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Oconto County Herald
February 9, 2000
A History Of Logging In Oconto County

With this issue the Times-Herald is beginning a series of excerpts from the book, "A History Of Logging In Oconto County" from the McCauslin to Jab Switch. The author is Della Rucker. Editing is by Diane Nichols, Oconto County Historical Association. The project coordination is by Bruce Mommaerts of the Oconto Co. Economic Development Corp.
 

Chapter I - The First Mill

Although Oconto County pine lumber would become famous across the Midwest, the first mill was built for very different reasons. In the early 1800s, John Arndt owned a large shipyard in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Arndt's shipyard built mostly Durham boats, which were wide, flat-bottomed open boats as much as sixty feet long and twelve feet wide. Durham boats were usually moved with large poles, and were popular for transporting goods, people and animals on wide, shallow, rivers in Pennsylvania.

When Arndt and his family moved to what is now Green Bay in 1824, Arndt discovered that his boats might sell well in the area. At that time, the waters of Green Bay and the Fox River were the main highways through the area, since no other roads existed, Fur traders transported their goods in birchbark canoes, which were small and easy to tip over, or in traditional French cargo boats called bateaux, which were hard to maneuver. Like most pioneer businessmen, however, Arndt had to solve problems that he hadn't faced in Pennsylvania. Arndt's main problem was obtaining the right kind of wood for boat construction  he needed mostly oak planks twenty to thirty feet long, as well as smaller amounts of pine for the long, steering oar attached to the rear of the boat. Since there were no sawmills nearby, Arndt had nowhere to get his lumber.

In 1826, Arndt leased a parcel of land near the mouth of the Pensaukee River from the Menominee Indians, who still controlled the area at that time. This lease is the first recorded in what is now Oconto County. In the lease, the Menominee gave Arndt the right to build a sawmill and cut any timber he needed. In return, Arndt agreed to give the Menominee as much lumber as they needed, and to grind their grain in the grist mill attached to the sawmill. By 1827, Arndt and another Green Bay, businessman, Ebinezer Childs, had built a mill about one mile upriver from the Pensaukee's mouth. This mill was powered by a water wheel, and had one saw that could cut about 2,000 feet of lumber per day, a tiny amount compared to mills built as little as ten years later. Only two men were needed to run the mill. Oneida Indians were hired to cut logs for the mill in the winter. The Durham boats became very popular; they moved almost everything in the region until the first steamboats arrived in the 1850S and 1860s.

Like most of the first buildings in wilderness area, Arndt's mill was not built to last forever. By 1837 it was essentially worn out. Arndt then bought out Childs' interest in the mill, rebuilt it and hired Isaiah Powell to run it, but the new mill was no bigger and produced the same kind and amount of timber as before. It is not clear how long Arndt's mill continued to operate, but it was apparently still running when he sold it to his son in 1841.
 

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