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Community Histories

An Early History of Shell Lake

Compiled in 1930

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 who carried their "turkeys" into the camp in the fall and cut the trees during the winter with axe and saw, skidded the logs to the rollways and hauled them on heavy sleds to the landings on the rivers, and then with the melting 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 fast passing into the forgotten.

The success of the annual spring drive depended on having plenty of water at the right time, which developed dams on the streams to hold the water, to be released as needed, and there is an oft told tale of an attempt to cut the ridge between Shell Lake and 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 village 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 patent by Omaha Railway Company, August 19, 1880, carried the odd numbered sections in this territory.

The Shell Lake Lumber Company was incorporated by Weyerhauser and Denkman of Rock Island, Illinois, C. Lamb and Sons of Clinton, Iowa and David Joyce of Lyons, Iowa, under the laws of Iowa on December 18, 1880.  It bought the railroad land around 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 timber from them, so the early history of Shell Lake was in line with its operations.

It is true there were hunters, trappers and traders in the country before this time, but the passing of 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 States and in return they were given reservations on which they were promised sanctity from intrusion ofothers.  The Chippewa people in Shell Lake 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, where a great many arrows are found.

Much is heard of Shinneway, a proud old Chippewa, whose large family was reared on the banks of Shell Lake.  Several of his descendents still live here and take pride in 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 courthouse 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, religious 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 liquor 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 saloons was about the same.

It took nineteen years to cut the timber and saw it into lumber and during that time the lumber company 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 cut 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 them were on trucks and moved with the railroad tracks.  Each camp had a foreman, cook, cookee, stable boss and handy man.  Each kept a "wanagan" or store chest from which the men could buy the tobacco and clothing needed, which was charged and deducted from the pay checks.  Themen in the camp were swampers, sawyers, teamsters and loaders, and many of these men 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 twenty-five miles of tracks, which was moved fromplace to place to reach the timber.  The main lines remained in one location for a term of years and the branches were for the time of cutting that place only.  The old grade to the southeast with its many deep cuts and big fill sis familiar to everyone and is a constant inquiry by strangers.  Many of these railroad grades have become public hiehways and good ones.  The rolling stock was two Baldwin steam engines and about eighty cars.  The car shops employed a foreman and several men.  The Crescent Springs Railway was a real institution for twenty years and hauled many millions of logs and dropped 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" which were long logs, floating, fastened by chains to rock piers on the bottom 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 logs over the lake. A steamboat and crew were kept busy gathering them and putting 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 piling 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 minutes.

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 mills, 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 lumber that today would sell at a hundred dollars a thousand or more.  The old timers well remember the practice of selling "scoots", what would not be good boards, at one dollar for all you could haul, as well as the millions 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 full 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 was 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 the Crescent Spring Railway, floated by the lake, went through the mill, and was handled four or five times by the men who lived in Shell Lake.  They worked long hours with a good sweat every day in summer and brisk weather in winter.  They were happy with their work, their schools, churches and saloons.  They were good lumbermen.

The Lumber Company had a large general merchandise store at which the employees traded on credit tickets, and from which its camps and other activities were supplied.  The stores and office were on the lake shore near the old pump house location.  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.  The following year the water system was laid, serving not only the entire village but the mill and lumber yard.  That system of mains is still in use 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 levied 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 and making homes, with a cow and chickens.  About 1895 a real effort was 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 beginning of farming as a business in Shell Lake country.  The mill completed its work in 1899 and in three years the lumber business was mostly memories.  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 County was organized by act of the legislature in 1883.  The first county officers appointed by the governor were:

OFFICE
OFFICER
County Clerk
F. B. Nelson
County Treasurer
L. E. Thomas
Register of Deeds
A. L. Bugbee
District Attorney
Adolph Godet
County Judge
L. H. Mead
Clerk of Court
John Gibson
Sheriff
James Wynne

In 1884 the following were elected:

OFFICE
OFFICER
County Clerk
F. B. Nelson
County Treasurer
L. E. Thomas
Register of Deeds
George L. Cott
District Attorney
L. H. Mead
County Judge
A. L. Bugbee
Clerk of Court
L. H. Wang
Sheriff
Peter Hyland

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

Early doctors:
Perley, Barker, Hudson and Wolcott

Early lawyers:
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 Treasurer.
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 the end.

Early settlers who came before or by 1880 include:

BLACKBURN, John  LAMPMAN, Free 
BROWN, William  LAURSEN, Josephine Thomas 
DOBIE, David  TAYLOR, John 
DOBIE, Malcolm  TAYLOR, Mary 
LAMPMAN, Adella  THOMAS, L. E. 
LAMPMAN, Albert C.  THOMAS, Mary E. 

Other early settlers who came before 1885 include:

ABERG,John  GODDING, A. J.  PERRY, John
ALLEN, Carrie Trumble GODDING, M. D.  PETERSON, Helen
BAIN, James GODET, Adolph PETERSON, P. I.
BARKER, G. A. GORDON, M. PITTS, Cecelia Thompson
BEEDE, Sarah GREGORY, C. E.  PURDEY, Oliver
BEEDE, William HANSEN, Carrie RAUCHSTADT, William
BENNER, H. B.  HANSEN, W. B. RICE, Joe
BENNER, H. P.  HANSON, B. C. SALANDER, John
BERGIN, Elizabeth HARTMAN, John SALESS, Louis
BERGIN, Hattie HEALD, George SALESS, Mary
BERGIN, John A. HEISTERKAMP, William SALLANDER, Emma
BOHN, Alice HELMS, Joseph SCHLAPPER, Emmanuel
BOHN, Ettie HOLT, O. S. SCHON, Charles
BOHN, George P. IRLE, William SCHON, Frank
BOHN, Lawrence JACOBSON, Peter SCHON, Mon
BOURNE, W. R. JOHNSON, J.W.  SCHON, William
BRUCKMAN, Matt JOHNSON, John P. SHAVER, Charles A.
BUGBEE, A. L. JOHNSON, JohnT.  SHELLITO, Belle
BULL, N. B. KINNE, John SHESGREEN, Mary N.
BULLEN, Samuel KNAPP, Elizabeth SHIELDS, J. H.
CANTLEY, W. H. KNAPP, W.J. SLATER, Frank W.
CHARBONEAU, Dista LAMPMAN, Albert C. SMITH, Jeff
COOLEY, Claude LAMPMAN, Lula Curtis STONE, George
COTE, Ed. LANIGAN, David STONE, O. E.
COTT, George B. LAURSEN, Josphine Thomas STRATTON, M. S.
COVEY, L. S. LAVELL, A. A.  STRONG, H. F.
CRANDALL, A. B. LAVELL, Nora TARBELL, C. B.
CRANDALL, Lorenzo LEACH, C. B. TAYLOR, John
CROCKER, David LEONARD, Lucy A.  TAYLOR, Mary
CROCKER, G. E. LEONARD, P. E.  THIBEDEAU, Jule
CROCKER, Mary LIND, Andrew THIBEDEAU, Mose
CROCKER, Min LIND, John THOMAS, Mary E.
CROCKER, W. C. MATHEWS, James THOMPSON, John W.
CURTIS, W. B. McELVANEY, Ed. TILDEN, William
CUSTARD, R. C. MEAD, L. H. TRUMBLE, Han
DAHL, John MILLS, Chauncey TRUMBLE, Thomas
DAHL, N. A. MILLS, Peter VASSAW, John
DAHL, Rudolph MITCHELL, C. A. VASSAW, Nathalie
DAHLSTROM, Andrew MOODY, L. W. WALKER, L. H.
DAHLSTROM, Erick MULLEN, Bernard WALKER, T. R.
DEVEREUX, J. R. S. MULLEN, Ella J. Buchanan WANG, Ella Mills
DEVOE, A. S. NELSON, F. B. WANG, O.
DONALLY, Mike NELSON, Hilma Dahl  WESTERMEYER, George
EARLY, A. H. NEWELL, Francis WILKINS, F. L.
EK, Andrew O'KANE, Nettie Beede WOLCOTT, L. A.
ERICKSON, Christine O'LEARY, Joe WYNNE, James
ERICKSON, O. T. OLSON, Tina Johnson
GIBSON, Alex OLSSON, H. C.   

Please note:  While this is a fairly comprehensive list of the early settlers of Shell Lake, some may have inadvertently been omitted.  Indulgence for errors is hoped for.  Also, by 1930 some of these settlers had died, or moved away, along with all family members.



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