6th Avenue Mill Site

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A. A. Bigelow/Hines

In 1886 construction began on the granddaddy of them all. This mill according to the Ashland Daily Press of July 2, 1906 was the largest on the Great Lakes, equal in size only to Merrill & Ring of Duluth, Minnesota.   I believe it was the second largest in Wisconsin, the largest being in Eau Claire. (For Merrill & Ring and others see {http://www.mnhs.org/places/nationalregister/shipwrecks/mpdf/mpdf1.html} and look under logging)

The mill was that of Walker & Bigelow and was located out in the bay down from Sixth Avenue West. Anson A. Bigelow had extensive lumber operations in Muskegon, Michigan before coming to Washburn. Here, he owned 40,000 acres of pineland west of Washburn containing an estimated 450,000,000 feet and intended to cut it over about a 20 year period.

The mill was built during the summer and winter of 1886-1887. First, men drove piling to support the mill and docks. The Washburn Itemizer of August 4, 1887 gives some of the following statistics on the piling.   A total of 1,825 piling were used for support of the mill, and I estimate 10,000 all told when the docks are taken into consideration. The piles were 20 to 25 feet long in the mill area and from a foot to a foot and a half in diameter, and cost driven. $2.25 each. As the docks were extended to deeper water longer piling were needed. Jim Dibbel of Washburn remembers that the piles were driven about 12 feet into the bottom and the water was reported to be eighteen feet deep. Given that, the piles must have been at least 35 feet long in this deeper water. The piles under the mill were cut off below the surface of the water to prevent water line rot. It was feared that boulders or rocks would be struck while pile-driving, but it proved groundless, taking about 53 blows of the hammer to send one home. Cost of the foundation, not counting stringers and planking was about $12,000. The two shipping docks originally to be 700 feet long, were made 1,000 feet, and this was increased to 1,200 feet in the spring and summer of 1888 along with beginning a third dock of similar size to the east. Capacity of the docks was 10,000,000 feet of lumber.

The main building was two stories, 70 x 222 feet, with an attached boiler room of 45 x 100 feet on the west side. Attached to the northeast corner on the second story was a 15 x 55 foot filing room. A blacksmith and machine shop of 25 x 65 feet was located on the east side of the dock, 400 feet from shore. It was about 650 feet from shore to the mill. The timbers for the first floor of the mill were of fourteen inch dimension, and it took about half a million board feet to frame up the building. The head of construction was O. K. Crandall who had previously built seven mills for Henry Stephen & Sons. Cost of the mill was $120,000.

To cut the huge pine into lumber, the mill had two circular saws and two 50 inch Wicks gang saws of 40 saws each. A gang saw would saw up an entire log in one pass after it was first slabbed or canted by the circular saws. The circulars were also used to cut lumber but were very wasteful, having a wide kerf of saw cut. There were also two double edgers, one splitter and two trimmers. Power was supplied by two batteries of seven large boilers each, providing steam to drive a 500 horsepower engine with cylinders of 30 x 36 inch and a smaller 150 horsepower, 22 x 30 inch engine. The smaller engine drove the circulars and log haul, and the larger, the gangs and balance of machinery. One gang had a speed of 230 revolutions per minute and the other 240. Two 88 foot chimneys towered above the boiler room.

The mills capacity was 200,000 to 250,000 feet per 11 hour day, and a lath mill with 50,000 capacity was run in connection. The mills, yards and docks were all lighted, enabling the running of plant at night when necessary. About 130 men were needed to run the plant and another 175 were employed in the woods.

The Northwestern Lumberman of September 18, 1886 had the following to say about Washburn's new mill.
"The proprietors of the coming big mill own 450,000,000 feet of stumpage, which cost them $1.54 a thousand, a total of $690,000. The coming winter they will bank 30,000,000 feet of logs, but thereafter they will do no winter logging. The farthest tree on their tract is not more than 12 miles from the mill, and logs will be brought in over a logging road. When the mill shall have been completed, another such plant, including mill, boomage, climate in which to manufacture, shipping facilities, and so large a body of pine right at hand will not be owned by another manufacturing concern in the world. And last, but not least, there are cool millions back of it. The blue ribbon may be tied around the smoke stack, and that it will represent the premium plant will never be successfully disputed."

In addition to the mill complex, Bigelow & Co. owned its own lumber fleet to transport the lumber to its huge yards in Chicago where it was sold to wholesale dealers. In 1889 the ships were the steamer Robert Holland and consorts Sherwood and Stephenson and the Steamer White and Friant and consorts Fanny Neil and Parana. The fleet could haul about 3,700,000 feet of lumber between Washburn and Chicago every two weeks. The company also had their own logging road which went by the name of the Washburn & Northwestern Railroad. (See Railroads)

In March of 1888, A. A. Bigelow & Company began erecting what was to become the largest refuse burner in the world, with a diameter of forty feet and a height of somewhere between ninety-five and one hundred twelve feet. These conflicting heights could be that the higher of the two may include the spark arrester on the top. It was operational the beginning of December, 1888 and was located east of the mill. Burners were used to get rid of the slabs and sawdust and any other waste the mill produced. Just east of the burner a shingle mill was erected. It had its own double boilers driving a 75 horsepower engine to power a 10 block shingle machine. Capacity was 125,000 shingles per day and a 90 foot chimney  towered above this complex. A conveyor to the burner also ran from this mill. A 45,000 capacity lath mill was built in I believe 1889.

On August 3, 1889 the Washburn News listed the following managers, superintendents and leading mechanics for the A. A. Bigelow mill:
Superintendent-J. C. Caithness
Superintendent of Woods Operations-W. A. Simpson
Chief Engineer-H. Fahrig
Gang Sawyers-C. W. Bean & H. Monroe
Circular Sawyers-Oscar Lungren & Dan McCarthy
Gang Filer-James Kirk
Circular Filers-Albert Nickerson & George Dibbel
Shingle Mill Filer-Robert Hudson
Forman of Lath Mill-Harry Marshall

The stove for the Bigelow mill was four feet in diameter and nine feet long, weighing 1,800 pounds and was made in Muskegon Michigan.

The following is a story I just love, especially considering no one was hurt. I can just imagine the panic that must have run through the mill.

Washburn Itemizer May 9, 1889
"A very serious accident occurred at A. A. Bigelow & Co's. mill Monday of this week. The governor belt of the small engine which drives the rotary saws ran off its pulley and the engine became for a time unmanageable and attained such a speed that the fly wheel, weighing about 22 tons, flew into pieces, crashing through the mill in all directions. The force with which the flying fragments were sent was so great that one piece weighing probably 1,500 lbs. went up through the mill floor breaking its way through the planks, heavy joist and three heavy timbers each 12 x 12 inches in size. One side of the mill is ready for business again, but the rotary directly over the damaged engine will not be ready for some time. The damage to the firm through this breakage will reach probable $8,000. The second engineer Gus. Moberg received a slight bruise on one of his arms, and with this exception no one was injured." And this was the small engine!

The Northwestern Lumberman reported on June 25, 1892, that Bigelow put in a telephone line along the entire length of the railroad. A dispatcher located in Washburn ordered all movements by phone to intermediate stations. The Lumberman reported it was the first of its kind and that other logging railroads would probably follow suit.

In early September of 1894 a bad fire occurred. It started on the docks of the South Shore Lumber Company and along with consuming their docks, it jumped to the Bigelow docks, destroying all three, along with 10,000,000 feet of lumber. 

In October 1895 A. A. Bigelow died at the age of 63 years. Anson A. Bigelow was born in Washington Co. New York on November 7, 1833. He started working at a lumber yard in Racine, Wisconsin and quit to start the Bigelow & Co. in Chicago in 1862. In 1863 he did $5,400,000 worth of business. At the time of his death, the firm was worth $1,100,000.

In 1898 the company built a large warehouse at the foot of 7th avenue west. Their railroad was tied to this to bring supplies to the various lumber camps. Also, in 1898, a mill record and possibly a state record was set by cutting 405,640 feet of Norway pine lumber in ten hours. At the end of the cutting season they extended their docks again and put in a new band saw in place of a small gang saw. The mill building was also underplaned. Barney Hughes was woods superintendent.

In 1901 the mill had a capacity of 275,000 feet per day average, a lath mill capacity of 175,000 per day. Two cutting and skidding camps ran that summer, employing an average of 140 men each. A new record was set in July, when 525,000 feet were cut in 10 hours.

By 1902, the Bigelow Company had cut most of their pine holdings. Their last cut was 18,000,000 feet, down from an average in the 40,000,000 range in previous years.

In early 1902 the mill was thoroughly overhauled to give it a 60,000,000 board feet per year capacity and sold to Hines for an estimated 2.5 to 3 million dollars. Operations under Hines commenced April 1st, 1902

The Hines company was the largest in the world. They owned a mile and a half of water frontage in Chicago, which contained their yards. A double track ran through them, with a 200 car capacity. Storage capacity was 75,000,000 feet of lumber. Their planing mill there handled 700,000 feet of lumber in a 10 hour shift. A Washburn Times article in 1903 gives an example of the largeness of the operations. "The capacity of the Chicago end of the concern was recently tested by the delivery of 2,400,000 feet of railroad timber, mostly 12x12's, 12x14's and 8x16's, many in long lengths, up to forty feet, and all white pine. The complete loading of more than one hundred cars was done between daybreak on Sunday and dark of the following day..."

The mill in Washburn employed 300 men and another 700 were employed in the woods. 700,000 feet per day were being logged. Hines owned 17 big ships and 154 boats loaded at Washburn's Hines and Akeley & Sprague docks in 1902. Akeley & Sprague in Washburn and the Mowatt mill in Ashland were sawing for them and Hines was to buy many large mills in the area.

In 1905 they had logging camps within four miles of Iron River. The logs were dumped into a large lake for storage. A spur was built off the Northern Pacific and the logs were brought to Washburn during the summer. In September it was announced that the remaining Bigelow timber had been cut and brought to the mill, and the railroad was being torn up. The cut at the mill for 1905 was 50,000,000 feet and the booms were empty for the first time in history. The management had earlier stated that this would be the final year for the mill, and that it would be dismantled and moved to southern holdings come fall when the logs had all been cut.

On Sunday, July 1st, 1906, a workman on the second floor noticed the mill was on fire. All of Washburn's fire companies and tugs Tom Dowling, Crosby, and Mary Scott responded, but due only to the lack of wind and wet lumber, the docks, lumber yard, and machine shop were all that could be saved.

In September of 1906 Hines put a small mill at the base of their dock to cut up deadheads etc. They had 40-50 men employed during the day and almost as many at night.

On November 17th, 1906, Hines sawed its last log in Washburn. The small mill was sold and moved to Saxon.



Copyright 2008 Kurt Larson--Last updated April 10, 2008