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Prepared for posting by Cathe Ziereis
Oconto County Times-Herald
March 8, 2000
A History Of Logging In Oconto County

The Times Herald continuing their publication of excerpts from the book, "A History Of Logging In Oconto County"  from the McCauslin to Jab Switch. The author is Della Rucker. Photos and editing is by Diane Nichols, Oconto County Historical Association. The project coordination is by Bruce Mommaerts of the Oconto Co. Economic Development Corp.
 

 LUMBERING MAKES OCONTO COUNTY CITIES AND VILLAGES - PART 2

LITTLE SUAMICO

The first permanent settlers in the Little Suamico area were members of the Gustavus Grosse family, who arrived in Green Bay in 1849 and left the city in 1851 after the private bank they had founded failed. ln exploring the Little Suamico River, the Grosses found one small sawmill, and subsequently bought a large portion of land. The remainder of the 1850s saw substantial influx of new settlers to the still-wildemess community. Many of these newcomers were immigrants from the German provinces, part of a massive German influx to Wisconsin that helped form hundreds of new communities and neighborhoods across the state during that era. By 1869, the community boasted an impressive five sawmills along the lower reaches of the Little Suarnico River. These included the Conn & Gardner mill, later known as the A.C. Conn Company which began operation in 1856. It proved to be one of the largest and longest-lived firms in southern Oconto County. Gustavus Grosse and his son also operated a smaller sawmill in addition to farming and some commercial fishing. Mills owned by Peters & Co. and Chase & Dickey were also Constructed in the 1860s, and Anson Eldred's large but short-lived Little Suamico mill was opened in 1874.

By the time Eldred's mill opened, however, Little Suamico's lumber industry was within a few years of its demise. Both the Peshtigo Fire and the Pensaukee Tornado destroyed much of the remaining timber within reach of the Little Suamico mills. By 1880 only the Conn and Grosse mills were still operating, both shadows of their former selves. By the turn of the century, Little Suamico had become the commercial center "of a successful farming region and had developed a smallscale but strong commercial fishing industry

MOUNTAIN

Like many communities, the settlements that became Mountain relocated in it's early years from its original riverside location to the railroad's new depot nearby although the Anson Eldred Company had been logging in the vicinity since the 1860s, the first permanent settlers did not arrive until 1877. The community received its post office and its name in 1889 from A.C. Frost, who had been active in the founding of communities farther south and became Mountain's first postmaster. In 1896, however, the Chicago & Northwestern line was extended to Mountain. Since the area where the settlers had concentrated was deemed too low-lying and swampy for rail line construction, the Mountain depot was constructed on higher land a short distance away. As in Lena and numerous other northern Wisconsin communities, the commercial advantages of being close to the depot resulted in a gradual migration of business establishments from the older settlement to the railroad's platted townsite.

The railroad also had another profound impact on Mountain; rail access made the land surrounding Mountain highly desirable to the large lumbering firms. By the early years of the twentieth century, hundreds of lumberjacks were working in the woods around Mountain most of the year. A thriving business community developed to cater to the supply, service, and entertainment needs of large camps, numerous rail line employees, and the huge population of workers in the woods. However, this extensive reliance on the lumbering industry caused severe problems for the community in the 1930s when it was hit with the Great Depression and the last lumber camps in the area closed. Farming, which was promoted in many northwoods communities as a new industry to fill logging's void, proved to be illsuited to much of the area. By the postwar era, tourism had become one of the community's primary sources of income and employment.

OCONTO AND OCONTO FALLS

At the river's mouth, Oconto had an early advantage both because of its proximity to the lake, the region's primary transportation route until the construction of the railroads, and because of the Oconto River's length and network of tributaries. Since this river system drains a larger territory than any of the other county rivers, the majority of logs cut in the county eventually floated through Oconto. Additionally, Oconto was the first major community in the county, with the exception of Pensaukee to the south, to receive a railroad connection. By the end of the logging era the city would have more rail connections and see more trains pass through daily than any other county settlement. As a result of these advantages, Oconto was home to more mills and factories, and thus more residents and businesses, that any other settlement in the county.

Oconto Falls also had significant advantages over much of the rest of the county, because of its river access and the waterfall around which the community developed. The falls generated power for many of the community's initial mills, and although the actual riverbed was greatly altered in the 1880s to make it less treacherous for the river drives, the waterfall an the series of dams constructed at the same location fostered a great deal of water-reliant industry. Proximity to the river and to the active logging areas to the north also encouraged the citys development as a milling and manufacturing center, with sawmills and later pulp, and paper mills providing and emloyment and income for growing numbers of residents.

PENSAUKEE

The community of Pensaukee has also been discussed extensively elsewhere in this book, most notably in the sections regarding the county's early mills, lumberman F. B. Gardner, and the Pensaukee tornado of 1877. At the time of the tornado, Pensaukee was still relatively active, and prosperous, but was already beginning to decline. The Peshtigo fire in 1871 had already destroyed much of the desirable timber in the Pensaukee River watershed, and most of the land away from the shore in southern Oconto County was being quickly taken up for farmland. The Pensaukee tornado hastened this evolution by destroying much of the remaining timber; it also nearly leveled the small community, destroying  the Gardner Hotel and many of its other industrial and commercial buildings. By the early 1900s, fishing had replaced lumbering as the community's primary industry. By 1914, seventeen identified fishermen were working out of the Pensaukee harbor, in addition to several farmers and other area residents who fished part-time.

STILES

Stiles has also been discussed in previous chapters, primarily in connection with the Eldreds & Balcom and the Anson Eldred companies. Unlike most county communities which began as a loose grouping of settlers and then became identified with a particular mill or developed multiple industries and activities. Stiles rose and fell in tight coordination with one company, which put it on the map. After acquiring the former Merrick Murphy mill in 1856, the Eldreds & Balcom invested substantially in the Stiles settlement, expanding their milling operations and recruiting new residents to the community. When Eldreds & Balcom dissolved in 1861, Anson Eldred purchased full control of the Stiles properties from his former partners, but it appears that the milling potential at Stiles was not adequate to Eldred's ambition.

Between 1873 and 1879 the Eldred concern bought or built three large sawmills, one in Little Suamico, one in Oconto and one in Green Bay. Although the  original Stiles mill appears to have continued to operate, this establishment was clearly of much less interest to the Eldred firm, and the community declined. By the early 1880s, however, two rail lines had been constructed near Stiles, one extending through most of the county on a nearly north-south route and one passing north of Stiles between Oconto and Clintonville. After construction of a spur line to the old mill site, the holdings became considerably more attractive to the firm, and an expanded sawmill and planing mill were soon constructed. A formal plat of the Stiles settlement was laid out at this time. Approximately fifty company-owned houses, which the Eldred company had constructed for its Little Suamico mill staff, were dismantled and reassembled in Stiles. By the turn of the century, the Stiles mills were joined by a pulp mill, hotel, company store, and other businesses were established. The Eldred saw and planing mills, however, closed in 1910 with the exhaustion of the region's pine timber. The pulp mill which was destroyed by fire was never rebuilt.

STILES JUNCTION

The settlement known as Stiles Junction today was initially know as Leightown, named for John Leigh, who settled along the river at this location in the late 1860s and operated a small sawmill into the 1880s. When the St. Paul Eastern Grand Trunk Railway completed to its intersection with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul line, in 1882, the name Stiles Junction was attached to the depot in reference to the larger community to the south. As in the case of many such settlements, the railroad's designation soon became the commonly used term, Leigh's name was virtually erased from the Oconto County map.

SURING

Suring also owes it's location to the railroad which helped a tiny settlement become a center of northwoods lumbering. At the time of its construction the community consisted of two houses, a vacant store and a small sawmill which had been constructed in 1883 by Joseph Suring, the area's first permanent resident and the owner of most of the land the railroad purchased in that vicinity. Prior to designation by the railroad, the little community had been commonly known as "Mudville," due to the low, swampy land that dominated the vicinity. As in many other depot communities, the opening of the railroad led to a settlement and building boom, as a general store, hotel, blacksmith, hardware store, and at least three saloons were in business in Suring before a year had expired.

Much of Suring's early business activity came from lumberjacks, going to or coming from camps north and west of Suring. As one of the northernmost settlements, Suring provided lodging, meals, and entertainment for jacks. One saloon, named the Assembly and constructed in 1896, became known locally as "That Awful Place" as a result of the wild, behavior that occurred within. By the turn of the century Suring had a grain elevator that served the areas growing number of farmers. Between 1905 and 1923 Suring was also home to a factory that made cheese boxes. After over a decade of declining timber yields, the last drive came through Suring in 1926. After that point Suring's primary businesses were oriented toward the dairy farms surrounding the village.

TOWNSEND

Like its neighbors Lakewood and Mountain, the Townsend area hosted extensive lumbering operations for years before the establishment of the community. Following extension of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway from Mountain to Wabeno in 1897, a store and two hotels were constructed. By 1900 the community's population had grown to such an extent as to require a tiny one-room school. After logging ended in the region, Townsend underwent a gradual conversion to the tourism industry and by  the postwar era was the commercial center for a collection of outlying resorts and vacation homes.

UNDERHILL

One of the westernmost settlements in the county, Underhill's primary industry was sawmill and planing mill operated by E. F Wickert from as early as 1902 until 1923. Underhill developed along the Oconto River in a valley. When the St. Paul Eastern Grand Trunk Railway was built through the area the line was run along higher ground. A long spur was Constructed to reach the Underhill sawmill, which had to be carefully designed in order to ensure that the grade was not too steep for the engines and rail cars. Although prosperous for several years, the mill was finally closed in 1924.

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