Eagle River Historical Society
Loggers, Traders and Settlers, The Early History of Eagle River, Wisconsin
Eagle River Historical Museum
Eagle river
Original Date
  • Bookwood Historical Collection, Star Lake

Loggers, Traders and Settlers THE EARLY HISTORY OF EAGLE RIVER, WISCONSIN [Eagle River Historical Society]

Woodsmen, loggers and fur traders, venturing into a wilderness lake-filled region over 100 years ago, paved the way for the eventual development of one of the nation's most beautiful vacationlands. Fox and Helms were among the first early settlers to trickle into the Northwoods. Joshua Fox was a practical woodsman and logger while Mr. Helms was the businessman and financier. They arrived in the 1850s and set up their first logging camp just west of the thoroughfare between Eagle and Catfish lakes. They brought with them 90 men and io teams to begin logging.

Around 1855 Mr. Fox erected a dwelling on the east end of Eagle Lake where Eagle Waters Resort is now located. Fox and Helms operated a post office and bank at this location which also served as a trading post. The Bank was called the Marathon County Bank and banknotes were issued in 1858. One of the notes issued was in the possession of the late Maurice Holzman, a former owner of Eagle Waters Resort. Charles Ervin was one of the postal carriers over the old Wausau trail to this post. One can only imagine the hardships suffered by a mail carrier in those days. The trading post also served as a polling place in 1860. Records show that the votes in the Presidential race went for Abraham Lincoln.

While Fox and Helms are considered to be the first settlers, there is reason to believe that as early as 1853 Bethuel Draper and Pete 'Dutch' Cramer camped in this area in their travels. Oral traditional has it that these two travelers arc responsible for the naming of Eagle River for the large number of Eagles they saw nesting along the river. In 1856 a Mr. Blonduel began farming near the north inlet of Eagle Lake, but he abandoned farming and moved on in the early 186os. In 1858 or 1859 Mr. Draper returned with his wife to settle on Lac Vieux Desert. Mrs. Draper and another woman packed on their backs the seed rice which now forms one of the largest rice beds in our northern lakes.

Records show that as early as 1853. H. B. Polar operated a trading post on Yellow Birch Lake. Later C. L. 'Kentuck' Perry worked with him. Shortly thereafter Dan Gagen settled on 'Gagen Hill' on Yellow Birch Lake (now known as Mitchell Point, off of Silver Lake Road). James Hall settled with his family on the north bank of Eagle Lake in 1863.

One of the first main routes to the Northwoods came as a result of the Civil War. Early in the war some thought that England might side with the South in which case there could be an invasion by England from Canada. Although this threat was more imaginary than real, Military Road was built between 1864 and 1872. The route was from Fort Howard near Green Bay to Fort Wilkins near Lake Superior. The road built to transport guns, ammunition and troops was actually used by traders, settlers, loggers, Indians and today by those looking for a scenic drive through the Northwoods. In 1875 Finn Lawler arrived in the company of 'Kentuck' Perry. The early settlers had formed the nucleus of a small community. The actual village of Eagle River dates from the coming of the railroad in 1883 and the influx of more people. Prominent among the settlers of this time was John O'Connor, benefactor of some of the chief institutions of Eagle River. He was the founder of the village although it was platted in the name of his wife, Ann. Thomas B. and William J. Walsh arrived in 1883 as did Lyman J. Cook and George P. Dickinson, Eagle River's first merchants. The same year a school was started in O'Connor's log shanty with Miss O'Connor as teacher. Dan Graham was Justice of the Peace and William Stevens was Constable. Paul Cook was born October fo, 1884, the first white male child born here. The Lee family had a daughter born to them shortly before, however it is believed that she did not survive infancy.

In 1885 the Wisconsin Legislature officially made Eagle River a town consisting of Sections 8, 9 and fo from the county line north to the state line. Finn Lawler was elected Town Chairman and Lyman Cook as Treasurer. The next 15 years or so was a golden period for the town. Quite a few buildings were erected, businesses started up, more of the town was platted. There were now two other general stores, three hotels, a meat market, barber shop, restaurant, the first doctor (G.H. Hadley), six saloons and even a roller skating rink. The public school had 54 pupils by 1886. The mills ran night and day and wages were high. There was activity and abundance all over town. A newspaper, The Vindicator, was established in 1886, becoming the Eagle River Review in 1890. In 1890 Arthur McKenzie and Fred Morey opened the first bank, which is now the First National Bank of Eagle River.

Professional people at the turn of the century were D. E. Riordan and O. B. Moon, attorneys; M.S. Sanborn and W.D. Neville, physicians. Riordan was also municipal judge. The county judge was N. A. Coleman and the circuit judge was W. C. Silberthone. Mr. Moon was proprietor of the Eagle River Review as well as attorney. The population in 1897 was said to be 1,600.

In 1899 the first waterworks was established. This was a steam plant and eight years later changed to electricity. In 1907 the dam after a great deal of controversy, was built four miles down the river and the plant was made hydraulic. Mart Hirzel, the town chairman at the time, was a leader in the drive for funds. After the turn of the century the mills began a slow decline and the farmers were finding it close to impossible to produce enough to feed their families and make a decent living in the Northwoods. While these two industries were in decline, the resort industry grew. The many lakes were a natural for attracting vacationers from all over. Today it is the major industry around which most businesses revolve.

Eagle River Historical Society PO Box 2011 Eagle River, WI 54521

Depot Museum Railroad St 715-479-9384 Admission to museums is free. Donations gratefully accepted

Information in this brochure was compiled by members of the Eagle River Historical Society. (Revised 11/2008)