Mr. Bradle, who has been a resident of Laona since November, 1901, when he came there with his parents recalls a great deal of early history.
His father, Frank, first arrived in 1900 from Marshfield, Wisconsin, and worked as lumber inspector and lumber yard foreman. He had worked for the Connor Company at Stratford and owned a saloon in Marshfield.
While he worked away from home his wife kept her eye on the saloon until they moved to Laona. In 1903 or 1904 the saloon was traded for a farm that he rented out until another son, Frank Jr., was old enough to take it over. Frank Jr. then stayed on the farm.
Ed received his education in millwork at an early age. When he was about 13 he started sorting trimmings at the mill during summer vacations. When he was 15 or 16 he spent two summers working on his dad’s farm near Thorp, Wisconsin.
Mr. Bradle remarked he could not remember the happenings in Laona when he arrived as he was only five years old. But he recalls being told there were only 11 houses in upper town that was known as Snyders. Houses were just starting to be built by Connor for his workers.
At that time the people living there were mostly from the central western part of the state. They had followed Connor from Marshfield, Stratford and the area where they had worked for the Connor Company.
Some of the first mill workers were men by the names of Lutz and Schutte, another by the name of Harkins was sawmill foreman.
After William Connor Sr. had purchased the land and set plans to establish a mill and settlement there had to be a means of transportation to his mill and town. This difficult task of laying out a railroad to Wabeno and Laona Junction on the Soo Line was given to Barney McGinley. He completed the first roadbed stretching from Wabeno to Laona in 1901. The following year it was extended to Laona Junction. Headquarters for the railroad workers was at Wabeno.
When the railroad, that took three years to build, was completed a party was held at a cabin on Silver Lake. It was attended by all the workers and Barney McGinley was given the privilege of naming the site where the railroad came into Snyder. McGinley named the site Leona, after the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Johnson, who was the first white child in the vicinity. It isn’t exactly known how the spelling of Laona was changed from Leona. John Russell was the first locomotive engineer for the Laona and Northern Railroad.
Before Connor came to the Laona area in the late 1800’s about the only inhabitants were Indians. Many interesting tales are told about the Potawatomi tribe that roamed the forests for food. In winter some of these tribes wintered on the shores of Roberts Lake near Wabeno and many had their tee-pees on the shores of Birch Lake a short distance east of Laona.
One incident of interest that is told of the Indians is that early each summer they had a big porcupine hunt. Indians came from miles around, even some tribes as far north as Michigan.
This hunt lasted for several days and when the porkys were pretty well cleaned out of the area they were skinned, cleaned and put in large pots to cook over open fires that had been built under shelters of small trees. When the food started to cook the Indians then had their tribal dances that lasted far into the night. When the food was ready they ate and then danced and ate again until the food was gone.
White hunters and trappers occasionally came through the Laona area in the early days. The first white men to log in the region were from the Spencer Lumber Company. These men logged the pine that made up a lot of the forests in northern Wisconsin in the 1800’s.
After the pine was cut, it was hauled by sleigh or wagon to Roberts Lake and then floated across the lake and down the Lily River. Spencer Creek that is located at Blackwell was named after the Spencer Lumber Company.
One of the first stores and post offices in Laona was run by a man named Delameter.
The nearest doctor was at Gillett. Anyone needing medical attention had to take the train. Finally a doctor by the name of Lockner set up practice in what is now known as lowertown. The first hospital likewise was in lowertown. Dr. Lockner was joined by a Dr. Elliott and as a larger hospital was needed, one was built near the present Richard Connor home. When it burned in 1918 the present Ovitz hospital was built by the Connor Company in 1920.
Like most early logging communities, Laona also was plagued by fires. Several residents and business places in Laona had been lost during the early days when fire fighting equipment was not adequate.
Buildings in lowertown that were destroyed by fire were across the road from the depot. Some of these were a hotel owned by the Irish family, and a dancehall owned by Mr. Waterman.
Sargent’s Saloon that was located west of the Community building is said to have burned twice and was rebuilt each time. Sargent also ran a hotel and livery stable. There were five buildings along the street where the Community building now stands and these have all been destroyed by fire.
A building that was known as the town hall and later served as a school building was moved to uppertown and was located across the street from the present Edward Bradle home.
During the logging camp days this building was used as a pest house. When a typhoid fever epidemic broke out in one of the camps, lumberjacks suffering with the disease were brought to this building and put in isolation. Mr. Bradle recalls taking food to the patients but other than that they had to care for themselves. When the epidemic broke out water was tested but the tests proved that the infection did not come from it. They finally found one lumberjack was a carrier of the disease. This building also served as a morgue for lumberjacks.
The first mill that Connor built burned to the ground. It had been a small mill and when the next and present one was built it was a much larger building. Every precaution is taken now-a-days to prevent carelessness around the plant, thus cutting the danger of fire to a minimum.
In 1901 a dam was built on the Rat River that runs out of Wabikon Lake and through Laona. This dam was built to form a pond near the mill. It is said the correct name for the mill-pond is Scattered Rice Lake. At first the pond was small and was surrounded by marsh and bog. As the waters built up in the pond behind the mill, it was used to hold logs to prevent them from rotting and checking before they could be run through the mill. At present the pond is a good fishing spot. Ice fisherman can be seen hauling out big lunkers through the ice. As the Rat River is rather shallow the question arose as to how the fish got into the pond in the first place.
It is said that William Stenerson and two boys, Bill and Dick Connor, brought the fish from Lakewood. They had gone fishing down at Lakewood and some of the fish they caught they put in a barrel and shipped them to Laona by train. This seems like an impossible task. But the young Connor boys accomplished it, thus providing good fishing in the pond for years to come.
One of the first timber cruisers working for the Connor Company, working out of the Laona plant was a Mr. Harris. He was assisted by William Stenerson, who later became head cruiser. Mr. Stenerson is credited with starting the first selective logging for the company.
The first logging was done in 1899 and the first sawing was started in April, 1901 with Joe Ratty and Theodore Jacobson head sawyers. The first sawmill was a two band and one resaw that had been purchased from the Davis and Hand Lumber Company of Eau Claire and was moved to Laona by rail from Little Black, Wisconsin. Joe Dennee was plant superintendent and Martin Jorgensen was one of the first woods foremen.
Camp 1 was located below the hill just north of the present Connor Store. Camps 2 and 3 likewise were located near town. Camp 4 was near the Gruman Settlement. Camp 5 was south of the mill near the Connor far. Camp 6 was just north of the cemetery. Camps 7 and 8 were near or along the Laona and Northern Railroad. Camp 9 was located east of Birch Lake on the Peshtigo River. A cyclone had hit this area around 1902 and knocked down valuable timber so the company moved a small sawmill with a one rig circular saw and that was run by steam to the area. Downed timber was cut all winter and summer. Frank Bradle used to ride a pony out to this area to check on the mill.
Most of the early Connor buildings were wood structure. The first Connor store that was built about 1802 was destroyed by fire and the brick structure now standing was built about 1916. The present brick Hotel Gordon had been a wooden structure that was destroyed by fire and rebuilt before the company store. At one time there were wooden boarding houses near the mill that housed the mill workers.
The large brick grade school building that burned in the late 1940’s was built in 1904, and used also as a high school. The first and only class to graduate from there was in 1914, as the present high school was completed in 1917. The second senior class graduated in 1918. The first principals of this school were A. A. Trojan, Paul Brown, and C. Boult, who served in this order from 1917 to 1921. C. L. Robinson became principal in 1921 and continued until he retired and Robert Liesch, who is the principal now took the position.
When the brick grade school that was located south of the present High school was gutted by fire a new one story structure was erected on the east side of Laona not too far from the Ovitz Hospital. This school was named after Principal Robinson, who still lives in Laona.
The Presbyterian church is one of the older buildings in Laona and was built in 1904. The telephone office likewise is another older building, built in 1907.
The cemetery has not always been where it now is. It originally was located on the hill on the north side of town. It was moved to the present site about1905 or 1906.
The McHugh family is said to be one of the first settlers in Laona for many old timers say that when they arrived the McHugh’s were there. Members of that family were Morg and Jim, Cecelia (Mrs. Leon Webb) and Hattie (Mrs. Eggebrecht).
Edward Bradle recalls when his parents came to Laona, it was surrounded by forests. Where his home is now, it was all woods. There were Indian trails through the forests to Birch Lake and he tells of seeing teepees along the lake shore. The Indian chief was Frank Michigan and Ed told about Indian burial grounds near the Peshtigo River close to Burnt Bridge and another near Birch Lake.
When the Indians came to town they were in full dress. They used to come to get their government checks. Some of the Potawatomies still live around Wabeno, like the Thunders, the John Manns, Shabodocks and the Michigans.
Mr. Bradle said at one time there was another small mill built along the Rat River south of where the Nazarene church now stands. It belonged to Frank Lonier. Mr. Lonier had lived at Laona many years and had been town clerk at one time.
Bradle said in 1905 and 1906 the forest fires were so bad that his parents sent the children away for two weeks as they were afraid the town would burn. It had been an extensively dry summer and when fires started in slashings they kept burning until everything in its path was gone. Luckily the town had been spared.
Ed told of working in Blackwell from 1933 to 1936 when the Connor Company leased the Flanner mill and did a lot of their sawing in that area. He also recalled when he was keeping times and was near the potash plant, where the sawdust mill no is, he heard the train whistle blasting for miles as it neared town. When he ran to the train, as the whistle was only blown like that during an emergency, there were two men lying on the flat car. They both had been killed when a tree they were sawing fell on them. Bradle said he never could figure out how one tree could kill both men when they were working with a cross-cut saw felling the same tree.
When asked where most of the lumberjacks came from, he replied, “Mostly from the middle west, like Minnesota and Chicago. A man catcher used to go to the cities and recruit men to work in the camps. There used to be as many as 50 men on one train,” Bradle recalled, “and most of them were of foreign decent, like Swedes, Norwegians, Polish and Russians. I never worked in the camps,” Ed went on, “just worked in and around the mill.”
Mr. Bradle was always interested in the happenings of the town and served as town clerk for 7 years in the 1920’s.
He married Winnie Scherick of Carter in 1917 and has three sons, Donald, Francis and Richard.
When asked how he liked retirement, he replied: “I think Winnie retired, for I’m still working. I do some of the shopping, and most of the dishes. I like to garden and we have 20 chickens that I care for. I enjoy ice fishing as well as summer fishing and when summer comes we have a good sized garden. I received my first social security check on February 3, so with that we can enjoy retirement. Winnie and I enjoy our grandchildren. We have five, two boys and three girls.”
“Looking back over the years we feel we have had a good life in Laona and it sure has changed from the old days. Laona was pretty tough, like most lumbering towns, but it has been a good place to live and raise our children.”
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