Friday, June 13, 2014

Menominee River Lumbermen

Lumber Yards and Saw Mills at Menominee, Mich. (ca. 1910)

Dear George,
The more I dabble in Menominee history, the more fascinating it becomes.  It turns out Menominee and Marinette were among the most important towns in the Northwest Territory in the 1880’s and 90’s.  This was the era of a major lumber boom in the North Woods region.  The twin cities, directly across the Menominee River from one another, had a combined population of almost 30,000 at the turn of the century, greater than that of Green Bay, Madison, or Milwaukee, and they constituted the largest lumber shipping port in the world.  I’ve summarized some of the information about this era by focusing on prominent lumbermen in Menominee and Marinette who helped to build the industry.  In doing so I’ve drawn particularly from historical and biographical accounts provided by A. L. Sawyer (1911), G. W. Hotchkiss (1908), G. N. Fuller (1926), the Western Historical Company (1883), E. S. Ingalls (1863), and the Lewis Publishing Co. (1896) [see references at end].

In the early 1800s fishing and fur trading were the first forms of commerce in the  Menominee River valley.  However, commercial lumbering was soon to become the area’s dominant industry from the 1840s to about 1910.  This was a period of massive westward expansion in the U.S., and settlers needed endless supplies of cheap lumber to build farmhouses, barns, stores, city dwellings, etc.  By 1860 huge quantities of pine logs  were being floated down the Menominee River to the sawmills at Menominee and Marinette, then shipped by schooner via Green Bay and Lake Michigan to lumber yards at Milwaukee and Chicago.

The U.P.’s first sawmill was built on the Menominee River in 1831 by lumber operators William Farnsworth and Charles Brush.  It was followed by several water-powered mills in the 1830’s and 1840’s, though none of these proved profitable. However, the introduction of steam power and better machinery in the 1850’s began a new era.  In 1854 the New York Lumber Co. built the first steam mill at Menekaunee, at that time a separate village from Marinette. Nelson Ludington, Harrison Ludington, and Daniel Wells Jr., investors from Chicago and Milwaukee, opened the N. Ludington Company in Marinette in 1856, and they built the area’s second steam mill in 1857. 

Kirby, Carpenter & Company also opened a steam-powered mill in Menominee in 1857.  In 1863 the Ludington, Wells, and Van Shaick Company constructed what was then known as the world’s most modern steam operated lumber mill.  The Sawyer Goodman Company, established by Philetus Sawyer, his son Edgar, and William Goodman, built their first mill in Menekaunee in 1880.  They became the largest lumber shipper on the river, and one of their mills operated until 1931, the last existing sawmill on the Menominee River.

As the U.P. pine forests began to be exhausted in the 1890’s, lumbermen and manufacturers shifted their interests to hardwood manufacture, particularly maple flooring.  The J. W. Wells Lumber Company, established in Menominee in 1875, was a major leader in that industry.  By 1895 there were 22 lumber mills on the Menominee River, 9 on the Marinette side and 13 on the Menominee side.  Twin City sawmills manufactured 436,979,263 board feet of lumber in 1895.  If laid end to end, the planks would circle the earth three and a third times. 

The last log drive on the Menominee River was held in 1917, signaling the end of this extraordinary era.  Below are brief life histories of  some of the figures who played leading roles in Menominee and Marinette’s lumber industry from the 1830s to 1910. (1, 2, 4, 9, 13)  [Note: numbers in parentheses refer to references at end.]      

William Farnsworth. William Farnsworth was born in Vermont in 1796.  He worked briefly for the American Fur Company in Montreal, set up a trading post and founded the city of Sheboygan in Wisconsin, and then started a new trading post on the north side of the Menominee River in 1822.  The American Fur Company tried to destroy his business by provoking local Indians to seize his goods.  However, Farnsworth defeated the attempt when he threatened to explode a keg of gunpowder in their presence.  In 1824, with the help of Chippewa Indians, Farnsworth forced Louis Chappee out of his American Fur Company trading post on the Marinette side of the river.  Farnsworth and his Native American common law wife, Queen Marinette, operated their trading business for several years.  Faced with slim profits and the decline of the fur trade, Farnsworth then turned to logging.  In 1831 he teamed up with Detroit-based Charles R. Brush to built the first dam and water power sawmill on the Menominee River, the beginning of the logging industry in the region. The initial timber cut was used to build the town’s first frame house for Queen Marinette.  Brush turned out to be a useless partner, and the two men’s logging venture faltered.  Eventually the mill was seized by the territorial sheriff and sold at auction. Farnsworth lost his life on Lake Michigan in a steamer accident in 1860 when the steamer Lady Elgin was rammed by the schooner Augusta while en route between Chicago and Waukegan. (3, 4, 15, 22)

Nelson Ludington.  Nelson Ludington was born in Ludingtonville, New York, in 1818, the fourth child in a family of 16 children.  When he was 21, he and his brother Harrison moved west, relocating to Milwaukee where they began mercantile careers with an initial cash capital of $35.  Struck by the potential of timberlands in Wisconsin and Michigan, Nelson joined with his brother and Daniel Wells Jr. to form the firm of N. Ludington & Co., specializing in the manufacture of pine lumber.  They built their first mill in 1849 at Flat Rock which would later become Escanaba.  Following the company’s initial success, Isaac Stephenson of Marinette joined the firm, and a larger mill was erected on the Menominee River at Marinette.  Nelson Ludington was the head of the company from its founding in 1849 until his death in 1883.  The firm averaged 25 million feet of lumber per year at the Marinette mill, along with 10 million shingles.  The company's main lumber yards were at Milwaukee until Ludington transferred the firm’s headquarters to Chicago in 1852.  There it became the most successful company in Chicago's lumber trade.  (13, 24) 

Isaac Stephenson.  Isaac Stephenson was born in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1829. Stephenson worked as a teenager in the lumber industry in Maine, then moved to Wisconsin in 1845 where he eventually entered the lumber business for himself.  When he was 23 the city of Chicago awarded him a contract to supply the lumber to construct the city’s massive breakwater.  Stephenson settled permanently in Marinette in 1858.  He gained the controlling interest in the N. Ludington Co., and his lumbering operations grew dramatically during the Civil War.  Though his business suffered huge losses from the Peshtigo Fire in 1871, Stephenson rebuilt and soon became one of the wealthiest lumbermen in the Great Lakes region.  He owned vast pine lands in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as real estate in Marinette, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago, and throughout the Great Lakes region.  He built the Lauerman Bros. department store, founded the Stephenson Banking Co., was the principal owner of the Menominee River Boom Co. and the M&M Paper Co., owned farms and iron mines, and was a founder of Menominee’s first newspaper, the Herald.  Stephenson held several offices in Marinette County, including town supervisor, county board chairman, and justice of the peace; was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly; a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin from 1883 to 1889; and a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin from 1907-1915.   In 1901 Stephenson established the Milwaukee Free Press as a progressive competitor to the more conservative Milwaukee Sentinel.  In 1909 he gave a gift of a prized holstein cow as a gift to President William Howard Taft, and the cow, named Pauline Wayne, grazed on the White House lawn.  She was the last presidential cow.  Stephenson returned from Washington in 1915, retiring to his home in Marinette.  He died on March 15, 1918, at the age of 88.  (20, 25)

Andrew Stephenson.  Andrew Stephenson, a prominent logger and one of the major builders of the city of Menominee, was born on the St. Johns River in New Brunswick on Apr. 10, 1843.  He left school as a child to work on the farm for his father, then returned for one winter term at age 14.  In the winters he assisted his father in logging.  He wasn’t paid anything until age 22 when his father gave him just enough money to pay his fare to Menominee where relatives were in the logging business. Stephenson arrived at Menominee on April 15, 1865, and obtained work driving a team of horses in a Ludingon, Wells & Van Shaick logging camp for $40 a month.  After working in the woods for three years as a logger, Stephenson was made superintendent of Ludington, Wells & Van Schaick's logging business, a position he occupied for the next thirty years.  Stephenson served as the Mayor of Menominee for two terms, was a member of the board of aldermen for several terms, was county road commissioner when the first roads were established in Menominee county and built the first road across the county, and was a supervisor for three years.  A.L. Sawyer, wrote in a biography that "his services have been of inestimable value to both his chosen city and county, and in turn he has been highly honored." (17, 19)

 Abner Kirby.  Abner Kirby was born in Starks, Maine, in 1818.  On his own from the age of 12, he worked as a youth in the Maine lumber camps.  Too young to be a chopper, he was a camp cook, then became a riverman.  He learned the jeweler's trade in his teens in Bangor, then worked in a jewelry store for seven years at Skowhegan, Maine.  In 1844 he moved to Milwaukee.  Soon after his arrival he was appointed U.S. Postmaster.  Kirby built a brick building in Milwaukee at which he operated his jewelry store for ten years.  Then in 1857 Kirby built a sawmill at Menominee.  Samuel Stephenson bought an interest in the mill in 1859.  The Stephenson & Kirby mill was the beginning of the vast business that come to be incorporated as the Kirby-Carpenter Company.  In 1957 Kirby also bought a half interest in the City Hotel in Milwaukee which was renamed the Kirby House when he became the sole owner.  Kirby named one of the hotel rooms "Hell" and used it to house clients who had drunk too much.  Another room, “Heaven”, was reserved for newlyweds. A war Democrat who supported Lincoln, Kirby was elected mayor of Milwaukee in 1865.  On his 75th birthday Kirby did a series of handsprings down the hall of his former hotel to demonstrate his fitness.  However, he died later that year.  Kirby's obituary states: "There were few men better known throughout the country than Abner Kirby.  Rough in dress and language, his heart was soft as that of a child."  (7, 21, 25) 

Augustus Alvord Carpenter.  Augustus Carpenter was born in 1825 in Chateaugay, New York. In 1852 he traveled to California with his brother William during the gold rush, then returned to Wisconsin in 1855.  With his brother, he purchased an interest in a mulay mill at Menominee which was operated by Abner Kirby and Samuel M. Stephenson.  Augustus Carpenter served as president, and the firm was incorporated as "The Kirby-Carpenter Company" in 1872.  The original sawmill had an annual capacity of 2,000,000 feet of lumber.   By the early 1890's the company was one of the largest lumber producers in Michigan, owned 800 million feet of standing timber, employed a thousand men, and cut 115 million feet per year.   The company owned vast lumber yards in Chicago, an important part of that city's industries.  Carpenter made Chicago his headquarters, with his company’s manufacturing component located in Menominee.  He was president of the Lumbermen's National Bank of Menominee, held major interests in the Electric Light Railway and Power Company of Menominee, and headed several major firms in Chicago.  (19) (12)

Samuel Merritt Stephenson.  Samuel Stephenson was born in New Brunswick in 1831.  At the age of 6 he began to support himself in the logging industry in Maine, and he was earning seven dollars a month as a logger by age 10.  He moved to Delta County in the U.P. in 1846 with thirty cents in his pocket and came to Menominee in 1853.  Stephenson became associated with his brother Isaac and William Holmes, both major figures in lumbering in the region.  In 1858 Stephenson became partners with Abner Kirby of Milwaukee.  Stephenson acquired heavy timber holdings in the south and west and became one of the country's lumber kings.  He was the president of the First National Bank of Menominee for many years and the founder of the elegant Stephenson Hotel in Menominee In his later years he created Pine Hill Stock Farm just outside of Menominee, one of the model dairy farms in the country.  His dairy produced 400 quarts of milk a day and 600 pounds of butter per week.  Stephenson was Menominee's first mayor, first township supervisor, an early member of the county board of education, a state senator, and a four-term U.S. congressman. Stephenson passed away at his home in Menominee on July 31, 1907.  The city of Stephenson was named for brothers Samuel, Isaac, and Robert Stephenson.  (14, 19) 

Andrew C. Merryman.  Andrew Merryman was born at Bowdoin, Maine, in 1831, the second of seven children of farming parents.  Andrew only went to school three  winter months a year as a young boy, working the rest of the time as a farm laborer.  He apprenticed as a ship carpenter at age 17 at Portland and became a master ship builder, constructing his own brig, the A.C. Merryman, in 1855.  He went to Wisconsin soon after and started up a sawmill at Fond du Lac with his brother and Haynes Hunter.  Selling his shipbuilding interests, Merryman invested all his spare capital in white pine timberlands.  In 1866, partnering with I. K. and W. C. Hamilton, he helped organize the Hamilton & Merryman Company and built saw mills at the mouth of the Menominee River.  The company shipped 30 to 50 million feet of lumber annual to their yards at Chicago.  In addition to managing the Hamilton and Merryman mills, Merryman was treasurer of the Menominee River Boom Co., a director of the Stephenson National Bank, owner of several water enterprises on the river, and a stockholder in the M&M Paper Co., the Marinette Flouring Mills, and numerous other companies.  Merryman ran for congressman and for governor of Wisconsin on the Prohibition ticket.  One of his biographers wrote, "In his abhorrence of intemperance he is fearless and outspoken, and unceasingly wars against the evil by raising his voice and using his ballot."  (8, 11)   

Judge Eleazer S. Ingalls.  Eleazer Ingalls was born at Nashua,New Hampshire in 1820,  At age 18 he left for Chicago with another teenager, driving over a thousand miles by ox team.  Ingalls settled at Antioch, Illinois, where his father was a farmer.  Ingalls worked at blacksmithing and studied law, eventually entering practice. In 1850 Ingalls organized a caravan and crossed the plains to the Gold Rush in California .  After two years there he returned east, planning to bring his family back to California.  However, he changed his mind, and in 1859 he settled on the shore of Green Bay a little south of the Menominee River's mouth.  He soon became a prominent member of the Menominee community, serving for several years as a probate judge. Judge Ingalls was the first publisher and editor of the Menominee Herald newspaper (later the Herald-Leader) and was active in railroad construction interests.  Ingalls secured a contract from the state to build the Green Bay and Bay De Noc State road within Menominee County.  With his brother Charles, Judge Ingalls built a sawmill in Ingallston township in 1866.  They later sold the mill, and it burned in 1874.  Ingalls also played a major role in extending the Menominee branch railroad to the Iron Range.  Shipments of iron ore were begun in 1878. Ingalls died in 1879 at the relatively young age of 59.  (14, 19)

Augustus Spies.  Augustus Spies was born in Hesse, Darmstadt, Germany in 1836.  He attended school in Germany for seven years, then went to work at age 13 on his father's farm.  He came with his parents to the U.S. in 1850.  At age 22 he rented and then purchased a 160-acre farm.  At age 30 he sold his farm and moved to Menominee where he started a meat market on the corner of Ludington Ave. and Kirby St.  Spies ran the market until 1875 while investing in real estate and timber lands.  In 1880 Spies and Henry Martin constructed the Spies Lumber Mill on the Menominee River which Spies operated for the next 14 years.  He was a director of the Stephenson Banking Co. of Marinette, an organizer and vice-president of the First National Bank in Menominee, president of the Menominee & Marinette Light and Traction Company, president of the Marinette & Menominee Paper Co, and president of the August Spies Lumber Company of Menominee.  Spies built the first brick block on Main Street in Menominee, and the Spies home at the corner of Main St. and Woodford Court was the first brick residence built in the city.  Spies' generosity to the city is best known by his gift of the Spies Public Library site and building in 1903.  Spies was elected Mayor in 1906 and reelected in 1908.  He served on city council for for years and was a member and treasurer of the Menominee school board.  He died at home in 1915.  According to his obituary in the Menominee Herald-Leader, "no man, possibly, has been more prominently identified with the business progress of Menominee than Augustus Spies."  (13, 17, 19)

John W. Wells.  John Wells was born near Davenport, Iowa, on Mar. 20, 1841.  The Wells family originated in England, where the town of Wells was founded by the family, and family members came to America as early as 1635.  John  was educated in the public schools in Iowa and then did a course in a business college in Davenport.  He moved to Menominee at age 21 and became a bookkeeper for two years.  Then he became a partner in a lumber business in Oconto.  He moved his Oconto mill operation and business to Menominee’s Green Bay shore in 1875, serving as president of the J. W. Wells Lumber Co.  Wells also was vice-president and general manager of the Girard Lumber Company, one of the owners of the Bird-Wells Lumber Company of Wausaukee, and president of the Northern Hardware and Supply Co., the White Pine Lumber Co., the Menominee Iron Works, and the Wisconsin and Northern Railway. Wells was a member of Menominee's city council for two terms and was mayor of Menominee for three terms, beginning in 1893.  According to A. L. Sawyer (1911), "His administration is on record as one of the best ever given to the municipal government of Menominee." (13, 18, 19)

There are a lot of parallel in these stories.  Most of these men grew up in large, poor farm families in the northeastern U.S.  They typically left school by their early teens to work on the family farm or in logging, then headed to the wilderness of the Northwest territory by their late teens or early twenties, drawn by the promise of a potential lumber boom.  Often starting as manual laborers in the logging camps, these individuals came to start up their own businesses and ultimately became owners and managers of huge, prosperous firms.  All in all, these are classic rags to riches tales.

Having grown up on the Menominee River, we kids always had an awareness and vague sense of connection to the Menominee logging era.  When my grandfather, V.A. Sr., emigrated from Sweden to Marinette in 1893 as a teenager, he initially worked in a U.P. lumber camp.  My dad was born in Marinette during the logging era and was in the fourth grade when the last log drive occurred.  When we moved to our family river property in the 1940’s, there were still leftover structures from the logging companies near our house, and the channel behind Pig Island was filled with sawed-off stumps from decades earlier.  Steve and I used to tow dead logs home behind our rowboat and try to balance on them, pretending that we were boom-men.  We never mastered the art, but we knew we were growing up in an area with an amazing history.

SOURCES: (1) Anderson, Ken, “Menominee County,”; (2) Anon., “Beginning of Marinette County Industry,”; (3) Anon., “A Brief History of Marinette,”; (4) Anon., “Heritage of the Route,” (; (5) Anon., “Jesse Spalding,”; (6) Anon., "Menominee County History,"; (7) Anon., "We Should All Awake, for Abner Kirby is Dead."  The Jeweler's Circular and Horological Review, Vol. 27, Oct. 4, 1893, p. 8,; (8) J. H. Beers & Co. (1896), “Commemorative Biographical Record of the West Shore of Green Bay, Wisconsin,”;  (9) Fuller, G. N. (1926), “A History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,”; (10) Google Images (for photos); (11)  Hall, H. (Ed.) (1896)  "America's Successful Men of Affairs,"; (12) Hotchkiss, G. W. (1894), “Industrial Chicago: The Lumber Interests, Vol. 6,”; (13) Hotchkiss, G. W. (1908), “History of the Lumber and Forest Industry of the Northwest,”;  (14) Ingalls, E. S. (1863), “Centennial History of Menominee County,”;
 (15) Karamanski, T. J. (1989), “Deep Woods Frontier”,; (16) Lewis Publishing Co. (1895), “Memorial Record of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan,”; (17) McCracken, S. B.  “Men of Progress: Embracing Biographical Sketches of Representative Michigan Men (1900),”; (18) Murphy, Robert G., “End of an Era: Wells Lumber Co. ‘For Sale’,”; (19) Sawyer, A. L. (1911), “A History of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan and Its People,”; (20) Stephenson, I. (1915), “Recollections of a Long Life: 1829-1915,”; (21) Stover, Frances.  Milwaukee Journal, Aug. 11, 1955.  "Milwaukee's Forgotten Mayor,"; (22) Team Van Rens (undated; accessed May 2014), “William Farnsworth – married Queen Marinette,”; (23) Western Historical Company (1883), “History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,”; (24) Western Publishing and Engraving Co. (1900).  “Cyclopedia of Michigan: Historical and Biographical,”; (25) Wikipedia.  "Abner Kirby,", “Harrison Ludington,” “Isaac Stephenson,” 

APPENDIX: Twin City Lumber Mills in 1895 (with their cut that year) (13)
-Girard Lumber Co., 26,371,143 feet of lumber;
-Menominee River Shingle Co., 21,063,000 shingles;
-Kirby, Carpenter Co., 103,568,961 feet of lumber; 28,380,750 shingles;
-Ludington, Wells & Van Schaick Co., 35,000,000 feet of lumber, 8,500,000 shingles;
-Menominee Bay Shore Lumber Co., 18,000,000 feet of lumber;
-Donovan & O'Connor, 15,000,000 feet of lumber 10,000,000 shingles;
-Ramsey & Jones, 12,574,311 feet of lumber;
-August Spies, 5,000,000 feet of lumber;
-Menominee Saw Mill Co., 7,000,000 feet of lumber, 1,500,000 shingles;
-Blodgett & Davis Lumber Co., 20,000,000 feet of lumber.
-Total for Menominee: 216,143,272 feet of lumber; 69,443,750 shingles.
-Hamilton & Merryman Co., 22,927,713 feet of lumber, 5,046,500 shingles;
-Scofield & Arnold Lumber Co., 18,010,000 feet of lumber;
-R. W. Merryman & Co., 23,376,500 feet of lumber, 381,500 shingles;
-Lieber & Noll Manufacturing Co., 12,000,000 shingles;
-N. Ludington Co., 23,300,000 feet of lumber, 4,700,000 shingles;
-Stephenson Manufacturing Co., 12,766,114 feet of lumber, 1,259,500 shingles;
-H. Witbeck Co, 43,084,526 feet of lumber, 10,624,000 shingles;
-Total for Marinette: 143,464,853 feet of lumber, 31,011,500 shingles.
MENEKAUNEE (today part of Marinette):
-Menominee River Lumber Co., 25,000,000 feet of lumber;
-Sawyer, Goodman Co., 26,000,000 feet of lumber, 6,000,000 shingles;
Total for Menekaunee: 51,000,000 feet of lumber, 109,155,250 shingles.
Grand Total for the Twin Cities: 436,979,263 feet of lumber, 109,155,250 shingles.

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (6-14): Dear Dave,  Fascinating.  When are we going to the Dayton show?….Going to see Carmen?  I do not have high hopes for it after talking with LC.  phyllis

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