Bayfield Waterfront Dock Fire – 1908

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East Dock Lumber Piles and Tramway Ablaze Bayfield Transfer Railroad Trestle BHA 1983.32.39

East Dock Lumber Piles & Tramway Ablaze taken from the Bayfield Transfer Railroad Trestle.
BHA 1983.32.39

Bayfield Flats and Waterfront c 1911 Robert J Nelson Collection

Bayfield Flats and Waterfront c 1911
Robert J Nelson Collection

Bayfield Waterfront Dock Fire

Largest Fire in Bayfield’s History

Friday, September 11, 1908

Bayfield County Press

The largest fire in the history of the Harbor City-the largest in the extent of the burned territory and in valuation of destroyed property-broke out in the city last Saturday afternoon shortly before four o’clock and burned until late in the afternoon of the next day. The Harbor City, and its 50 years of life has been extremely fortunate in the matter fires and at no time has it experienced a fire in which the loss was greater than $15,000 until the fire of last Saturday.

This last fire was not wholly unexpected by the citizens but it was not surmised that it would cover so much territory. A crew of men put out small fires in the lumberyard’s Friday and as the wind was blowing real hard and everything in the lumberyards was extremely dry, it was expected that small blazes would occur but could easily be subdued. However, a spark from the burner of the mill set fire to several piles of lumber at the foot of Second Street, and before the mill hands were able to get water to it, it had gotten beyond their control and the alarm was sent in.

The fire department responded with alacrity but not soon enough to check the flames, which, by the time the department arrived on the scene, had spread to ten lumber piles and also numerous piles of dry slabs. A section of the tramway was also burning. As soon as it became generally known that the Wachsmuth lumber dock fire was in the mill yards the citizens became very excited, realizing that if the flames could not be controlled and the powerhouse burned, that the city would be doomed. However, although the flames got beyond the control of the department, a fortunate change in the wind was of great material aid in saving the pumping station from destruction.

If the pumping station had been destroyed the water supply would have given out and the city would have been at the mercy of the fire demon. As it was, the fire had gained such headway by the time the department arrived and the wind blowing such a gale that the fire was beyond control and spread rapidly to the adjoining docks and lumber piles. Soon the eastern and southern lumber and fish docks were a seething mass of flames. The heat was terrific and several firemen were completely exhausted and taken to places of safety. Citizens also lent all possible aid and bucket brigades did splendid work in saving adjoining property from destruction.

Although there was no danger of from a spread of the fire into the business portion by sparks flying, there was imminent danger because of the heat, several buildings catching fire which was quickly put out, however. Heroic efforts were made by both the fire department and the citizens to save the icehouse and contents owned by J. M. Eagan and the buildings and dock of the Jacob Johnson Fish Company [1] , which places where right in the path of the flames. But the wind was blowing such a gale that the fire on these places soon got beyond control and rapidly advanced to the remaining lumber docks to the East. The fire department then became aware that it was useless to further endeavor to stop the flames and began protecting the pumping and lighting station. Immediately behind the station were long rows of dry slabs, used as fuel, which, had they caught fire, and would have brought destruction to the power plant. [2]  It was here that the fire department did the most heroic work and to it is certainly due a large amount of praise for saving the plant.

In imminent danger of being blown up by barrels of gasoline was the Jacob Johnson Fish Company building, which was stored there with some dynamite also.  The firemen fought back the flames heedless of the danger surrounding them. At about five o’clock the first explosion occurred, the gasoline going up, little damage resulting, however, and shortly before six o’clock the dynamite blew up, no harm resulting.

A call to the Washburn fire department for aid resulted in that a  company of fire fighters with hose came up from that city on the 4:50 train, and their attention was immediately given to extinguishing the flames nearest the sawmill of the Wachsmuth Lumber Company. Here they did good work and when Sunday morning came the flames were entirely under control and practically all the docks were saved. Too much praise cannot be given local fire department for their splendid work in seeming the power plant and confining the flames to the lumberyards.

Losses sustained in Saturday’s fire: Stearns Lumber Company of Odanah-$60,000; Wachsmuth Lumber Company-$40,000; Jacob Johnson Fish Company-$10,000; J. M. Eagan-$3000; Bayfield Lumber and Wood Company-$2800; W. J. Lockren-$2500; Independent Fish Company-$. $2500; Captain John Pasque-$700; Ole Hadland-$700; Boutin-Johnson Lumber Company-$600 and other losses amounted to $200. The total damage loss acquainted to $123,000.

As can be seen in the above table of losses the Stearns Lumber Company of Odanah, were the heaviest losers in the catastrophe of last Saturday. Practically all the timber owned by them on the Wachsmuth docks was destroyed. This loss is practically covered by insurance.

The Wachsmuth Lumber Company was covered by $18,000 insurances. Mr. Masak of Wachsmuth Lumber Company, in an interview said, “In regards to our loss in the fire Saturday it will total $40,000. This, however, is not the greatest loss sustained. The Stearns Lumber Company are the heaviest losers, practically all of the lumber they owned here been destroyed. The greater part of this was pine which was cut earlier in the year.

In regard to the talk that the fire was the results of a defective burner, I wish to state that the burner is a good burner, and the sparks flying were from are only what can be expected from any burner. Throughout the country the same conditions prevail. Everything is in such a dry condition that fires can originate very easily. We have shut down our day run in the mill and are using the crew in clearing away the debris on the docks. We will run only the night shift until Monday, when we expect to again start on the day run. We have shut down temporarily because of the lack of dock room, but expect that the new trams, which are now under course of construction, will be ready for use by the first of the week.”

The next heaviest loser was Jacob Johnson Fish Company. This company lost its entire outfit of nets, fish boxes, packing houses, freezer and dock. Officials of the company state that the work of rebuilding the plant on a larger scale will commence as quickly as possible. New offices have been opened up in the Turnquist block.

The icehouse, with its entire contents, owned by J. M. Eagan was completely destroyed. Mr. Eagan has no insurance on the property and the loss is total. Mr. Eagan’s ice supply was destroyed and he is now busy looking for a supply to furnish his customers. Mr. Eagan expects to begin work soon on the erection of a much larger and more substantial icehouse, the new house to be situated near Second Street.

The Bayfield Lumber and Wood Company lost several thousand feet of lumber. The loss to this company, however, is covered by about $2000 insurance. This is the second fire loss this company has sustained this summer, the first loss consisting of the destruction of its drying sheds about two months ago.

  1. H. Laughren lost his entire logging outfit which was on the Independent Fish Companies dock. The Independent Fish Company lost its sheds, icehouse and fishing outfit. It is not known whether this company will rebuild its plant or not.

Captain John Pasque and Ole Hadland sustained the loss of their gasoline launches, valued at about $700 each. These gentlemen carried no insurance.

The Boutin-Johnson lumber company also suffered a loss as a result of the fire: their loss consisted of the destruction of logging camp outfits and booms.

Although the trams and all the lumber piled on the docks were consumed by the flames the docks themselves were practically left intact and the fact that they were not consumed is undoubtedly due to the large amount of sand which covered them, protecting them from the fire. State

[1]  The Jacob Johnson Fish Company dock was located adjacent facing East at Wilson Avenue and South 1st Street.

[2]  Present day Bayfield City Hall


Jacob Johnson Company Gets Verdict against Wachsmuth Lumber Company; Awarded $7000 Damages; Lumber Company May Carry the Case and to the Higher Court read the headlines on this date. “After being out nearly 40 hours, the jury in the damage suit of the Jacob Johnson Fish Company against Wachsmuth Lumber Company returned a verdict last Saturday afternoon at four o’clock in favor of the plaintiff, awarding the fish company $7000 damages. This case has attracted much attention from the city, and was instituted by the Jacob Johnson Fish Company with a view of securing indemnity from the Wachsmuth Lumber Company for losses sustained by the fish company during the big dock fire a year ago last September. The fish company entered suit for $10,000. The Wachsmuth Lumber Company defendants in the action will probably appeal the case to the higher courts to endeavor to secure a reverse decision. The attorneys for Jacob Johnson Fish Company were Lamoreaux, Shea and Cate of Ashland, and the attorney for Wachsmuth Lumber Company was Richard Sleight of Ashland. Bayfield County Press, October 29, 1909

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