"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.


Cotter, John Nagle one of the best known citizens of Lincoln County, of which he is a pioneer, and who for 56 years has been a resident of Merrill, is a man who has a high record for worthy achievement and public-spirited enterprise. He was born at Port Covington, Franklin County, N.Y., April 11, 1847, son of John and Prue (NAGLE) COTTER, the parents being natives of Ireland, in which country they were married, subsequently, coming to the United States; they settled at Port Covington, where John COTTER, who was a tanner by trade, operated a tannery and also a boot and shoe business. After spending many years there, they came in 1868 to Montello, Wis., Marquette County, where they resided until about 1884. They then came to Merrill, which was then a small village or hamlet. Here they resided for quite a number of years, the father dying Dec. 22, 1899, and the mother Sept. 26, 1897. Their son, John Nagle COTTER as a boy attended school at Port Covington, N. Y. In 1863, at the age of 16, he began industrial life as a worker in the lumber or logging industry along the Racket river in New York State, and he worked in that region for two winters. After that he spent a year in Troy, N. Y., from which place he went to Toledo, O., and thence to Erie, Penn. During these wanderings, having no trade, he worked at whatever he could find to do and picked up bits of useful knowledge as he went along. The spirit of western adventure was then in the air, and young Cotter, following his star of destiny, found himself on Christmas Day, 1867, in Merrill, Wisconsin. As already stated, the place was then known as Jenny, and it was not named Merrill until 1881 on the coming of the C. M. & St. P. Railway, when it received its present name in honor of S. S. MERRILL, then general manager, and afterwards general superintendent, of the road. The village was situated in the heart of the lumber region of the state, and young Cotter at once became identified with the great industry, going to work as "stump man." From this position he advanced step by step to that of foreman, showing himself well able to handle the rough men engaged in the strenuous occupation of felling the vast forests, who, wearied by their hard toil, and deprived of the refining influence of good women, easily yielded to the allurements of dissipation, and when intoxicated were difficult to control. In 1879, after having made a good record in the employ of others, Mr. COTTER, now a man of 32 years, went into business for himself, in partnership with James O'CONNOR, the firm name being Cotter & O'Connor. It flourished until Mr. O'CONNOR'S death in 1885, at which time the business was dissolved. Mr. COTTER was then regularly engaged in the logging and lumbering business until 1912. After that year, however, he operated on a smaller scale and by 1913 was practically retired. During the latter part of his active period Mr. COTTER interested himself in various enterprises in addition to his lumber industry. He was one of the promoters of the Merrill Railway & Lighting Company for the building and operation of which he obtained the charter, and served as its president until it was sold in 1915. This street railway was one of the first in the country to be operated by electricity. Mr. COTTER was also one of the organizers of the National Bank of Merrill and remained connected with it until it was merged into the Citizens National Bank in 1911, since which time he has been one of the directors of the latter institution. He is also a director in the Grandfather Falls Pulp & Paper Co., and was a partner with L. N. NASON in the proprietorship of the Lincoln Hotel of Merrill. In politics a Democrat, he was elected mayor of Merrill in 1888; he also served many terms as alderman and as president of the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors. In these official positions he exerted himself to effect needed reforms and increase the prosperity of the city and county. One of his greatest achievements, was the erecting the present county court house. The history of almost every county in the West includes what is generally referred to locally as "the county seat fight," each city or good-sized village in the territory seeking to obtain the coveted prize, and in some instances unjustifiable methods are followed; but Mr. COTTER chose a fair and open fight and succeeded through the force of his personality and the logical arguments he was able to produce, and Merrill now has one of the finest court houses in northern Wisconsin. He, himself, was chairman of the building committee supervising its construction. He has for many years been active in civic and social work and the integrity of his personal character has gained for him a wide circle of friends. In religion he is a Catholic, he and his family belonging to St. Francis Xavier Congregation of Merrill, and he belongs also to the Knights of Columbus and has served one term as Grand Knight of the local council. Mr. COTTER was married Oct. 14, 1885, to Dora SMITH, of Merrill, daughter of Oliver B. and Sophronia (RAVLIN) SMITH. She was born in Merrill Dec. 3, 1860, and after a happy married life of 34 years, passed away Dec. 9, 1919. The children of this union were as follows: Prue, born Oct. 11, 1886, who married L. G. AVERY, of Cleveland, Ohio, and died in that city April 10, 1920; Dora, born Oct. 17, 1888, now Mrs. F. C. WEISS of Merrill; John, born April 7, 1890; and Gordon, born June 11, 1891, the two latter both being residents of Merrill. Mr. COTTER'S career illustrates forcibly the fact that material success depends more upon the qualities within the man than upon outside influences, even the advantage of a fine education being sometimes inadequate of itself to advance its possessor to the coveted goal. Mr. COTTER succeeded without it. His education was such as the average boy received who in the 40's of the last century attended for a few years the common schools of a small town. With little more than a fair knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic, he found himself, a youth of 20, in a little frontier hamlet surrounded by the primeval forest. But one occupation was open to him and he plunged into it with all the energy and hope of youth. There were thousands of others like himself, or but little older, doing similar work, but how many of those thousands subsequently rose to moderate affluence and attained an honored place in the communities they respectively resided in after reaching mature years? It is safe to say, but few. In that case of most, the money hardly earned was recklessly spent, and the man, instead of shaping his own destiny by fidelity of duty, doing even more than was required of him, did his work in perfunctory style, without vital interest in it and spent his wages as soon as they were earned in whatever took his fancy at the moment, often in dissipation, and without thought for the future; and that future, doubtless, for those of this class, held little that was cheering. The few who, like Mr. COTTER builts more wisely, gained the richer reward.

Transcribed by Susan Swanson, from pages 578-579; History of Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties Wisconsin; Compiled by George O. Jones, Norman S. McVean and Others 1924, H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co

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