Marinette County WIGenWeb - Centennial History - Transportation

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Beginning of Transportation

The area that would be Marinette County had two harbors on the famous Great Lakes-Fox-Wisconsin-Mississippi waterway that led into the heart of America. Only fifty years after the Pilgrims landed on the Atlantic shores, white explorers found their way to this community.

The Peshtigo and Menominee Rivers that emptied into this busy highway would provide access to the vast pine forests and the granite in the future county. The water highway was the way white people came and why they came.

For thousands of years, the Menominee had been mobile, traveling mainly by canoe through their land which extended from Milwaukee to Lake Superior, from Lake Michigan to Tomah on the Black River to the west. (They had an overland trail through the land which crossed the Thunder River at Shawano Rapids, crossed the Peshtigo at Wolf Rapids below the mouth of the Eagle River, went north and west to White Rapids on the Menominee and continued on to the copper region.)

Our ports were indeed used for many years, and were humming with activity before they became the entrances to the wealth of the new Marinette County in 1879.

Green Bay on the south side of the mouth of the Menominee was shallow. There was deep water on the north side and there the harbor would be built, serving all three communities, Menekaunee, Marinette and Menominee. The entire settlement was simply called "The Menominee," and that was the mailing address. A large sandbar beginning on the north side and extending almost across the mouth of the river kept the vessels "outside the bar." Father Charlevoix in 1721 referred to an island that hid the entrance of the river. Philbrook's Island had a dock, a pier, a bridge to the mainland and a shipyard in 1871. Years of activity have changed the appearance of the mouth of the river.

In 1836, when the entire Brown County (which then included Marinette, Florence, Oconto and Langlade counties) had a population of only 1,500 white people, the "New York" entered the harbor to take on a load of wood. She was the first steamship in the harbor. Regular freight and passenger service were established that year.

Sailboats were chiefly used until 1871. It was "not an unusual sight to see twenty-five vessels at anchor at one time." The "Fanny Fiske" and the "Queen City," John Jacob's (his mother was Queen Marinette) side-wheeler alternated trips to provide daily service to Green Bay, as did the Goodrich Steamship Company and the Northwestern Railroad. They all carried freight and passengers. Many names of steamships are listed in the old records of the 1850s. Many were privately owned.

The harbor had no improvements until 1871. The river at the mouth was "about a mile wide" and was only three to five feet deep. Lumber had to be loaded onto vessels, waiting outside the bar, from skows and barges hauled by men with lines made fast to the shore and to the vessel being loaded. Lumber companies had built their own docks. In 1855 a solid mass of logs extended for ten miles up the river, destined for the twenty-three steam mills on the river and the Chicago markets.

By the time the Civil War had ended, the pineries to the south had been depleted, lumber buyers had to enter Green Bay for their supplies, and boom times began for the community. More attention was paid to our harbors. Congress approved a plan by the U.S. Army to improve the Menominee harbor. One thousand, one hundred and fifty feet of pier was built, extending into the bay from the Menominee River Lumber Company land. Eight years later the river was dredged to a depth of twelve feet. Then the "Martin L. Morgan" could enter the river, to be the first ship to tow skows and rafts to the waiting vessels.

Ship yards at Peshtigo Harbor were building skows and other vessels in 1879. The white oak in the area was excellent building material. In 1880 the "Boscobel" was built there for $50,000. Tugs were towing barges of railroad cars from Peshtigo Harbor to Chicago. Isaac Stephenson organized the first barge line on Lake Michigan, to evade the high cost of transportation by railroad. there were three tugs, each towing two barges, one loading, one in transit, one unloading at all times.

Ships entering Green Bay had to go through "Death's Door" at the tip of Door Peninsula. Years before, hundreds of Indians in a war party had drowned while crossing it, and since then many ships had gone down in the turbulence of that area. In 1879 the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal was built. It cut through the last one and a half miles of land at the deep inlet half way up the peninsula to form a new, shorter and safer route to Lake Michigan.

By 1896 there were 1,333 arrivals and departures in the eight month season at the Menominee Harbor. Tonnage was 355,529 tons. Many steamships wanted a cargo of whitefish, for at times it was more valuable than pine.

The rivers and their tributaries in the county were navigable only by canoes and logs, and the logs needed controls of the water. In 1835 there was a dam on the Peshtigo, in 1844 one was built on the Menominee. In 1867 the Menominee River Boom Company was formed, a central organization to handle logs and distribute them. This remarkable cooperative between the many individual lumber companies controlled the rivers and planned the spring drives. The built 41 dams on the Menominee and its tributaries. Twenty-seven dams were built on the Peshtigo by other companies. These gave the settlers up in the county some means of crossing the streams beside fording, for make-shift bridges were often built at the dam site.

In 1862 the population of Marinette had increased to 500 people and there were complaints about "The only way of crossing the river in summer is with boats for men, skows for horses." Feeny Brown was running a ferry service at the mouth of the river. In 1867 the two communities built a bridge from Dunlap Square in Marinette to Menominee's Ogden Street. It was built of timbers from Oregon and our mills didn't have large enough saws to handle the lumber! The two states replaced it in 1871 with an iron bridge. Twenty years later a second bridge was built at the mouth of the Menominee. IN 1894 a third bridge was added above the first dam. It was replaced, below the dam, at Hattie Street in 1912.

(Marinette County Centennial 1879-1979, p. 13)

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