A History of Oconto
By George E. Hall
Oconto on the Crest of a Wave
As the 1800’s drew to a close and the 19th century began, Oconto was a city bright with promise and opportunity.
the town was riding on the crest of a wave is borne out by this reprint
of a description of the city that appeared on the back of business
used at that time:
“Oconto, the county seat of Oconto County, Wisconsin, is an enterprising city with a population of 6,500 people. It is located on the west shore of Green Bay, 29 miles north of the city of Green Bay and south of Marinette, at the mouth of the Oconto River on the Cm&St. Paul Railway, the Chicago and Northwestern and the Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western Railways.
“One hundred thousand dollars will be expended this year upon the harbor at this point, which will lower freight rates and make Oconto a very desirable location for factories. Exceptional shipping facilities and satisfactory labor conditions will make Oconto a city of a much greater population in a very short space of time.
In the original printing the two photographs on the right were mislabeled. Descendants of the family identify the older woman on the center right as midwife EVANGELINE BELONGIA La BROSSE and (r) her daughter Sophie La Brosse Frechette and not Etta Osborne
Holt Lumber Company and the Oconto Company operate here and manufacture
yearly upwards of 60 million feet of lumber and employ in the
of 700 men.
“Then comes the canning industry, the Pea Factory, which furnishes employment to a large number and also gives the farmer a good price for acreage.
“Oconto has two electric light plants, the People’s Land Manufacturing Company and the Oconto Electric Company from which power can be furnished at less than two cents per kilowatt hour. Residences pay seven cents; business places, five cents.
“The Oconto Brewing Company operates a large plant here. Besides these industries, Oconto has a pickle factory.
“A fine farming country bounds Oconto on three sides. No better farm nor thriftier farmers can be found anywhere. Anyone desiring farms should look over Oconto County before buying elsewhere.
“Oconto County has one of the best County Fairs to be found anywhere. Oconto has three banks, the Citizens National, the Oconto National and the Farmers State Bank. The bank deposits are over $1,000,000.
“Churches for all denominations. Four newspapers –‘Oconto County Reporter’, ‘Enterprise’, ‘Enquirer’ and ‘Oconto Lumberman’.
“Oconto has a public school system that cannot be beaten by cities five times her size. The Farnsworth Public library is a gem. Water supply from artesian wells – the best ever.”
Over a decade before
the advent of these “great days of confidence” in
Oconto, the National
Woman’s Suffrage Association was organized. Many
years ago, some
Oconto women in hearty agreement with that movement had moved out of
narrow sphere of their households to enter the arena of business, the
and commerce which heretofore were considered the exclusive domain of
This was long after Oconto women had entered the field of religion and
education but before women were granted the right to vote.
"Aunt Kate" C.A. Hill Dr. Minnie Hopkins
In the early 1900's she Still remembered by became manager of the many of her patients Hall Abstract Office. who were little
She was the sister of children when she Mrs. R.L. Hall Sr. came to Oconto to
Dr. Minnie Hopkins, homeopathic physician, set up offices in the former Henry Royce home on Main Street. The home, located on the site of the present Wisconsin Public Service Corporation warehouse, was later moved to Congress Street and at present is the home of Ira Telford. Dr. Hopkins was a familiar figure appearing early in the day with her long black leather handbag walking briskly from her house to the homes of her patients, mostly women and children. She was public spirited and took a great interest in promoting the annual chataquas which took place in the summer under very large tents that were raised near the present Mrs. Anna Slaney home on East Main Street and formerly the home of Judge Herbert F. Jones.
Another prominent woman doctor who arrived later was Dr. Anna M. Davies, then known as a “mechanical therapist”. Dr. Davies had very limited eyesight and rarely left her quarters. Her spotless office and lush apartment were located in the former Lawyer Webster apartments on the second floor of the Oconto National Bank. This building is now the church of the Union of Christian Friends.
Upon the death of Harry Whitcomb (one of the big stockholders of the Oconto Water Works), his daughter, the fashionable, educated Isabelle Whitcomb, came to Oconto from her family home in Philadelphia to look after family interests in the plant. Having had an unhappy love affair, it was rumored, and being favorably impressed with growing Oconto of that time, she decided to take over the business and make Oconto her home. She returned only once to Philadelphia, it is believed, at which time she closed her home there – never to open it again to be lived in by anyone. Her small frame Oconto home on Brazeau Avenue, situated north of the waterworks plant, has since been removed. During her last years, it was filled with old waterworks records and papers and books which she collected. Many people remember the diminutive, white-haired, soft-spoken Miss Whitcomb who had a great number of pet cats. She spent much time each day in the engine room of the plant. Fashionable clothes were of no interest whatsoever to her. She did not wish to be photographed.
Miss Whitcomb requested in her will that when she died there would be no obituary or notice of her death in the newspapers. She wished a private funeral to be attended and seen by only a chosen few, which included the Rev. S.J. Hedelund, vicar of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Burial took place in her family cemetery lot in the East. Her request was respected and carried out.
In Frenchtown, not a great distance from the waterworks, lived the Mose LeBrosse family. For many years, Mrs. LeBrosse (EVANGELINE BELONGIA La BROSSE not Sophie), a registered mid-wife, delivered a great majority of the French babies. Her fee was $5 to deliver a baby and remain with the mother and newborn child nine days.
Two of the earliest Oconto women secretaries were Edith Nerbon, later to become Mrs. F.X. Morrow, and Miss Matilda (Tillie) Williams. A few years later, Miss Mae Williams served in that capacity for along time.
Etta Osborne was the
first lady telephone operator, later followed by Miss Jennie Herald,
became Mrs. John Noonan. The first telephone office was in
of the Robert Ellis home on the corner of Congress Street and Arbutus
better known to later generations as the church house of the
Eda Nemoede Casterton, one-time secretary of Attorney Peter Martineau, became an accomplished artist when a young lady. She drew and painted portraits of a number of Oconto friends. She is best known for her delicate work on miniature portraits on ivory. One of her famous patrons whom she painted was President Theodore Roosevelt. Now an elderly noted artist, it is believed she presently lives in Chicago.
A portrait of Jesse Lee, a daughter of General Wilbur M. Lee, which was drawn by Mrs. Casterton when she was fifteen, now graces the front vestibule of the Beyer Home Museum.
Mrs. Rose Sharp, attractive young widow of Charles Sharp and mother of Robert A. and Francis Sharp, became publisher and editor of The Enquirer, a weekly Oconto newspaper, on the death of her husband.
The newspaper was printed on one sheet of foolscap, and had to be folded and turned to be read.
Mrs. Sharp was to receive unwarranted notoriety when a young attorney, Patrick Lynch, was almost blinded after a woman wearing a “black fascinator” threw acid in his face as he was walking past the corner of the Goodrich & Martineau store at night. The sensational case was tried in Fond du Lac. Evidence brought out in the trial strongly indicated the “acid thrower” was an unidentified out-of-town acquaintance, and Mrs. Sharp was found innocent by the court.
The vindicated Mrs. Sharp continued to publish The Enquirer for many years until her son, Assemblyman Robert Sharp, took over the business.
Blanche Cook of the town of Oconto
The well-known Washington House in the building now occupied by the Panette Ben Franklin Store, was run solely for many years by the fashionable Mrs. Anastasia Walsh. She became proprietor on the death of her husband. Mrs. Anastasia Walsh Hayes was the mother of Jack Walsh, Margaret (Maggie) Walsh and Mrs. Mae Walsh Mann.