Asaph Whittlesey Incidents: Number VI

April 17, 2019

By Amorin Mello

Originally published in the March 23, 1878, issue of The Ashland Press. Transcribed with permission from Ashland Narratives by K. Wallin and published in 2013 by Straddle Creek Co.

… continued from Number V.

Early Recollections of Ashland: Number VI

by Asaph Whittlesey

During 1856 the steamers Lady Elgin, Illinois, and Superior landed freight and passengers upon a steamboat dock constructed at Bay City, now Ellis division of Ashland.

1860 photograph of the sidewheel steamer Lady Elgin.
~ Ship-Wrecks.net

Ashland’s first saloon was opened by James Whitney in June 1856, and during the same month the first store was opened by Martin Beaser, on the corner of block one hundred and one.

The patent to Ashland, issued by the United States, bears the date June 23rd, 1862.

Land patent for the town site of Ashland issued by President Abraham Lincoln on June 23rd, 1862 to Schuyler Goff:
“The contract between the three was, that Mr. Whittlesey and Mr. Kilborn were to receive each an eighth interest in the land, while the residue was to go to Mr. Beaser. The patent for the land was issued to Schuyler Goff, as county Judge of La Pointe county, Wisconsin, who was the trustee for the three men, under the law then governing the location of town sites.”
~ Biographic sketch of Martin Beaser

OF THE OPENING OF ROADS IN THE EARLY DAYS OF ASHLAND.

In reporting upon this subject it is very possible that our town authorities of the present day may be put somewhat to the blush by the manner in which these and other like improvements were made.  And I will guarantee the re-election of any Town Board, or other town officer who will carry out the program of former days for the opening of roads, which was simply this:

Whenever a road was needed such men as Edwin Elllis, Martin Beaser, George Kilbourn and myself, (I came near overlooking the latter,) and others who mainly volunteered their work, shouldered their axes and served in person until roads contemplated were completed.  There was also this peculiarity attached to this class of individuals; they did not hang about the steps of the town house the balance of the year for the purpose of getting bills audited for work done upon the highways.  It was in this manner that the road leading to Odanah and also that leading south to White River Falls were first opened.  Even Indians partook of the same spirit in volunteering their labor, as Aid-de-camp to their Great Leader, Rev. L. H. Wheeler.

I have no doubt Dr. Ellis still bears in mind how the woods at Bear Trap were made to echo the yells of the Indians as they collided with the party from Ashland on the very day agreed upon, and I think I may safely say that the citizens of Odanah and of Ashland looked upon the opening of this road as a momentous event, and one which cemented us together even more firmly as friends and neighbors, though I have no doubt many of my readers will stand ready to declare that the foot race existed not very far back.

Detail of trail from Ashland to Bad River on Barbers’ survey during the Summer of 1855.

We wore good countenances, slept well nights, and paid one hundred cents on the dollar of our obligations.  We were not ashamed to eat salt pork (those of us who could get it,) while our faithful wives vied with each other in the different styles of cooking this staple article of diet.

Next to this comes the everlasting pancake, without which neither town site nor pre-emptions could be legally established.

Not everyone working on this railroad was able to leave in peace.
“From March to November 15, 1872, over 200 buildings had been erected in Ashland and from a thousand to thirteen hundred men were in the railroad camps engaged in the tremendous task of clearing a track through the forest, and building a railroad. The nation had begun to feel the financial trouble that became the Bank Panic of 1873. Suddenly, one December morning, 1872, Capt. Rich received word to shut down all work on the line, pay off and discharge all the men and transport them and all others who desired to leave, out of the country.”
~ History of the Soo Line by James Lyden, chapter 9.
“On January 1, 1873, Sheriff Nelson Boutin, Capt. R.D. Pike and a party of seventy-five chosen men went over to Ashland as a company to quell the railroad rioters. After stopping there ten days they returned. Having had this little of military life, they conceived the idea of forming a new military company and joining the State militia.”
~ History of Northern Wisconsin by the Western Historical Company, 1881, page 82.

On the second day of June, 1877, I had the honor of driving the last spike, which took place at Chippewa Station, amid the shoutings of a large assemblage of people, including laborers upon the road, and in a few moments thereafter the first train from Milwaukee passed over the road on its way to Ashland, amid great rejoicing and demonstrations of joy over the victory won.  At Ashland also the excitement became intense and though it was late on a Saturday evening on which our train reached the town, the illumination of the place brought to our view a field of faces, crazy with excitement over the event they were celebration.  As for myself, I confess I felt very much like saying, “Now let thy servant depart in peace.”  No longer were we to be informed of what was to be done, but we now knew it to be actually accomplished, and the Wisconsin Central Railroad remained a standing monument to the good name of Gardner Colby, Charles L. Colby and E. B. Phillips, all other efforts being secondary to that of these individuals.  I have in my possession a map of this section of country, published by Charles C. Tucker in 1858, on which he laid down an imaginary line of railroad as being likely to be constructed from Madison via Portage and Stevens Point to Ashland, and strange to say it lays down the precise route of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, the very first to be constructed.

Having received by our last mail an important official statement from the Railroad Commissioner for the State of Wisconsin, I will insert the same here rather than to fail to have it published:

He says “the number of miles of railroad now constructed within the State of Wisconsin is two thousand six hundred and fifty-nine and 6-100, while there are seventy-one thousand seven hundred and fifty-nine miles of railroad now operated within the United States, with a capital and debt amounting to four billion six hundred and fifty-eight million two hundred and eight thousand six hundred and thirty dollars.”

STATISTICS IN GENERAL

In furnishing these I desire specially to acknowledge the obligation I am under to Mrs. James Wilson, for granting me access to early records of the place kept by Martin Beaser, Esq., though I find some discrepancies between his record and my own, which I think can be explained by the fact that he did not commence his record until some years after the first settlement of the place, and made it from memory along.  For instance he says “the town site of Ashland was located by Martin Beaser, Asaph Whittlesey and George Kilbourn in August, 1854,” whereas Mr. Kilbourn and myself commenced the settlement of the town site July 5th, while Mr. Beaser first visited the place in August when he became an owner therein, the town site being from this time forward owned three fourths by Martin Beaser and one eighth each Kilbourn and Whittlesey.

Again Mr. Beaser’s record states that “the first house was built by Asaph Whittlesey in October, 1854, and was twenty by thirty feet square,” while the fact is I had erected two cabins upon the town site previous to the erection of this one and had lived in them.

Following cabin built by Kilbourn and Whittlesey, foundation laid July 5th, 1854, was twelve by fourteen feet square and was erected on lot number two in block one hundred and five.  The foundation to the second cabin built was laid by Kilbourn and Whittlesey Sept. 9th 1854.  This cabin was thirteen by fifteen feet square and was erected on lot five of block six.  The outline of this building may still be traced. – The third house erected was that erected by Asaph Whittlesey on lot six in block six and was twenty by thirty feet square and this building constituted the residence of the Whittlesey family until the fall of 1857 when I removed to what is known as the Tompkins house on lots five and six in block three.  I have in my possession very correct sketches of the first three cabins built, which I hope eventually to have lithographed for preservation.  The fourth house was erected by Conrad Goeltz.  The fifth house by Martin Beaser.  The sixth house by Myron Tompkins.  The seventh house by Lawrence Farley.  The eighth house by Charles Malmet.  The ninth house by Anthony Fisher.  The tenth house by Frederick Bauman.  Beyond this I am unable to give the order in which buildings were erected.

Conrad and Adam Goeltz first arrived at Ashland in March, 1855, and were employed by me in chopping and delivering cord wood upon the bay shore.  As we were without a team we improvised one by harnessing these two Dutchmen and myself in the form of a spike team to a large sized hand-sled with which we banked twenty cords of wood per day.

P.S. – Adam had it twenty-two cords per day, but I think we had better throw off the two cords and try to save our reputation for veracity.

The first chickens brought into town were those brought by A. Whittlesey from Ohio in 1854.

John Beck butchered the first hogs in town, though he left a few which he did not butcher.

Martin Beaser brought the first yoke of oxen, and in 1855 raised about two hundred bushels of potatoes upon the town site.  On the third of December, 1855, the schooner Algonquin landed at Ashland two hundred and twenty-five barrels of freight, seventy-five thousand feet of lumber and a yoke of oxen.

Ashland Bay froze over Dec. 7th, 1855.  The two first steamboat docks were built during the winter of 1855-6, one by Martin Beaser at the foot of Main Street and one by the Bay City Company.  These were carried away by the ice May 1st, 1856.

To be continued in Number VII

 

3 Responses to “Asaph Whittlesey Incidents: Number VI”

  1. Paap, Howard D. said

    Thanks, Amorin. Glad you take the time and make the effort to post these things. Usually they offer tidbits or more about the Ojibwe people who were always out there somewhere while the Whites were doing their early things. That 1860 photo of the Lady Elgin docked in Ashland gives testimony to how quickly the entrepreneurs set to work. This was 1860, only six years after the Treaty of 1854, and many large, tall, brick buildings were already standing at Ashland’s waterfront. This photo points to the strong impact this new way of life was having on the Ojibwe community. Perhaps we need to marvel at how the rudiments and more,of Ojibwe culture was maintained despite this nearly suddenly onslaught.

    • Amorin Mello said

      I’m not sure when the first brick structure was built in Ashland, and I should clarify that this photograph was not taken in Ashland during 1860. According to the October 6, 1860 edition of the Illustrated London News, this photograph was taken in Chicago one day before the Lady Elgin sank (during the previous month):
      https://archive.org/stream/illustratedlondov37lond#page/n310/mode/1up
      Despite that discrepancy, I certainly agree with your takeaway message, and am glad that is what you and others got out of this memoir.

  2. Paap, Howard D. said

    Amorin,
    Thanks for the followup info. Chicago, not Ashland. Yes, those brick buildings seemed a bit premature for Ashland in 1860. But. even with Chicago, it shows how quickly the invasion got underway.
    HDP

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