; upon this second survey the location was made the following year. In March 1872, the contractors, Messrs Stoughton Bros., began the labor of construction between Ashland and Penoka. The work was under the supervision of Capt. Rich, and was carried on in the face of many disadvantages. Some of the subcontractors were obliged to give up their share and turn it over to the Phillips-Colby Construction Company, who were the builders of the road, but who finally had to suspend work on account of financial embarrassments. In 1873 construction was continued and the road completed from Ashland to Penoka. Nothing was done in 1874 and 1875. In the Winter of 1875-6 a new survey was run from Penoka south, and on Saturday, June 2, 1877, five years from the day the first blow was struck at Menasha, the last spike was driven.

Hon. Asaph Whittlesey, in his "Recollections of Ashland," said: "On the second day of June, 1877, I had the honor of driving the last spike, which took place at Chippewa Station, amid the shoutings of a large assemblage of people, including laborers upon the road, and in a few moments thereafter, the first train from Milwaukee passed over the road on its way to Ashland, amid great rejoicing and demonstrations of joy over the victory won. At Ashland, also, the excitement became intense, and though it was late on a Saturday evening when our train reached the town, the illumination of the place brough to view a field of faces crazy with excitement over the event they were celebrating. As for myself, I confess I felt very much like saying, 'Now, let thy servant depart in peace.'" The country through which it runs in Ashland County is very rough. Some of the best engineering skill has been displayed, the road being a difficult one to build. This is notably the case between Penoka Iron Range and Ashland. The elevation at the "Gap," where the road crosses, is about 800 feet above the level of the lake. Bad River, with its wild, weird scenery, is a crooked stream. It is full of rapids, deep and dangerous whirlpools, and subject to sudden overflows. The road follows this stream for seventeen miles, crossing it seventeen times in nine miles, requiring expensive bridges. The largest one—White River bridge—is the largest of the kind in the world, with one exception. It is 1,560 feet long, 103 feet high, and cost $140,000. The river is a small stream, with its banks only a few rods apart, but it runs through a wide bottom valley, which made the bridge a necessity. At Silver Creek is another structure 650 feet long, 92 feet high, costing $60,000.

There is now in course of construction the North Wisconsin running from St. Paul and Hudson north toward Chequamegon Bay, and the extension of the Northern Pacific from Duluth east.

Penoka Iron Range is a fine undeveloped vein of iron ore. It runs east and west across the county, through Townships 44 and 45. It is about twenty miles in length. The range has been explored by eminent geologists and experts, and valuable veins of iron and copper discovered. Samples taken at random have yielded 62 1/2 per cent. of iron. The facilities for manufacturing are excellent. The immense forests of hard maples on and about the range will furnish the necessary charcoal for smelting. It is within easy access, Lake Superior being only twenty-nine miles distant. In May, 1857, a company of capitalists, called the Wisconsin & Lake Superior Mining and Smelting Co., commenced work on "Penoka Range," with head-quarters at Ironton. Other prospectors came in soon after. Docks and warehouses were built at Ironton, but the company afterwards moved its head-quarters to Ashland; a road had been cut by the company from the "range" to Ironton and one to Ashland. The cost of getting provisions to the "range" was enormous. The company invested some $25,000. Mr. Herbert was first put in charge, but was removed shortly after, and Gen. L. Cutler given control. Some twenty log cabins were built; three towns were platted, one at Penoka, one at Lockwood, and one at the Gorge. Surveys for a railroad from the "range" north and south were made. Other surveys and explorations were commenced; a block-house was built at Penoka and also at the Gorge. The men who had charge of the company's interest returned to Milwaukee in December, 1857. The panic, striking the company, left it in bad shape financially, but more stock was sold, and the work went on. At first the company had some difficulty in getting possession of the land. They finally came into full ownership in 1858, but the range was abandoned July 1, 1858. Since then very little has been done.

Ironton, which was settled at the time of the iron excitement, was situated on the south shore of the lake, one-half mile west of the Montreal River. The village was platted in 1856-7, by McEwan, Herbert, Mandlebaum, and others. Warehouses and docks were built, and the place thrived for about four years, when it was abandoned.



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last edited 10 Aug 2004


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