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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Marinette Logging Museum Addition Houses Authentic Original Sawmill

The logging and lumber industries that once thrived in this area laid the foundations for what today is Marinette County. The men who harvested the mighty white pine and hardwood forests that covered the land, and the tools that helped them do it, are celebrated at the Marinette County Logging Museum on Stephenson Island in Marinette.

Ribbon cutting ceremonies for the most recent addition to the museum were held on Saturday, Sept. 28. Approximately 50 persons attended the luncheon and social hour at the Best Western Riverfront Inn across the road from Stephenson Island, and another 50 joined them for the 1:30 p.m. ribbon cutting ceremony at the museum, according to Frank Lauerman, president of Marinette County Historical Society.

Those who attended the event were treated to the first public viewing of the authentic 1889 J I Case sawmill it was built to house. Lauerman said the sawmill, once steam-powered, is almost identical to the one Isaac Stephenson had at the lumber mill he built on Stephenson Island at the turn of the last century.

The museum, open each year from Memorial Day to Labor Day and at other times by special arrangement, is officially closed for the season. Anyone else wishing to view the new sawmill will have to wait until spring.

Lauerman believes the Marinette museum’s new sawmill is the only authentic original model of its kind left in the state, and shares that opinion with Ellsworth Brown, president of the Wisconsin Historical Society, who was an honored guest for the event. Lauerman said a few years ago a replica was built at Greenbush at very great expense, but that one is all replica, while this sawmill has all its original parts.

It was purchased in 2003 from Polak Brothers Sawmill of Merrill (Lincoln County), which was established in 1889. The Marinette County Historical Society had to hire a crane and take the roof off Polak’s building and then dismantle the sawmill to get it out, Lauerman said. Then, in parts, it went into storage until they could afford a building to display it in.

That finally became possible last year after the Historical Society received a bequest of $88,000 from the will of Elizabeth Caswell, who was employed for many, many years at Stephenson National Bank in Marinette.

The sawmill addition, attached to the east side of the original museum facing the display a horse-drawn load of logs, was designed by John Seaborg of Menominee, who also supervised construction, and built by Dave Wickstrom Construction. Lauerman said Wickstrom did an exemplary job and donated a lot of time and material for the project without which they could not have afforded it.

Lauerman said the sawmill as displayed is not quite as large as it originally was. They had to cut down the length down to 30 feet to make it fit the building. Length of the building was an issue because of building codes and limited space on the island.

Steve Bradford, vice president of the local historical society, was in charge of acquiring, transporting and reassembling the huge old sawmill. Lauerman said as it is set up, if there were a power source it could be operating, but that will not happen due to the liability issues. Cost of insurance would be prohibitive. This mill, as were most of the old sawmills, was run under steam power, which would require a steam boiler as well. The old steam boilers required huge chimneys.

However, Lauerman believes it also could be run by compressed air.

The old mills are extremely rare, Lauerman said, because after the old mills quit running in the 1920s and 1930s, the steam engines were still valuable for other uses.

Also on hand for the dedication was Brian Polak, representing the family from whom the old sawmill was purchased nearly a decade ago.

“Saturday was one of the nicest days I can remember,” Lauerman declared. He was pleased that so many people came to share the museum’s big day. He was particularly pleased that Brown saw fit to come to the Marinette celebration.

Another prize possession of the Marinette County Historical Society and its logging museum is a large scale model diorama logging village donated by Estelle (Mrs. Charles) Goodman. That diorama, complete with miniature tools, “gives you an idea of what it took to cut logs,” Lauerman declared.

He noted the Marinette County Historical Society is always seeking new members, and when the museum reopens in spring volunteer curators Ed and Darlene Baethke will again need volunteers to help run it. He invited anyone interested in joining the organization or volunteering to work at the museum to call 715-732-0831. At this time of year volunteers will get an answering service, but calls will be promptly referred ot the right parties, Lauerman said. Dues are only $15 a year, and members are from all over the county.

Lauerman pointed out the Historical Society is totally supported by donations, museum admissions and souvenir sales. There is no city or county money involved.


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