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Oconto County

City of OCONTO

The County Seat! 
The city is named for the river that runs through it. The Menominee Indian word "okato," "o-kon-toe" or "oak-a-toe" is said to mean "pike place", "boat paddle", "red ground", "river full of fish" or "black bass." The Chippewa called it "okando," or "watching outpost". A map published in Venice, Italy, in 1695 referred to it as the Katon River. In 1825 the fur trader Augustin FARNSWORTH called it the Cantone River, and Brevort called it the Counton. In 1831, a U.S. Government agent reported the name as Gillespie, but it appeared as the Oconto River on an official U.S. map in 1840. It was originally known as Oconto Mills due to the large number of water powered mills constructed starting in the 1840's, and used in the processing of lumber or grain in later years. Information provided in part by Deana Hipke. 
( note: The George Hall book "History of Oconto" states William Delano was the first of Delanos to arrive in the area. The other Delano brothers joining him in 1855.  However, the 1852 Property tax roll shows Mortimore Delano as a resident owner of 110 acres of land in Section 27 T. 17 R 2; specifically the SE 1/4 of Ne 1/4 which would be next to Charles Windross.)



Oconto Company's First Mill Constructed in 1857 
Saw Rapid Growth

The first mill of the Oconto Company was built in 1856 by Morrill brothers of New Haven, Conn., who became embarrasses in the panic of 1857, were unable to meet a mortgage on the property held by L. St. Ores and as 
a result of which the mill was put on the auction block and was bid in by George Farnworth for the account of L. St. Ores. St. Ores then sold a half interest to Mr. Farnsworth for $1,650, taking his note for the amount.

Mr. St. Ores later desired to go west and told Mr. Farnsworth that if he could find a purchaser for St. Ores half, he might have it for $4,000. The half interest was then sold to John N. Sedam and the firm of 
Farnsworth & Sedam was organized and operated the mill for several years, when Mr. Farnsworth bought Sedam's interest for $20,000 and sold this interest to Nathan Mears, Eli Bates and James C. Brooks and the firms of Farnworth, Mears and Co., was established.

The only wood that was manufactured into lumber in those days was pine and of that only the practically surface clear logs were used, leaving the smaller and rougher trees on the ground. The logs were all produced in the winter months and hauled .........

The present Oconto Company was incorporated in Wisconsin in 1867 and has continued as such corporation down to the present time. The present mill 
is a rebuilt structure following the burning in 1899 of the original mill on the same site which was built in the spring of 1867. A shingle mill and a planing mill were erected in 1872. The company as originally 
constituted also operated a flour mill, having a capacity of eighty barrels of flour a day. The flour mill started in the summer of 1868 and continued down to and shortly after the year 1881. In that year, 1881, the construction of a foundry was begun, to be operated in connection 
with its machine shop. This foundry operation was known as the Oconto Iron Works and continued for a great many years. The company also conducted a large general store business and a boarding house at Oconto. In the year 1881 the Oconto Company also owned and operated a box and barrel factory in Chicago.

About this time the stockholders of the Oconto Company began the construction of a large lumber, tie and shingle mill at Big Bay de Noquet on the Sturgeon River in Delta County, Michigan. Even at the present time this plant is still in operation and has many more years of operating life. The history of the company shows that George Farnworth, father of the present president of the Oconto Company, George J. Farnsworth.........


The Holt Lumber company has bee in business continuously for 92 years, having cut timber from Northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Devillo 
R. Holt, founder of the business was of English lineage and was a native of Watertown, New York. He established a wholesale and retail lumber yard in Chicago in 1847. In 1854, he and Richard Mason started a small sawmill at Masonville, Michigan, on Little Bay de Noquet, under the name of Holt & Mason. The lumber was shipped to Chicago on sailing vessels. 
(Ike) Isaac Stephenson was the logging superintendent. 

(Note Here: John Donovan and wife Susanna, "Ma Smith" worked for Stephenson, him in the woods and she ran the company boarding house in Bay de Noquet, 1854-1856, John then came to Oconto as a land looker or timber cruiser for Holt. source: obituary for John Donovan, 3/15/1899, Oconto County Reporter, he was my ggg grandfather)

This partnership was dissolved in 1857, D. R. Holt taking over the vessel and keeping the Chicago yard. In 1862 D. R. Holt entered into a partnership with Uri Balcom and bought the sawmill at Oconto, which was built in 1856 by the Norton Lumber Company, of which George Farnsworth Sr., was superintendent, and which continued in operation until Nov. 15, 1938, when the last log was sawed and the mill was closed permanently.

(Note Here: my great grandfather, Horace Herald and his son, Roland Herald were both there, they worked in the mill and this is the picture I have, all the men standing on the docks and building the last day of 
operation, they then had to go to the ccc camp in Mountain for jobs as it was the depression)

The business was carried on under the name of Holt & Balcom until 1888 when D. R. Holt bought out Mr. Balcom and incorporated the business as the Holt Lumber Company. On the death of D. R. Holt, in 1899, his sons took charge, George H. Holt becoming president and W. A. Holt, vice president. In 1922, George H. Holt sold his interest in the company to W. 
A. Holt, who has been president and general manager ever since.

W. A. Holt entered the lumber business in 1882 at the age of 17 when the firm was Holt & Balcom. In 1888 he took active charge of the business at Oconto. In 1895 Mr. Holt predicted that in less than 10 years the country 
would be logged off, but that did not take into consideration the future salability of hardwoods and hemlock.

The sawmill, which is reputed to be the oldest in this part of the country, is of frame construction, the original timbers being hewn pine and secured by wooden dowels. The first saw was a mulay; that was succeeded by a circular and two gang saws. When the mill closed in 1938, the equipment included two vertical band saws and a gang, and a resaw. Its annual capacity was 2,000,000,000 feet. Adjoining the sawmill was a complete shingle mill.

The company has a fully equipped planing mill, with five matchers and surfacers, two molders, three band resaws, and one band rip saw, all electrically powered. 

Shavings are blown from the planing mill to the boilers at the power plant to be used for fuel. Steam for operation the sawmill and the turbine, which generate electricity for the planing mill, developed the three water tub boilers.

During the first era of lumbering in this country when only pine was cut, oxen skidded the logs to the logging roads where they were piled on sleighs and hauled by horses to the river banks and driven down the 
streams in the spring. The oxen went out during the panic of 1893. The were killed and eaten by the crews and never replaced. Horses took the places but now the horses, to large extent, are being replaced by tractors for skidding and trucks for hauling. The passing of the pines spelled the end of driving logs down the river. The hardwoods and hemlock would not float well enough. Railroads replaced the river and now trucks 
have cut in greatly on the rail roads as a means of transporting logs to the mill. Information provided by Kathy Barlament

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