Old Saw Mills Farewell

William Knight’s Old Mill at Roy’s Point Photo Burt Hill

William Knight’s Old Mill at Roy’s Point
Burt Hill Photo

“The Old Saw Mills Farewell”

Bayfield County Press

Wednesday, August 24, 1924

A visitor in Bayfield this season, upon hearing that the big mill would close next week, sent the following ode into the Press the other day:

“For 40 years I have lived and worked among you, and now my task is done and I bid a last farewell to all my friends.

They tell me that my style is that of long ago, and that new ways of doing things are pushing me aside; but every witness who stands and looks at my speed and accuracy, wonders at my undiminishing energy; and yet it is true that the modern, with only part of the vitality of the old, rails at the past and derides those who have made the present.

It is not because I am not able to do the work but is because the forests have fallen before my unremitting onslaught and my flashing saws have no logs any longer to fashion into beautiful timber for the builders art.

Already the heavily laden ships are caring lofty tiers of planks and boards to distant parts and as the days go on the vast piles of timber will be depleted nevermore to be replenished. Oceans of cord wood will also vanish and furnish wood for many a fireside and on the snowing nights my friends and neighbors will gather round and tell many a tale of our longtime friendship. I have been a patient and constant help to this community. The fences speak my praise, the bridges testify to my worth, the floors, the siding, the lathe, the sills, the studding and joists of your dwellings are mute witness to my untiring labors.

My heart grows sad when I think of leaving you and knowing that never again will the whistle call my helpers to their task, and that all these fathers and brothers will have to seek elsewhere for work to feed and clothe their families. I have been a friend to many a man, and many has spoken kindly of me and blessed me. Those who planned my existence and has supported me these many years have been well repaid no doubt, but is often been said of them by the people, “you are our benefactors.”

One thing greatly will be missed – the logging train – as to and fro it performed its daily task. The smoke will no longer be seen rising in vast clouds, the whistle will no longer resound along the lake and through the hills; the thunder of the logs as they plunge into the bay around the lake and the sound of the woodsman’s axe and saw as he fells the lofty pine and cedar maybe spoken in verse and story, but will be known only in memory.

Beautiful hills of northern Wisconsin, I may have robbed you of your giant warriors, but only to turn your rich acres into gardens and orchards, the abode of plenty and peace. Even the Indian who from tree to tree secreted himself and found his enemy is now dwelling in farm and hamlet, and living as part of a common brotherhood. Your wigwams have given way to the cottage and your pow-wow to school and church. A common father rules over all and the new law prevailing is the law of service. Your slopes and valleys are rejoicing and cultivated fields and highways and railroads bind all together in one commonwealth.

Progress is written everywhere, and when one industry ends, another begins; one is transplanted to other scenes and so the march of Christian civilization moves forward. The whole is one great pageant of reminiscent prophecy.

And so farewell! Deeper down that the whirr of the saw or the fall of heavy timber or the voice of the merchant or builder, are the heartbeats of men and women; and more beautiful and enduring then all other structures, are the palaces of manhood and womanhood, character and service, which we are all helping to construct – and this is the kingdom of God. Rest in peace and when the books are open and the records read, each will relive a worthy mention.

Fare thee well!”

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