Price Co WI

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Knox Mills


 “Knox Mills no longer exists – that is, it no longer exists as it once was. At the turn of the century it was a busy lumber town. It remained so until the timber was gone and then it became a farming community. The last mill closed in 1931 when the timber was almost gone, the country in a depression and the rails removed. Now the farming community is gone as well. There are only a few farms struggling along.”


This quote is from Culture and Continuity of Knox Mills, Wisconsin (1864 – 1931) written by Joyce I. Bant, June 1985. Joyce, a native of Knox Mills, conducted extensive research on Knox Mills that resulted in a manuscript documenting the settlement and history of Knox Mills. Joyce has graciously given permission to share excerpts from her research project in this Price County GenWeb site. Due to the length of her manuscript, only excerpts have been used here to provide you with a glimpse into the past and the community of Knox Mills. All of the quotes are directly from her manuscript. Joyce’s information may be reproduced, however, please be sure to cite her work as your resource. For more information on her complete manuscript, please contact her at: [email protected]


Knox Mills was located in southern Price County, in the Town of Knox. The community thrived along Old Mill Road, a 1-mile stretch of gravel road that runs east and west between West Knox Road and County Highway D.


Excerpts from the Introduction:


“When W. H. Knox, E. H. Hobe, and Bradley and Collins owned the mills it was a company town with a school, a post office, a general store and boarding and company houses for the employees, which clustered around the mills and formed a nucleus. There were no streets but it was divided into two sections. The east side of town, by the pond, was known as Frog Town. It was named for the multitude of frogs that lived by the water there and brought attention to themselves by their croaking and singing. The west side of town was Pig Town. It was so named because most of the residents of the company houses on that side of town raised pigs.”


“Beyond this nucleus Knox Mills extended to the school district #1 boundaries. Within those boundaries were nine whole and four half sections, a total of 7,040 acres. If you were born or died within those boundaries the record gave the place of birth or death as Knox Mills. Therefore, Knox Mills was not only the little mill town but also the entire farming community that surrounded it.”


“When the mills were operating the Soo Line found it profitable to maintain a track off their main line into Knox Mills. That main line ran east and west from Minneapolis to Rhinelander about four and one-half miles north of Knox Mills. The logging trails that ran into Knox Mills were as important as the railroad. They ran like spokes into town, making it the hub of logging operations during the winter months. Every day people and products flowed in and out of the little community. Now Knox Mills isn’t even on the map. The mills, homes, church and store are all gone now. The school is gone too and with it the perimeter of the community. All that is left in the town is Floyd’s Salvage Yard. His place of business was once the cheese factory. There are also two residences left that have been there since the beginning. The one in Pig Town was originally owned by Town Treasurer (1897 – 1900) Robert Rasmussen and Minnie, his wife, who was a Knox Mills teacher from 1898 – 1091.”


“The other residence is in Frog Town, almost directly across from Floyd’s Salvage Yard…Audrey (Thorbus) Birch of California now owns that home. Ironically, her mother is my Dad’s sister, so the two oldest houses have ties to Oscar Swenson, one of Knox Mills first settlers.”


“The story of Knox Mills is tied to land speculation. After the territory was surveyed rich land speculators sent “timber cruisers” in to find the richest stands of pine, the only thing that was valuable to them at the time. Frances Palms was the first one to find the pinelands where Knox Mills is located. He acquired that land shortly after it was surveyed, when it was still wild and unsettled. When the land was opened up it would become valuable, and he could afford to wait. That land became attractive to potential buyers after the railroad was built into the territory, making it easier for supplies to be shipped for logging camps and for access to the land. Palms had speculated on the worth of the pine timber and twelve years after he acquired the Knox Mills lands, he reaped the harvest of his speculation by selling them to the Knox Brothers, William and Samuel.”


“When the Knox Brothers purchased the land in Town 35 North, Range 3 East, from Francis Palms they were logging pine timber just north of there and shipping it down the Somo River to their mill in Wausau. They purchased the Knox Mills lands strictly for the profit they could make from the valuable pine timber. For ten years they logged the pine and shipped it to Wausau. In 1890 the mill burned at Wausau and the two brothers decided to split their interests. William stayed on to finish logging the pine in Town 35 North, Range 3 East, and built a new mill along Long Meadow Creek where it could be damned up to create a sizable pond. He built his own town around the Mills, making it a company town of exclusively transients. He had chosen this place because taxes were low; there were few settlers in need of roads, schools and other services. During the time that William Knox owned the Knox Mills lands he waged the biggest tax war in Price County history. He was very powerful and his influence was felt in the opening up of the territory and in the creation of town boundaries in the southeaster section of the county, the Town of Knox eventually being named after him. After five years the pine timber was cut and Mr. Knox moved on to other uncut pinelands.”


“After the pine was cut the Knox Mills land remained valuable for other purposed. In 1895, William Knox sold the land to E. H. Hobe, a real estate speculator for a tidy profit. Knox had not sold any of his land to individuals, and Hobe saw this mill town with acres of land surrounding it as an attraction for prospective buyers. The large pine had been cut, making the land easier to clear for farms. The land was still covered with hemlock and hardwood. Hobe planned to run the mill in his town and to buy wood from farmers, providing income from both farm and forest. His advertisements extolling the virtues of this combination of assets attracted mostly Norwegians who were well settled in the community by 1900.”


“By then Hobe also had made considerable profit and was ready to move on to other real estate ventures. Hobe put the remaining land up for sale in a package with his mill town. Thick hardwood and hemlock forests remained to be cut, and in that year the Bradley and Collins Company, which had other enterprises in the area, purchased the package. Rather than speculating, William H. Bradley, who ran the company, was accumulating property. Bradley owned much property in Lincoln and Price County and he added Knox Mills to his collection of profit making property. He died January 7, 1903, and his heirs were not interested in Knox Mills. They sold the planning mill, boarding houses, company store and dance hall, which were then moved out of town to other locations. Those sales marked the end of the company town. Then K. O. Knutson, built a new store and dance hall. Knox Mills became a community of permanent residents who owned their own homes rather than one of transients who lived in the boarding houses. Until the Bradley Company sold its three forty-acre tracts of mill property in 1913 to three separate individuals, Knox Mills existed only as a shipping point for forest products.”


“After the best of everything was gone, Knox Mills ceased to be of interest to the speculators who reaped the harvests of the community. Those absentee landlords derived great profits from the rich forestland in and around Knox Mills but lived and spent those profits elsewhere. After the Bradley Company’s mill site was divided and sold, the new owners made their homes in Knox Mills and ran independent mills until the Great Depression. In 1926 a cheese factory was built, marking the transition from a logging to a dairying community. Knox Mills had boomed because of its rich timber resources and those were gone. Residents now relied on farming to sustain themselves, but good farmland is something they never had.”


“By 1931 its major resource was almost gone and…without and other valuable resources the town began to die.”


“Knox Mills was a small, isolated community located at the end of the tracks rather than on a main rail line. There were no town records because it was never incorporated; it has no newspapers and its businesses never ran ads.”


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last edited

11 Feb 2016 

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