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The late 1800's saw the lumber industry move west from Michigan into Wisconsin. Logging in far Northern Wisconsin was initially a challenge. Due to the lack of rivers large enough for driving logs, the earliest logging was done locally around small mills, with the logs being skidded or sledded to the mill by horse or oxen in the winter months. It was found that Lake Superior provided a means to transport the logs allowing larger mills to be constructed. These larger mills could then contract for logs from a longer distance, logging the pine along the lake shore and up the mouths of a few of the larger rivers and then tow the logs in giant rafts to the mill site. It didn't take long however for some of the mills and loggers to realize that the Sand Barrens of Bayfield County were an excellent place to build logging railroads. Because of the relatively flat terrain and sandy soil, the logging companies found the going easy, and ran rail lines into the pine forests that lay to the west of Washburn. Eventually, rail was laid on almost every square mile of the interior, with only short sleigh or skidding hauls to the railroad landings. This also allowed summer logging as the logs could be held in booms on Lake Superior and in smaller lakes in the interior. The big lumber companies were initially interested only in the white pine but would later take Norway pine in great quantity also. When these trees were depleted some companies would again move west while others would decide to stay until the end, obtaining their logs from as far away as the north Shore of Minnesota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. During these later periods of the logging, hemlock, hardwoods and even jack pine were cut. In some of the more difficult areas to log white pine still existed and ways were found to bring these logs to the mill.

I guess you could say that the heyday of the Washburn sawmills was from 1886 until 1906, a period when three huge mills and at times another large mill were all operating at the same time. By 1923 it appears that none of the mills remained in operation, bringing to a close a colorful period of Washburn's history.

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