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Oconto County


The first white settlers came up the Oconto River from Green Bay in 1846 and were taken by the beauty and industrial potential of the falls there. Navigation of the river was limited by the falls, but this was offset by the ease in dam building for mills. Information provided in part by Deana Hipke.

Oconto Falls probably saw one of its first, if now the actual first, white man when Nicholas Perrot passed through on his way to settle an Indian dispute in 1668. Fur trading was the original lure to bringing settlers to the area. In October, 1846, the Volk Family were the first settlers and lumbermen in Oconto Falls. Coming from New York City, John Volk had married Almira Ketchem in 1830 (Almira wrote an autobiography published in 1905) . After briefly settling in Chicago in 1834, then Kewaunee, WI, they traveled by sled, boat, and oxen drawn wagon to what is now Oconto Falls. They lived the first years in Indian bark shacks, just three families totally alone and isolated from all they knew. On the 1852 Tax Rolls, the Oconto Falls mill was not owned by Volk. Col. David Jones is there and he is another of the big tax payers. 

Fallen trees were the only footbridges until 1857 when a dam-bridge combination was built. That same year the first school house was opened by Maria Volk. Mr. Bushey became the first paid school teacher in the new schoolhouse in 1860 when the coach began servicing the settlement, going from Green Bay, through Sites and Oconto as well. Despite only a trickle of water going over the falls in the autumn of 1871, the mill was saved during the Peshtigo Fire, but most other buildings and homes were totally lost. The natual beauty of the falls were destroyed forever in 1883 when they were dynamited to make easier passage for logging. New schools, a village doctor (first Dr. Osswaldt then Dr. Bery), more mills, a hotel, shops, various other businesses and the railroad were firmly established by 1887. Original pioneer, John Volk, died in 1892 at the age of 86, Almira, his wife, passed away in 1906. The last log drive came down the Oconto River in 1912, spelling an end to the 64 year continuous operation of the mills, the same year that Oconto Falls officially became a city. Information provided by Almira Volk, Kenneth J. Augustine, Farnsworth Library in Oconto, and the Oconto County Historical Society. Town of OCONTO FALLS -- Named for the falls in the Oconto River that provided for easier dam construction resulting in the many mills that were initially the foundation of the settlement.

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