Samuel Stuart Vaughn

August 8, 2016

By Amorin Mello

Magazine of Western History Illustrated Volume IX No.1 Pages 12-17

Magazine of Western History Illustrated
November 1888
as republished in
Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No. 1, pages 17-21.

Samuel Stuart Vaughn.

Page 16.

Portrait of Samuel Stuart Vaughn on page 16.

Of the pioneers upon the southern shores of Lake Superior, none stand higher in the memory of those now living there than Samuel Stuart Vaughn. He was born at Berea, Cuyahoga county, Ohio, on the second of September, 1830. His parents were Ephraim Vaughn and Eunice Stewart Vaughn. Samuel was the youngest in a family of five children – two daughters and three sons. Although at a very early age possessed of a great desire for an education, he was, to a large extent, denied the advantages of schools, owing to the fact that his father was in straitened circumstances financially. It is related of the boy Samuel that he picked up chestnuts at one time, and took them into Cleveland, where he disposed of them to purchase a geography [book?] he wanted. Three months was the whole extent of his time passed in the common schools of his native place – surely a brief period, and one sorely regretted for its brevity by a boy who, even then, hungered and thirsted for knowledge.

The brother in Eagle River was Joel A. Vaughn.

In 1849 the young man came to Eagle River, Michigan, where he engaged himself to his brother as clerk. He remained there until 1852, when the brothers removed to La Pointe, Wisconsin, reaching that place on the fourth of August. He now opened a store, and engaged in trading with the Indians and fishermen of the island and surrounding country. La Pointe was then the county seat of a county of the same name in Wisconsin, and a place of considerable importance, though its glory has since departed.

Vaughn advertisement from the August 22nd, 1857, issue of the Bayfield Mercury newspaper.

Vaughn advertisement from the August 22nd, 1857, issue of the Bayfield Mercury newspaper.

Young Vaughn spoke the French and Chippewa languages fluently. This accomplishment was absolutely necessary, in the early days of this region of country to make a man successful as a trader. He was very fond of reading, particularly works of history, and through all his pioneer life his books were his loved companions. His taste was not for worthless books, but for those of an improving character; hence he received a large amount of benefit from his silent teachers.

In his relation with the Indians, which, owing to the nature of his business, were quite intimate, Mr. Vaughn commanded their fullest confidence. It is related that when at one time there were rumors of trouble between the white people and the Chippewas, and many of the settlers became frightened and feared they would be murdered by the natives, a delegation of chiefs came to him and said they wanted to have a talk. They said they had heard of the fears of the whites, but assured him there was nothing to be afraid of; the Indians would do no harm, “for,” said they, “we know that the soldiers of the white man are like the sands of the sea in numbers, and if we make any trouble they will come and overpower us.” Mr. Vaughn was abundantly satisfied of their sincerity as well as of their peaceful disposition, and he soon quieted the fears of the settlers.

“Being impressed,” says a writer who knew him well,

“with the future possibilities of this country and ambitious, to use a favorite expression of his own, to become ‘a man among men,’ he recognized the disadvantage under which he labored from the limited educational advantages he had enjoyed in his youth, and his first earnings were devoted to remedying his deficiency in this respect. Closing his business at La Pointe, he returned to his native state, where a year was spent in preparatory studies, which were pursued with a full realization of their importance to his future career. He spent several months in Cleveland acquiring a ‘business education.’ He became a systematic bookkeeper, careful in his transactions and persevering in his plans. Having devoted as much time to the special course of instruction marked out by him as his limited means would afford, he returned to La Pointe, at that time the only white settlement in all this region, where he remained until 1856.” 1

Mr. Vaughn, during the year just named, removed to Bayfield, the town site having been previously surveyed and platted. It was opposite La Pointe on the mainland, and is now the county-seat of Bayfield county, Wisconsin. There he erected the first stone building,2 built also a saw-mill, and engaged in the sale of general merchandise and in the manufacture of lumber. “In his characteristic manner,” says the writer just quoted,

of doing with all his might whatever his hands found to do, he at once took a leading position in all matters of private and public interest which go to the building up of a prosperous community.”

Mr. Vaughn built what is known as Vaughn’s dock in Bayfield, and remained in that town until 1872. Meanwhile, he was married in Solon, Ohio, to Emeline Eliza Patrick. This event took place on the twenty-second of December, 1864. After spending a few months among friends in Ohio, he brought his wife west to share his frontier life. The wedding journey was made in February, 1865, the two going first to St. Paul; thence they journeyed to Bayfield by sleigh, “partly over logging roads, and partly over no road.” It was a novel experience to the bride, but one which she had no desire to shrink from. She was not the wife to be made unhappy by ordinary difficulties.

As early as the twenty-fifth of October, 1856, Mr. Vaughn had preëmpted one hundred and sixty acres of land, afterwards known as “Vaughn’s division of Ashland.” He was one of the leading spirits in the projection of the old St. Croix & Lake Superior railroad, and contributed liberally of his time and money in making the preliminary organizations and surveys. Being convinced, from the natural location of Ashland, that it would become in the future a place of importance, was the reason which induced him to preëmpt the land there, of which mention has just been made.

Vaughn was issued his patent to 40 acres in Ashland on June 1st, 1859. ~ General Land Office Records

Vaughn was issued his patent to 40 acres in Ashland on June 1st, 1859.  The other 120 acres of his preemption are not accounted for in these records.
~ General Land Office Records

As may be presumed, Mr. Vaughn omitted no opportunity of calling the attention of capitalists to the necessity of railroad facilities for northern Wisconsin. He became identified with the early enterprises organized for the purpose of building a trunk line from the southern and central portions of the state to Lake Superior, and was for many years a director in the old “Winnebago & Lake Superior” and “Portage & Lake Superior” Railroad companies, which, after many trials and tribulations, were consolidated, resulting in the building of the pioneer road – the Wisconsin Central.

The Vaughn Building ~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 18.

The Vaughn Building
~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 18.

In 1871, upon the completion of the survey of the Wisconsin Central railroad, he proceeded to lay out his portion of the town of Ashland, and made arrangements for the transfer of his business thither from Bayfield. During the next year he made extensive improvements to his new home; these included the building of a residence, the erection of a store, also (in company with Mr. Charles Fisher) of a commercial dock. The Wisconsin Central railroad had begun work at the bay (Chaquamegon); and, at this time, many settlers were coming in. In the fall he moved into his new house, becoming, with his wife, a permanent resident of Ashland.

Mr. Vaughn and his partner just named received at their dock large quantities of merchandise by lake, and they took heavy contracts to furnish supplies to the railroad before mentioned. In the fall of 1872 they established branch stores at Silver creek and White river to furnish railroad men with supplies. They also had contracts to get out all the ties used by the railroad between Ashland and Penokee. In 1875 the firm was dissolved, and Mr. Vaughn continued in business until 1881, when he sold out, but continued to handle coal and other merchandise at his dock. In the winter previous he put in 10,000,000 feet of logs.

Mr. Vaughn represented the counties of Ashland, Barren, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas and Polk in the thirty-fourth regular session of the Wisconsin legislature, being a member of the assembly for the year 1871. These counties, according to the Federal census of the year previous, contained a population of 6,365. His majority in the district over Issac I. Moore, Democrat, was 398. Mr. Vaughn was in politics a Republican. Previous to this time he had been postmaster for four years at Bayfield. He was several times called to the charge of town and county affairs as chairman of the board of supervisors, and in every station was faithful, as well as equal, to his trust; but he was never ambitious for political honors. He died at his home in Ashland of pneumonia, on the twenty-ninth day of January, 1886.

Vaughn family residence in Ashland. ~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 20.

Ashland – Residence of Mrs. E. Vaughn.
~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 20.

Mr. Vaughn was one of the most prominent men in northern Wisconsin, and one of the wealthiest citizens of Ashland at the time of his decease. He had accumulated a large amount of real estate in Ashland and Bayfield, and held heavy iron interests in the Gogebic district; but, at the same time, he was a man of charitable nature, being a member of several charitable orders and societies. He was a member of Ashland Lodge, I.O.O.F., and one of its foremost promoters and supporters. Mr. Vaughn was also a Mason, being a member of Wisconsin Consistory, Chippewa Commandery, K.T., Ashland Chapter, R.A.M., and Ancient Landmark Lodge, F. and A.M.

Although an unostentatious man, Mr. Vaughn was possessed of much public spirit, and the remark had been common in Ashland since his death, by those who knew him best, that the city had lost its best man. Certain it is that he was possessed of great enterprise, and was always ready with his means to help forward any scheme that he saw would benefit the community in which he lived. It had long been one of his settled determinations to appropriate part of his wealth to the establishment of a free library in Ashland. So it was that before his death the site had been chosen by him for the building, and a plan of the institution formulated in his mind, intending soon to make a reality of his day-dreams concerning this undertaking; but death cut short his plans.

Many of our readers are familiar with Vaughn Avenue and the Vaughn Public Library in Ashland, Wisconsin.
Vaughn Memorial Library ~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 18.

Vaughn Memorial Library
~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 18.

It is needless to say to those who know to whom was confided the whole subject of the “Vaughn Library,” that it has not been allowed to die out. In his will Mr. Vaughn left hall his property to his wife, and she nobly came forward to make his known desires with regard to the institution a fixed fact. The corner-stone of the building for the library was laid, with imposing ceremonies, on the fourteenth of July, 1887, and a large number of books will soon be purchased to fill the shelves now nearly ready for them. It will be, in the broadest sense, a public library – free to all; and will surely become a lasting and proud monument to its generous founder, Samuel Stewart Vaughn. She who was left to carry out the noble schemes planned by the subject of this sketch, now the wife of the Rev. Angus Mackinnon, deserves particular mention in this connection. She is a lady of marked characteristics, all of which go to her praise. Soon after reaching her home in the west she taught some of the Bayfield Indians to read and write; and from that time to the present, has proved herself in many ways of sterling worth to northern Wisconsin.

Emeline Vaughn ~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 19.

Mrs. Emeline Vaughn
~ The Northwest Magazine, October 1890, page 19.

“Years ago, when Ashland consisted of a few log houses and a half dozen stores – before there was even a rail through the woods that lead to civilization many miles away – this lady was a member of ‘Literary,’ organized by a half-dozen progressive young people; and in a paper which she then read on ‘The Future of Ashland,’ she predicted nearly everything about the growth of the place that has taken place during the past few years – the development of the iron mines, railroads, iron furnaces, water-works, paved streets, and, to a dot, the present limits of its thoroughfares. She is a representative Ashland lady.”

1 Samuel S. Fifield in the Ashland Press of February 6, 1886.

2 This was the second house in the place.


Another biographical sketch and this portrait of Samuel Stuart Vaughn are available on pages 80-81 of Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region by J.H. Beers & Co., 1905.