8th Avenue Mill Site

Sawmills  8th Avenue Mill Plans 10th Avenue

S. G. Cook & Company/Northern Pine Land Company

Washburn's first big mill on the lake was located down from Eighth Avenue West approximately where the playground at West End Park is now. S. G. Cook, who built the Lake Superior Lumber Company sawmill in Ashland, commenced to build one in Washburn soon after the city was founded. The contractors were W. H. Irish & G. F. Hulbert, who also owned Washburn's first sawmill, not counting a small mill that operated in the 1870's in the settlement known as McClellan where Memorial Park is now. Building commenced on January 10, 1885 and the mill opened on April 25, 1885. Cook lived in Minneapolis where he organized a company that built the Lumber Exchange Building. He eventually moved to Oakland, California where he was treasurer of the Pacific Coast Redwood Co., holding this position until the time of his death on October 14, 1915.

The August 10, 1885 Washburn BEE describes the mill as having a main building of two stories with 12-foot posts, 40 x 100 feet with a 32 1/2 x 32 1/2 foot wing on the west side to house the boilers. Machinery consisted of a small and large rotary, one edger, one trimmer, one lath mill and one slab saw. This was powered by four boilers and two 22 x 44 inch engines; one 75 horsepower and one 45 horsepower. A 100 x 250 foot dock extended from the mill into eighteen feet of water, providing depth for ships at the far end. Daily capacity was rated at 90,000 feet and total cut for 1885 was over 3,500,000 feet. 

In October of 1886, a fire originating in the boiler room totally destroyed the mill with only the yards being saved. Manager W. G. Maxey at first stated the mill would be rebuilt, but a short time later announced that all Northern Pine stumpage was sold to the firm of Rood & Maxwell.

Rood & Maxwell

Rood & Maxwell were in the process of building a mill just to the west at the foot of Tenth Avenue and decided to build another mill on the former Cook property. Piles were driven and a much larger mill was built about 800 feet out from shore. The mill had one double circular and one gang saw, with a 24 hour capacity of 200,000 feet. A double block shingle machine and a gang lath mill were run in conjunction. Power was supplied by six large boilers and a 24 x 30 inch R. H. Stevens engine. A large steam pump supplied the mill and 30-acre yard with fire protection. The mill was run day and night and was lighted electrically. Logs for the mill came by raft from a distance of six to fourteen miles. Rood & Maxwell owned their own barges for shipping the lumber to market, giving them a great advantage over the Ashland mills which had to depend on independent shippers.

1887 was not a good year for Rood & Maxwell. Ice flows from a storm carried 2,000,000 feet of logs out into the lake after busting a boom at Buffalo Bay. Their mill at Spooner burned along with 3,000,000 feet of lumber. Also, 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 feet of their logs cut by Brigham & Mussell were stranded up on the Sand River due to low water. Because of these and other complications the firm failed in October and the mill, store, lumber and other property were taken into possession by Sheriff Van Horn under a levy by the Third National bank of St. Paul whose claim amounted to about $206,000. Other claims brought the liabilities up to nearly $450,000. The Washburn BEE estimated workers were owed wages of $10,000. The mortgage was held by the Northern National Bank of Ashland and was auctioned on December 14, 1887 to S. G. Cook, C. W. Griggs and Frank Boutin for $15,000.

James M. Lane

James M. Lane, a wealthy Michigan lumber operator, purchased the mill in 1888 from Cook. Lane extended the dock, but the water facilities were still insufficient and most lumber was shipped by rail. His daily capacity was 75,000 to 100,000 feet. Lane owned the mill by contract only, and after he defaulted on payments the property reverted back to Northern Pine Lumber Company who paid Lane's assignee $40,000 for equity in the mill site, mill and docks.

South Shore Lumber Company

Cook, who still owned a large lumberyard in Washburn, took over the Rood & Maxwell planing mill during the winter of 1887-1888 and got his logs back from Rood & Maxwell in the spring of 1888. In 1889 the sawmill was again under the ownership of Cook & Company, with F. W. Harris as superintendent. The new mill was called the South Shore Lumber Company.

The sawmill consisted of one double circular and one Wicks gang saw, with a 175,000-foot capacity for a 21-hour day. Steam power came from seven boilers and a 250 horsepower, 20 x 30 inch engine built by R. H. Stevens & Co. An additional boiler was added later in 1889 increasing horsepower to 500. Sawdust fueled the boilers via a self-feeder located above. Surplus sawdust was diverted to the eighty-foot high refuse burner which was built in 1889. A tramway extended from the saw mill to the planing mill and a siding was put in from the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad tracks, which allowed shipment of 125,000 feet per day. The new planing mill had three first-class planers, one lathe and one re-saw, with a 125,000 foot per day capacity. An 8 x 10 inch Knowles pump supplied water for fire protection via a two-inch pipe that ran throughout the mills, tramways, and yard. The company also owned and operated a machine and blacksmith shop. Slabs from the mill were sorted and converted to either lath or shingles. E. J. Barquist was in charge of the lath mill, which had a daily capacity of 75,000 lath. The shingle mill produced about 15,000 shingles per day. An engine formerly used in the Lumberman's Exchange at Minneapolis electrically lighted the entire mill and yards. A total of 140 lights allowed the mill to run day and night with two crews working 10-hour shifts. They employed 187 with a monthly payroll of about $7,500.

The July 20, 1889 Washburn News listed the following people in charge of the plant:

Superintendent--F. W. Harris, Chief millwright and day foreman--D. Compo, Night foreman--Jas. Hair, Head day sawyer--M. Finnegan, Head night sawyer--M. Kelley, Circular filer--F. C. Harris, Gang filer--Chas. Ewer, Day engineer--A. J. Blesemer, Night engineer--C. F. Drew, Yard superintendent--J. L. Cotton, Superintendent of shipping and planing mill works--O. M. Mattson, Foreman of planing mill--Ben Ward, Barn Superintendent--A. Harris.

Somewhere around 1889, M. A. Sprague became a partner of Cook and managed the mill. In addition to the double circular and gang, a band saw was put in during this time and one day in July the mill turned out 398,000 feet of lumber in a 19-hour day. The season cut for 1889 was 21,000,000 feet and 81,000,000 for Washburn's three mills. Ashland's output for its six mills was 63,607,837 feet. The year 1891 saw a cut of 30,000,000 feet.

On Saturday, September 2nd 1894 a fire broke out on the South Shore Lumber Company docks. The wind was blowing from the west and the fire quickly spread to the Bigelow Company docks, which had been built to the east. Firemen and citizens helped keep the Bigelow mill from burning, but ten million feet of Bigelow lumber went up in flames. During the fire, the Ashland fire department sent a hose truck and a dozen men to help contain a forest fire burning on the west end of the city. When the men fighting the mill fire could be spared they also were sent to help fight the forest fire and spent all night and all the next day keeping the fire from reaching the city. That same Saturday and Sunday Ashland lost the lumber and docks at the Kennedy mill, Burnett, Marengo and Bashaw were destroyed, Shell Lake lost all but the business district and Phillips burned a bit earlier.

The season cut at South Shore Lumber Company for 1894 was 40,000,000 feet of lumber, 9,000,000 lath, 318,500 shingles, and 38,000,000 feet shipped.

In September 1895, the highest tide ever recorded raised the water level 30 inches and flooded the fires in the mill's furnaces. These tides, called seiches, occur when the moon, sun, wind, and barometric pressure all pull in the same direction. In 1896, the mill lost 175 feet of dock, along with 150,000 feet of lumber, which were carried away by ice. Most of the lumber was salvaged.

Ice was a problem every spring in the Washburn area. Some years the ice would get blown miles out into the lake only to be blown back in when the wind changed direction, crushing everything in its path with a force of millions of tons until finally stopped by solid land. Washburn was somewhat protected because the ice could only get a few miles run from the Ashland side of the Bay. Ashland, on the other hand, could get hit with ice that had been pushed by the wind for 50 miles or more.

In early July of 1898, a fire originating in the engine room destroyed the planing mill. The mill was not insured, but by the end of the month a new and larger mill, 60 x 64 feet with a 20 x 30 foot brick boiler room and a 12 x 30 foot shavings vault was built to replace it. The building, constructed from wood, was covered with sheet iron for fire protection. Six new machines, with a daily capacity of 100,000 feet, were purchased for the mill.

In the latter 1890's SSLC became mostly a contract company, cutting for other firms. A. A. Bigelow was one of its biggest customers, and to facilitate lumber transport a connecting dock, owned by SSLC, was built from the South Shore docks to a dock that was part of the Bigelow structure. When SSLC cut for Bigelow, logs would come to the mill over a branch of the Washburn & Northwestern Railroad, which was owned by Bigelow.

Akeley & Sprague

Sometime around 1901, M. A. Sprague along with H. C. Akeley of Minneapolis, bought out Cook and the mill became known as the Akeley & Sprague Mill. The mill was given a thorough overhaul, and Conrad House was and had been in charge of mill operations. The first raft of 1,000,000 feet of logs from the North Shore arrived. The 1900 season cut was 36,000,000 feet.

During the winter of 1901-1902 the front of the mill was re-timbered, a new floor was installed, the burner relined and improvements made throughout the mill. Akeley & Sprague also purchased 125,000,000 feet of pine on the North Shore of MN which was probably the largest tract of white pine left that was tributary to Washburn. M. A. Fraser had a 2,000,000 foot contract with the mill in 1902. He was cutting by Pine Lake and brought the logs to Ashland on the Minneapolis, St Paul & Ashland RR or Peerless as it was known. The logs were then rafted to Washburn. The cut for 1901 ended up at 29,067,000 feet of lumber and six million feet of lath, which were transported either by boats loaded at the mill docks or by rail. Fifty-six boats loaded at the docks, but 12,000,000 feet were shipped by rail.  The sawmill employed 120 men, the planing mill 25, and there were 100 men at two camps along the Northern Pacific Railroad. 

The cut for 1902 was 34,440,897 feet of lumber and 5,475,000 lath. The cut for 1903 was 34 million feet, and the total for Washburn's three mills was 105,940,897 feet. In 1904 the cut decreased to 18,349,962 feet due to a late start, but the annual average for the mill from 1890 to 1902 was 34 million feet.

On May 27th 1905 a devastating fire destroyed the Akeley & Sprague Mill. The following is taken from the June 1, 1905 Washburn Times.

"One of the worst fires in the history of Washburn destroyed the Akeley and Sprague saw mill last Saturday night, and burned great piles of lumber which had recently been manufactured, and was piled on the docks. The alarm was first sounded by a tug in the bay, and then the fire whistle commenced to blow. When people looked out of their houses they saw great sheets of flame and intense volumes of smoke arising, and it was only a few minutes before the whole town was making its way to the milling district. The fire companies all turned out, but the fire had gained considerable headway, and it was useless to attempt to save the mill-it was doomed. Every effort was concentrated on saving as much of the lumber piles and tramways as possible, but even this looked to be almost impossible, and the fire crept foot by foot further down the long dock of the Akeley & Sprague plant, devouring the great piles of lumber in its course. The lack of fire protection to the Akeley & Sprague plant made the work of the firemen extremely difficult and not very effective, although they did all that was possible to be done towards subduing the conflagration. There was comparatively little wind at any time of the fire, but along towards half past ten a breeze sprung up and added to the danger of the situation. The Hines mill and docks were threatened, but a large force of men worked at this point, quite unmindful of the fact that the Thompson mill and lumber was in still greater danger. At the latter institution there were comparatively few people, and what there were worked with a grim determination, and to this handful of men working with Manager McWilliams, the Thompson mill and docks owe their existence. A call for assistance to Ashland was responded to by the tugs Crosby and Dowling to whose efforts was largely due the saving of the Thompson, and perhaps the Hines docks. Occupying a position as it did between the two other mill docks, the fire in the Akeley & Sprague plant was particularly dangerous to the whole milling district, and but for the fortunate occurrence of there being scarcely any breeze the whole milling interests might have been wiped out.

The fire caught in the boiler room of the mill, and in a remarkably short space of time the entire building was in flames. The mill was built a number of years ago, and was a large modern plant, having cost perhaps $75,000. Of course it deteriorated somewhat in value with age, but the loss of mill and docks and about fifteen hundred dollars worth of lumber, will bring the total loss to Akeley & Sprague up to $50,000. The Edward Hines Lumber Company owned nearly all of the burned timber, and suffered a loss of about $40,000. This was well covered by insurance, but Akeley and Sprague had but eight thousand dollars on their milling plant, and their loss is a very heavy one. In the operation of the mill and in the handling of their lumber 125 men were employed, and the mill had work to keep it busy all summer..."

M. H. Sprague Lumber Company

The mill lay idle until April 1909 when the M. H. Sprague Lumber Company, composed of Monroe. H. Sprague (M. A. Sprague's son), O. A. Lamoreaux, M. A. Sprague, and E. E. Kenfield was formed. This new company purchased all the Akeley & Sprague property, along with long-term leases on the real estate and mill site. The new company operated the Akeley & Sprague planing and shingle mill. M. H. Sprague, the principal stockholder, was entirely in charge of the new plant. The new mill was 34 x 130 feet and two stories high and possessed only a single band saw, which was one of the largest in existence, and as large as any on the Bay.  It had an eight-foot wheel and 12-inch saw. The boiler house, constructed of solid brick, was separate. The mill began production on July 8, 1909. Logs came in on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the NP yards were so full another siding had to be built for additional storage. In the fall of the year, Akeley & Sprague sold all their North Shore timber to Alger & Smith of Duluth, a deal containing over 100,000,000 feet of pine. The cut for 1909 was 4,085,147 feet of lumber and 950,000 lath.

Early in 1910 the mill was enlarged and a horizontal band saw installed. A new Corless 350-horsepower engine and re-saw were also purchased. 

The cut for 1911 came to 12.5 million feet of lumber and 3.5 million lath. Most logs came to the mill in the remaining years from the North Shore of Minnesota and from Northern Michigan.

M. A. Sprague died on January 13, 1917.

Kenfield & Lamoreaux

After the death of M. A. Sprague earlier in the year, the mill opened the 1917 season under the ownership of Kenfield & Lamoreaux, who owned the box factory in town. Conrad House remained at the helm.  The company also bought the Akeley & Sprague timber.

Both 1917 and 1918 appeared to be good production years at the mill. The log supply form Michigan was plentiful. In 1918, 100 men worked at the sawmill, plus a crew at the planing mill, and camps were operating in the woods. The South Shore planing mill became Kenfield & Lamoreaux plant number two in either 1919 or 1920. In 1919, 75 men were working at camps in Northern Michigan.

A lack of orders in 1921 kept the mill closed from January 1st until August. Its stack was also blown over in the spring by a storm, which contributed to the shutdown. In August the mill re-opened with about 70 workers and a total payroll of 110. A large supply of logs came in by raft from the North Shore and the Brule and the mill went to full capacity with almost 200 men employed.

O. A. Lamoreaux died at his home in Duluth on October 19, 1921.

Chicago Box & Crating

In March of 1922, Chicago Box & Crating took over Kenfield and Lamoreaux plants and property. In October 1922 E. E. Kenfield died at Bemidji, Minnesota. Chicago Box & Crating re-opened the mill in January 1923 with a crew of 25.

About the first of May 1924, M. H. Sprague announced that the lath mill, which he still owned, would open with a crew of about 40 under the operation of J. H. O'Melia Lumber Company of Rhinelander. Later that month the lath mill burned down, resulting in a total loss.

There is little information on the mill site after 1924. Chicago Box & Crating was listed on the Sanborn Insurance maps as vacant and dilapidated in 1926, so it is quite possible that 1923 was the last year of operation for Washburn's first mill site, a run of 39 years with a three-year gap after the big fire. Holding true to earlier speculation, this mill lasted longer than any other.


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