Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915 Chapter XIII
TOWARD the close of the
war, even before peace had been actually declared, the country began
slowly to shake off the lethargy from which it had not recovered
altogether since the panic of 1857. Industry revived, the current of
trade began to move again, and a period of development, which was to
endure for several years, was soon under way. The effect of the
revival upon the lumber industry was most pronounced. The average
price, which had been only twelve dollars a thousand up to 1863,
reached twenty-four dollars before the end of the following year.
The change marked the
beginning of a tremendous development of the Menominee River region,
the production of which was to mount upward within less than a score
of years from one hundred million to approximately seven hundred
million feet. More mills were erected, older mills were enlarged,
and on the lower reaches of the river and along the bay shore the
lumber area steadily expanded. Operations in the forests above were
extended with proportionate rapidity. This necessitated the creation
of a central organization to handle the enormous number of logs
driven down the stream and distribute them among the numerous
manufacturing plants and resulted in the incorporation of the
Menominee River Manufacturing Company, afterward called the
Menominee River Boom Company.
In 1865 I had built
piers in the river to facilitate the handling of timber, but these
proved to be inadequate for the growing requirements and during the
following year a freshet swept. several million feet of logs out
into the bay. This awakened the mill owners to the necessity of
concerted action, and the establishment of the boom, which had for
its prototype the Oldtown boom on the Penobscot, constructed and
managed by Jefferson Sinclair, followed soon after.
additional responsibilities upon my shoulders. There was no one else
among the mill owners who had had practical experience in this kind
of work, in which I had learned many valuable lessons from Mr.
Sinclair and the lumbermen of Maine, and I was accordingly made
president of the concern, an office which I still hold, and given
full direction of its affairs. It was no small task. To secure the
necessary flow of water and regulate the swift current of the river,
forty damns were built on the main stream and its tributaries, some
of which supply power for traction, lighting, and manufacturing
to-day. These were of the gravity type with a broad sloping base. In
constructing them we were without the advice of engineers and the
advantages of modern mechanical contrivances and materials, but they
have stood the test of a half-century. On the Peshtigo River I built
twenty-seven more damns, making sixty-seven in all - a record in
which I take some pride.
The Menominee River
Boom Company is no longer the important institution it was in the
halcyon days of lumbering. The millions of feet of pine and hemlock
logs, which sometimes extended from bank to bank for miles along the
stream, have dwindled to less than one-tenth of the original number,
as the forests have been stripped and the huge straight trunks free
of limbs have given way to small knotted timber, but the system
remains the same.
These were days of
large industrial enterprise and men of great capacity and breadth of
view were required to encompass and make the most of the
opportunities that began to appear upon the brightening horizon. And
such men were forthcoming. Some of them, it seems, were endowed with
almost prophetic vision and yet were sufficiently trained in the
school of experience to progress with safe and sure steps toward the
attainment of the dimly discernible ideals that have since been
realized. Many of these men it was my good fortune, by reason of the
position I held, to be associated with and to know.
Towering above all of
them physically as well as mentally, in energy, breadth of vision,
and masterful enterprise, was William B. Ogden, the first mayor of
Chicago. For ten years I was closely associated with him in business
and saw much of him at his home in Chicago and later on in New York.
During that time I had ample time to judge of him in an environment
of business men. To my mind he was one of the dominating figures of
the Middle West during this period and had as much if not more to do
with its development than any other man.
He was moderate,
almost abstemious, in his habits. He worked eighteen hours out of
the twenty-four, planning his schemes of constructive enterprise and
reviewing matters submitted to him for final decision. Only a small
part of the undertakings he had projected were carried out, but even
these gave him place as a man of very large business affairs. He was
one of the pioneers who built the railroad from Galena to Chicago.
He also built the Northwestern Railroad from Chicago to Green Bay
and was president of and a large stockholder in the company. In
Chicago and elsewhere his enterprises were almost without number,
and his activities as agent of wealthy capitalists in the United
States and abroad covered a. wide field.
When the panic of
1857 came, Mr. Ogden had outstanding paper to the amount of
$1,500,000, a much larger sum according to the scale of operations
at that time than it appears measured by present standards. When he
went to New York to arrange matters to tide himself over the crisis
he engaged Samuel J. Tilden as his attorney. Subsequently the two
men became very fast friends and Tilden was made a director in the
Northwestern Railroad Company. In such esteem was Mr. Ogden held in
Chicago that upon his return from this trip he was greeted by
bonfires all over the city.
In the fires of 1871,
at Chicago and Peshtigo, he lost upward of five million dollars,
possibly twice or thrice that sum. When the disaster overtook him
two of his clients, one a wealthy man in New York, another in
England, wrote to his brother, Mahlon Ogden, who was in charge of
his real estate operations, directing him to sell out their holdings
and devote the proceeds to the liquidation of Mr. Ogden's debts. By,
this display of friendship Mr. Ogden was deeply touched, and from
that time until his death in 1878 the portraits of his two
benefactors, who, as it happened, were not called upon to make the
sacrifice they proposed, hung in his house. Despite the losses he
suffered, he left a large estate.
William B. Ogden
Iii the autumn of
1864 Mr. Ogden and Mr. Tilden, who were returning from an inspection
of their mines in the Lake Superior copper district, stopped at
Marinette on their way to Chicago and were my guests for thirty-six
hours, The national campaign was then in full swing. Both Mr. Ogden
and Mr. Tilden were of the Democratic faith, although they were in
favor of the preservation of the Union and upheld the principle of
protection, and had before leaving Chicago played a conspicuous part
in the nomination of George B. McLellan on the Democratic ticket.
They told me at the time that the platform upon which McLellan ran
was prepared in Mr. Ogden's library. It was the best, Mr. Tilden
said, that Vallandigham's wing of the party, the "copperheads,"
would accept. I gave Mr. Tilden a copy of the Green Bay Advocate
containing a copy of McLellan's letter of acceptance, and after
reading it he observed that McLellan had added the soldiers' plank
in accordance with a suggestion he had made to him to "tune it up
A few years later I
had occasion to go to New York several times on business matters,
and on one of these visits, while stopping with Mr. Ogden at his
home, an imposing residence on the Harlem River just above the
aqueduct bridge, made the suggestion that, Tilden, who had then been
been governor of New York, was the strongest candidate the Democrats
could select for President. The same idea must have been lurking in
Mr. Ogden's mind, although I had never heard it expressed before,
for, when I made the remark, his face brightened.
"Stephenson," he said
eagerly ''will you support him?"
"Oh, no!" I replied.
"I am a Republican."
In 1870 Tilden was
nominated and, it is very generally admitted, was elected, although
counted out. From patriotic motives, it was said at the time, he
preferred to make no contest rather than stir up serious trouble.
From Marinette Mr.
Ogden and Mr. Tilden went to Peshtigo, where the former had a large
lumbering establishment. Using this as a nucleus it was his purpose
to erect a large plant for the manufacture of woodenware and other
products, but he encountered serious difficulty in the lack of a
manager in whom he had confidence to take charge of these
operations. For four years, since I had first met him in 1863, he
had tried to induce me to take part in the enterprise. At length, in
July, 1867, I bought fifty thousand dollars worth of stock and
became vice-president and general manager of the Peslitigo Company.
We began operations
on a large scale. The fifty thousand acres of timber lands which the
company had when I assumed direction of its affairs were increased
to one hundred and twenty-five thousand in the course of the next
five or six years. In addition to the water-mill at the village of
Peslitigo we erected at the mouth of the river a steam mill, the
largest and most complete establishment of its kind in the West. The
two had a combined capacity of from fifty to sixty million feet of
lumber a year, and on the first day of the operation of the new
plant, the men, in a working day of eleven hours and using selected
logs and putting forth their best efforts, sawed approximately
350,000 feet of lumber and 53,000 lath, a record for that time.
In 1868 we began the
erection of a factory for the manufacture of wooden pails. There
were two of these already in Wisconsin, one at, Two Rivers, owned by
Mann Brothers, and another at Metiasha, owned by E. D. Smith, whom
we induced to take an interest in our enterprise. We also entered
upon the manufacture of broom handles and clothes pins under the
direction of a man, whom we brought. from New Hampshire, reputed to
be the most skillful in the country in this branch of industry. The
magnitude of our operations may be gathered from the fact that at
one time we had in the yards drying two and one-half million feet of
basswood boards to be made into broom handles. In addition we built
twenty drying-houses, two large warehouses, one of them three
hundred feet long and five stories in height, and smaller
buildings. At Chicago we maintained a large lumber yard, and used
for the storage of woodenware the old sugar refinery on North Point.
Mr. Ogden also contemplated the establishment of a large tannery and
took up negotiations with one of the largest firms in New England
for that purpose, but before the plan could be carried out the great
fire in 1871 intervened.
Our work, however,
consisted of much more than the erection of buildings. The problem
of transportation still confronted us. It was necessary for us to
bring our manufactured products to the bay from Peslitigo, a
distance of seven miles, to construct a harbor where vessels could
be loaded, and to ship it thence to the market at Chicago. This
involved many difficult problems.
A railroad from the
village to Green Bay, equipped with locomotives which we obtained
from the Northwestern Railroad and transported on scows, provided
the first link. At the mouth of the Peslitigo River a private harbor
was made by driving piles out to deep water and filling in the
intervening spaces with slabs and edgings. This plan proved so
successful that it attracted the attention of the government
engineers who for three or four years came to make an annual
inspection; and, becoming convinced finally of the value of the
methods we had followed, adopted them for the construction of many
of the piers and harbors at lumber ports.
The transportation of
the lumber and other commodities to Chicago presented greater
difficulties. The railroad did not extend beyond Green Bay city and,
besides, the freight charges were prohibitive. On the other hand,
the cost of carrying lumber on ships was excessive. To reduce this
item of expense it occurred to me to use barges, a decided
innovation, as it was thought impossible up to this time to tow
these craft on the rough waters of Lake Michigan. We purchased two
tugs: the "Reindeer," which was brought from New York by way of
Oswego, and the "Admiral Porter," a larger vessel, which came
through Canada by way of the Welland Canal. Subsequently we disposed
of the "Porter" because it was not strong enough for our purposes,
trading it for a larger boat.
The barges we had
built at the shipyard at Trenton, near Detroit. There were six in
all, three with a capacity of one million feet of lumber each and
three that carried half this amount. These we proposed to tow in
pairs. While one of the larger and one of the smaller vessels were
in transit, another pair was at Chicago unloading and another at
Peshtigo taking on cargo. From the very outset the plan worked
successfully. Thus was established the first barge line on Lake
this much, we decided to enlarge the tows and I went to Cleveland,
Detroit, and Bay City to purchase more barges to avoid the loss of
time required to build them; but there were none suitable for our
purposes. At this time there was only one barge line, a very small
one, on the lower lakes running from Bay City to Cleveland. The
captain of of the tug "Prindiville," heralded abroad as the best
vessel of its kind in these waters, who had charge of the line,
contended that barges could not be successfully towed on Lake
Michigan. When he left Bay City, he said, he encountered rough water
for a distance of only fifty miles and, if the wind were unfavorable,
he turned back. From the mouth of the river to Cleveland he was
exposed to rough weather for another fifty miles. His experiences
with these short stretches convinced him that towing on the open
lake where contrary winds and storms prevailed was an impossible
feat. He was somewhat taken aback when I informed him not only that
it could be done but that we were actually doing it successfully.
Our example was soon
followed by others. After we had operated our barges from Peslitigo
to Chicago for two years, four companies on the Menominee, including
the N. Ludington Company, which was still under my direction,
adopted the plan and we purchased the barge line operated by Theisen,
Filer and Robinson, of Manistique, Michigan. Extensive additions
were made to this equipment and in two or three years we had fifteen
barges in operation towing five at a time. We instituted another
innovation on Menominee by designing the tug ''Parrot" for the use
of slabs as fuel. On this item alone we effected a saving of five
thousand dollars a year. The vessel carried one hundred cords of
this wood, which was then inexpensive, sufficient to make the round
trip from Marinette to Chicago.
The establishment of
the barge lines raised the problem of signaling passing vessels,
especially during the night or in foggy weather when there was
danger of colliding with the tow. The usual signal of one whistle
gave warning of the approach of the tug, but not of the barges
behind. A number of years later, in 1884, when I was a member of the
House of Representatives, I filed with the Secretary of the Treasury
a petition recommending the adoption of a special signal for a tow.
Of the nine supervising inspectors of the Bureau of Navigation four
were in favor of the proposal and five opposed to it. I thereupon
took up the question directly with Judge Folger, then Secretary,
explaining to him the conditions, and pointing out the danger to
navigation not only from our own barges but from the tows of logs
which were brought from Canada in booms. Fortunately he had been on
Lake Michigan the year before and, while on his way from Chicago to
Sturgeon Bay on the revenue cutter "Andy Johnson," had met our tow.
He easily understood the situation and it was not difficult to win
him over to my position.
I proposed a signal
of three whistles at short intervals. He issued the order despite
the disagreement among the inspectors, and it was adopted. It has
always been the occasion of much satisfaction to me, not only that
my recommendation was followed, but that the signal is used to-day
in all waters under the jurisdiction of the United States and has,
possibly, obviated many dangers and saved many lives.
The progress we made
in the improvisation of new methods and the reduction of the cost of
transportation has since dropped into the background, and these
achievements are largely only of historical interest. With the
advent of the big steel freighters, the development of railroads,
and the establishment of important terminals, the entire problem has
been transformed and even the old wooden vessels are disappearing.
At the time, however, what we did was of great value not only to
ourselves but to others and perhaps it was but a step in the
direction of all that since has been attained.
improvement in connection with water transportation to and from
Green Bay which, though accomplished in later years, I may mention
here, was the construction of the Sturgeon Bay Canal, an artificial
channel across the peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan from the
northeastern part of Wisconsin. Before the completion of this
waterway it was necessary for vessels from Green Bay ports to make a
wide detour around the barrier by way of Death's Door, the rocky
passage between the islands at the northern extremity.
The project of
building a canal across the narrow neck of land at Sturgeon Bay
called the portage had been under discussion for some years, but
nothing was done until the Peshtigo Company took the initiative in
the formation of a corporation to undertake the work of
construction. At the outset obstacles were encountered. The general
rate of interest on money was ten per cent. People who were expected
to take an interest in the completion of the improvement assumed an
attitude of indifference and declined to contribute to the fund we
attempted to raise for a preliminary survey. In Green Bay, the city
which was to be most benefited by it, the only subscription we
obtained was five dollars from one of the prominent lumbermen.
preliminary survey was made, largely through my efforts and at my
expense, but the route contemplated was abandoned because of the
discovery of a ledge of rock at the eleven-foot level, an
insuperable obstacle because the use of dynamite for under-water
blasting was unknown at the time. Later I succeeded in having the
government engineers make another survey for a route a mile and a
half in length. This was adopted, a grant of two hundred thousand
acres of land, odd sections lying for the most part in Marinette
County, was authorized and the company began work in the early
secretary of the Peshtigo Company, Mr. Ogden, Jesse Spalding, and
myself had charge of the enterprise; but the actual direction of the
affairs of the corporation fell largely to me, as the others were
without the practical knowledge needed for work of this kind.
About midway in the
work of excavation we encountered a ridge, thirty feet above water
level, covered with a heavy growth of timber. In removing this we
came upon a cedar tree, fourteen inches in diameter at the butt,
buried under forty-three feet of earth. How long it had been there
is, of course, a matter of speculation. But in view of the depth of
the soil above it and the size of the trees that had taken root
there it seemed probable that it had been covered for two or three
centuries or more. In spite of its great age every branch, even the
bark, was perfectly preserved; and so great was the curiosity
aroused over it that we sent sections to various parts of the
country for examination, and scientists endeavored to solve the
problem of its antiquity.
confirmed the conclusion I had reached several years before: that
cedar resisted decay much more effectively than other woods of the
northern region. While making repairs on the company's railroad from
the village of Peshtigo to the bay I found that a cedar tie, which
had been used inadvertently, was in a much better state of
preservation than others adjoining it, although they had all been
laid at the same time. This gave me the clue that was borne out by
the cedar tree unearthed in digging the canal, and I proposed to Mr.
Ogden and other railroad men that cedar, which was of little value
at the time for other purposes, be used for ties. My suggestion met
with opposition. Mr. Ogden contended that it was too soft, but
eventually he yielded to my judgment, others followed our example,
and in time the cedar tie became one of the staple products of all
northern lumbering establishments.
The canal was carried
through to completion as expeditiously and economically as any work
ever undertaken under like conditions; harbors were constructed and
the waterway was opened to traffic in 1873. The two hundred thousand
acres of land granted the company was at the time of little value.
Most of it was swampy or boggy and it had been for the most part
stripped of timber. We disposed of it at two auctions, at one of
which we sold 77,000 acres for $38,000. At present the tract would
be worth millions, but no one foresaw the agricultural development
that was to follow. In 1893 the canal was purchased by the
government for $103,000.
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