Bayfield County Early Agriculture
Bayfield County’s Early History
By O. Flanders
Written for the December issue of the Wisconsin Municipality – Bayfield County Press – March 20, 1914
[The history of Bayfield County for twenty years after 1833 is but a record of denuding the forests of the pine timber with occasionally a county, state or national election, which would give the people something to talk and think about for a short time and keep them from stagnation, but which in no way affected their political, moral, spiritual or material condition. But the real live, virile, and true history of Bayfield began to be made within the last 10 years or so. For 40 years or more, the people have been anxiously looking forward to the times when the timber should all be used up in the country become a desolated waste of burnt over stump lands growing up to Hazel brush, briars and weeds, incapable of producing enough to keep porcupines from starving to death.
Some years ago, there began to develop an interest in agriculture, and horticultural men began to clear up farms, and were astonished at the returns the land gave them. Fruit trees were planted in some localities, with satisfactory results. Enthusiasm was awakened; the spirits of advancement group with leaps and bounds, and today there is growing within the limits a hundred thousand young apple trees, more than as many cherry trees, and more than 300 acres of small fruits. The dairy interests are growing into large proportions; stock raising and general farming are bringing success to all who engage therein, and need no prophetic eye to look into the near future, and see the whole surface of the country covered with farms dotted over with the best dairy cows, with hogs, sheep and other stock, with barns and silos, bursting with general crops, and with beautiful modern homes, the homes of happy, healthy and successful farmers, who will glory in the fact that they are citizens of Bayfield County, a land of plenty]
The early history of Bayfield County is a record of romance and adventure, of heroic adventure amidst discouragements, dangers and death, such as to stir the blood and awaken the interest and enthusiasm of anyone listening to the tale. It was 250 years ago when the white man first set foot on the land of what is now Bayfield County. In 1661, a party of fur traders landed on the west shore of Chequamegon Bay, near where Washburn now stands, started their trading station, and for several years, by numerous journeys through an uncharted wilderness amidst savage beasts and more savage men, blazed the trails for a later civilization to follow 200 years after. In 1665 the first Jesuit missionary to the Indians, Father Claude Allouez, appeared, followed in 1669 by Father Marquette, and a mission was established at LaPointe: but in a few years, Marquette and his followers were driven from their station by the warring tribes that surrounded them, to finally settle down at Mackinac.
For the next hundred and fifty years the country and its nearest interests were given over to the exploitation of the fur companies, and the record of their labors and achievements are mostly preserved only in legend’s and fireside tales of their descendants. The first white settlement in Bayfield County was in 1856 by a company organized at Washington, D. C., under the leadership of Sen. Henry Mower Rice, of St. Paul, Minnesota and thus, with a prophetic vision saw something of the magical growth and development of the great Northwest, which is now being realized, naturally thought that the splendid natural harbor of deep water with perfect protection from which any storm blows, extended for 30 miles along the shore of the Bayfield Peninsula, must sometimes be utilized for the accommodation of the tremendous lake commerce that should surely grow up between the East and the Northwest so they invested their money, bought up and cleared the land, laid out the town, built their homes, and very soon had a wide-awake and thriving settlement on the shores of Lake Superior.
For nearly 30 years after the settlement of Bayfield, the history of the town was the history of the county. The settlement grew, flourished in its own way, and became important as a fishing and lumbering station and for buying up the pine timber which covered up the entire surface of the land within the county. The men who foresaw the future development of the timber interests made large fortunes by their judgment in investing their means, and earned the reputation of being “grafters” by their success.
When Wisconsin became a state and was divided into counties, what now constitutes several counties was included in one county called LaPointe, and the county seat was at LaPointe on Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands. In 1856, the name LaPointe County was changed to Bayfield County and the territory included in La Pointe has been applied to changes in the County alliance that LaPointe County is no longer in Bayfield County, but the early history of the Apostle Islands, and their social and commercial interests are so interwoven with those of Bayfield that is difficult to consider one without reference to the other.
The first Protestant church established in the original LaPointe County was established in 1836 through the efforts of two brothers, Lyman and Numan Warren, who were of Puritan stock and faith and lineal descendants of Richmond Warren, one of the Mayflower Company. The building erected for the society is today one of the interesting landmarks of the old town of LaPointe.
The first newspaper, the Bayfield Mercury, was established in 1857, and is still running today as the Bayfield County Press, a virile up to date newspaper.
One the Omaha railway was completed to Bayfield in 1883, running for a distance of 40 miles through the country a good many towns sprang up along the line and soon develop into important lumbering towns with large mills, hurrying night and day, to cut up an market all the fine timber growing in the County.
The city of Washburn sprung up in the night in flourished like a “Green Bay Tree,” and soon became a city of six thousand inhabitants. The county seat was moved from Bayfield to Washburn. The railroad built terminal docks and elevator, coal docks were established, sawmills were built, and a glorious future was assured, but alas.
This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.