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The Centennial
Oconto County

Published in 1876
Oconto County Reporter

September 16, 1876


The next mill built in the county (and perhaps the first) was built at Menominee.-- (This name is here used to designate the mouth of the Menominee River and vicinity. It was so known until names were given the towns and indeed is yet frequently designated in the same way.)

In May 1832, William FARNSWORTH and Charles R. BUSH executed a bond of which the following is a summary. It first recites, "That by a letter from the War Department dated April 22d 1831, it appears that permission has been granted by the Menominee Indians to William FARNSWORTH and Charles R. BUSH to erect a grist and saw mill on the Menominee River, and to occupy a tract of land in the vicinity thereof, for farming and timbering said mills; that this permission has been approved by the Secretary of War, who requires FARNSWORTH & BUSH to give a bond and security for observance of the terms and conditions upon which said permission has been granted by the Indians.

FARNSWORTH & BUSH acknowledge that the lands occupied by them in pursuance of said permission as well as the mills thereon erected are to be held by them at the pleasure of the U.S. Government.

In consideration of the grant and privilege FARNSWORTH & BUSH, with Nathaniel PERRY of Green Bay promised to faithfully comply with all conditions and stipulations contained in the grant of the Menominee Chiefs, viz: That as soon as the mill is erected they will saw all the lumber required by the Menominee tribe and Government of the U.S. whenever required by an authorized officer, at reasonable expense And when the grist mill is erected will grind grain required; and they will pay annually in September for eight years, "the following articles to wit: Twenty five pounds of powder, eighty pounds of lead, one hundred flints, fifty pounds of tobacco, one hundred pipes and ten bushels of corn."

They further agree to give peaceable possession when required by an authorized officer of the U.S. Government. This document was signed by FARNSWORTH & BUSH and recorded May 26th 1832. Sept. 24th 1832, we find FARNSWORTH & BUSH mortgaged to Ellen WOLCOTT of Detroit, Mich, a "tract of land on the Menominee River, containing about 80 acres under improvement, with a saw mill, fishery, log dwelling house, store house &c. The premises being in possession of the Grantors and conveyed to them for a term of years, by the Menominee tribe of Indians, sanctioned by the U.S. Government."

This document gives an idea of the improvement made at the time. The log dwelling house and store house stood on the present site of the Boom Company¹s buildings. The north east corner of the "old store house" was made a monument and starting point, when at a later period the land where on it stood was surveyed and subdivided into parcel bk deed.

The documents referred to mentioned plainly a grant from the Indians sanctioned by the U.S.

Subsequent conveyances show that his grant, commenced at the mouth of the Menominee River, and extending up and along the river for four miles and one mile in width on each side. It is also well known that another grant was obtained which extended sixty miles up the river, and one or more miles back and gave large permits for cutting timber, fishing &c.

So much for the documentary and recorded history of early milling. But there is much reason to believe that a mill had been built prior to the dates mentioned in these papers. Mr. Erwin HART, visiting at the Menominee in the winter of 1830-31 and who has means of certifying his dates, says that he found the "Marinette," or "Old Lady¹s house" as it was called later, newly built, and occupied by Wm. FARNSWORTH and Marinette his wife.

A saw mill was running, or in running order and also newly built. They were then extending the dam known as the old wing dam, above the islands and up the river.

Prior to 1838 Alexander McLEOD seems to have been a partner in the mill but sold to FARNSWORTH & BUSH in May, 1838 for $1000. In February 1839 FARNSWORTH & BUSH sold half of the property to Samuel H. FARNSWORTH for $4000, and in 1842 Wm. FARNSWORTH sold his remaining interest to Samuel FARNSWORTH.

In October 1843 Dr. J.C. HALL made his first purchase of Richard HOGABOOM¹s interest, acquired from S.H. FARNSWORTH and in February 1844 Dr. HALL and Horace R. JEROME purchased the remaining interests, paying therefor $10,650. The property then purchased embraced lots 1,2, &3, section 1 township 30 range 23; w1/2 lot 1 sec. 6 township 33 range 23 (extending nearly one mile up the river.)

Dr. HALL then moved his family west from Ithaca, N.Y. As the writer was one of that family, a boy of twelve years of age, the journey is well remembered. As illustrative of "going west" in those days, some incidents of the journey may be mentioned here. We took a small steamer in which we traversed the length of the beautiful Cayuga Lake. We were next stowed in a packet boat upon the Erie Canal. The week or more occupied in this part of the journey was all glorious to us children but I can well believe was mortally tiresome to our elders. Arriving at Buffalo we embarked upon the then magnificent steamer Illinois, Captain Blake--this notorious whole souled old rough delighted to startle some unprepared child out of their shoes¹ (and adults too for that matter) and then ply them with sweetmeats and fruit. Before the trip was over his ways ceased to frighten and he and the young people were fast friends.

But who shall describe the romance and glory of that trip. At Niagara, Detroit, Fort Malden, Presque Isle, and Mackinaw, the told historic spots were visited and their tragic stories were made alive for us. A we entered the Bay, the legends and traditions of "Death¹s Door," were rehearsed. At last Navarino was in sight. As the Illinois approached the landing, hundreds of Indians and whites gathered to see the arrival. Of Navarino I only remember that in the streets the sand was very deep and hard to walk through.

Here a large Mackinaw boat awaked us, and with Indians and voyageurs we embarked for Menominee. The first night we reached Pensaukee. Here Mr. POWELL was living--obliged to watch most of the night to keep some troublesome animals away from his "crops", he gave us his bed and treated us kindly. The next day, July 3d 1844, we arrived at Menominee and were welcomed by kind friends to the old house which was so long our home.

At this time there were four sash saws and a lath mill in operation just above Dr. HALL¹s house, and about 8 or 10 rods west of the northern termination of the range line between ranges 23 and 24 in township 30 north. As these were fair specimens of the first mills, some description of them will be appropriate.

There are two heavy buildings connected by a walk of plank. Each frame covered two saws. In width either of these buildings were as large as the ordinary steam mill of to day. They were not so long, however.--The frames were heavy and solid. Each saw driven by a "flutter" wheel 16 or 18 feet in length. A heavy crank and pitman connected the wheel with the sash carrying a single saw. The "carriage" of two heavy parallel timber, was carried on "ribands" of wood by wooden cogs or teeth on its under surface meshing into other teeth or mortices in the horizontal shaft of the "Rag Wheel" turning toward the saw. Upon the carriage timbers rested transversely, wide heavy blocks. On these the log rested and in these also were fixed the heavy iron "dog" which driven by blows of the "mill bar" held the log in place. The "tail block" was stationary, the "head block" moved along the carriage to suit the length of the log. The carriage was gigged backed by a small water wheel with upright shaft, gearing into the rag wheel and reversing its¹ motion. The head sawyer with his bar "set" the log for boards, siding or plank, estimating the required thickness by the eye and reversing the bar, drove the "dog" into the log. A skillful head sawyer would "put on the head" the instant the carriage stopped gigging back and would set the board and drive the dog by the time the saw commenced cutting. Two men for each saw, made a crew. The "tail-sawyer" kept up the supply of logs wanted by aid of the "bull wheel" and chain. This chain was drawn out of the mill by hand, having a dog fixed at its end. It was drawn in, or back, by its winding round a horizontal shaft, with a wheel geared into an upright shaft driven by another water wheel somewhat larger than the gig wheel.

One of these saws would cut, under favorable circumstances 2,500 feet in a working day. The boards were all delivered together from the saw, in "stock" held by the "stub shot" as it was called, being four or five inches left uncut at the end of the log where it lay on the tail block. It was the tail sawyers business to split away these stocks of lumber and with an adze dress, smooth and straight the end of each board. Siding was left 4 or more pieces together and was saved for the top of the rafts or dock loads as lath are. When the water was low, the mills were very slow, and when the water was too high back-water deadened their motion. Sometimes the wheels would suddenly clear themselves from back water and quicken their motion in a way that was very startling.

This kind of mill was soon improved so as to cut from three to four thousand feet per day, and the muley saw with reaction wheel a further improvement, would cut five and six thousand per day. Then the siding mill was introduced very greatly increasing the cut, and improving the quality of the mill products.

The big circular began to be heard of and the incredible statement was made by many that it would out ten or twelve thousand feet per day. Of course no one believed it, and every good mill man knew that circular sawed lumber was almost worthless. Gang saws began to be talked of. They would do well enough in Pennsylvania, but our market wanted more variety, and gang were not the thing here. And certainly the old mills did turn out a variety for hardly any two pieces were alike.

The desire for improvement and constant study to reduce the cost of making lumber, made each new mill an improvement on those built earlier. Hardly was a new mill complete and known as a marvel of convenience and capacity before new improvements were perfected. Scientific machinists made every part of the saw mill a study. Inventors tried failed and at last succeeded in producing improvements which had been thought impossible, and the same number of men that with the old sash saws could cut 10,000 feet per day will now saw over 100,000 feet per day.

To get logs enough to the saws and take away the lumber and refuse is the problem now in milling. Also lumber is now cut much more smoothly thus of old and of uniform thickness and width.

The changes in the means and appliances, for getting out and driving logs, and for moving lumber to the market, have been quite as marked. Of these more may be said in another place.