Marinette County WIGenWeb - Centennial History - Industrial Beginnings

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Beginning of Marinette County Industry

A history of industry in Marinette County is essentially, a history of lumbering. Almost every part of the county furnished the raw materials for this truly tremendous industry. While most of the processing of the timber occurred in Marinette, several important sawmills were located in other parts of the county. Most of the communities of the county developed around the lumbering industry, and the railroads which came primarily to serve it.

The first sawmill on the Menominee River was built in 1831 by William Farnsworth and Charles Brush. Noting the decline of the fur trade, Farnsworth foresaw the enormous potential for lumber from the vast pine forests of the area. He and Brush were granted permission by the Menominee Indians, which was approved by the War Department, to construct a sawmill and grist mill on the unsurveyed Indian lands; in return, they were to saw lumber and grind grain for the Menominee tribe and the U.S. government "at reasonable expense." The dam and mill were built at what is now the junction of Raymond Street and Riverside Avenue. The water-powered sawmill cut six to eight thousand feet of timber daily. The first lumber cut was used to build the first frame house in Marinette, the home of Queen Marinette. Samuel Farnsworth later obtained the mill at sheriff's sale for 18 barrels of whitefish. In 1844, Dr. J.C. Hall and H.R. Jerome purchased the mill, but abandoned it the following year when they built a larger one on the Michigan side of the river.

In 1856, the first steam sawmill on the river was built in Menekaunee by the New York Lumber Company. Five years later, Chicago businessmand Jesse Spaulding, A.C. Brown, and Philetus Sawyer took over the mill, which burned in 1869 and again in 1871; but like the phoenix, the mill arose from its ashes and re-opened in 1872 as the Menominee River Lumber Company. In 1895, the company lost its third mill by fire, but again rebuilt and operated for a few more years.

Fire was an extreme hazard to these early mills; almost all burned at one time or another, though most were rebuilt. In 1895, the heyday of the lumber industry on the Menominee, there were 22 sawmills on the river, 9 on the Marinette side.

Another group of investors fro Chicago and Milwaukee, Nelson and Harrison Ludington, and Daniel Wells Jr., opened the N. Ludington company in 1856, near Mission Point, upriver from Menekaunee. Isaac Stephenson gained control of this mill in 1868. After his death, in 1919, the mill and lumberyard were sold to the H.C. Below Company; in 1921 the mill burned and was not rebuilt. When the N. Ludington Company dissolved, in 1944, it had been in existence for 76 years.

In 1866, the William McCarney mill was established. It burned in 1871, and was rebuilt the following year. This was to become known as Marinette Sawmill Company's No. 1 Mill, and was eventually sold to Edward Scofield. About 1897, the mill was torn down and the machinery sold. In 1888, the Marinette Sawmill Company's No. 2 Mill was built a short distance below the present site of the M&M Box Company. This second mill later became Sawyer Goodman Company's No. 2 Mill. About 1905, Charles Goodman built a planing mill, and began to ship lumber direct to the trade by rail. The Sawyer Goodman Company became the largest shipper of lumber on the river. Their first mill, built in Menekaunee in 1880, was the last mill operating on the Menominee River in Marinette, when it closed at noon on July 31, 1931, ending a century of sawmill operations on the Menominee.

Several mills were build on islands of the Menominee River. In 1866, the Hamilton and Merryman Company build a mill on Merryman's Island, at the foot of Newberry Avenue. A shingle and planing mill were added, later. These mills burned in the late 1890s, and were never rebuilt. Thereafter, their logs were sawed at the R.C. Merryman mill, which had been opened in 1878, and continued in operation until 1906, when it was dismantled and the machinery shipped to the west coast.

Daniel Wells Jr., Andrew Stephenson, and Louis Gram built a sawmill in 1867 on an island at the foot of Stanton Street. three years later, Stephenson and Gram sold their interests to Carney and Witbeck, and the H. Witbeck Company was formed. This mill operated until 1904, when it was sold to Carney's sons, who dismantled it and moved the machinery to Canada. The mill site was purchased two years later by the City of Marinette.

The "Red Mill," built by Isaac Stephenson about 1889 on Stephenson Island, downriver from the present Interstate Bridge, was used only to saw Stephenson's logs, and had no rail connections.

Like the Menominee, the Peshtigo River traversed rich timberlands, and the Peshtigo Lumber Company's large saw and planing mill was a mainstay of the city for many years. Under the ownership of William Ogden, the company "created" Peshtigo Harbor as a company town, extending its lumbering operations to the very mouth of the river, and beyond by barge to the cities to the south, particularly to Ogden's lumberyards in Chicago. Badger Paper Mills occupies the old Peshtigo Lumber Co. site today.

In Coleman, the Little River Mill (later sold to E.E. Bolles & Company) and the Brault Mill contributed greatly to the early development of the settlement. Wausaukee was a lumbering town from its beginnings until the end of the 19th century, when the pine was exhausted and farming and stock raising began to take over. Dunbar's chief industry in its early days was the Girard Lumber Company. One of Niagara's earliest settlers, John Stoveken Sr., put in a small pulp mill in 1889. This was purchased and enlarged by the Badger Paper Company of Kaukauna in 1890, and in 1899 rebuilt and again enlarged by Kimberly-Clark to become one of the largest and highest speed mills in the U.S. at that time. The Niagara Paper Company today maintains a large labor force, and is a major strength in the economy of the community.

With the development of the sawmills, associated industry appeared on the Menominee River. In 1866, the Menominee River Boom Company (initially called the Menominee River Manufacturing Company, though no products were manufactured) was formed to sort and divide logs for the various sawmills. A dam was built at the head of the rapids between Marinette and Menominee, and another several miles downriver. Eventually 44 dams wee built by the Boom Company on the Menominee and its tributaries, to aid in bringing the logs down the river; piers and driving booms were erected to aid the sorting of the logs. The directors and officers of this company were, not surprisingly, giants of the lumber industry: Nels and Harrington Ludington; Isaac, S.M. and Andrew Stephenson; Charles Ellis; Fred Carney; A.C. Merryman; Jesse Spaulding; A.A. Carpenter; and W.O. Goodman. By the time of the last log drive of the Menominee River Boom Company in the summer of 1917, 33 of its dams were still in use.

(Marinette County Centennial, 1879-1979, p. 10)

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