Barber Papers: “Ironton” Summer of 1856

December 16, 2015

By Amorin Mello

This summer was a time of trauma for the Barber family immediately following the death of Augustus Hamilton Barber at the mouth of the Montreal River near his town-site claim of Ironton during the Spring of 1856.  Augustus had unfinished business on Lake Superior, which was being attended to by his brother Allen and father Giles in mourning.  

1856-08-19 Superior Chronicle - Ironton

Item from the Superior Chronicle, August 19th, 1856.  Ironton was platted during February of 1856 according to the Bayfield Mercury, August 15th, 1857.

The Summer of 1857 was also a when the town-site claims of Ashland and Ironton were being established and platted by merchants near the east and west borders of the Bad River Indian Reservation.  Several memoirs about the early days of Ashland and Ironton will be featured in this post to provide context due to copies of certain letters being missing from the Barber Papers.  Only one letter was archived from the Summer of 1856 in the Joel Allen Barber Papers, located at the end of this post.

Oral history traditions from the Lake Superior Chippewa tell about how the language describing the exterior boundaries of the LaPointe Indian Reservation were changed sometime between the 1854 Treaty of LaPointe negotiations and when it was ratified by Congress in 1855.  According to at least one oral history, both Ashland and Ironton were located within the boundaries negotiated at the treaty.


The Ashland Press

January 4, 1873

Ashland! It’s Growth During the Year 1872

A Quarter of a Million Dollars Expended in Improvements.
A Full List Of Buildings—Docks—And Railroad Work
ALL HAIL TO THE IRON CITY

The history of Ashland, full and complete, would require more space, and more labor in its preparation, than we can possibly give it at this time. Nor is it necessary in connection with this summary of its growth during the first year of its regenerated existence, to enter into an elaborate or extended article upon its past fortunes, but merely to give an outline showing its first organization, and a few of the most important items incident to its early settlement. This much we shall endeavor to do in this article, and no more, leaving other and better informed persons to give a full and accurate historical record, hereafter.

The Ashland Press
July 6, 1933
by Guy M. Burnham
During the month of February 1854, Leonard Wheeler, the missionary and an Odanah Indian met at Odanah, where Mr. Wheeler then lived, and drove on the ice along the south shore of the Chequamegon Bay, from Kakagon to Fish Creek. It was the year of the great treaty, in which the Indians agreed to cede most of their lands to the United States and to reserve tracts for their permanent homes. The Indians were glad to do this, for only four years before; the government had decided to move the Chippewa to the Minnesota country. William Whipple Warren led a large delegation to Minnesota but like all others who were interested, they much preferred Wisconsin. Leonard Wheeler himself, took up the cudgel of his wards, and practically led the fight to prevent the removal of the Chippewas from Wisconsin, but in 1854, it was understood that some sort of agreement was going to have to be reached, for white settlers were looking to the north, and they need an outlet to Lake Superior. The Indians realized that they would have to do something so Wheeler, the missionary and Little Current [aka Naawajiwanose], the Chippewa, were delegated to look over the south shore of Chequamegon Bay. William Wheeler who was a small boy accompanied his father and the Indian on the trip, says that the Indians furnished the pony and the missionary the cutter, and they drove down past where Ashland now stands, to the extreme head of the bay. From the head of the bay region, at Fish Creek to nearly where Whittlesey afterwards built his first house, there was a straggling Indian settlement, which the Indians called Equadon.
Every foot of land from Fish Creek to Odanah was Indian Land. It was in this settlement or village, which the wife of Robert Boyd, Jr., told me her father, lived in Equadon, near the many flowing springs, which we now call Prentice Park. The Indians thought the western limits of the proposed reservation of Bad River, should be the west end of the bay, but the missionary pointed out that that would keep the white men from building a city on the south shore of the bay, and that it would be advantageous to the Indians to have such a city built, as it would furnish a market for their furs and other products they might have for sale. Little Current agreed to this, and then and there, the agreed on the western limits of the Bad River Reservation should begin at the Kakagon just as it is now, extending the reservation far enough south to make up for the loss of the frontage from Kakagon to Fish Creek. Asaph Whittlesey frequently talked with Leonard Wheeler about good sites along the south shore and so about four months after the momentous trip of Leonard Wheeler and Little Current, near the end of February. Asaph Whittlesey and George Kilbourne rowed a boat over from Bayfield and felled the first tree, built the first house, establishing the settlement, which was to be known for about six years as Whittlesey. When Whittlesey felled the first tree on July 5, 1854, the land still belonged to the Indians. Three months later, on September 30, 1854, the Treaty of La Pointe was signed, under which Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Red Cliff, the tip of Madeline Island, and Lac du Flambeau were reserved, but it was not until January 10, 1855, that the Senate ratified the treaty, which became a law by proclamation of President Franklin Pierce, on January 29, 1855.
Although Whittlesey built his first house on land, which still belonged to the Indians, there was little danger of the Wheeler-Little Current agreement being disturbed, and Whittlesey became Ashland in 1860. The head of the bay, which then, as well as now, swarmed with fish and game, became a part of the white man’s domain, and this included the Place of Many Springs, Prentice Park.

~ TurtleTrack.org

Old Ashland, to be properly written up, should be woven into the history of all the country extending from the head of Lake Superior to Ontonagon. This section from the beginning of the first settlements has been intimately connected in all its various fortunes, and its people of that date should be considered as one, and spoken of as the early day pioneers on the Lake. Scarcely an enterprise was attempted that a majority were not more or less interested in, and the early Ashlander was not satisfied with being limited to one small portion as the place of his adoption, but generally considered himself honored only when credited with being a citizen of the “Superior Country,” or as many term it, “of Lake Superior.” Like the old fashioned “Queen’s arm” the early settlers “scattered” terribly, and hence we find them at the present day, posessors of corner lots in exploded townsites, parchment mining stocks, iron lands, copper mines, mineral claims and silver veins, in almost every section of the south shore that has been explored. To enumerate all the enterprises attempted by these enterprising, pushing-ahead, speculating men, would be too great an undertaking for us, but a book, well written, giving a thorough history of their operations, would not only be intensely interesting, but posess a value scarcely to be enumerated. But it is not our purpose to digress. We have to do with Ashland only, and chiefly with its present growth and future prospects.

The Ashland of to-day was formerly Bay City, St. Mark and Ashland, two distinct townsites, located but half a mile apart, the intervening territory being that platted as St. Mark, best known as Vaughn’s Division. Each of these divisions has a history of its own, though of course more or less connected with each other in common interests. These three divisions have, since the new enterprise sprang into existence, been joined together and now constitutes the city of Ashland, all parties interested working harmoniously for the common interest and a general prosperity.

The Ashland Press
August 28, 1920
“Mr. [William] Wheeler was born at the mission at Odanah and remembers distinctly of a trip he made with his father [Leonard Wheeler] and one of the Indian Chiefs [Little Current aka Naawajiwanose], into the country to establish the boundary limes of the Bad River reservation. The Indians wanted the boundary line at Fish Creek but Rev. Wheeler told them to leave a site where the present city not stands, for he was certain that a big city would grow up and big boats from the outer world would sail into the harbor and that the people would furnish a market for the Indian’s products.”
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

On the 5th day of July, 1854, Asaph Whittlesey and George Kilbourn landed on the bank of Ashland bay, and immediately commenced the erection of a claim shanty, within fifty feet of the west line of Section 5, Town 47 north, Range 4 west, in Ashland proper. The first tree was felled by Mr. Whittlesey, on that day, and by night the first log house, 14×16, was commenced. On the 27th day of August this building was occupied by Mr. Whittlesey’s family. It was used many years after for various purposes, and its ruins can still be found on the bank of the bay. During the same season the small log house near the present residence of James A. Wilson, Esq., on lot 6, block 6 was built, and in November of the same year the largest of the three log houses now standing on the same lot was completed and became the residence of Mr. Whittlesey, which he occupied until the fall of 1857. This house has quite a history. It has witnessed many an exciting and tragic scene, as well as many a pleasant and happy gathering. If its walls could speak, and possessed the genius of a Shakspeare, they would tell a story that would out rival in magic fascination any work of fiction. It was within its walls that the first permanent white settlers in Ashland dwelt. In its spacious room in the winter of 1854, the man of God, the missionary in the cause of Christ, preached the first sermon ever preached on the town-site. The minister was the late Rev. L.H. Wheeler, founder of the Odanah Mission, and a man known as a good and earnest Christian missionary, loved and respected by all the border settlement. It was here that the first ball was given in 1854; the first Fourth of July celebrated, in 1855, some thirty persons participating. It was the first post office, established in March, 1855, with Mr. Whittlesey as P.M. It was here too, that the first election was held, in the spring of 1856, at which time the town of Bayport, (which included Ashland and Bay City and all the surrounding county,) was organized. It was also the scene of a sad tragedy, when Henry Cross, in self defense, shot and killed Robert D. Boyd in 1858. The first Sabbath School was organized in this house in 1858, by Ingraham Fletcher, Esq. It was also, May 31st, 1856, the birth place of Miss Delia E. Whittlesey, the second white child born in the town, the first birth being that of Katherine Goeltz, early in the same month. Many other interesting events might be enumerated as belonging to its history, but space forbids. The old house still remains a monument of Ashland’s former glory.

The first freight ever landed from a steamer in our harbor, was in September, 1854. The steamer “Sam Ward,” Capt. Exsterbrook, brought the household goods of Mr. Whittlesey to Ashland at that time, and they were landed in small boats in the ravine near the foot of Main street.

“The first marriage in the town was that of Martin Roehm to Mrs. Modska, in the fall of 1859, John W. Bell officiating, (music furnished by Conrad Goeltz,)” and a good time generally indulged in by all who participated in the festivities. And here let us state that Ashland was never forsaken by this sturdy veteran pioneer couple. They stood by the place with characteristic German fidelity, king and queen of the deserted village, corner lots and all until the dawn of the new era commenced.

The Indian in his might
Roamed monarch of this wild domain,
With none to bar his right.
Excepting fearless Martin Rhoem.

The first government survey of the territory around the head of the bay was made in 1848, when the township lines were run by S.C. Norris, deputy U.S. Surveyor. It was not subdivided, however, until 1856. The town-site of Ashland, embracing lots 1, 2 and 3, and the N. half of the S.W. quarter, N.W. quarter of S.E. quarter and N.E. quarter Section 5, Town 47, Range 4, was surveyed and platted by G.L. Brunschweiler in 1854, and entered at the United Stated Land Office, at Superior, by Schuyler Goff, County Judge, under the laws then governing the location of town-sites on Lake Superior, December 11th, 1856, for the use and benefit of the owners and occupants thereof, viz: “Asaph Whittlesey, George Kilbourne and Martin Beaser.”

Most of the names mentioned in this article also appeared in the Penoka Survey Incidents series.

Succeeding the first settlement above mentioned, the population of Ashland increased quite rapidly. During the year 1854 several families moved in. Among the new corners were Martin Beaser, J. P. S. Haskell, Austin Cousen, John Cousen, Conrad Goeltz, A. J. Barclay, Capt. J. D. Angus, G. L. Brunschweiler, Frederic Prentice, Adam Goeltz, John Donaldson, David Lusk and Albert Little. Of these a few remained only a short time, coming merely for temporary purposes. 1855 brought a still larger increase of inhabitants, among them M. H. Mandlebaum (now a resident of Hancocck, Mich.), Augustus Barber (who was drowned at Montreal River in 1856), Benj. Hoppenyan, Chas. Day, Geo R. Stuntz, George E. Stuntz, Dr. Edwin Ellis, Martin Roehm, Col. Lysander Cutler, J. S. Buck, Ingraham Fletcher, Hon. J. R. Nelson, Hon. D. A. J. Baker, Mrs. Conrad Goeltz, Henry Drixler (father of Mrs. Conrad Goeltz, who died in 1857, his being the first death in town), and Henry Palmer.  In 1856, Mrs. Beaser (now Mrs. James A. Wilson) arrived, also Oliver St. Germain and family, still here; Mrs. J.D. Angus and family, John Beck and family, Schuyler Goff (afterwards County Judge) and Chas. E. Tucker. In 1857, Mr. Eugene F. Prince and family, A. C. Stuntz and family, Wm. Goetzenberger, Geo. Tucker and others arrived.

Vaughn, Ellis, and Beaser are the names of prominent avenues in Ashland today.

On the 25th of October, 1856, Hon. S.S. Vaughn pre-empted Lot 1, Section 32, Town 48, Range 4, and the East half of the N.E. quarter and the N.E. quarter of the S.E. quarter Section 5, Town 47, Range 4, the same being now Vaughn’s Division of Ashland. In 1856 Bay City was surveyed and platted, the town-site being owned by a stock company, of which Dr. Edwin Ellis was the agent. Under his direction a large clearing was made, a store, hotel and several substantial buildings created. A saw mill was also commenced, the frame of which is now standing near the east end of the new bridge across Bay Creek creek. During the same year and the next following improvements were being rapidly made in old Ashland. Martin Beaser, Esq., who was the leading business man and property holder of the place, gave it its name, (after the homestead of Henry Clay, he being an ardent admirer of that eminent statesman,) and erected the store and residence now occupied by James A. Wilson, Esq. Eugene F. Prince built his present residence, and quite a number of dwellings were put up, several of which are still standing and have been fitted up and occupied, while others have been destroyed or fallen into decay. Temporary docks were built both at Bay City and Ashland.

The Ashland dock was built by Martin Beaser and cost about $4,000. Both however were allowed to rot down and wash away. Main street and a portion of what is now Second street, as well as a number of avenues were opened and improved. Additions were also platted, and most prominent being ”Prentice’s Addition,” in 1856, and the Ashland of that day presented a live and vigorous aspect, containing as it did a thrifty and energetic class of citizens.

With the continuing reports of minerals in the area and some mining being done, another group of hopefuls sought recognition as a corporation and received charter to begin mining.  This corporation was formed in Milwaukee and was known as the Wisconsin & Lake Superior Mining & Smelting Co.  Its charter was granted in 1856 by the State of Wisconsin, and with the charter the company was granted about 1,900 acres of land in the Penokee Range, some of which is now in Iron County and some in Ashland County.”
[…]
“The other two villages planned for their mining venture were Springdale and Lockwood.”
[…]

“Ironton was the headquarters for the officers for only a short time.  They moved their office duties to Ashland shortly after getting established.

The names of some of the merchants from Ashland who planned to be the suppliers for these villages included McElwin [McEwen], Herbert and Mandelbaum.  Herbert’s name is mentioned in other areas as well as the name of Mandelbaum, who is mentioned in the history of Ontonagon also.”
~ A Historical and Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Saxon Harbor area, Iron County, Wisconsin by John F Wackman et al, pages 57-58.

This was in an era of speculation and Lake Superior the theatre of many a town-site and mining operation, The Penoka Iron Range had begun to attract the attention of eastern capitalists, while the Copper Range and the mineral regions of the Porcupine Mountains had drawn thither a number of daring adventurers, who sought their fortunes in the discovery of valuable metals. Railroads too were projected then, and the brave surveyors with their compass and chains were penetrating the forest and engineering a path through a trackless wilderness to the land of civilization that lay far away to the south. Ashland then, as now, was the center of attraction, and to possess corner lots and broad acres was to realize one’s fortune.

But Ashland was not alone in its glory. Superior City, at the head of the Lake; Red Cliff, Bayfield, Houghton and La Pointe, among the Apostle harbors; Ironton, near the mouth of Montreal river on Raymond Bay; and Ontonagon, Copper Harbor, Eagle River, Hancock, Houghton and Marquette, on the peninsula of Michigan, were each points of interest and struggling for an existence, their claims being urged by their proprietors with characteristic energy. Money was lavishly expended; mining both of copper and iron largely engaged in and the whole country was apparently undergoing that rapid development that leads to general prosperity and thrift.

[…]


The Ashland Press

February 26, 1926

CITY OF ASHLAND IS 72 YEARS OLD TODAY

The Ashland Press
May 3, 1910
“In the year 1855, Dr. Edwin Ellis located upon land to the eastward of Whittleseys. Instead of locating under the town site laws, Mr. Ellis entered a homestead and began to literally hue out his path to civilization. Several of the doctor’s friends joined him and located on adjacent land and soon there was a plat filed of the town of ‘Bayport.’ After a few years of continuous hardships and disappointments, the hardy pioneers became disheartened and some even moved away. The plat of ‘Bayport’ was declared vacated, but when business began to revive and new settlers came in 1872, the old town plat was revived and reinstated by Dr. Ellis as Ellis Division of the city of Ashland.”
~ Wisconsin Historical Society
Ellis successfully petitioned Warner Lewis at the General Land Office in Dubuque to survey Chequamegon Bay.  This was the contract the Barber Brothers had completed in the Summer and Fall of 1855.
The American Fur Company at La Pointe was now owned and operated by Julius Austrian and his family.  Austrian was contracted to operate (via Mixed-Bloods) the mail route between La Pointe and St. Paul.

The city of Ashland is seventy-two years old today, for on Feb. 24, 1854, Dr. Edwin Ellis landed in Ashland, at a spot where Whittesey Avenue now is located. Dr. and Mrs. Ellis had come from Maine and stopped at St. Paul, with Mrs. Ellis’ brother. From St. Paul, Dr. Ellis walked all the way to Superior. Then to Bayfield, then to La Pointe, in the ice, and then on to Ashland. He constructed the first log cabin at what is now Whittlesey Avenue. Asaph Whittlesey and Kilbourn, the next white men to come to this part of the country, arrived in June or July of the same year.

In 1855, Dr. Ellis walked to Dubuque, Iowa to file a petition to have this country surveyed. The trail which he took was know as the St. Croix Falls and from there Dr. Ellis took a steamer down the river to Dubuque. In 1856 he went to St. Paul and brought Mrs. Ellis and the two girls back with him.

The American Fur Company was situated at La Pointe, at this time but had very little to do with the mainland. The people in the early days sent to Chicago for their supplies. As there was always somebody walking to St. Paul they would send their orders by one of these men and from there the mail was taken to Chicago. The suppliers would come up on the last boat which came up Lake Michigan to what is now the Soo Canal.

Twice the boats on their last trip were wrecked and the early settlers would be without supplies for the winter.

The principal food was fish. Deer at that time always left the country during the winter.

Martin Beaser and party arrived here a short time after the Ellis’ but the Beasers settled on the shore where Beaser Avenue is now situated. This whole country was a mass of woods and the Beaser home. which is now the Jack Harris home, was practically the only house at what is called Old Ashland. When the Ellis Family visited the Beasers they had to hitch up the oxen and go through the dense woods.

Scott Ellis was born August 24, 1824, which is also the birthday of Queen Victoria. He died May 3, 1903, at Ashland, after watching the city grow from a dense forest to the present city.


The Ashland Weekly Press became the Ashland Daily Press.

July 28, 1877

Recollections of Ashland

“OF WHICH I WAS A PART”
Number V

This memoir was ghostwritten for The Ashland Press by Doctor Edwin Ellis.

Mr. Dear Press: – As has been already stated, the land on which Ashland now stands, had not, at the time of its first settlement, in 1854, been surveyed.  The town lines had only been laying off the country into blocks six miles square.

Detail from Sketch of the Public Surveys in Wisconsin and Territory of Minnesota by the Surveyor General's Office (Warner Lewis), Dubuque, Oct. 21, 1854.

Detail from Sketch of the Public Surveys in Wisconsin and Territory of Minnesota by the Surveyor General’s Office (Warner Lewis), Dubuque, Oct. 21, 1854.

“In 1845 [Warnen Lewis] was appointed Register of the United States Land Office at Dubuque. In 1853 he was appointed by President Pierce Surveyor-General for Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota and at the expiration of his term was reappointed by President Buchanan.”
~ The Iowa Legislature

When the settlers made their claims, as most of us did, near the town lines, we were able, by the use of pocket compasses approximately to fix the boundaries of our claims.  But no title could be obtained, nor even any safe foundation for a title laid, until the lands should be subdivided into sections, and the returns of that survey made to the Surveyor General’s Office, and by that officer platted or mapped, and then plats and notes sent to the General Land Office at Washington, and from there transmitted to the Local Land office.  At that date the local office was at the town of Hudson, on Lake St. Croix, two hundred miles away.  But early in 1855 an office was established at Superior, at the west end of the Lake, – and though this was nearly a hundred miles from Ashland, – with no roads, compelling settlers in summer to coast in open boats, and in winter to walk this distance.  Still it was a very great favor to settlers here, and greatly lessened their hardships, and facilitated the acquisition of their lands.

Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, then were embraced in one Surveyor’s District, with the office at Dubuque, Iowa.  It was the duty of the Surveyor General to provide for the details of the Government Surveys in his district, as fast as the settlement of the country might require.  Gen’l. Warner Lewis was then Surveyor General of this District.

“In June, 1855, Dr. Ellis went through the woods to Dubuque, Iowa, to urge upon General Warner Lewis, then surveyor-general of all the northwest, the neccessity of the immediate subdivision of the towns about the bay.  This met with General Lewis’ approval, and he ordered it done as soon as arrangements could be made.  A young civil engineer from Vermont, Augustus Barber, began the work in September, and towns 47 and 48, range 4, embracing the present city of Ashland, were surveyed and the plats returned to Washington and to the land office, at Superior, by November, 1855.  The necessary declaratory statements were filed, and in the last of December several companions walked along the shore to superior, for the purpose of proving up their claims.  It was a cold, hard trip, but the actors were young and energetic.  Thus was obtained from the government the first title to the soil on which Ashland now stands.”
~ The National Magazine; A Monthly Journal of American History, Volume 9, page 23.
Superior City’s controversial origins were featured in the Prologue post of this series.  The Barber Brothers’ surveys of Chequamegon Bay and Ashland were featured in the Summer and Fall posts of 1855.

No steps having been taken or any order given for the survey of the shore of Chequamegon Bay, in June 1855, Dr. Ellis left in an open boat for Superior, then on foot through the wilderness to St. Paul, following not far from the route over which many years later was constructed the Lake Superior & Mississippi R.R., – then an early settlement here induced Gen. Lewis to order an immediate subdivision of Towns 47 and 48, North of Range 4 and 5 West, both sides of our bay, and all the lands on which squatters had settled.

Early in September of that year, (1855), Augustus H. Barber began the survey and pushed the work rapidly, so that he had completed 47 and 48 of Range 4 in October, and the returns  had been made and plats prepared and forwarded to the local land office by the first of December.

The Pre-emptors now, for the first time, could file claims to their lands and receive assurance that they were likely to be the owners of their homes.

Superior City’s controversial origins were featured in the Prologue post of this series.

During December many pre-emption claims were filed, and during the closing days of the year and in the first days of 1856, quite a number proved up those claims and received duplicates, upon which patents were afterwards issued.  These were the earliest titles to the present site of Ashland.  Unlike many towns in the West at that period our site was not cursed with complicating claims, and it is cause for congratulation that Ashland property has no cloud upon its title and that every buyer may, with little trouble, assure himself o this fact.  The title to a portion of the site of Superior was bitterly contested involving years of delay and thousands of dollars of cost and much acrimony of feeling; and it is possible that this may have had its influence in carrying the railroad to Duluth rather than to Superior.  Quarrels over title are a curse to any town, especially a new one.

Gravestone at Hillside Cemetery in Lancaster, Grant County, Wisconsin:

“IN MEMORY OF
AUGUSTUS H. BARBER
of Cambridge, Vt.
U.S. Deputy Surveyor
who was drowned in Montreal River.
Apr. 22. A.D. 1856
Aged 24 yrs. & 8 ms.”
~ FindAGrave.com

Of Augustus Barber the early Surveyor of this vicinity, who is unknown to a larger part of this generation, a few words ought to be said:

He was a native of Vermont of an excellent family. At this time he was 22 years of age, well educated, gentle as a lady, refined and easy in his manners and very amiable in his temper. Like many other young men from the east, of active enterprising habits, he had come into this outer verge of civilization to make this his home and to grow up with its institutions. He was the nephew of Hon. J. Allen Barber, of Lancaster, in this State, who once represented his District in Congress. He continued in the surveys of this part of the Lake until in the summer or fall of 1856, when he, with others, conceived of the idea of founding a city at the mouth of the Montreal River – the dividing line between Wisconsin and Michigan about thirty miles east of Ashland.

“According to the Bureau of Public Lands, Department of the Interior, the land surveys were not completed in that area [Ironton] of Wisconsin nor offered for sale to the public until November 18, 1866.

[…]

“A practical location for an operating headquarters was chosen at the site of the Indian settlement on the shore of Lake Superior on that piece of level ground where there were mountains on three sides and through which a creek ran.  The village at this location was named Ironton, and because of the activities planned for it and two other mining locations farther inland a group of merchants from Ashland assisted in building up this boat landing and supply headquarters.  A dock was built and several buildings for warehouses and some living quarters.”

~ A Historical and Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Saxon Harbor area, Iron County, Wisconsin by John F Wackman et al, pages 57-58.

The iron range approaches nearer the Lake at that point than it does at Ashland. And though the country is much rougher and more difficult for construction of roads than between Ashland and the Range, yet the shorter route, it was argued, would more than compensate for the heavier grades. –The town was laid out and platted by Mr. Barber.

As indication of its future chief industry, as the entry point of the iron range – it was called Ironton,” with the accent on the second syllable. Great expectations were entertained of the future importance of the place, and much land was entered in the vicinity.

The Montreal, not far from its mouth, leaps down a perpendicular descent of nearly a hundred feet presenting a wild and picturesque view. Being an enthusiastic lover of the beautiful of nature and desiring to reach a position underneath the falls, Mr. Barber in a canoe with two companions, approaching too close, were drawn in by the eddying whirlpool, the canoe was capsized, and before help could reach him he and one of his boatmen were drowned. his body was recovered and was buried on a sand hillock near the mouth of the same river in whose waters he met his death. Ironton has long been deserted, and Barber’s grave with its marble headstone, is the sole mark of that civilization, which twenty years ago there essayed to lay the foundation of a mart of commerce.

The surf of the waves of the lake in summer and fierce driving snow storms in winter, with solitude presiding over the grand orchestra, are perpetually chanting his mournful requiem, while a fond father and mother on the slopes of the distant Green Mountains are mourning bitterly the early death of their first born son.


Interior Field Notes

Ironton Townsite

La Pointe Indian Reservation

Township 47 North, Range 1 West

Barber, Augustus H.

November, 1856

Notebook ID: [N/a]

This survey is mentioned by multiple sources, however, the Barber Brothers’ field notes and plat map for Ironton from 1856 are not available from the General Land Office Records or from theWisconsin Public Lands Survey Records. Did Warner Lewis receive them at the General Land Office in Dubuque, Iowa?  The search for these survey notes continues.


Selected letters of the Joel Allen Barber Papers 

… continued from Spring of 1856.


Superior City Sept 15th 1856

Dear Mother

“Ironton’s potential was very promising.  While all the activity was taking place for a mining center, plans were being made by the Milwaukee & Superior Railroad to extend its line northward from Stevens Point to a terminus at Ironton at the shore of Lake Superior, then to continue west to Bay City (now Ashland).”[…]

“Besides the officers of the mining company, several businessmen of Ashland became interested in a railroad between Ashland Penokee Gap.

Some of these men were J.S. Beisch, Martin Beaser, John S. Harriss, I.A. Lapham, J.C. Cutler, Edwin Ellis and T.C. Dousman.  This railroad was to be the Ashland & Iron Mountain Railroad.  A lot of planning and some work was being done when quite suddenly the Panic of 1857 came on bursting many bubbles and bringing to a halt all of the mining activities, causing an exodus of many workers and a large number of potential settlers.”
~ A Historical and Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Saxon Harbor area, Iron County, Wisconsin by John F Wackman et al, page 60.

I wrote a few words to you a few days ago when I was unwell and had to be rather short.  I have since recovered my usual health and will try to write a longer letter, but I am afraid it will be of little interest.  I see you are anxious that I should quit the lake.  It is not strange that you should wish dread to have me remain here.  You wish me to come to [?] to Lancaster or any where but here.

Now to tell the truth I am as much attached to this lake as to any other place and I don’t know how to leave it.  I know its disadvantages and privations as well as any one.  I know the sweets of a more social life and much do I long for them.  I know the luxury of living on a fertile soil in a genial climate and hope some day to enjoy it, but still if my life is spared Lake Superior will probably see me occasionally for a number of years.

You ask me my opinion in preference between a good farm in Grant County and ten miles of forest in this country and be bound to it.  But I should not be bound to it if I owned [40/41?] miles and there are many farms about here worth more money than any farm on Lamoille river of twice the size.

Ironton townsite claim at Saxon Harbor with trails to Odanah and the Penoka Iron Range. (Detail from Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records)

Detail of Ironton property with trails to Odanah and the Penokee Mountains from T47N-R1W.  This survey map was from Elisha S Norris during 1861.

I hope to visit Lancaster this fall but the middle of winter will see me threading my way back to this wild country.  I would like extremely to visit Vermont next winter if possible but I expect my engagements will render it impossible.

I hope you will not dwell too much on the terrors of his country and fancy I am suffering all imaginable hardships.  I am never hungry and seldom cold or over fatigued.  I like the climate about as well any south of here and would sooner emigrate North west than South East, were I not bound by social ties.  Were I to follow agriculture as a source of profit I would not go to Vermont or Grant County.

In regard to my Ironton property I have no hopes of getting you to think as you do.

Hon. D. A. J. Baker was introduced as an early resident of Ashland in our Penokee Survey Incidents series.  Baker appears to be in business with the Barbers at Ironton.

“A trail between “Penokee” and Ashland is shown on Stuntz’s map of 1858.  An Indian trail between Ironton and Odanah was improved for transportation and communication when land travel was preferred to lake travel or when the lake could not be used.  During that same time the trail between Odanah and Ashland was being improved to accommodate heavier traffic.  (This road later became a part of Old U.S. 10 and now is Ashland County Truck “A”.)

The original Ironton to Odanah trail began on the west side of the village, ascending the highlands at that point, then followed a southwesterly course paralleling the Oronto Creek but avoiding the obstacles of lowlands or ravines until it reached a point where the headwaters of both Oronto Creek and Graveyard Creek were but a few yards apart.  As it passed this narrow strip of land and headed both streams it swung sharply to the west towards Odanah.”

A Historical and Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Saxon Harbor area, Iron County, Wisconsin by John F Wackman et al, page 59.

I may be obliged to sacrifice the whole of it, but it will not be my fault.  Mr. Baker sold five shares a few days ago for city lots here which will soon be worth 500 dollars.  The opinion of explorers and speculars expressed in deeds as well as words confirm my opinion of the place.  I suppose Father writes everything concerning his business here so I will depend on him for that and not repeat it.

I would set a time to come home but the future is so uncertain I fear I should only disappoint you and myself.  I never yet planned anything as it turns out.  I intended to return to Lancaster last fall but did not.  I intended to go down last spring but was prevented by the death of Augustus.  If I wait untill next spring before going down I shall go to Vermont at the same time probably.  “Man proposes and God disposes.”  I can only guess how God will dispose my affairs.

I see that you and Amherst feel rather bitter towards [Dow’s?] folks.  I am sorry that is so.  It is unavoidable that you should see a great many things that you don’t approve but the sum of my advice is “Let em rip.”

I hope to go to Lapointe and Ashland before long where I am about as well acquainted as at any place I ever lived at.

I am now engaged on the field notes of Augustus’ work – [fitting?] them for the office.

With love for yourself and Amherst I remain

Your affectionate son

Allen


To be continued in the Fall of 1856

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