An Oak Island Farm – 1870

Oak Island Ashland County Plat Book - 1906

Oak Island Ashland County Plat Book – 1906

An Oak Island Farm

Hank O. Fifield

Bayfield Press – October 27, 1870

Oak Island is being improved in the way of buildings quite rapidly.  James Chapman & Company has put up one large dwelling and barn, besides several small buildings to be used by wood choppers through the winter. 

The company designs getting several thousand cords of wood cut this winter for the purpose of supplying steamboats for next season.  Last winter they put in a dock 400 feet long and we hear they propose enlarging it in the coming winter, so as to meet the increasing trade.  It is their intention to clear the land as they go, and as fast as they divest it of wood, to plow and put in potatoes, grain, hay, etc.  By this means they will soon have a large producing farm and not only get the benefit of the timber but of the soil also.

The soil of this island is said to be well adapted to agricultural purposes, having been well tested by Benjamin Armstrong, over ten years ago, whose house yet stands crumbling and wearing away by time and the elements.  It would be greatly to the advantage of our businessmen, if they would devote more of their time and attention to farming.  We hope at no distant day to see large fields of waving grain and grass, dotting the islands and mainland, presenting an ocular proof to visitors and people passing by of the fertility of the soil. (We have already satisfied ourselves on that score). 

When this is done and not until then, will we have an influx of emigrants from the farming community; then we will hear the ring of the axe and crashing of fallen trees from daylight to darkness of night, and in an incredible short time the soil occupied exclusively by timber, will be large fields of all kinds of vegetables and grains adapted to this climate, which will enliven and build up business and trades of every description.  Then the boats of this lake will not have to go back on their down trips empty as they do now but would be filled with the produce of our farmers.

The farming class of our emigrants as a general thing are men of limited means and are not easily tempted by fine speeches to invest the “little all” until they see conclusively that the land will produce as presented; and this is why that men owning land and doing business here should devote part of the attention to farming, for it is nothing more than a proof of the value of these lands.

When we get a farming community around us our land will be more valuable, the mercantile business will increase and in fact, all branches of trade will begin to flourish.  And it is the remark of all new comers, “why do you not devote more attention to farming, your soil is good; we see no reasons for not putting your advantages to practical use”?  The only excuse that can be offered for this neglected branch of industry is that nearly all of our business men are engaged in the wood, lumber and fish trade, and have neglected the improving of the land almost entirely.  But people owning land here, are beginning to open their eyes to the vast amount of wealth laying latent in the soil. 

What little effort has been made this, proved, most satisfactory as the samples at Chapman & Co.’s store will attest, collected by J. D. Cruttendon, Esquire from the gardens of different people of this town—consisting of some of the finest specimens of potatoes, beets, turnips and squash that ever graced the tables of county fairs in any state.

Some of the finest oats we ever saw were raised by John Buffalo, Indian Chief of the Red Cliff Band, in Buffalo Bay, and we believe that our citizens should give it a fair trial; the result would prove most gratifying to all.  Spring wheat has been successfully raised here and will eventually become one of the leading staples our farmers.  Hay that can be raised in abundance and 2 ½ to 3 tons per acres is considered but a medium crop and always commands from 20-25 dollars per ton.  Yet with these tempting prospects laying out before our citizens, but little has been done in the way of farming; and they have preferred to turn their attention in other directions, but we are glad to see the farming interest improving and believe that our citizens will finally take hold of it with a will—we would also state that apples can and are being raised, both in Bayfield and La Pointe.  

The soil of this section has many advantages which other places on the lake do not possess.  Here it is of a light sandy loam which retains the heat of the sun, causing vegetation to put forth earlier and mature sooner, than were it of that cold, stiff and sticky clay which you find further up the lake.  And upon a whole, when the farming interest is once fairly started in this section it will equal any in the state.   

This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.