Bayfield County Press

Compiler's Note: Currie G. Bell, my great-grandfather, became the editor and publisher of the Bayfield, Wisconsin weekly newspaper, the BAYFIELD COUNTY PRESS, in the fall of 1882. The paper remained in the Bell family until July 1927. In addition to the usual birth, marriage and death announcements, THE PRESS printed local "chit-chat" columns that provided snippets of information on the residents of Bayfield and the surrounding towns. On a time-available and experimental basis, we have decided to post some of this data in the hopes it may be of use to family historians researching their Bayfield county ancestors. --John Griener

Capt. R. D. PIKE on Bayfield's Beginnings

Robinson Darling PIKE, son of Judge Elisha and Elizabeth Kimmey PIKE, was a lumbering giant in early Bayfield history. Capt. R. D. Pike, as his name appeared weekly in the Press, was one of the most influential men in the county, associated not only with timber interests, but with the Bayfield Brownstone Company, the electric light company, the fish hatchery, etc. Just before his death on March 27, 1906, he wrote the following recollections of early Bayfield. The paper was read at the Bayfield 50th anniversary celebrations and was published in the March 30, 1906 issue of the Press along with Capt. PIKE's obituary:

"I regret very much not being able to be with you at the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the town of Bayfield. As you may be aware, I have been ill for the past few weeks, but am pleased to state at this time I am on the gain and hope to be among you soon. If my health permitted I would take great pleasure in being present with you this evening.

I remember very distinctly that the first stake was driven in the town of Bayfield by Major McABOY who was employed by the Bayfield Townsite Company to make a survey and plat same, (the original plat being recorded at our county seat.) This Bayfield Townsite Company was organized with Hon. Henry M. RICE of St. Paul at the head and some very enterprising men from Washington D.C. Major McABOY arrived here about the first of March and made his headquarters with Julius AUSTRIAN of LaPointe. Julius AUSTRIAN in those days being the Governor General of all that part of the country west of Ontonagon to Superior; Ashland and Duluth being too small to count The major spent probably two weeks at LaPointe going back and forth to Bayfield with a team of large bay horses owned by Julius AUSTRIAN, being the only team of horses in the country.

I remember very well being in his office at LaPointe with father, (I being then a mere lad of seventeen,) and I recollect hearing them discuss with Mr. AUSTRIAN the question of running the streets in Bayfield north and south and avenues east and west, or whether they should run them diagonally due to the topography of the country, but he decided on the plan as the town is now laid out. Mr. AUSTRIAN and quite a little party from LaPointe came over here on the 24th of March, 1856, when they officially laid out the town, driving the first stake and deciding on the name Bayfield, named after Lieutenant Bayfield of the Royal Navy who was a particular friend of Senator RICE, and it was he who made the first chart for the guidance of boats on Lake Superior.

The summer of 1855 father was in poor health, filled up with malaria from the swamps of Toledo, and he was advised by Mr. Frederick PRENTICE, now of New York, and known by everybody here as "the brownstone man," to come up here and spend the summer as it was a great health resort, so father arrived at LaPointe in June, 1855, on a little steamer that ran from the Soo to the head of the lakes, the canal at that time not being open, but it was opened a little later in the season.

Upon arrival at LaPointe father entered into an agreement with Julius AUSTRIAN to come over to Pike's creek and repair the little water mill that was built by the North American Fur Company, which at that time was owned by Julius AUSTRIAN. He made the necessary repairs on the little mill, caught plenty of brook trout and fell in love with the country on account of the good water and pure air and wrote home to us at Toledo glowing letters as to this section of the country. Finally he bought the mill and I think the price paid was $350 for the mill and forty acres of land, and that largely on time; however the mill was not a very extensive affair. Nearly everything was made of wood, except the saw and crank-pin, but it cut about two thousand feet of lumber in twelve hours. Some of the old shafting and pulleys can be seen in the debris at the old mill site now. Remember these were not iron shafts as we used wooden shafts and pulleys in those days. This class of the mill at the time beat whip-sawing, that being the usual way of sawing lumber.

Father left LaPointe some time in September 1855 for Toledo to move his family to Pike's creek, which stream was named after we moved up here. Onion river and Sioux river were named before that time. On father's arrival from Toledo from this country we immediately began to get ready to move. We had a large fine yoke of red oxen and logging trucks. He sold out our farm at Toledo, packed up our effects, and boarded a small steamer which took us to Detroit. Our family then consisted of father, mother, grandma PIKE, and my sister, now Mrs. BICKSLER, of Ashland. We stayed several days in Detroit to give father time to buy supplies for the winter; that is feed for the oxen and cow and groceries for the family to carry us through until Spring.

We then boarded the steamer Planet, which was a new boat operated by the Ward Line, considered the fastest on the lake. It was about two hundred fifty tons capacity. We came to Sault Ste. Marie, it being the Planet's first trip through the Soo, the canal as I remember was completed that fall. During this year the Lady Elgin was running from Chicago and the Planet and North Star running from Detroit, they being about the only boats which were classed better than sail boats of the one hundred and fifty tons.

We arrived at LaPointe the early part of October, 1855. On our way up we stopped at Marquette, Eagle Harbor, Eagle River, and Ontonagon. We left Ontonagon in the evening expecting to arrive at LaPointe early the next morning, but a fearful storm arose and the machinery of the Planet became disabled off Porcupine mountains and it looked for a while as though we were never going to weather the storm, but arrived at LaPointe the next day. There were some parties aboard for Superior who left LaPointe by sail.

We remained at LaPointe for a week or ten days on account of my mother's health and then went to Pike's bay with all our supplies, oxen and cow on what was known as the Uncle Robert MORRIN's bateau. Uncle Robert and William MORRIN now of Bayfield, and if I remember rightly, each of the boys pulled an oar taking us across. We landed in Pike's bay just before sundown, hitched up the oxen and drove to the old mill. Now, this was all in the fall of 1855.

As I said before, the town was laid out on March 24th, 1856, and record made same at LaPointe by John W. BELL, who at that time was the "Witte" of all the country between Ontonagon and Superior; Julius AUSTRIAN being the "Czar" of those days and both God's noblemen. [Note: This was a reference to Count Sergei Witte and Tsar Nicholas II, contemporaries of Capt. Pike. Witte was responsible for much industrial development of Tsarist Russia in the 1890's. ] The Territory now comprising the town of Bayfield was taken from LaPointe county. There were a number of very prominent men interested in laying out the townsite and naming our avenues and streets, such as Hon. H. M. RICE and men of means from Washington after whom some of our avenues were named.

Very soon after this they wished to build a large mill in order to furnish lumber necessary for building up the town. The Washington people decided upon a man by the name of CAHO, an old lumberman of Virginia, so he was employed to come up here and direct the building of the mill. A hotel was built directly across from the courthouse by the Mr. BICKSLER who afterwards married my sister. The saw mill was built about a block west of where my saw mill now stands. The mill had a capacity of five or six thousand feet per day and I think the machinery came from Alexandria, Virginia. Joe LaPOINTE was the only man recognized as being capable of running a mill from the fact that he could do his own filing and sawing. While they were constructing the mill they had a gang of men in the woods getting out hard wood for fuel, not thinking of using any of the sawdust, and they piled the sawdust out with the slabs as useless. Charley DAY, whom many of you will remember, who was the party who got out the hardwood as fuel for the mill.

Time has wrought many changes in our midst. As far as I know, I am the only white man living who was here at the time the town was laid out.

In conclusion I wish to say that at a banquet given in Bayfield some two or three years ago, I made the statement that when the last pine tree was cut from the peninsula on which Bayfield is located the prosperity of our town and vicinity will have just commenced. The pine has gone and now we are cutting the hemlock and hardwood which will last ten to fifteen years; and long before this is exhausted the cut over lands will be taken up and farms tilled, as is the history of other sections of the country."

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