By an act passed by the Wisconsin Legislature in 1885, Forest County was created from portions of Langlade and Oconto Counties. Subsequent boundary changes occurred in 1893, 1897 and 1905 when the current boundaries were established. The County was given the name of Forest because of the dense forestation which covered the area when it was created. It was organized in 1885 from two townships: Cavour and Crandon. Alvin Township was set apart as a unit of portions of North Crandon and Caswell Townships in March 1911. Logging, hunting, fishing, trapping, and the lure of land earned by homesteading and relocation for health reasons, brought many pioneers to this vast forest land.
The first pioneers to the Alvin area filed homesteads in the early 1900s. They braved hardships and isolation to establish their new lives in a wilderness unlike any place they had known. In a wide arc that encircled the Alvin community: Dan Cain settled on Elvoy Creek, John Howell on Howell Lake, John Shopodock on Pine River, Austin Bell along Highway 55, McHale and Dehart near Highway 70, about five miles east of Alvin. They survived by hunting, fishing and trapping.
The first Kentuckians who came with families to establish homes were: Curtis Powell, Sidney Hall, Willis May, John C. Phelps, Alvin Spencer, Arbury Brooks, Louis Puckett, William Powell, Miles McIntosh, Edgar Thrasher, Mort Powell, Joseph McIntosh and Thomas Powell.
In order to submit a request for a post office, a community had to have a city name. Alvin Spencer sent in Curtis Powell’s name and Curtis sent in Alvin’s name. A post office for a town named Curtis already existed, so Alvin became the town’s name.
Kentuckians who came to homestead first populated the town of Argonne along the Pine River with the Native Americans. Argonne was first named VanZile, after Abraham VanZile who plotted all the land in the area. The Soo Line Railroad came in 1887, and a depot was built. There was one large hotel and a school located just north on Highway 32, housing eight students. In 1894, the first two-story school was built and it served the community until 1991.
The town, later called North Crandon, was originally located over a mile east of its present location, relocated because it was impossible for trains to start up with a load of lumber due to the steep grade. As more people came north to work in the lumber camps, the town grew until it contained two large hotels, two large grocery stores, one clothing store, a meat market, a post office, a printing shop, two newspapers (Forest Leaves and Northern Citizen), a large livery stable, a bank, seven saloons, two doctors, and several other small businesses.
When the town of Crandon was planned, a limit of two saloons was imposed on North Crandon. That effort was unsuccessful. Men from the Hiles logging camps came to frequent the saloons and if they drank more than their paychecks, owners would send the bills to Mr. Hiles and their tab would be taken out of their next paychecks. A stagecoach carried the mail and passengers between Crandon and North Crandon, taking three to four hours to drive over the rough corduroy roads. When a proposal came up to locate the Forest County Courthouse in downtown Argonne, a well-educated resident found a way for the Three Lakes Township to break away and become attached to Oneida County. This eliminated quite a number of people who would have voted for the Argonne location. He also put ads in papers recruiting people to come to live in North Crandon. This brought one person with small pox, resulting in 85% of the population contracting the disease.
Confusion with the mail and the name “North Crandon” prompted the community to come up with a new name. “Champion”, the name of a local merchant, was considered for a short while. In 1921, the name “Argonne” was chosen following the patriotic fervor after World War I for the Battle of Argonne in eastern France. Today, the railroad tracks still exist along with a small post office and a handful of businesses. Argonne invites past and present residents to their annual “Argonne Days” celebration, held in August, to commemorate their history.
The Town of Armstrong Creek is located on the far northeastern corner of Forest County. It is bordered by two other counties: Florence to the north and Marinette to the east. It was legally named and put into the Forest County books in November of 1922, but the town was in existence long before under such names as Caswell, LaFollette, Bonneville, and Engleking. In the early 1900s, Grimmer Land Company published ads in the Chicago and Pittsburgh area newspapers, targeting the Polish immigrants with Polish advertisements promising that Armstrong Creek was the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Armstrong Creek soon became a town of residents with deep Polish roots. In 1919, Polish residents formed a local branch of the “Polish National Alliance”, a national group that is still in existence today. It is from this early history that Armstrong Creek’s annual Polish Heritage Days festival was formed.
The Annual Polish Heritage Days pays tribute to the town’s colorful past. The weekend starts out with a polka dance and crowning of “Miss Armstrong Creek” on Friday. On Saturday there is an authentic Polish Mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka.
Website: Armstrong Creek
The Town of Blackwell once had 800 – 1,000 residents, many who worked for the Flanner family in the hardwood mill. The Flanner home, one of the finest in northern Wisconsin, had a walnut paneled living and dining room, birdseye flooring, and several fieldstone fireplaces. Bankruptcy became a reality for the Flanner Family during the Great Depression. This home is still standing to this day, in fact, and is used as a nursing home. Blackwell is also home to the Blackwell Civilian Conservation Job Corps Center, operating as a job training center for youth ages 16-24. It provides them with meaningful work experience, job training, and gives them the opportunity for community service. The USDA Forest Service employs over 90 people at the center.
The center of the once thriving community of Cavour is about 1/2-mile off Highway 8 on County Highway G, and thus few present-day travelers have a chance to go through Cavour. It is well worth the effort, if only to envision what went on there at the turn of the century. Cavour used to be quite a bustling place with a lumberjack population of nearly 600. The Soo Line Railroad came through in 1887 at the start of the logging era. Cavour boasted a general store, a sawmill, a hotel and a bar – all owned by the Hess family. Frank and Mary Hess were the founders of the legacy. The fact that the town was built in a different era is evident in that it exists on the railroad tracks rather than on the major highway.
The Hess Hotel had a legacy all its own. It was a place where many logging men came to stay and wile away his woes in pleasant surroundings. Cavour was a major stop on the Soo Line Railroad and many travelers got laid off and stayed in Cavour. In 1911 the original hotel burned down but was rebuilt immediately. Frank Hess died and Mary ran the hotel by herself from 1919 on until she died in the 1950s. The hotel business dwindled after the boom of logging died down. The Hess House and school still stand for anyone who wants to visit this historical place.
Website: Town of Cavour
City of Crandon – Forest County Seat
Crandon was the dream of Samuel Shaw, an entrepreneur and capitalist who acquired property in the area in the 1880s. His vision was to build the city between the two hills and around the four lakes that are within the city limits. The area was part of Oconto County at that time, and Shaw, with assistance from Major Frank P. Crandon (tax commissioner with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad), successfully lobbied the legislature for the creation of a new county.
Forest County was created in 1887 and Crandon was named the county seat. Crandon didn’t expand as fast as other communities in the county due to lack of rail service. Freight and passengers traveled to Crandon by riding the train to either Pelican Lake or Argonne, then walking or riding the stagecoach. In 1891, Page and Landeck Lumber Company bought a huge tract of hardwood timberlands near Crandon, but they were unable to utilize the resource until the CN&W railroad built a spur from Pelican Lake. By 1902, the company built a huge sawmill (later named the Keith & Hiles Lumber Mill) near Clear Lake on Crandon’s north side. The population of Crandon grew from 800 to over 2,400 in just a few years.
The migration of settlers and loggers who came to Crandon in the first part of the century was due, in part, to the cheap cutover land available for farming and, in part, to the fact that the Page & Landeck sawmill was moved to Crandon from Glasgow, Kentucky. Many employees followed the mill from Kentucky to its new home. The so-called Crandon “Kentuck” is known about statewide and is the source of much rich cultural history in Crandon.
Crandon was incorporated into a city right after the new courthouse construction began January 28,
1909, and times were booming with many of the attractive brick buildings in town built during that time frame. The outlook was good for Crandon until the timber industry began to play out. Crandon still boasts a good many logging companies that work in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, has a healthy tourist industry, and is currently enjoying a growth in light industry.
Website: City of Crandon
Forest County Potawatomi
The Forest County Potawatomi (FCP) — Bodwe’wadmi, Keepers of the Fire, are one of eight federally recognized bands of Potawatomi in the United States and Canada.
Following the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, the government forcefully relocated thousands of Potawatomi to Kansas and Oklahoma. At this time, small groups and families broke away from the main Potawatomi tribe to seek refuge in the dense forests of North Central Wisconsin. In 1913, treaty lands were recognized by the federal government as a reservation.
The FCP settled down on new land bases near Wabeno, Blackwell and Stone Lake. There are now more than 1,200 enrolled tribal members who reside there. The FCP has maintained its traditional ways. They continue to practice traditional religions, and continue to honor their elders and children.
In recent years, there has been new development in the lives of the FCP. Indian gaming has allowed for economic development in a way never imagined. Tribal members and non-tribal people work in the tribal offices, tribal businesses and casinos. The FCP employs over 750 people, the largest employer in Forest County.
Today, in a continuous effort to invest in their people and tribe, the FCP contributes monies to their own tribal-run programs. Current FCP programs and facilities include:
- Tribal housing
- A preschool program
- A daycare
- An alternative school
- An elder program
- A recreation center
- A Health and Wellness Center
- A Cultural Center, Library and Museum with a gift shop
- Potawatomi Carter Casino Hotel
- Two convenience stores with gas pumps, smoke shop and deli
The Potawatomi have done much with its gaming revenues. They remember the difficult times of the past and look to continue economic development for the future. This is evident through the work of the FCP Community Foundation. The foundation’s contributions to charities, organizations and schools have helped improve Forest County’s vitality and quality of life. By working together with the community, everyone can strive to achieve goals and a better understanding for each other.
Website: Forest County Potawatomi
Although small in population, the Hiles area is very large in terms of Wisconsin history. Hundreds of years ago, the Old Copper Culture Indians traveled through this area from the Fox River Valley, along the Wolf and Pine Lake shores. They continued on north to the copper outcroppings near Lake Superior. When the Soo Locks opened in 1855, this trail was followed from Ontonagon on Lake Superior to Pine Lake and then along the Wolf to Shawano and on to Fort Howard (Green Bay). By the late 1860s, loggers used the lake and river to float logs downstream to the sawmills located as far away as Oshkosh. The decade of the 1880s brought railroads to northeastern Wisconsin. In 1888, the Soo graded and laid their Minneapolis-to-Soo tracks along the south end of the lake. In 1892, Pete Johnson built the first official resort.
Ten years later, in 1902, the town got its real start when 52-year-old Franklin Pierce Hiles purchased thousands of acres of timberland in the Pine Lake area and started a sawmill near the Mill Pond. In 1903, the new village was named “Hiles”. The Hiles’ operation continued until 1905 when it was sold to Forster-Whitman and later reorganized as the Forster-Mueller Lumber Company.
In 1918, Charles Fish purchased the town and its lumber and logging operations until it closed down in 1928. During this era of logging many improvements were made to Hiles, including a general store, a large boarding house, schools, churches, and some 30 or more homes. Hiles had its own logging railroad running into the forest, east and north of town. At some points in time, the census records indicate that there were as many as 450 residents in this small town. In the depression years of the 1930s, 10,000 unemployed transients walked the roads. The state of Wisconsin helped by maintaining eight transient posts in various parts of the state. One such depot, accommodating 300 to 600 men, was established in Hiles. Today, Hiles is a good mixture of forestry, logging, hunting, fishing, boating, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling, In 2003, Hiles celebrated 100 years in the Northwoods with a spectacular celebration and a 200 page history book, which is still available for purchase. Hiles was designated the “Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin” by the State Mycological Society in 2013. The residents of Hiles have also formed a group of volunteers to organize a hometown museum that holds interesting facts, documents, and items from the past.
Website: Town of Hiles
The 1,400 people who live in the Laona area are heirs to the shared heritage of the timber industry. The turn of the century marked the founding of Laona, just 20 years prior to logging’s heyday. Around 1876, the pine loggers came into the area and cleared off the pine stands, which were scattered throughout the hardwoods. Not until the railroad came to Laona in 1900, however, did the great hardwood logging operations begin. Exploratory expeditions into this area by pine loggers and a few other individuals took place between 1870 and 1890. The area was not very accessible and few men ventured this far from the last outposts. Eventually, logging expeditions moved into the area, with pine being hauled on sleighs to Roberts Lake and floated down the Wolf River or put in the Peshtigo River below Taylor Falls.
During the last decade of the 19th century, William Duncan Connor hiked through the area and examined the fine stands of hardwood timber. He purchased 100,000 acres of timberland in Forest County, founding the Connor Lumber and Land Company. During this period the Chicago Northwestern Railroad was moving northward into the Laona area. The initial logging of the area occurred between 1900 and 1910. The first settler in Laona was Norman Johnson. His daughter, Laona, was the first white child born in this town, and the town was named in her honor. The Connor Lumber and Land Company built its first sawmill in 1901; logging camps were opened and roads were built. Laona began to thrive as railroads steamed their way into northern Wisconsin, and Laona’s economy became largely dependent upon the timber industry. A member of the Connor family still operates a sawmill in the community to this day. An authentic 1916 Vulcan steam engine, actually used by the Connor Lumber and Land Company during early logging operations, is now used to pull the vintage passenger train at the award winning, internationally recognized Camp Five Lumberjack Special & Museum attraction.
Website: Town of Laona
Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Community
The Mole Lake Anishinaabe (Chippewa) migrated and settled on a 1,700 acre reservation over a thousand years ago. The reservation may not be large; however, the natural beauty and wild landscapes remain intact. Adjacent to Mole Lake are three lakes: Bishop Lake, Rice Lake and Mole Lake, all intertwined with Swamp Creek. Fishing and gathering wild rice from these lakes are a large part of why the Sokaogon people settled here and call this place home. (Sokaogon means the “post in the lake people” because of a spiritual significance to a post – or petrified tree – in a nearby lake).The Sokaogan Chippewa Community Enterprises include a casino, hotel- conference center, c-store, restaurant and more. Located on the snowmobile, ATV and other trails.
Website: Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa
The Town of Newald, platted by Abraham VanZile in 1905, was originally called Ross, after Charles Ross, a pioneer settler. It was renamed Newald in 1906 after a local landowner. The town’s nearby lake was called VanZile.
Throughout the early 1900’s, Newald prospered from its robust hardwood lumbering economy. Two sawmills, Cleerman and Jauquet, sprang up along with two grocery stores, a Catholic and an Evangelical Church, a train depot, a post office, a hotel, and Greenview School, a two-story red brick building with its own school bus-a carriage pulled by a team of horses.
Every payday, hordes of lumberjacks from Hermansville, Val Butler, and other logging camps descended on Newald, thirsty for a rip-roarin’ good time. The town’s fancy new dancehall and four taverns eagerly helped the rambunctious loggers part with their hard-earned wages.
Today, the hum of sawmills has been replaced by the clamor of snowmobiles in winter and ATV’s in summer along the rugged, adventurous old logging trails through the woods surrounding Newald. The multi-use Nicolet State Trail, a former railroad bed along the town’s western boundary, is easily accessible. Newald’s Out of the Blue Art Festival and soup cookout is held the first Saturday in October and is sponsored by Jimmy Koch, a noted California artist who maintains homes in Newald and California. This cultural event has seen a promising increase in both exhibiting artist and visitors since it began in 2015.
The Pickerel area is a premier vacation destination. Located in the southwest corner of Forest County, it offers year round vacation opportunities. The Pickerel and Crane Lakes are the crown jewels of the area. Pickerel Lake is a shallow lake offering canoeing, paddle and pontoon boating and, of course, fishing. One may just want to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Besides Pickerel and Crane, other lakes in the area include Rollingstone, Lily, Big Twin, and Post Lakes, all offering the same great recreational opportunities. The region has many fine restaurants, resorts, bars, campgrounds, and gas facilities. There is an excellent golf course in the area. This region is home to one of the largest snowmobile clubs in Wisconsin, the Tombstone-Pickerel Snow Club (www.tombstonepickerel.com). It is also home to the newly established Pickerel-Pearson Wolf River Riders ATV Club (www.wolfriverriders.com).
For bikers and walkers, a new bike-pedestrian trail has been built, running along Pickerel Lake Road from the bridge, between Pickerel and Crane lakes west to Bartz Bay Road. Sportsmen and nature lovers of all ages enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the area. The serenity of the forests, and the casual lifestyle are welcome changes from the daily hustle and bustle of this fast-paced world.
On June 2, 1880, a tornado swept across northern Wisconsin from Antigo to Lake Superior, causing timber to blow down in a strip that measured 1/2 to 1 mile wide. The Native Americans called this area Waubeno”. Waubeno means “the coming of the winds” or “the opening”. The town took its name from this event. The early history of Wabeno centers around the development of three lumber companies, which were the Menominee Bay Shore Lumber Company, A.E. Rusch Lumber Company, and the Jones Lumber Company. In the closing years of the 1800s the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad pushed north into the area, which had already been explored by the pine lumbering interests. Sawmills were soon built along the tracks, and a town sprang up around them. Wood fueled the community’s economy until 1930. By this time, most of the area mills had been forced to shut down. Wabeno boasts a Logging Museum containing relics and records preserved in a replica of an old logging camp. Built in 1941 by the Wabeno Lions Club, the museum contains many items needed for hardwood logging during that era.
The Wabeno Public Library is one of the most quaint and charming log libraries in the state. Built in 1897, it served as the land office for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company, making it one of the first buildings in Wabeno. The Wabeno Antique Power Association holds its annual celebration of historical technology the third weekend in July. Anyone interested in antique machinery would find something of interest at “Steam Up Days”. Everything from steam-powered engines to old gasoline engines of the past are displayed at the festival.
Website: Town of Wabeno