"History of Lincoln, Oneida, and Vilas Counties Wisconsin"

Compiled by George O.Jones, Norman S. McVean and Others. Printed in 1924 by H.C.Cooper. Jr. & Co., Minneapoli-Winona MN. ill. 787 pages. The first two hundred pages are history of the three counties, the remainder of the book is biographies.


Eagle River, the county seat of Vilas County, is an incorporated village situated in Township 40, -north of Range 10 east. It is on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway and on State Trunk Highways No. 32, 63 and 70.

The village lies chiefly on the south bank of the Eagle River, whence it derives its name, and which was so called, it is said, from the large number of eagles that formerly built their nests in the adjacent forest. Before reaching the village the river follows a tortuous course, from time to time temporarily losing its visible identity as it passes through the famous Eagle chain of lakes, some 25 in number, and extending for a distance of 50 miles, though the two ends of the chain are but 16 miles apart. About half a mile northeast of the village it emerges from Yellow Birch Lake, once more appealing as a river, and passing southward and then west- ward through the village to join the Wisconsin River, which it does a couple of miles beyond, in Section 31.

The rise of the village dates from the coming of the railroad in 1883, but a few pioneers appeared in the vicinity some 20 years or more before that. Among them was James Hall, who about 1863 settled with his family on the northern bank of Eagle Lake, about three miles from the site of the village. Two years later C. L. Perry began farming near Yellow Birch Lake, and at about the same time Daniel Gagen made a settlement on Gagen Hill and also made a start in agriculture. This region was then a part of Lincoln County.

The great event which opened up all this territory and started it on the road to civilization and prosperity was the coming of the railroad then known as the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western, but which since June 30, 1893, has been a part of the Chicago & Northwestern system. An account of the building of that rail- road may be found in the chapter m Rhinelander contained in this volume. It may be said here, however, that in the fall of 1882 the construction work was stopped, when Rhinelander had been reached and the other branch had been built to Three Lakes, work on the main line being resumed in the spring. The Rhinelander branch was not carried any farther for some years. The road reached Eagle River in June, 1883, and at once the influx of new settlers began. Some of these were mere "rolling-stones," too restless to remain long in one place, but others, possessed of patience, determination and other qualities of good citizenship, became permanent residents and were the upbuilders of the community. Prominent among the latter was John O'Connor, founder of one of the leading families of the village and a benefactor of some of its chief institutions, and whose son George is now filling the office of district attorney. Mr. O'Connor arrived at Eagle River on April 12, 1883. He was the real founder of the village though it was platted in the name of his wife. In the same year, 1883, Thomas B. and William J. Walsh settled here, being later joined by their parents and other relatives, and soon became prominent in various capacities.

Lyman J. Cook and George P. Dickinson, Eagle River's first merchants, and the former being the first postmaster of the village, also arrived in that year (from Norrie, Marathon County). Mr. Cook was a native of Chenango County, N. Y., and then a man of 33 years. Some 30 years later, about 1913 or 1914, he wrote his reminiscences, which include an interesting account of how he and his partner, Mr. Dickinson, came to Eagle River, what the place looked like then, and some of the first events that happened here. His account read substantially as follows:

" George P. Dickinson and myself came to Eagle River the first part of May, 1883. The end of the railway track proper was Monico, but the work train ran up to the swamp where Gagen now is. The right of way was cut out to Three Lakes, where the engineers were encamped. We stayed all night with them and came on to Eagle River with them in the morning. On arriving here we found a crew getting out timbers for the railway bridge. There was a pole bridge for teams across the river below, where the railway now stands. There were railroad shanties and crews all along the right of way. One shanty was near the bank of the river where Al Denton's house now stands. We later bought this and used it for a store.

"The following winter Frank Tambling and wife lived in a set of cabins where George O'Connor's house now stands. C. L. Perry and Finn Lawler lived in a cabin at the foot of Yellow Birch Lake. We went up there and got a canoe and went up the lakes after being at Eagle River a few days. We concluded it all right and went back to Norrie, where we had been in the store business about four years, selling general merchandise and drugs. We had sold out our business and were looking for a new location.

"The following June I started for Eagle River with a large tent and a stock of clothing, notions, and light groceries. Mr. Dickinson stayed in Norrie to settle our accounts. I came as far as Three Lakes on the train and from there by wagon. I pitched my tent on the north side of the pole bridge, between where my house now stands and the river. I brought an old man, Horace Foster, with me as cook. I also brought an old oil stove. He could not make bread or biscuit that we could eat. I bought bread of Mrs. Tambling; everyone wanted lunches. Mr. Foster tried but did not make a success of it. Then George Kimball pitched a tent near mine, and one for his family, and started selling lunches. The engineers put up their tent next and we had a big start for a village.

"Up to this time all the supplies for the village came up the Wisconsin River by team and canoe. The railroad men soon laid a track to Eagle River and had a depot in a box car. By the last of June the railroad had the bridge built and soon ran the first train across it. At that time we bought the boarding-shanty and commenced fixing it up for a store. I shipped up lumber and built a frame shanty back of the tent and moved my family here.

" In the meantime John O'Connor came and built a shanty where Finn Lawler's house now stands. He got ready for logging and moved his family here. One of the shanties we afterwards used as a church. The first town election was also held there. We had sent a petition for a post office, which we got later. I was postmaster up to the time Grover Cleveland was elected president. After that my politics did not suit, my resignation was asked for and A.A. Denton was appointed; I ran the office about one year as deputy.

" In September Geo. P. Dickinson built a log cabin, which stills stands, and moved his family here. Up to July we did not know what town we were in when the assessor came up to see what we had. We were in the town of Ackley and the voting precinct was east of Antigo. We put in an awfully cold winter in an old log shanty. In the fall of 1883 the T. B. Scott Lumber Company built a store, which now stands, with T. B. Walsh in charge. In the meantime a hotel had been built where the Milwaukee House now stands, also a saloon about where Roderick's building stands. York and Son commenced building a sawmill, afterwards sold to the Gerry Lumber Co., who finished the same and ran it for a number of years.

"In the fall of 1883 we started a school in O'Connor's log shanty, with Miss O'Connor as teacher. We were all striving for a town but all we got was a justice of the peace and a constable-Dan Graham, J. P., and William Stevens, constable.

"In the winter of 1885 the legislature gave us a town, consisting of Ranges 8, 9 and 10, from what is now the county line north to the state line. In the spring of 1885 we held our first town meeting; Finn Lawler was elected chairman and I was elected treasurer, which office I held for the ensuing six years.

"In the summer of '84 Dickinson and myself built a store where the creamery now stands. Just south D. Roller built a roller-skating rink. Farther south Frank Tambling built a saloon. At this time there were buildings going up all over the town. In the spring of 1886 our store burned from forest fire; we moved into the Sam Smiley building, where the Richmond girls now are. We bought a lot and commenced the building now standing, where Mrs. Johnson now is. In the winter of '87 P. C. Tambling got his claim through on a homestead. In the summer of '87 we hired a surveyor and laid out the village north of Division Street."

After telling about a trip to Madison to help forward the legislation creating- the county of Oneida, which was delayed owing to political opposition, Mr. Cook resumed: "When G. P. Dickinson moved here he brought out a stock of drugs. We were both registered pharmacists and until a doctor came-Dr. Lyons-we did considerable business in that line. People insisted that I should get some forceps; I did, and pulled teeth. Paul Cook was born Oct. 10, 1884, nearly the first white child born here; a family by the name of Lee had a daughter born a short time before. We had good times; money was plentiful and it was nothing unusual to take in $100 a day, even when I was in the tent."

For a number of years the firm of Dickinson & Cook were leading general merchants and real estate dealers of Eagle River. In a fire which occurred in the village Oct. 14, 1886, they sustained a loss of $8,000, which, however, did not make them give up business.

In the same year, 1886, there were two other general stores in the village, those of P. W. McIntyre and Stewart & Scott. Mr. McIntyre, who was a native of Fond du Lac, this state, not long after the death of his first wife, which occurred Jan. 6, 1888, disposed of his mercantile interests and opened the Hotel Commercial, which soon became a favorite stopping-place for the traveling public. He was active in various movements to promote the benefit of the community and was a frequent incumbent of public office. In 1885 he succeeded E. C. Allen as county judge and was for some years a member of the Oneida County Board. His second wife, who survived him, is now a resident of Chicago. Among the other places of business in 1886 were a meat market, barber shop and restaurant. There was then a physician in the town-Dr. G. H. Haddy-who also sold drugs. There were two hotels, the Denton and the Forest, and the public school had 54 pupils. As the Eighteenth Amendment had not then been thought of, six saloons were doing a flourishing business.

The "Original plat" of the village (being in reality the second plat) was laid out in 1885, the surveyor's certificate (the surveyor being Daniel Graham) being dated June 5, and the date of record being August 23, It was by direction of Ann O'Connor (Mrs. John O'Connor) and was described as " Part of the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 33, Town 40, Range 10; beginning at quarterpost on the north side of said section, running south 1320 feet, thence east 1179 feet, thence north 1320 feet, thence west 1179 feet." The population at the time was not stated, but in the previous year there were 15 families here. Other additions were subsequently laid out.

The Gerry Lumber Company was established at Eagle River in 1886 and that year the lumber camps in the vicinity required supplies for the season aggregating in value about $75,000, which tended to increase the prosperity of the village. A mill had been started in the village in 1884, the proprietor of which had been bought out by the Gerry company. The latter established a large plant, which was operated until 1896, when, the company having suffered considerable losses from fire, sold out to the insurance company. The incorporators of the Gerry Lumber Co. (incorporated in 1886) were Geo. W. Gerry, a lumberman from Maine. Henry Sherry, J. W. Underwood and Geo. M. Miller. They had both a saw and planing-n-mill. After they sold out the land was used by James Morgan for farming purposes, until he sold it to the Wisconsin-Michigan Lumber Company now doing business here.

The Rev. Father Goepfert, writing in 1898, said of Eagle River: " For years the camps were many; the mills ran night and day; wages were high; there was activity and abundance in every store and department, and the 'Lake Shore,' as it was then called, had its hands and cars full to ship out the products of industry and to supply the inhabitants with the necessaries of life. Every house was crowded. It was Eagle River's golden age," Then he remarks sadly: " Prosperity has for a time veiled her smiling face"; which reveals the fact, at which we might guess that the village has had its ups and downs.

A writer in a Catholic publication (The Catholic Church in Wisconsin, 1898) mentions the fact that Peter St. Peter located at Eagle River in 1887 and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel W. Smith in 1889, the Smiths opening a hotel. As will be seen later Mr. Smith was a good worker for the establishment of St. Peter's Church here. He is still residing in the village, being now engaged in cement block manufacture. Merrick Richmond, who settled here in 1886, went into the hotel business, and remained in it until his death in April, 1908.

Events marched rapidly during the 80's and early 90's, A newspaper, the Vindicator, had been established in December, 1886, to run for a few years until superseded by the Eagle River Review in 1890; the first waterworks were established in 1889, and in 1890 Arthur McKenzie and Fred Morey opened the first bank here, which is now the First National Bank of Eagle River. As the history of this bank has been closely connected with the growth and development of the town, and throws a side light on many things in connection therewith, it is given -here somewhat in detail, in part as printed in the "News" in May, 1923.

"About 35 years ago, when the whole of Vilas County was covered by virgin forests of white pine, hemlock and hardwoods, the Bank of Eagle River was started as a private bank by the late Arthur McKenzie and Fred Morey, and it was reorganized as a state bank in 1903. At that time this was the only bank in Vilas County and it took care of the banking requirements of the pioneers of this vicinity without any competition until 1916. During the last 15 years there have been great changes in business activities round about -Eagle River. In the old days three or four sawmills were active in the sawing of the white pine timber that covered the land tributary to our lakes and rivers, and also huge rafts of white pine logs were driven down our rivers to points south, to large saw mills at Rhinelander, Merrill and Wausau. After the days of white pine there was a lull in the lumber activities in this immediate territory, during which time new settlers came here and settled on our cut-over lands and made them into prosperous farms; and during this same period people from distant points began to realize and appreciate that our takes and rivers offered unexcelled locations for summer resorts and opportunities for recreation during the pleasant summer months.

"During all this time the Bank of Eagle River continued to take care of the banking requirements of our town and vicinity. It passed through many panics and periods of business depression and was always in a position to pay every depositor whatever money they had in the bank immediately upon demand. It has never closed its doors for any reason on any business day since its incorporation 35 years ago. After the cutting of the white pine timber there was a period of about 15 years when the lumbering activities at Eagle River came to a standstill, during which time the village did not make much progress one way or another.

"In 1920, however, the Stange interests of Merrill, Wis., who had a large tract of hardwoods and hemlock timber just across the state line in Gogebic County, Michigan, were looking for a location for a sawmill to manufacture this timber, and after considering many other places decided to locate at Eagle River. The building of the plant of the Wisconsin-Michigan Lumber Company gave a new impetus to the growth of Eagle River and for the last three years the town has increased in population and gone forward in every way. In 1921 Arthur McKenzie, the founder and principal owner of the State Bank of Eagle River, died. The bank was continued under the management of Mr. Fred. Morey, who had been with it practically all the time since it was started. In November of the same year the entire capital stock of the State Bank of Eagle River was purchased by Mr. E. W. Ellis of Eagle River and Mr. A. H. Stange of Merrill. In March, 1922, the bank was reorganized as the First National Bank of Eagle River, with the following officers and directors: E. W. Ellis, president; A. H. Stange, vice president; M. J. Cepress, cashier; Thos. McQuaker, assistant cashier. Directors-N. M. Emmons, F. A. Hall, E. W. Ellis, Fred Morey, A. H. Stange, Alex Higgins and G. F. Sanborn.

" The directors feeling that the old bank was not fitting or ample enough to take care of its future requirements and the growth of Eagle River, decided upon the erection of the new bank building that now stands on the corner of Wall and Railroad street, which, when completed, was thoroughly equipped with every necessary or desirable convenience, all most tastefully arranged and artistically decorated. The new bank was opened for business April 16 and on the evening of the 21st it was thrown open to the public. It is the only national bank in Vilas County, and its business is handled in the most liberal manner possible consistent with a safe and conservative banking policy."

Referring back to the early industries of the village, it should be mentioned that in the early 90's 0. W. Avery, Alex Johnson and W. W. Forrester were operating shingle mills here.

On June 10, 1896, The Sheridan Lumber Company was started, its member being Thomas Sheridan (from southern Michigan), A. E. Stockwell and E. W. Allen, The company bought land at the north end and put up saw and shingle mills. Mr. Sheridan later sold his interest to Stockwell and Allen and moved to Duluth. In 1903 the company failed, after which a man named John Shattuck ran a small portable sawmill for a time. Both the Gerry Lumber Company and the Sheridan Lumber Company carried on logging operations in the vicinity of Eagle River.

The Eagle River Lumber Company, now operating a plant in the village, was started in December, 1913, by Herman Behn, Fred Behn, Hexiry Leppla and Theodore Brenner. The first year they leased the land, on which stood the former- Sheridan Lumber Co.'s office and another old building, and then built their present plant comprising a sawmill, planing-mill, shingle mill and lathing mill. They own timber in Oneida and Vilas Counties and have logged every winter, cutting about 1,000,000 feet each year. Their plant in Eagle River covers over six acres. There are ten stockholders in the company, including the original members. Herman Behn is now president, Henry Leppla vice president, and Fred Behn secretary and treasurer. Theo. Brenner is a director, and also William Heimke, as well as the officers above mentioned.

Among the items appearing in the advertising columns of the local papers in 1897-@1898 were the professional cards of D. E. Riordan and 0. 13. Moon, attorneys, and M. E. Sanborn and W. D. Neville, physicians and surgeons. Mr. Riorda at that time was municipal judge, while the county judge was N. A. Colman, and the circuit judge W. C. Silverthome. Mr. Moon, in addition to being an attorney, was a newspaper man, then proprietor of the Eagle River Review. The Hotel Central was advertised as "a first class house,". with R. D. McLeod proprietor. A. G. Richison was conducting a general hardware store. The lodges mentioned were: Eagle River Lodge, No. 109, 1. 0. 0. F., which met every Monday in their hall over F. Beardsley's drug store; the Masonic lodge, meeting every second and fourth Tuesday over Dickinson & Cook's store, and Eagle Waters Camp, No. 990, M. W. A., meeting Fridays at Jones's Hall. The Congregational Church, H. C. Todd, pastor, and the Catholic Church, Rev. Prosper Goepfert priest in charge, advertised their services. An item in the "Review," issue of Aug. 25, 1898, re- corded the death of Fred Vought (son of James Vought), who was shot in the battle of Arbonita, Aug. 12, in the Spanish-American war. In 1897 Eagle River war, said to have a population of 1,600.

It has been already mentioned that the first waterworks in Eagle River-were established in 1889 at the site of the old Dickinson & Cook shanty, just south of the river. This was a steam plant. In 1897 an electric plant was installed, the builder being F. J. Thrun. The plan was to utilize the original water plant and unite the two in a water and light plant. Mr. Thrun first put in another boiler and steam engine, together with dynamos, and started a village light plant, also operating the water plant. About five or six years later the Eagle River Light & Water Company was formed, with D. E. Riordan as president and P. J. Thrun secretary and later treasurer. At this time and for some years the water plant was operated both by electric and steam power. After the company had been operating for a few years it was resolved to make the plant hydraulic, for which purpose a dam was necessary. The expense of the transformation was estimated at about $130,000 and town assistance was essential, but at that time the town had but $30,000 in its treasury. The plan was put through, however, the darn being constructed four miles down the river, but it was not done without great opposition from people who claimed that the expenditure was illegal. Some lumber companies and other business houses refused to pay the increased taxes, but largely through the energy of Mark Harzel, then town chairman, the plan was carried out, Mr. Harzel using his own credit to aid the issue of bonds. After the building of the dam in 1907, the company continued to operate the plant, the town of Eagle River furnishing the power, and that arrangement was in force until about 1913, when the town having thus paid for the plant, took it over. Previous to the building of the dam Mr. Thrun and the company used steam to generate additional power for both water and lights. In 1922 the town put in a second generating set for emergency or additional power, and there is room in the building for a third set, when needed. In the spring of 1923 a power line was built down to Three Lakes, which now obtains its light from the Eagle River plant, the latter also furnishing light to a number of summer resorts.

The Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Eagle River was organized in January, 1916, by W. C. Arnold, F. J. Strong, Finn Lawler and others, and was incorporated with a capital of $10,000. It began business January 21 with Mr. Lawler as president, W. C. Arnold cashier, and N. M. Emmons vice president, in the Lawler building, comer of Wall and Main streets. Mr. Arnold, who was from Iowa, and who was a heavy stockholder at that time, later dropped out and his place as cashier was taken in March, 1917, by Charles H. Wiegand, who is still serving in that capacity. Mr. Lawler also remains president of the institution, while Mr. Emmons, who left the bank in January, 1922, to go to the First National, was succeeded as vice president by Amos Radcliffe, and Mr. Radcliffe by E. A. Everett, who had previously been a member of the board of directors. The present board of directors is composed of Finn Lawler, C. H. Wiegand, F. J. Strong, E. E. Adams, L. F. Zimplemann, William Saltenberger and Amos Radcliffe. The bank moved into its present quarters of Wall Street, a good brick and tile building, in October, 1922. In July, 1920, the capital of the institution was increased to $25,000 and at the present time (June 1, 1923) the surplus is $4,000, with undivided profits of the same amount, the deposits being over $300,000. The bank has been active in agricultural developments, and during the last three or four years has handled dynamite at practically cost price for the farmer's benefit, besides taking an active part in promoting the general business interests of the community and the Surrounding territory.

One of the important concerns having is headquarters in the village is the Eagle River Telephone Company, which may be said to have its origin in the early 90's when John Radcliffe and his son Arthur were operating a livery stable and logging business and for the convenience of their business put in a few telephones, including three or four in the village and several to nearby resorts, for which Arthur and another brother, Amos, ran livery. In 1903 William H. Radcliffe, also a son of John, began working for the concern and so continued for several years, or until the spring of 1908, when he bought the telephone interests of his father and brother, then including some ten or twelve phones. Since then he has developed the business, and now has over 300 phones, his lines covering the village and surrounding territory, including a number of resorts, to a distance of ten or twelve miles, and in addition he operates toll lines to Rhinelander, Three Lakes and Phelps. He has the office and exchange in his own home. In 1922 he started the underground system in Eagle River. The Eagle River Telephone Co. was incorporated in the spring of 1923, with William H. Radcliffe as president, Amos Radcliffe vice president and Mrs. Ruby B. Radcliffe secretary.

The Eagle River Produce Company is the outcome of a creamery built about 1913, but which was not operated until April, 1915, when it was started and run successfully all summer. N. M. Emmons was the leading spirit in its organization. Efforts to keep it on a paying basis fret with less than the hoped-for success, and at last, about five years ago, it was transformed into a farmers' co-operative concern, which it still remains. The cream is obtained from the local farmers and from such outside points as Three Lakes, Monica, Woodruff and Arbor Vitae. In June, 1923, the concern turned out 22,000 pounds of butter. Julius G. Sevfert is manager. In January, 1922, a lath mill was started under the name of the Radcliffe Manufacturing Co., and is still in operation. J. A. Porter is now president of the company and G. F. Sanborn secretary and treasurer.

The Wisconsin-Michigan Lumber Company, already briefly referred to, established their plant in Eagle River in May, 1920, purchasing the old Gerry Co.'s site and erecting their own buildings, which include a sawmill, planing-mill and box factory. The plant is one link in the chain controlled by the Stange interests of Merrill. The officers are: E. W. Ellis (formerly of Wisconsin Rapids), president and manager; A. H. Stange, vice president; C. J. Kinzel (of the Kinzel Lumber Co. of Merrill), secretary and treasurer. The company are and for the last 25 years have been engaged in logging in Gogebic County, Michigan, where they own 48,000 acres and cut 15,000,000 feet of hardwood and hemlock yearly. The Eagle River plant covers some 36 acres and 300 men are given steady employment, ' The box factory turns out boxes of every description and the product of the concern is shipped to nearly every state south and east.

The mercantile enterprises of the village have been too numerous to mention in detail, but an account of some of the more important may be found in the biographies of their respective proprietors.
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