Early History of
The cutting of the virgin forests
of upper Wisconsin began onthe banks of its streams where the logs were
rolled into the water and floated to the mills to be sawed into lumber,
and its traditions are grounded in the experiences of the lumberjacks
carried their "turkeys" into the camp in the fall and cut the trees
the winter with axe and saw, skidded the logs to the rollways and
them on heavy sleds to the landings on the rivers, and then with the
of the snow and ice, rode these logs down river to the mills. The
tales of their hardships, exploits and sprees cover a period that is
passing into the forgotten.
The success of the annual spring
drive depended on having plenty of water at the right time, which
dams on the streams to hold the water, to be released as needed, and
is an oft told tale of an attempt to cut the ridge between Shell Lake
Crescent Springs, headwaters of Sawyer Brook, to use the water for such
purposes. Had that been done there would have been no history of
Shell Lake; but the ridge was preserved to bear the railroad, the lake
remained to float the millions of logs that were sawed here, the
was located on its banks and the big mill built on its shores.
The streams in Shell Lake territory
were not well adapted to driving logs, so its forest was nearly intact
when the railroad came. The railroad grant, as evidenced by a
by Omaha Railway Company, August 19, 1880, carried the odd numbered
in this territory.
The Shell Lake Lumber Company
was incorporated by Weyerhauser and Denkman of Rock Island, Illinois,
Lamb and Sons of Clinton, Iowa and David Joyce of Lyons, Iowa, under
laws of Iowa on December 18, 1880. It bought the railroad land
Shell Lake and its deed was dated June 9, 1881. That company also
from time to time purchased most of the even numbered sections or the
from them, so the early history of Shell Lake was in line with its
It is true there were hunters,
trappers and traders in the country before this time, but the passing
a half century leaves only traditions and it seems impossible to record
anything concrete from them.
The treaty of the Chippewas
in 1837 ceded the whole northern quarter of Wisconsin to the United
and in return they were given reservations on which they were promised
sanctity from intrusion ofothers. The Chippewa people in Shell
territory did not accept the reservation and have always been voters.
It is said a number of Indian
battles were fought on the shores of Shell Lake and also that a big one
was fought on the Tuscarora grounds, just northwest of the village,
a great many arrows are found.
Much is heard of Shinneway,
a proud old Chippewa, whose large family was reared on the banks of
Lake. Several of his descendents still live here and take pride
their strain of native American blood.
All the old timers seem to
agree that before the railroad came there was a log house wher the
now stands and a small trading post nearby on the shore of the lake.
The big saw mill was built
in 1881 and that year saw many houses in the village, with a school,
services, post office, a few stores and several saloons. It was a
part of the title in every lot sold by the Lumber Company that no
was to be sold on the premises, but the saloons came just the same, and
until local option put them out in 1915 the number of churches and
was about the same.
It took nineteen years to cut
the timber and saw it into lumber and during that time the lumber
employed in loggin camps, saw mill, lumber yard and other activities an
average of about four hundred men and this gave the village population
of fifteen hundred people.
The logging ws done by camps,
each employing around fifty men with horses and oxen. These men
logs in winter and built roads and railroads in summer. The camps
were moved from time to time to keep in the cutting area, and some of
were on trucks and moved with the railroad tracks. Each camp had
a foreman, cook, cookee, stable boss and handy man. Each kept a
or store chest from which the men could buy the tobacco and clothing
which was charged and deducted from the pay checks. Themen in the
camp were swampers, sawyers, teamsters and loaders, and many of these
stayed in the same camp a number of years.
The bringing of the logs to
the mill was by railroad, which system contained an average of
miles of tracks, which was moved fromplace to place to reach the
The main lines remained in one location for a term of years and the
were for the time of cutting that place only. The old grade to
southeast with its many deep cuts and big fill sis familiar to everyone
and is a constant inquiry by strangers. Many of these railroad
have become public hiehways and good ones. The rolling stock was
two Baldwin steam engines and about eighty cars. The car shops
a foreman and several men. The Crescent Springs Railway was a
institution for twenty years and hauled many millions of logs and
them into the lake from the trestle where it crossed Corbett's Bay and
along the west shore of the lake where the park i snow and all the way
to the mill. These logs were held in near the shore by "booms"
were long logs, floating, fastened by chains to rock piers on the
of the lake. Some of these old piers are still to be seen.
A heavy wind would at times breat the chains on the booms and scatter
over the lake. A steamboat and crew were kept busy gathering them and
them back. This boat had the power of a tug and a pump that threw
a heavy stream of water if needed. It was also used to drive
where wanted, simply by using a hose and pipe to drive the sand bottom
from under the pile and letting it down as far as desired in a very few
The Shell Lake White Pine had
a reputation in the lumber trade. The great size, unusual height
and straight bodies gave long timbers impossible to find at other
and a high percentage of clear lumber, which even in those days brought
a good price. Many of the houses in Shell Lake are built of
that today would sell at a hundred dollars a thousand or more.
old timers well remember the practice of selling "scoots", what would
be good boards, at one dollar for all you could haul, as well as the
of cords of good wood that went into the big burner.
The mill whistle could be heard
for miles and it blew for work to start at six a.m. and a day was a
eleven hours. From the time the bull chain pulled the log out of
the lake to the deck, it went swiftly to the band saw, to the gangs and
to the sorting chains, all on live chains and rollers, and every man
kept on the jump, thence by the yard railway to the piles with no rest
for man or foreman.
The timber from about sixty-five
thousand acres of land, about a billion feet of lumber, was hualed by
Crescent Spring Railway, floated by the lake, went through the mill,
was handled four or five times by the men who lived in Shell
They worked long hours with a good sweat every day in summer and brisk
weather in winter. They were happy with their work, their
churches and saloons. They were good lumbermen.
The Lumber Company had a large
general merchandise store at which the employees traded on credit
and from which its camps and other activities were supplied. The
stores and office were on the lake shore near the old pump house
The saw mill was where the boat factory now operates.
On December 3, 1889 a fire
swept Main Street, destroying more than twenty business places.
following year the water system was laid, serving not only the entire
but the mill and lumber yard. That system of mains is still in
and has never failed to function. As long as the mill was running
water was free, but when that tax money was lost the water rental was
and has continued since.
On September 1, 1894, a forest
fire swept into town and burned sixty dwellings on Bible Hill but they
were soon re-built.
From the beginning the mill
and yard man began buying small tracts of land near the village
making homes, with a cow and chickens. About 1895 a real effort
made to sell the cut over lands and more than two hundred sales of land
for farms were made during the next five years, so 1895 is the real
of farming as a business in Shell Lake country. The mill
its work in 1899 and in three years the lumber business was mostly
Shell Lake became a farming town and has remained so.
Shell Lake territory was once
a part of Barron County, then a part of Burnett County, and Washburn
was organized by act of the legislature in 1883. The first county
officers appointed by the governor were:
F. B. Nelson
L. E. Thomas
Register of Deeds
A. L. Bugbee
L. H. Mead
Clerk of Court
In 1884 the following were
F. B. Nelson
L. E. Thomas
Register of Deeds
George L. Cott
L. H. Mead
A. L. Bugbee
Clerk of Court
L. H. Wang
Early Leaders in the Community
Early managers of Shell Lake
Lumber Company included:
O. S. Holt, W. R. Bourne,
A. H. Earle
Early merchants included:
Dobie & Stratton, F. B.
Otis, S. M. Bixby & Co., L. H. Wang
Perley, Barker, Hudson and
A. L. Bugbee, Adolph Godet,
L. H. Mead
L. H. Mead served as District
Attorney with occasional intervals of rest for more than twenty years.
A. L. Bugbee served continuously
as County Judge for more than twenty years.
George Cott had served as
a County Officer for more than twenty-three years and was also County
Chas. A. Shaver was Register
of Deeds for more than sixteen years.
Frank A. Keeler, Register
of Deeds, had served continously for more than twenty years.
P. E. Leonard served as County
Clerk for twenty-six years.
John A. Bergin served as Village
Marshall twenty-eight years.
W. R. Bourne was manager of
the mill for a year about 1882, then came back in 1895 and served until
Early settlers who came before or by 1880
Other early settlers who came before 1885
J. R. S.
Ella J. Buchanan
note: While this is a fairly comprehensive list of the
early settlers of Shell Lake, some may have inadvertently been
Indulgence for errors is hoped for. Also, by 1930 some of these
had died, or moved away, along with all family members.
No claim is made to the copyrights of the individual submitters. Data
within this website may be used for personal use only by
individuals researching their ancestry. Commercial use of this
information for profit is strictly prohibited without prior permission
of the owners. Other genealogical websites may link to this website;
however, permission is not granted to duplicate any of the contents.
Anyone contributing material for posting does so in recognition of its
free, non-commercial distribution, as well as the responsibility to
assure that no copyright is violated by the submission. This
website and its coordinator are not responsible for donations of
copyrighted material where explicit written permission has not been
granted for use.