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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
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
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.
Centennial 1879-1979, p. 13)
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