John Jacobs

Back Sawmills

John A. Jacobs was one of the early pioneers and businessmen of Washburn, having a confectionary shop in the business district. Just when he entered the logging business is not clear at this time, however he was logging in the Drummond area in 1897 and providing Kenfield & Lamoreaux with large quantities of cedar for their shingle making production.

In 1898, Jacobs built a sawmill on the shoreline just to the east of the old city dock. Alex Hickey of Chelsea was chosen to be the mill foreman.

The mill was 60 x 72 feet in size, including the attached engine and boiler room. It had a circular saw that was of 40,000 feet per day capacity. There was also a double block Challoner shingle machine capable of producing 100,000 shingles per day. An eighty-five horsepower engine furnished power. A dock provided shipping facilities for shingles. Jacobs and M. A. Sprague traveled together to Minneapolis to purchase the equipment for their respective mills. A logway ran from the mill to the bay where Jacobs had his own booms for the storage of logs. The mill opened on October 14, 1898. In 1900 a planer was added. A siding was put in off of the Omaha tracks on the north side of the property, and tramways ran from there to the mill. 30-55 men were employed a the mill, depending on whether or not a night shift was being run. In the winter of 1899, Jacobs experimented with heating his log pond in the winter so as to be able to saw year round.

Jacobs ran his own logging camps, cedar and hemlock being the preferred wood. The first camps, comprised of 35-50 men, were at Siskiwit Lake, south of Cornucopia, WI. His first raft of logs was lost by the tug Boutin, for which he sued for damages. In 1899 Jacobs purchased 3,120 acres of land with 30,000,000 feet of pine, hemlock and hardwood in Gogebic Co. MI. These logs were brought down the Montreal River and rafted over to Washburn. The Bayfield Transfer, Omaha, and the Washburn, Bayfield & Iron River railroads also brought in many of the logs that he cut locally. The mills season cut in 1900 was six million feet. James Glynn was in charge of woods operations until 1901 when he left for Mississippi, O. O. Lund of Washburn taking his place.

In 1901 A. Gray of Duluth was managing the mill and Gus Branstrom was in charge of the mechanical end. Jas. Buckley was the yard boss.

Late in 1901 Jacobs decided the business was more than he could handle and decided to only run the shingle mill the following year. However, he and John H. Fowler formed the Fowler-Jacobs Company and the plant remained open, part of John A. Jacobs Enterprises, which consisted of Fowler-Jacobs and Elmore-Fowler-Jacobs. Under the new firm they manufactured tamarack into piling and ties, spruce for pulp wood, hemlock for lumber and ties, and cedar for shingles, posts, poles and piling. The company had their own tug and scow, towing rafts from a camp on Otter Island, part of the Apostle chain of islands and from N. Michigan. Because none of these species grew locally in great quantity, much of their logging took place in the more southern reaches of the county and other remote areas. Also, by now much of their cutting was being jobbed out. Shipments were being made to Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and the Indian Territory.

In September of 1903 the mill was totally destroyed by fire with a resulting $25,000 loss. There was no insurance. Jacobs built a small mill in 1905 for ties and posts and another for lumber in 1907. It is unclear as to when operation ceased, but probably near to this time.

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