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Village of Strassburg,
Town of Rolling, Langlade County, Wisconsin

A Ghost Town

strassburg store
Strassburg Store and Post Office


The Mills at Strassburg
By P.T. Gillett
Published January 6, 1933 in
The Antigo Daily Journal
Article also scanned and appears on the
Wisconsin Historical Society web site

The publication of the picture of the Peters' mill at Strassburg, as well as the article about the mill by Grant Turney that followed awakened many memories for me, who grew up but two miles from the mill site. I remember M. Turney very well, although I have not seen him for years. He and my father were very good friends, and I often heard Grant Turney mentioned as quite a lively specimen of young manhood.

My father, besides scaling logs at the mill, got to be setter for Grant Turney when he was sawyer. I think he followed a sort of progression from scaler up the slip to deck man, and then setter.

One time I happened, as a rather green boy, to be in Antigo. Music hall was new, a dance was just getting started, and I, with others, was on the rim of the crowd. Grant Turney was in the same "fringe" as I, and all at once he stepped up to me and said, "Aren't you Truman Gillett's boy?" Of course I admitted the relationship, and handing me the price of a ticket he said, "Go ahead and dance." I appreciated his unexpected gift greatly, not so much because I wanted to get into the dance as much as Turney's expression of regard for my father through his son. That was perhaps the only time I met Grant Turney directly, though I seem to remember him driving the team in the picture around the mill, making them hustle by the use of an edging sharpened at one end.

Several Head Sawyers

There were several head sawyers at the old mill. John Daily himself was a very one. Hiram (Hite) McClean, I think Mont Welch, and at one time Bell Jesse of Phlox pinch-hit there for a while. Bill told me with considerable pride how he beat the record cut for one day. It is worth re-telling.

One of the figures of the Dailey regime was William (Dad) Dailey, the father of Elcho's physician. After my father graduated as a setter, Dad Dailey used, as John Tyra on the "Sherry" expressed it, the "thieving stick." Surely Dad used to know a poor log from a good one, and many a verbal battle was waged between him and the settlers who delivered their logs to the mill. Dad always had a way of winning his point, though. I know, for I used to "punch bull" and haul logs there myself. You couldn't faze him, and the more you said the less you got next time. Hope Dad may read this as he sits in his easy chair at Birnamwood.

Extent of Operations

There used to be between three million and four million feet of logs on the pond there winters. One winter, when my father scaled, a man by the name of Mitchell bought pine and long hemlock there. I think that nice clear pine brought $6.00 per thousand feet, and hemlock measuring 18 to 24 feet with not less than a 20-inch top and clear brought $3.00 per thousand.

The St. Louis tramway ran close to the mill, and when round logs proved unsatisfactory as rails the company started to lay square timbers for rails. I think they laid some timbers that were sawed at the Peters mill.

The Phlox mill must have been doing business quite early in the game. I remember while helping my grandfather haul ties to Elmhurst with a four-steer team that there were a number of teams hauling lumber to Elmhurst from Phlox. Henry Hersant and John Menting drove lumber teams on that haul. I was fourteen, and it was my first experience as a teamster.

Bemis Family

J.M. Bemis had just moved to the county from Clemansville. He and his wife lived in one corner of the schoolhouse, and Mrs. Bemis taught the school. (I hope I may be corrected here. I believe their first dwelling burned and they lived at the school until a new home could be built.) Mr. Bemis used to make game of my steer-driving voice, saying it sounded like a herd of cows coming up the road.

Turney mentioned Jim McNutt as a partner with Henry Peters. I never knew this Mr. McNutt, but his brother Tom lived not far away. He was a riverman, and I think he also worked in the mill at times.

Arguments Over Stump

When John Dailey ran the mill (the one he built after the mill in the picture burned) he used to do much logging, and along with his mill and lumber teams he had to buy considerable hay and oats. Tom McNutt was then, as always, a good farmer, and usually had a lot of hay. Mr. McNutt tells with much pleasure how he sold hay to Daily. Mr. McNutt built one of the first large frame barns in the county, and in the hay section of the barn was a large pine stump that was not removed before the barn was built. When the hay was hauled in it was mowed around this stump. When hay was sold it was next to impossible to have it weighed, so they would measure it in the mow. Dailey bought Tom's hay from year to year, and each year he'd ask Tom if the stump was there yet. Tom, with apparent reluctance, would admit that it was, and then John would proceed to roast Tom for selling him that pine stump every year. The facts sere that the stump was always figured out, but to make an argument, John Dailey would always bring the matter up.

Some Big Loads

The lumber from this mill did not all go to Elmhurst. Later the Chicago & Northwestern Ry. Came to Mattoon, then known as Rockville, and Dailey's lumber was shipped out from there. Some huge loads were hauled. I think I may safely say that one load went over the road of over 20,000 board feet hauled by one horse-team. This was the star load.

To speak of star loads, the Weed company of Antigo, who took the pine out of that region about forty-two years ago had one load from near the Peters' mill that scaled over 6,000 feet. Considering that 600 feet is a big one now, this was quite a load.

Wages Small

The little sawmill itself, as big things go, was not very impressive. Its principal importance in history rests in the people who rallied to the blast of its whistle to make a living. Wages were not high. A good man probably got $1.50 for an eleven hour day, or $26 a month and board. Pay did not come so promptly either, and much had to be taken out in store trade with grievous waits for the rest.

The crew, which was constantly changing, was drawn from many sources. The principal operators were of necessity men of some experience, the rest being settlers, or "rovers."

Members of Crew

In the names on the picture and in Mr. Turney's article homesteaders predominated, such as Mr. Conachen, Sr., and his two sons, and his brother-in-law, John martin, all pioneers of Norwood, as were Matt Funk, Truman Gillett, pioneers of Rolling. Emile Barnes, Frank Schroeder and Charles Vorass, sons of Rolling pioneers. Davis and Andrews, were, I believe, relatives, coming in from the south. Wallie Robinson was a Norwood man.

In Mr. Turney's article he mentions Henry and Charles Peters, Philip Schweitzer and August Winnega as pioneers of Norwood. Beg pardon, Grant. Rolling claims them. Anton Sensenbrenner was in Norwood. Grant Turney was a relative of the Stickney brothers, and Curt Estey was a Norwood pioneer. Charles Clifford, Turney's setter, was a pioneer in the town of Hutchins, Shawano County. He had a brother, Horace, in Norwood later. His Hutchins homestead was near McClean's. Perhaps he came to the Peters' mill through friendship of Hite McClean, who headsawed there.

Last of Coopers

The head of one branch of the Red river in Norwood is known as Stickney lake. Elijah (Lige) Stickney located on the bank of that spring. He was one of the last of the coopers who made barrels by hand. George Vanderhei is still Rolling's local "vet." Gene Ferguson, son of LeRoy Ferguson, Jack Litton, James Pentony, Mart Brown and Grant Nehr were Elmhurst men.

Grant Nehr was one of the younger boys. He was about 5 1/2 feet tall and thick-set. He used to chum with Al Graves, also of Elmhurst, who stood 6 feet 4 inches in his socks. They made a jolly pair and were quite inseparable as boys.

Sealy and Hambird I never knew, Barney Grier came to Strassburg as a sawmill engineer. Later he bought a farm a half-mile north of the mill, where he lived for a number of years. He also ran a threshing machine a few seasons.

An episode that promised tragic results was prevented at the mill when Grier did something to offend Davis. The offended party got a gun and chased Grier around the mill until the crew finally subdued the excitement, which ran quite high for a time.

After John Dailey got possession of the mill things boomed in Strassburg. Fritz Leubcke, a cigar maker, arrived from Germany. Charles Webster was another mill helper. Dailey's brother-in-law, James Towie, came from Birnamwood, as did "Dad" Dailey and Frank Follett, who ran a store and postoffice. The Concordia club was organized. Sociability was at its height. The club built a new hall to take the place of the old blacksmith ship dance hall. The new hall had a saloon in the basement.

A bowery dance floor was run across the road from the hall summer times. Picnics, dances, house-parties, old-time fiddlers, city orchestras, Swiss yodelers, brass bands figured in festivities there. I'm not sure but what even a turnverein and a sangerfest were held there. But for all the sociability Strassburg never got the questionable moral reputation of many of the old pine mill, mushroom towns.

Charles Abbott, reported as having run the mill as foreman at one time, ran a store and saloon in Elmhurst, later, one at what is now the Vanderhel corner, and later at the hall. Abbott was known as a very conscientious saloon man who never sold a customer after he showed signs of "having enough." Jake Raess also lived at Strassburg. All in all there was a half-mile on both sides of the road running north and south solidly occupied with villagers and the several activities of a lively town. (Webmaster's Note: This is now South Rollwood Road north and south of State Highway "47."

Barracks Built

Regular frame barracks wee built. They stood just back of where the Clemans Hoffmeister house now stands. This was built and occupied by John Dailey as a residence and office.

B.F. Lillie of Antigo and a certain McDougall were two of the cooks who presided at the barracks. Lillie, it was said, could make a pumpkin pie out of potatoes that tasted more like pumpkin than the original. Both were good cooks, but McDougall had a failin'. Like Bill Childs and his verse, he'd felt 'em coming' on, so he'd work up a lot of grub, cakes, etc., show the boys where they were, and then disappear on what he called "one of my continuals." After some days he would return as if nothing had happened.

Eventually the old mill burned, as has been stated. A new mill was built on a different site. The writer worked two summers in the new mill, and is better qualified to a certain extent to write about that.

The real story of Strassburg should come from those who pioneered to that locality as mature men and women. My story is of necessity one of an outsider looking in instead of a genuine Strassburg resident.

Rasmussen's Memories of Sawmills at Strassburg
As Related to P.T. Gillett
Published April 1, 1933 in
The Antigo Daily Journal
Article also scanned and appears on the
Wisconsin Historical Society web site

In a former article on the Peters-Daily sawmill at Strassburg I stated that probably it would be easier to write of the second mill, since I worked there for two years. However, after looking over the situation, the second mill did not appear to be nearly as important as the first. A little personal history of a good friend may be interwoven with the subject of the sawmill.

In 1888, in Denmark, a certain Rasmus Rasmussen reached the age when it was necessary for young Danes to serve in the army. America holding out much promise for the seeker of fortune and adventure, lured, as it has so many, young Rasmus. He arrived safely, and took his first job on a railroad section gang. Knowing no English at the time, and probably working under an Irish section boss, "Rasmus" soon became "John," and so he has remained John Rasmussen ever since.

John drifted north to Clintonville in 1889 and worked in a sawmill that winter. From that city he came to Antigo, staying for some time at the home of Peter Anderson in Rolling. He worked two days in Elmhurst for George Wunderlich, who was then sheriff.

In the winter of 1891, in company with other Danes, John arrived at the Dailey mill at Strassburg. Dailey took him on and set him to piling lumber. His wages were $32 per month and board. This was the beginning of a six-year steady job for John Rasmussen. The long service attested this dependability.

The English vocabulary of Rasmussen had increased wonderfully. The writer has personal knowledge of its expressive and descriptive powers.

Took a Contract

Noticing Rasmussen's natural bent for the work, John Dailey suggested to him that he take the job ty the thousand feet at 25 cents, Rasmussen to hire his help and pay board at $3 per week. Under the old system the lumber yard was nearly always blocked, although three or four men were on the job. John hired his brother, Chris, now living in California, and Rasmus Johnson of Norwood. They got along nicely.

The last cut of the old mill had just started, and Rasmussen was in the woods when the mill burned. Incidentally, "Dad" Dailey was head sawyer at the time.

Piling lumber being at a standsiill, Rasmussen took the opportunity to visit his parents in Denmark while the new mill was under construction. The ocean voyage took about four weeks. John has a picture of his old thatch-roofed home in Denmark, which must have an interesting story of its own.

New Mill Completed

With the new mill erected, John Rasmussen took a contract job as before. The crew was increased by one man on account of the greater sawing capacity. The members were Al Graves, Rasmus Johnson, Zephire Brouillard, (Gus Schroeder had worked for him earlier.)

The new mill was a great improvement on the old, with more modern machinery. Its capacity was 15,000 feet greater. The mill was equipped with steam feed, endless chain log slip, larger edger, and trimmer. An additional man was required in the power room. The old mill could be run with one man being both engine-man and fireman. Its saw-carriage feed was of the rack and pinion type.

The write will name the crew as he remembers them. Barney Grier ran the engine the first season it was there; Jim Towle the second year. Dal Chappel was fireman. Dad Dailey was filer the first year; James Weeks of Mattoon, the second. (James Weeks was the Webmaster's great-great-grandfather.) Henry Lieber was head sawyer, Emile Barnes was setter, and Charles Elsholtz, carriage man. He had also worked on the log pond. Will Schroeder was a carriage rider. The first year an edgerman and trimmer operator were brought from Wausau. The following year Mike Debroux ran the edger and Charles Vorass was trimmer. George M. Bemis also worked there.

Nearly Got Killed

The Wausau edgerman nearly got killed by a maple plank that flew back. Another time a plank flew out of the edger and left a dent three inches deep in the end of a bull-wheel timber. That surely was a vicious dispositioned machine.

Grant Nehr was lumber catcher one year, and a lumber trucker the next. Once on the former job he got wound up in the roller shaft and was badly hurt. I worked as tail-trimmer two seasons. Gus Wagner was slasher-man. Tom Wright and Evan Towie drove dump carts. Ira Craven, by way, was an expert 'river-hog.' He with Emile Barnes, Jake Raess and others broke rollways and raised deadheads. Several hands I do not remember. Truman Gillett jacked logs.

The Crew shifted considerably, fiting into the jobs that were most pressing at the moment.

Paid in Scrip

For my first season I got $1 for an eleven-hour day. Next year, as an experienced hand I got $20 per month and boarded at home two miles away. We got our pay in Mattoon 90-day drafts for what was not traded out at Mattoon in scrip (coupons). Will Marsh of Antigo accepted the drafts for grocery bills and supplies at 15 per cent discount. It was an act of kindness on Marsh's part; otherwise there would have been a hungry family of Gilletts. The third season I could not get a job at Strassburg and shifted to Mattoon for a summer's job on the section.

Rasmussen did the manifestly impossible by keeping the lumber out of the way, meanwhile running little confidential errands for the boss. That he has increased in his English vocabulary and persuasive powers was shown by his admittance to the Dailey home, where Mrs. Dailey had nice, dependable German girls helping her keep house.

As time moved on it became evident that sawmilling in Strassburg was on the wane, for timber shortage, or other reasons. Meanwhile John helped load out the big loads of lumber that went to the Mattoon track. He says it took two days to get the 25,000 feet load down there, it cut through the swamp road so badly.

Double Climax

At last settling-up day came. Dailey paid Rasumssen off, and he took Dailey's hired girl - Theresa Hoffman - to city where they were married. After the wedding they returned to Strassburg, being guests at the Henry Peters home. That night the whole village became lit up. The illumination was not in honor of Rasmussen, however. The Dailey mill caught fire and burned to the ground, and Strassburg was no longer a sawmill town. After all our story ends with a climax; a conflagration and a wedding.

You will find John and Theresa on their farm in the town of Rolling, having survived the many trials and setbacks that go with raising a large family.

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