In 1886, W.D. Connor, his 18 year old brother Robert Jr., and Herman Langa, a cruiser, backpacked on foot and by horseback into Forest County from Gillett. They spent weeks exploring and cruising potential forest or mill sites along a proposed Chicago & Northwestern Railroad line.
A forest valley, what was later Wabeno, offered potential mill sites. W.D. Connor bought this valley. He later sold these valley sites to develop instead the Laona operation.
After exploring all the waterways and lakes, Beaver Lake (or Scattered Rice Lake) became the logical future sawmill pond site. By 1900 a 10-foot dam had been erected and raised its level by nearly eight feet.
The town sit chosen was named Laona for Leona Johnson, the first white child born there.
A used sawmill was purchased in 1900 at Eau Claire from the Davis Starr Lumber Company for 12,500 and shipped to Laona. A planning mill was added and in 1902 a small extra band mill was erected 16 miles away. A general company store built with a post office, a boarding house for transient workers, a brick school for $9,600 with a library, a hospital of sorts, churches and later the old Hotel Gordon was built in 1914. The first hotel before Gordon was the Sargent Hotel which had burned twice to the ground.
In 1902, Barney McKinley laid out and completed the North Railway. This was an 18-20 mile short line from the Chicago & Northwestern to the Soo Line’s Laona Junction.
John Kissinger was manager from 1906-1920; at that time William D. Connor Jr. and Richard Connor came to direct operations.
By 1904 the new Connor Lumber & Land Company at Laona was issuing token money, $5 coins in shiny aluminum and the lesser denominations were golden brass.
About 1914 a cedar shingle mill was added and a two band sawmill and a large flooring factory. In 1930 the first operation of what was to be a large juvenile furniture plant was started. This was started with four men in a basement corner. Ed Krawze, John Singer of Elcho, Charles Kramer, and Walter Carter. Rollie Palmer of Antigo was the sales manager.
In 1925-26, a costly new three carriage mill with three resaws was added. This installation made the company the largest hardwood operation in the nation.
On May 28, 1902 W.D. Connor & associates decided to build a railroad line in Forest County known as the Laona & Northern Railway. They became a member of the American Short Line Railroad Association in June 1923. Engineers since incorporation have been John Russell, Louis Bocher, John Lane and Alex Carter. Some of the conductors were Tony Bradle and Carl Tremel. T.L. Rasmussen had been a long-time president. The Lumberjack Special was inaugurated in 1965.
In 1914 Laona had a state bank that had capitol stock of $1,000. President was John D. Kissinger. R.S. Elliot was vise-president and V.H. Jahn was cashier. They also were agents for fire and life insurance located where the present Laona Beauty Shop is.
The Connor Lumber and Land Company of Laona built a new department store and it is still in use. They stocked a complete line of all merchandise, such as dry goods, ladies wearing apparel, dress making, millinery, groceries, flour, feed, hay, meats drugs, photographic supplies, crockery, stoneware, jewelry, shoes, men’s furnishings, hardware, harnesses, farm machinery, cream separators, auto supplies, paints, brick, cement, lime, building material, wagons and buggies, furniture, carpets, linoleum and caskets, t name some. They also took mail orders.
Thanks to Millie Osgood for helping me on the above history.
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