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Flash From The Past - 1971

Oconto County Reporter
November 11, 1971
Contributed by Dave Cisler
Transcribed by Diane Horn

A Description of Gillett in 1874 as it appeared in the Oconto County Reporter

Gillett Village Hall nearing completion

Gillett is joined on the south and west by Shawano county, on the north by the state of Michigan, and on the east by sister towns of the county.  The territory embraces nine townships of land in 324 square miles.  Of the 200,000 acres, 50 per cent of the land is in the hands of settlers and the remaining 50 per cent is available from the government at $1.25 per acre.  The population numbers 500.

Of the two principal settlements, the first is at Oconto Falls and the second at Gillett Center.  The Falls House is the largest hotel west of Oconto.  Further west is the hotel of David Caldwell, kept by Reuben Slattery.  Five miles from the Falls is the “Old Norton Farm” commenced in 1856 by F. W. John, and for many years the only stopping place between Oconto Falls and Gillett Center.

Not many years ago, about the only white representative in Gillett was a Chancel Baker, who built a log house, cleared a patch for potatoes, and married a Miss “Lo”.  The Lo’s were very numerous in the vicinity then and were known as a commercial people and for their cultivation of the fine arts.  Elder members of the family exchanged furs with Mr. Baker for corn and rye in fluid form.  The Baker property was bought about 1858 by Rodney Gillett. 

First Schoolhouse in Gillett

Gillett now has a frame schoolhouse and is building a new and beautiful church which will be fully equal to any found in the city of Oconto.  There is a two-story store building owned by Richard Kingston.  M. W. Patterson is moving from Oconto and is also building a store, and William Howell is making arrangements for the erection of a large, two-story hotel, grocery business and public hall.

There is also a drug store, the blacksmith ship of John Klemp, and the wagon making shop of Mr. Cospop.  The stream saw, shingle and grist mill of David Lister sits on the bank of a lake.

On the new road running from Oconto to Shawano – and diverging at Gillett Center, there are the farms of Mathew Finnegan, C.S. McKenzie and L.S. Lindsey (formerly the Old Bill Pier place).

    Great Northern Pail Company 1903 Photo

GILLETT – JUNE  1876 – One of the fiercest tornados to visit the county cut a five-mile strip through the territory, doing the greatest damage at Gillett.  Among the buildings destroyed by the wind are Rodney Gillett’s barn, Matt Finnegan’s house and barn, Thomas Rierdon’s house and barn,  Mr. Bruses’s buildings, Thomas Johnson’s roof, Oconto Company’s barn on the McDougal farm, and the smoke stack of the mill.  At the time of the tornado, John Volk and his wife were returning from Gillett to Oconto Falls in a buggy and narrowly escaped death when a tree fell across their path, killing their horse.

GILLETT 1882 – A great epidemic of disease hit this area this spring, of which no remedy has been found.  The school in the German district has been closed for the past three months due to illness among the school children, many of whom have died.  Within two weeks the family of Freidrich Oestreicher has lost all five of its children to pneumonia or diptheria.

MAY 30, 1907 -  Fire destroyed the Opera House, Newald’s large barn and a dwelling house at Gillett Monday afternoon, and it was only by the excellent work of the volunteer fire department and citizens that much of the village was not wiped out.

The fire was discovered about 1 p.m. in the Opera House by Holm & Crowner, who conducted a bowling alley and saloon on the first floor.