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

Bayfield's Fish Industry -- 1884

The Catch of 1884 Makes a Credible Showing for this our Leading Industry

A Grand Total of 2,247,200 Pounds of Old Lake Superior's Luscious Product

[Article taken from the Saturday, January 17, 1885, edition of the BAYFIELD COUNTY PRESS]

Another season has rolled around, the books have been balanced and the result of Bayfield's chief industry, the catching and shipping of fish, has been ascertained. The season opened fair and gave promise of very flattering results, but a few weeks put to flight hopes of this character, although the Isle Royale grounds to be explored later in the season were counted on to make up the average, at least. Here disappointment was again met and in many instances the expenses exceeded the catch by a considerable sum; however, the last few weeks on the season were unusually good and went far to swell the account on the credit side of the ledger. In fact, had it not been for the late closing of this harbor the season would have proved far from profitable and this, of itself, is sufficient evidence of the fact that the only profitable point on this bay for the erection of a large fish-packing house is here. Its proximity to the best fishing grounds on the lake; its early opening and late closing of navigation, and the further fact that attempts to conduct this business at other points have proved failures and the parties compelled to remove here are evidences of its superiority for this industry so plain that the 'wayfaring man though a fool need not err therein." But more of this anon.

Of the several firms engaged in harvesting the products of this great inland sea, Messrs:


take the lead in quantity. This firm is among the oldest operating at this point, the senior member, Hon. N. BOUTIN, having been in that business on Lake Michigan "years ago," and here since 1872. They own their own dock, a substantial structure erected in 1881-82 at a cost of about $10,000, including warehouses, store etc. They also own one of the best steam tugs on the lake and are thoroughly equipped for the successful handling of their business. During the season just closed they gave employment to one hundred and ten men all told; packed 657,200 pounds of salt fish; shipped 150,000 pounds of fresh and paid out for help alone $4,400. Of their fresh fish all, or nearly all, were shipped over the Omaha road, while of the 6572 packages of salt fish only 1958 packages were shipped over that line. The reason given for this being that owing to the fact that the railway company failing to extend the railway to their dock, they found it cheaper having their own boat to convey them to Ashland and other points where the roads connect with the docks rather than hire teams and haul from their dock to the railroad depot. Another year, however, it is hoped that this cause for complaint will be removed and if so, they propose to branch out further by adding to their present dock capacity.


are our next largest operators, and although comparatively a new firm have worked up a highly satisfactory and rapidly increasing business. Of this firm Mr. RICH is established in Minneapolis while Capt. ATWOOD attends to the business here. The firm is well equipped for the fishing business, being the sole owners of the schooner Louisa and of the steam tug R. W. Currie, both substantial boats and used exclusively in the fishing business. Their packing houses, warehouse, ice-house, etc. is located at the foot of Washington avenue on what is known as the Vaughn deck property. During the season they handled 660,000 pounds of fish; 400,000 salt; 260,000 fresh. They have given employment to upwards of seventy-five men and have paid out a large amount of money which has again found its way into circulation through the different business houses of the place, thus adding greatly to the wealth and importance of the town. They are adding to the facilities for handling fresh fish and will operate on a much larger scale than heretofore.

That "old reliable" operator,
is still in the business he has so successfully prosecuted since early manhood's days, and although operating on a much smaller scale during the past season than before in a number of years, by no means has done an unsuccessful season's work. He gave employment to upwards of forty men and packed 400,000 pounds of fish, all of which were salted.

Last upon the list of large operators is
formerly known as the Ashland Fish Company. Mr. Le BEL found it more profitable to conduct his business at this point and moved here about the middle of the season. He has confined his operations strictly to handling fresh fish and has shipped 300,000 pounds. At present he uses part of Messrs. BOUTIN & MAHAN's packing house and although having met with more than his share of misfortune of the season in the way of lost boats, nets, and teams, has done a very satisfactory business and will operate on a larger scale next season.


To attempt to give accurate figures of the amount of fish handled by other parties is indeed a task. The number of small and transitory operators has been unusually large during the past season and as a record of their transactions is not to be had, we have been obliged to arrive at the amount by enquiring among those best posted who fix the amount at from forty to fifty tons. To be on the safe side, we have taken the smaller estimate and called the amount handled by "other parties" 80,000 pounds.


Total amount of fish handled in Bayfield during the year 1884, was 2,247,200 pounds... The total number of barrels and kits used during the season was 16,522, of which number not more than one-third were manufactured at this point.

The above figures, taken in connection with other things, serve to demonstrate two important facts which the PRESS has so often dwelt upon: First, that no point on this lake offers such superior inducements for the establishment of a large fish packing house as offered here; second that the inducements for the erection of a wooden ware manufactory for the manufacture of barrels, kits, firkins, tubs, pails, etc., presented at this point are all that could be desired. Its points in favor of the of the fishing packing business are: that it is already the seat of the of the largest fish industry on the lake; that it is in closer proximity to the fishing grounds of this lake than any other point; that its shipping facilities by land and water are all that could be desired; and that the early opening and late closing of this harbor renders this season from four to six weeks longer than that of any other port. Its points of favor of a wooden ware manufactory are: that the home demand for barrels and kits is already large and constantly increasing; that the material for the manufacture of such articles is abundant, easy of access, and can be secured for a song in comparison with what similar institutions at other points are obliged to pay for the raw material; that the facilities for shipping its products from this point to all parts of the country are superior to those of all other points where such establishments are now in operation. Columns might be written on the advantages this point presents for the establishment of these and other industries, but surely it is not necessary. These figures are so plain that lie who runs may read and the PRESS hopes another season it may include in its annual resume of tis industry the erection of both these establishments.

Bayfield County Past Index Page

Bayfield County Home Page