History of Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin (Part 1)
From: History of Door County, Wisconsin
The County Beautiful
By: Hjalmar R. Holand, M. A.
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago 1917


Sturgeon Bay seems to have been a center for human intercourse long before white men came here and began to do business. The remains of several Indian villages have been discovered in or near Sturgeon Bay which show that it had a large population hundreds of years ago. One of these villages was located on the property of the "Cove" summer resort about three hundred feet south of the boat landing. Another was across the bay at Circle Ridge on block 5. A great many fine relics have been unearthed here. Another village site has been found on block 3 of Wagener's second addition to Sturgeon Bay, just north of the city. Two large village sites are also found at Little Harbor.

The Indians presumably found this a convenient place of habitation because of its proximity to the waters of both Lake Michigan and Green Bay. When the first settlers came they found a well trodden path leading from the head of Sturgeon Bay to Lake Michigan, just north of the present canal, over which the Indians had portaged their canoes for centuries.

One of the first white men known to have visited Sturgeon Bay was the great missionary and explorer, Father James Marquette. On the 25th of October, 1674, a solitary canoe left the majestic waters of the Fox River at a point then known as St. Francis Xavier Mission, at the head of Green Bay. A black gown with two companions manned the canoe. This priest was Father Marquette, on his last visit to the Illinois Indians, a visit from which he never returned. On the 27th of October he landed at a point where there was an Indian village (probably Circle Ridge) and remained there three days instructing and ministering to the Indians. Proceeding on their journey they carried their canoes across the portage to Lake Michigan, surveying, as it were, the ship canal of two centuries later.

As far back as records go Sturgeon Bay has gone by the name it still bears. The first to mention the name is Father Allouez, the first missionary of the West. Late in October, 1676, he set out from his mission at De Pere to visit the Illinois Indians. Cold weather overtook him and he was obliged to winter with some Potowataini Indians, who lived on or near Sturgeon Bay. March 29, 1677, he embarked in a canoe, assisted by two men, on Lake Michigan. This he reached by way of the Sturgeon Bay portage (La Portage des Eturgeons), where now is the canal.'

This portage was also much used by early French, English and American fur traders in conveying their supplies from Green Bay to Milwaukee and intermediate points. It is probable that some of them also used Sturgeon Bay as a temporary trading post. In a letter dated May 18, 1825, H. B. McGulpin, a fur trader, mentions Sturgeon Bay in a way which suggests that it may have been one of his regular stations.2 After him a young trader by the name of Joshua Johnson Boyd made periodical visits there, on which occasions the Indians used to gather to barter and celebrate. He was the son of Colonel Boyd, U. S. Indian Agent at Green Bay. Colonel Boyd was a very capable and distinguished gentleman who had been prominently employed by the Government abroad and was a brother in law of President John Quincy Adams. In 1832 his son Joshua was killed at Sturgeon Bay by an Indian for refusing him credit.

It was this dangerous business that Increase Claffin assumed when he in 1833 moved from Green Bay. He changed the location of the trading post from Sturgeon Bay to Little Sturgeon and for many years Sturgeon Bay lay silent and deserted save for its dusky nomads.

Among the early settlers on Rock Island and St. Martin's Island was Oliver Perry Graham. He had a sail boat, did quite a little traveling disposing of his fish, and was also associated with the fur traders in bartering with the Indians. In this manner he became a well known figure among the Indians, who greatly respected him because of his powerful physique and commanding presence, and he was elected chief both by the Menominees and Chippewas.

On these travels he had several times visited Sturgeon Bay. He was greatly impressed by the grand forest of pine which lined the shores of the bay, particularly where now the City of Sturgeon Bay is built. He felt convinced that soon the tide of empire rolling westward would need this timber for building material, and profitable business would be opened for a sawmill Accordingly on August 14, 1849, he entered a tract of land now included in the business section of the city and in 1850 erected the first house of the future city. This stood a little southwest of where Vendome Park now lies.

Sturgeon Bay at that time was one grand forest of pine. From the cove to the brewery, from the bridge to the courthouse and eastward for miles was a forest of tall, bulky columns of pine rearing their tops a hundred feet in the air. Where now the business houses line Cedar Street, the ground stretched smooth and soft, covered with pine needles and always shaded by the green pine.

For a year Graham dwelt here alone with his family, a hermit in a wilderness of pine. His nearest neighbor was David Greenwood, who lived on the Sawyer side of the bay. There was also Peter Sherwood, a quiet, genial old man, who lived on Sherwood's Point, about six miles down the bay.3 A half mile south of him at the head of Sawyer Harbor lived Frank Sawyer, an Indian trader and trapper who had just located there. Seven miles farther west Robert Stephenson, another Indian trader, lived at Little Sturgeon, while far to the northward, at Fish Creek, Increase Claffin held undisputed sway.

It was not long, however, before Graham got more neighbors. One morning in the fall of 1851 he saw a sailboat come gently floating up the bay and land at his house. It contained Rev. A. M. Iverson, who with two representatives of his congregation in Fort Howard, were seeking suitable Government land to form a colony. This Moravian congregation of about twenty Norwegian families had for some time been buffeted about in great hardships. A few years previously its members had left Norway partly because of economic reasons and partly because of religious pressure. They had been among the pioneers of "Walker's Point" in Milwaukee and there struggled under the handicap of strangers in a strange land unable to speak its language. In Milwaukee a Norwegian nobleman of immense wealth had come to them unexpectedly like an angel from heaven and volunteered to buy lands for them all. With joy they had followed him across the Wisconsin wilderness to Fort Howard, where the colony had been established. Unforeseen difficulties, however had arisen, and now they were left more destitute than ever in the little Village of Fort Howard, without work, money or lands.4 Now, weary with wandering, their committee had reached Sturgeon Bay to see if here, beyond the pale of civilization, lands could be obtained where they could settle and dwell in peace.

At Sturgeon Bay practically all the land was still unpre-empted. However, that forest of pine which had prompted Graham to settle there discouraged Reverend Iverson from doing so. He was of the opinion that evergreens grew only on poor soil, and as they wished to form a farming community he felt it would be a big mistake to locate here. He returned to Fort Howard with his committee and strongly advised against settling at Sturgeon Bay. The greater part of his congregation accepted his advice and later moved with him to Ephraim. A few, however, were impatient of further investigation and believed it more important to obtain homes at once. These were Salvi Salveson (Solway), Anthoni Thompson, Louis Klinkenberg, H. P. Hanson and Ole Falk, Melchior Jacobs, Christian Knudson, E. Rasmussen, Noels Torstenson and Philip Jacobs. Of these Salveson settled near the later city in 1851, on the spot later occupied by the dwelling of Leidiger Bros. The others moved up in 1852 and settled along the shore, Torstenson and Philip Jacobs taking land on the Sawyer side.

For awhile it looked as if the whole Moravian congregation might settle at Sturgeon Bay after all. A wealthy Moravian in New York City by the name of Clark heard of the hardships of the little wandering congregation and offered to loan them money to buy land. With great anticipation they obtained Mr. Graham's aid and selected 1,200 acres of land for the colony at Sturgeon Bay. Mr. Clark, however, suddenly withdrew his offer and their hopes were dashed to the ground. With more chastened expectations they now entereed 160 acres of additional land and invited their brethren in Fort Howard to join them. Before they could pay anything down on the land they learned that their claim had been jumped by a Mr. Lyman Bradley.

This Mr. Bradley was a prospective lumberman who with David S. Crandall came from Lockport, N. Y., in the spring of 1852. They went into partnership under the name of Crandall & Bradley, and bought many hundred acres of pine lands. Most of these entries are dated September 11, 1852. Next spring they brought several men with them from Lockport to build a mill L. R. McLachlan was foreman. Under his supervision the mill was completed in October, 1853, and at once began to saw lumber. This was known as "the lower mill" and occupied the site of the Pankratz mill. Mr. Jesse Limber, an old settler who began work in this mill when it opened for business, thus describes this first beginning of Sturgeon Bay's business.

"I came to Sturgeon Bay from Lockport, N. Y., to work for Crandall & Bradley in their sawmill, which they had built that season. There were but few settlers here then, and this was an unbroken wilderness. We cut the pine trees on the bank of the Little Lake - then known as Bradley's Lake - but we were all green as to handling saw logs, and it was slow work * * * Little Lake was frozen over on the morning of November 5, 1858, and we had some rare sport killing bass and pickerel by striking on the ice over them, and then hooking them out with a piece of wire bent in the shape of a hook. In a day or two the weather got warmer, and the ice all melted, and we had no more snow until Christmas week, when it shut up for the winter. About New Year's the snow began to fall, and for forty days we never saw the sun; but we had the most beautiful nights I ever saw. It snowed every day, and by the first of March we had 3 1/2 feet of snow on the level in the woods * * * About the month of February the Bradley mill changed hands, and D. H. Burtis came here and took possession, and the mill company was known as Burtis & Works - the property being put into their hands to await the issue of a law suit then pending in the courts of Niagara County, N. Y. In August, 1854, Bradley came here and paid off all the men, and Works gave up the property to the old firm of Crandall & Bradley, and matters went on smoothly for awhile.

"But owing to Mr. Bradley's inexperience in lumbering, he failed to make much out of it, and in the crash of 1857, they went down with lots of others * * * After Burtis & Works gave up the Bradley property, Burtis built what was known as the middle mill,' and commenced to manufacture lumber, but failed and returned to his old home at Lockport, N. Y. * * * In early days there was no aristocracy - all were alike, and we enjoyed ourselves hugely - all were bound to enjoy themselves. We could get up a dance in half an hour, have a full house, and keep the party until daylight, and then away to the woods again. * * * I have known the time when we had to make out a meal on potatoes and salt. We used to spear suckers in the creek in the spring, and then we lived high again. I once heard Bradley remark that he had not a man about him that could get his shirt off, and when asked the reason, he said: 'They had eaten suckers so long that the bones stuck through their skin, and their shirts are fast.

The principal reason for the failure of this enterprise is reported to have been the lack of experience and attention to business on the part of the promoters. Crandall and Bradley were both newspaper men but had more hope than knowledge of the lumber business. Bradley had a great slant for law, was a shrewd pettifogger and found much more interest in following anybody's lawsuit than in managing his mill. Crandall was a famous storyteller who is said to have had free transportation whenever he traveled because of his witty stories. While the bosses were off in distant parts storytelling and arguing law, the mill men shifted for themselves in indolence and quarreling and the result was ruin.6

In 1854 D. H. Burtis built the second mill in Sturgeon Bay, which was located on the site of Washburn's planing mill Among the men who came with him were the Schuyler, Henry Schuyler, Sr., and his sons Henry, Fred and Albert. Henry Schuyler, Sr., became the first county surveyor. He had owned and operated mills in New York and had assisted in building "Walk in the Water" and other early boats. In 1844 he built Burtis' mill, then put in new machinery in Bradley's mill and finally was in charge of the construction of Graham's mill. In these jobs he was ably assisted by his son Fred Schuyler, who was also a master mechanic.?

Mr. Graham, who was the first to locate at Sturgeon Bay, was the last to build his mill. This was just east of the Reynolds Preserving Co. plant and was erected by Fred Schuler, A. W. Lawrence and others in July, 1855. While Mr. Graham's mill was the last of the three to start operation he had accumulated the greatest amount of timber lands. Having unbounded faith in the future of the town which he had founded, he invested all his means in timber lands. He borrowed from his friends and kindred and bought more. He mortgaged all he had and with the proceeds increased his holdings. Finally he had 4,600 acres of pine lands near Sturgeon Bay. Then, shortly after the whirring saws had begun to cleave the big pine logs in his trim little mill and success seemed near, the panic of 1857 laid its blighting hands on nearly all sawmills. The price of lumber went down so low it did not pay for the transportation. Like the two other mills in the village, he, too, failed in business. Sturgeon Bay for a time was a dreary monument of disappointed hopes for practically every man in the village lost a large amount in wages due from the mills, varying from twenty five to five hundred dollars.

The methods of handling the logs and lumber in vogue by these early mill companies seem rather crude when viewed in the light of later efficiency. The pine was cut - none less than ten inches in diameter - with axes. Only logs free from limbs were used. The balance of the tree was left to obstruct the ground. The big angular cuts of the axemen and the rejected tops caused a loss in lumber which would pay a modern mill's operating expenses. The logging camps were at various points a mile or two from shore and banking grounds were located at three or four different points between the present city and the mouth of the bay. From these points booms were made up and most of the logs reached the mill by water.

As soon as the ice left the bay the rafting crew would set out to get the logs from below up to the mills This was very slow work and as hard as it was tedious. A scow about twenty feet long by eight or ten feet wide was rigged with a windlass. To this a rope four or five hundred feet long was attached. After the logs had been put into a raft the boat was pulled out into the bay by means of oars, and when the length of the rope was reached the anchor in the bow of the scow was dropped and the work of winding up began. This would

Fred Schuyler, who is still a hale and hearty resident of the city at the age of eighty five, is a very well known character of the county, stocked with all sorts of whimsical recollections of the early days. " I was hired to come to Sturgeon Bay and stay thirty days," he tells, "and I am here yet." Gooduatured but rough in speech, unassuming and quaint, he is a rare type of an old pioneer. The following story is entirely characteristic of him: Once he doctored a sick horse for Rev. Samuel Groenfeidt. When the matter was disposed of he was asked for the bill. '"Oh, nothing," he replied, "you can preach my funeral sermon to pay for it, but you must not tell any lies. But," he added meditatively, ''you must not tell the truth either, for that would be a d---d sight worse !" probably require half an hour on an average if the weather was favorable. As some of the roll ways were about five miles from the mill it took a long time for a raft to reach the mill after getting started. Sometimes it would require from twenty four to thirty six hours to take a raft of about one hundred logs from the mouth of the bay to the Graham sawmill, and the men would be completely whipped out by the long and heavy pull. A raft of 100,000 feet was considered a big one, and the rafting boss was complimented very highly for being able to handle such a large lot of timber.

After trying the scow and windlass for a few seasons, the mills began to use horses for towing. A span was hitched to the rope, and by following the shore fairly good time was made with an ordinary raft. The driver was mounted on the back of one of the animals, and often the horses were in water up to their backs. The driver was compelled to hang on, and it was not an unusual thing for him to be swept off by some overhanging tree or limb. When they came to where the shore was bold and the water deep the horses would have to swim until they could touch bottom again. Three and four men were required to keep the raft from going ashore, and when the wind blew heavily toward the land this was an utter impossibility. In such an emergency the raft would have to remain on the beach until the wind went down.

The first of these methods was also employed by many captains to take their vessels up the bay in case of a head wind. A small anchor was placed in the yawl boat and taken perhaps a hundred fathoms ahead and thrown overboard. A turn was taken around the windlass on deck and the ship was warped along until the kedge anchor tripped. One of the big anchors was then dropped to hold the vessel in position until the former operation could be repeated. It sometimes took a week to kedge a large vessel from the mouth of the bay to Graham's or Schjoth's dock.

The first village plat of Sturgeon Bay was made and recorded August 10, 1855. The proprietor was Robert Graham, a brother of Oliver P. Graham. It embraced several blocks of land bounded by Spruce and Church streets. The name of the village was Graham, by which name the later City of Sturgeon Bay was known for several years. This was the second platted village in the county, the Village of Ephraim having been platted in 1853. The village plat of Ephraim, however, was not recorded until 1859.

As all three of the mills by this time (August, 1855) were running, there was quite a population in the future city. About twenty to forty men worked at each mill - the oldest, Crandall & Bradley's, being a little the largest - making a total population of about two hundred people, of which a little more than half were floating mill hands. In November of that year occurred an election for Governor of the state, which is the first election on record held in Sturgeon Bay or Door County. The manner in which this election was conducted was unique but very effective and is well worth relating.

On that memorable election day a group of patriotic plank pushers were sitting around the stove of the boarding house of Graham's mill after dinner. The merits of the two candidates - Barstow, democrat, and Bashford, republican - were discussed. Barstow was candidate for reelection and had a powerful state machine behind him The spokesman, however, was a staunch republican and made it clear that the salvation of all depended on the election of Bashford. In order to do what they could to save the state from damnation it was enthusiastically decided to constitute themselves into a board of election. This was done and each man present was required to vote a straight Bashford ticket. Word was sent to the other mills that an election was in progress at the upper mill and all were urged to present themselves. Meanwhile the board of election sat in patriotic dignity awaiting the voters. Those sordid savages of the other mills seemed, however, more interested in ripping logs than in saving the nation. Seeing the mountain would not come to Mahomet, Mahomet decided to go to the mountain. Taking the ballot box with them the board of election sallied forth and invaded the middle mill. Here, amid. the flying sawdust, it was explained to the Canadians, half breeds and Irishmen working there that it was a guarantee of their bread and butter to drop a slip in the box bearing the name of Coles Bashford. This was cheerfully complied with. Another halt was made in the snug furnace room of the lower mill and forty more republican votes were garnered in. The election board then went out into the highways and byways of the new metropolis - that is, along the water front and around the plank piles, and every person wearing trousers was required to drop the right kind of slip into the box. Toward the close of the day the board of election with great magnanimity and to avoid any suggestion of coercion permitted three voters to cast votes for Barstow. The ballot box was then carried back to its home in the dining room of Graham's mill and the votes were conscientiously counted. The result was very gratifying - 84 for "the great statesman," Bashford, and 3 for "the low down demagogue," Barstow. A messenger was subsidized and sent on foot to Green Bat with the election returns. A few weeks later the loyal patriots of Graham were greatly uplifted to learn that Bashford had been elected by a small margin - the state saved from disaster by Graham's (alias Sturgeon Bay's) intelligent and loyal vote!

The population of the little village at this time consisted of wandering mill hands of many nationalities. This is illustrated by the complexion of a court trial which was held about this time. A German named Protepter was tried for an assault with intent to kill On the jury were three Canadians, three Irishmen, two Americans, one Bavarian, one Portuguese, one Prussian and one half breed. When the panic of 1857 occurred and the mills shut down, most of these early toilers drifted away to other parts and they played no further part in Door County's history.

Among them, however, were many staunch citizens who stood by the community and later saw it develop into the fair region it is. Among these early fathers of the city who came before the panic were the following, besides those already mentioned:

A. W. and W. B. Lawrence, who came in 1853. They had lived for two years previously on Washington Island, where they had been engaged in fishing. Joseph Lavassor and M. E. Lyman also came that year.

In 1851 came Andrew Nelson, the father of C. L. Nelson; Capt. Jacob Hanson, the father in law of the late Y. V. Dreutzer; Soren Peterson; Erik Schjoth; and Joseph Hebert.

In 1855 came Andrew Peterson, the grandfather of H. L. Peterson. He settled on a farm south of Sturgeon Bay. In this year, too, came Joseph Harris, Sr., who later started the first newspaper and made himself greatly useful to Door County in many ways. J. T. Wright, Robert Noble, Albert G. Warren, W. H. Warren, Geo. H. Thorpe, Iver Nelson, Hans Hanson, Henry C. Knudson and Elijah and Nelson Fuller also took up their homes here this year. In 1856 came John Long, Joseph Colignon and Chris. and E. C. Daniels. In 1857 came David Houle, who started the Cedar Street house where now is the People's Store. David Houle's father, Joseph Houle, was a very early resident of Wisconsin, settling south of De Pere about 1820. He died about 1880 at the age of 114 years. He was a man of most remarkable vitality and endurance. One week before he died at the age of 114 years he walked to Green Bay, a distance of fourteen miles. In his eighty fourth year he walked from Green Bay to Shawano, a distance of thirty six miles as the crow flies, carrying a hundred pound sack of flour, twenty eight pounds of pork, some tea and coffee and a jug of whiskey. This was in 1850, when there were only rough blazed trails to follow through the unsettled wilderness. He had sixteen children. His son David is a chip of the old block. He is still, at the age of eighty six, daily tending his bar. When he was young he was very athletic and a great scrapper. During his first years in Sturgeon Bay he carried the mail to Two Rivers, a distance of sixty five miles, once a week, for which he received $10 per month.

When David Houle opened his tavern on Cedar Street, it was not yet cut out. Some of the best timber had been hauled to the mill but the inferior timber with brush piles and huge stumps still littered the ground. His place of business was therefore considered to be quite a long ways out in the woods. However, as it was the first and only place where liquid refreshments of the desired kind could be obtained, the citizens cheerfully straddled the stumps and gathered there for grand pow wows.

Sturgeon Bay at this time was a very crude place. It really consisted of three little communities about a half mile apart, having their little jealousies, At each place was a rumbling sawmill spouting forth slabs and sawdust. Near to each mill was an ugly, unpainted boarding house, surrounded by a few very primitive shanties. Far back in the woods, although now included in the city, were the more substantial and neat farmhouses of the early Moravian farmers, mostly Norwegians. Between these scattered settlers no roads had been opened up, only rough trails meandering through the timber. Wild animals were abundant, especially wolves, of which there were thousands. Even bear were very common. One day when Anthoni Thompson and his wife were out on the bay they heard a commotion at their house. They hastened home and found a bear had broken into the pigpen. Just before they arrived the bear attempted to carry the pig off, but their little daughter without thinking of danger had rushed up, giving the bear a blow across the head with a hardwood club. Startled by this sudden attack, the bear dropped the pig and rushed off into the underbrush.

There were up to this time no roads in the county. Sturgeon Bay was separated from Green Bay by a fifty mile impassable jungle. All travel was on boats or on the ice in wintertime. The Michigan, a steamer plying between Chicago and Buffalo, made occasional stops at Sturgeon Bay in the years 1852, '53, '51 and '55. The Ogontz, plying between Chicago and Green Bay, used to visit the port of Sturgeon Bay in the years 1856. '57 and '58. The Franklin Moore was another craft which used to visit Sturgeon Bay occasionally and unexpectedly. She was a kind of a portable dry goods, groceries and general merchandise store, supplying fishermen and others with tea, coffee, tobacco, whiskey, flour, clothing and other necessaries of life. Isolated as the village was, it was dependent upon these and other wandering vessels for its supplies, as very little farming was done, the only important crop as yet being potatoes.

[Continued in Sturgeon Bay history part 2.]

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