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Flash From The Past - 1971
Oconto County Reporter
November 11, 1971
Contributed by Dave Cisler from the scrapbook of Miriam C. Barribeau CISLER
Transcribed by Cathe Ziereis

Oak Orchard Settlement
Pre-dates First Oconto Mill


GEORGE WINDROSS now lives in the Oak Orchard home build over 100 years ago by his grandfather, Charles Windross, one of three brothers to settle in Oak Orchard in 1847.

One of the most restful and scenic spots along the west side of the bay is the stretch of shore midway between Pensaukee and Little Suamico, called Oak Orchard.

Oak Orchard today is largely a summer colony - a place where cottage owners can go to relax and enjoy the vista of cool blue water at their front doorstep. But in its beginnings Oak Orchard was a "working community" — a settlement of farms and gar-dens and fishing shanties.
 
Mr. and Mrs. John Windross, pioneer owners of stopping off place at oak Orchard for travelers and early settlers arriving by boat. They were long remembered by newcomers of the early days for their kindness and hospitality.

The first settler to brave the wilderness and make a home in the area was an Englishman named John Windross who had come to America with his wife and four children in 1833.

After stopping first in New York and Brown county, Windross found his place in the New World on the Bay Shore in the spring of 1847. At that time Wisconsin was still a territory and there was nothing north of Green Bay but a small mill on the Pensaukee river employing mostly Indian laborers. It would be two years yet before another Englishman, Colonel David Jones, would come to Oconto to begin the first steam mill there.

Nevertheless, early accounts tell us that the senior Windross established a tavern on the shore, presumably for the pur-pose of servicing travelers on the bay, for no roads except Indian trails then traversed the wilderness area that became Oak Orchard, Pensaukee township.
By this time Windross' three sons - William, Charles and John - had also come of age and were ready to stake their own claims in the new land. 
 
Oak Orchard’s first settler, John Windross, poses on the porch of the home he built in 1895. It is now the home of Mrs. William Snyder. 

Through government land grants, John Windross, Jr. eventually acquired a stretch of land that extended a mile and three-quarters along the Bay Shore. Building a log cabin in what was then woods, he be-gan clearing his property and by 1870 had 70 acres under cultivation.

Unlike his brothers, John limited his farming to raising fruits and vegetables, an occupation his family had followed In England, and soon gained the reputation of being "the best gardener in the state."

Indications of the size and success of John's "garden" appear frequently in early issues of the Reporter. At var-ious times in the 1870s the editor noted that John had an acre in tomatoes alone, had harvested 90 bushels of straw-berries, and had brought into the newspaper office a cabbage weighing 31 pounds.

In 1855 John went to Green Bay to take a bride - an Irish lass named Ann Redmond, who had come to America five years previous. The couple were to become known for the hospitality of their home extended to early travelers along the bay, and the active part John played in the affairs of the emerging township. He was, in fact, one of the organizers of Pensaukee township and also served as Justice of the Peace.

Eight children were born to John and Ann, but at their death (John in 1903 and his wife in 1908), only four were listed among the survivors. They were Mrs. Eli (Julia) Bell, Mrs. William (Hannah) Snyder, Mrs. Sarah Anderson and Mrs. John (Kate) Grosse.

When John was buried from St. Joseph's Catholic church by Rev. Selbach it was eulog-ized of him: "Though his hair was white, he had the heart of a child."

Charles and William also farmed at Oak Orchard, though on a smaller scale than their brother, John, preferring to divert their time to other inter-ests, notably commercial fish-ing. Charles was also active in county affairs and when Oconto elected its first officer on June 10, 1853, Charles was one of three supervisors named to the county board.

William remained a bachelor, but Charles married and had six children, George, Charles, Jerry, Emma, Laura and May. Two of the sons became mer-chants, Charles opening Pensaukee's first store, and later one at Brookside, and Jerry operating stores at Cream City and on Oconto's south side.

George Windross was also both farmer and fisherman and remained on the home place. One of his sons also named George still lives there in the house that is now over the century mark. The latter George (known as Judge) con-tinued to do commercial fishing until the 1950s when the con-dition of the bay waters made it no longer profitable, and then went to work on dredges as a 'jackmaster’.

Among the descendants of Oak Orchard's pioneer settlers are Mrs. Vernon (Carol) Zoeller, Mrs., Neil (Nona Faye) Eichman - both daughters of George Windross; John Snyder, a grandson of John Windross, Jr., and Glenn, Frank and Earl Snyder, great-grandsons of John.

And now a sixth generation growing up can proudly assert that their great-great-grandparents settled Oak Orchard when their only neighbors were Indians.

 

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