Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Archive for February 21st, 2020

Great Find

with 4 comments

A visit to the Pierce County Historical society yesterday proved incredibly rewarding for just the information I was hoping to learn. What was the industry like in the area during the 1860s and 70s when three of my ancestors’ families made this place their homes?

Esdaile was just being settled and lumber was a focal point in the valleys along the waterways of the county. Agriculture was becoming the focus on the flatlands above after the big trees had all been harvested.

I was able to purchase a book about the history of the township of Hartland. Among the multiple references to Stephen Hays and Charles Church, I hit gold with the details revealing Joseph Sleeper to be a significant contributor to the developing community.

.

Copyright: Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Chapt 1-15. Madison, WI

He helped organize the first school and served on the school board for several years, in addition to having been a member of the town board years earlier. Between those, he was a member of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Sounds like the Sleeper brothers were pretty industrious. First, they build a sawmill and then they fashion a gristmill. It was the center of activity on Isabelle Creek.

I also learned there was a significant lumber company in Red Wing, MN, which is where Stephen Hays first lived after coming from Canada. The owner of that company expanded his operation to Esdaile and a “Mr. Hays” was the manager of that mill which made wheel hubs and spokes among other things.

There is a fabulous description of the factory that was written by a visitor:

Copyright: Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Chapt 4-61. Madison, WI

One other detail uncovered more than once in the book was the mention of flooding that destroyed properties, including mills. Sometimes they would rebuild, but once the big pines in the vicinity had all been cut, the number of sawmills dropped precipitously. In a few instances, they just didn’t build again after a flood.

Coincidentally, the way home for me from the location of the Historical Society in Bay City to our place further north allowed me to travel along the banks of Isabelle Creek, passing the location where the Sleeper brothers built their mill. A deer was standing in the road as I approached, steep forested banks rose on both sides of the valley. A bald eagle flew from its perch in a nearby tree.

It was easy to imagine I was back in the 1870s, despite the modern comfort of my car. There aren’t many residences along the gravel road that follows the creek, so few signs of modern life. I got the impression it would be a treacherous place to be when the creek overflowed its banks.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

February 21, 2020 at 7:00 am