Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
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Edward J. Hall, a native of Oconto, many years after the Great Fire recalled the following incidents of the fearful days at Oconto at the time of the Peshtigo fire..

Fearful Days

    "Oconto was a sawmill town with six sawmills on the river. William Brunquest had an old water mill; Oconto Company had a flour mill near the Frenchtown bridge; the Oconto Company's sawmill was where it now stands; and Winslow's sawmill was on the south side of the river near the new Jefferson school. Hall's Sash, Door and Blind factory was located across the river from Holt's planing mill and Holt and Balcom's sawmill was what is now the Holt Lumber Company. Orr's sawmill was located at the lower bridge on the south side of the river. A half mile down river on the north bank was Jacob Spies' sawmill. 

    "At the north and of Superior Avenue stood Pahl's Brewery, now the Oconto Brewery. The new C&NW Railroad depot was located at the crossing of Main Street and the railroad. 

    'Holt's Planing mill now stands where our old home stood. 

    "The last days of September and the first days of October 1871, extensive forest fires overran the northeastern part of Wisconsin, destroying much property and causing great distress. The smoke made the sun to appear like a huge ball of fire and anyone could look at the sun all day and not hurt his eyes. In Holt and Balcom's store lights burned all day because it was so smoky. 

    "The second day of October I went to the old Washington school. It was so smoky that we were all sent home and there was no school at all that week. October 8, about noon, I went with other children to Sunday School in the old white Presbyterian Church. It was so smoky that we were sent home. All were sick at home from the fire; father, Aunt Kate, sister Kate and four brothers. Mother and I were the only ones that were not sick, so we had our hands full. I thought the day would never and. That was the day upper, middle and lower Sugar Bush and the village of Peshtigo was destroyed. Monday and all the next week were awful days for me and I will never forget seeing and hearing about that fire. 

    "The fire which destroyed Peshtigo occurred on the evening of the 8th of October, and history has never furnished a parallel to its terrible destructiveness. Shortly after the church-going people had returned from the evening service, an ominous sound was heard, like the distant roar of the sea or of a coming storm. Soon the inhabitants became apprehensive of the coming danger. Balls of fire were observed to fall like meteors in different parts of the town, igniting whatever they came in contact with. By this time the -whole population was thoroughly aroused and alarmed, panic-stricken. 

    "A brilliant and fearful glare grew suddenly into sight. Man and women snatched their children and ran for the river. Wave after wave of flame and masses of fire, with an awful roar, flew over them. Inhaling the burning air, hundreds dropped within sight of the river while many fell within a few feet of the river. Those who reached the river throw water and wet cloths on their heads, and even kept under water as much as they could, and yet were burned to death. From one to two hundred collected on the bridge. In an incredibly short time it fell with its struggling and scorched mass of humanity into a pond 12 or 14 feet deep. Nearly all who were saved collected in a low flat on the northeast side of the river. 

    "Among the farmers, the fire and wind swept upon them with the same suddenness and fury. The forest around them was levelled. Amid the roar of the fire and wind and the crash of falling timber, men, women, children and animals - even wild animals  flew,  they knew not whither in most cases cared. A small stream, nearly dried up, ran through much of these settlements. Many who reached it and were in it burned to death. Some went into their cellars and perished miserably. Five bodies were taken from a well literally roasted. Every vestige of fences and buildings was swept away, with two or three exceptions. The whole population of Peshtigo village and the farmland in its vicinity was 2,000, and fully one-third perished on that fearful night. 

    "Park Avenue in Oconto was called Section Street, and most all the stores in Oconto were on both sides of Section Street from the lower bridge to Main Street. When the river was high we could go to all the stores in a boat or walk on the floating lumber sidewalks that lined toth sides of the street from the bridge on Section Street to Main Street and up Main Street to Superior Avenue on on Superior to the river. 

    "Today many of the streets are paved, and automobiles and trucks have taken the place of horses, buggies and wagons. There are many more automobiles for pleasure and business now than there were horses and buggies. More money is spent and invested and the people of Oconto enjoy more real pleasure than we did years ago."



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