A history of Port Wing written for the 2001 Centennial Celebration
The area of Port Wing’s history goes back more than 100 years but – It’s been 100 years today since the Town was actually formed.
The first known settlement in the area was when George A. Strantz, a government surveyor, built a sawmill at Orienta Falls. This sawmill never really got a good start in the area, possibly due to the lack of workers in the area at the time, partly due to the fact there was no good way to ship the lumber as docks had not been built yet, and even though the Iron River and the Flagg River presented somewhat of a natural harbor, it was still pretty wild country.
It was probably the natural harbor and the timber that brought the people here in the first place. As far back as 1891, a few settlers came to homestead the land and raise their families. Some of the first permanent settlers to homestead in our area were Julia McCardle, Fred Larson, Peter Braff, Daniel Samuelson, Andrew Peterson, John Klovstad, Carl Dahlstedt, T.N. Okerstrom and others. The Town at this time was known as Newport or Braff’s Landing. Actually, it was part of the Town of Bayfield, and if one wanted to vote, they would have to travel to Bayfield to do so.
Early Businesses and School
There were others that came to Port Wing who had money on their mind and the tall green trees looked just like cash to them. A few of these folks stayed on in Port Wing, but many of them worked in the woods, in the sawmill and the shingle mill, in the quarry, and then moved on. By March of 1893, a sawmill was being built that would be called the Ebery Manufacturing Company. By March 30, 1893, 159 lots had been sold in the area of Port Wing’s metropolis and the new sawmill was ready to start up. T.N. Okerstrom and George Howard were busy platting an addition nearer the harbor.
In April of 1893 we had a Post Office with Otto P. Sihler as Postmaster. That summer the first school opened in a log shanty west of Braff’s home with seven students and Irving Herrick as teacher. The Town of Bayfield appropriated $1,000 for a road to be built from the lake through the new town.
December 1893 – three stage coach lines from Iron River were being run three days each week.
1894 – a one-room frame school was built (by the Town of Bayfield) for $1000 to house enrollment of 40 pupils. S. S. Ogren came from Cumberland, WI and built a 40’x20’ store.
December 1894 – there were 15-20 million feet of logs in the slough. The Ebery Manufacturing mill was sold to Moore, Kepple and Calkins and 50,000 board feet of lumber was produced per 10-hour day.
March 1895 – a new saw mill at the mouth of the Flagg River was being built by McNutt and Company of Warren, PA, 200 men were set at work on the Brown Stone Quarry owned by Joseph, John and Ole Miller, and a $10,000 dredging contract had been set for improvements at the harbor.
1897 – the town folks had asked the County Board to give them the right to organize a town and the County Board refused.
1898 – the government declared a federal harbor could be built and appropriated $25,000 for construction in December of 1900.
Finally, on March 8, 1901 the Town was formed using land from the Towns of Iron River, Bayfield and Washburn, and the Town was named “Port Wing.” The first meeting was held at the school house. The first officers at that meeting were George Howard, Chairman, Fred Larson and Andrew Peterson as Supervisors, James C. Daly as Clerk, J. H. Klovstad, Treasurer, and T.N. Okerstrom as Assessor.
August 1901 – Port Wing has its first fire truck, a two-wheeled hook and ladder wagon and a 45-gallon chemical fire engine purchases for $500. John Gidmark was Fire Chief.
April 1902 – The first two telephones were purchased by Carl Hogfeldt and Axel Johnson, and they installed them between Port Wing and the Flagg River Valley. The first telephone line was strung between Port Wing and Iron River at a cost of $1,000.
1905 – T.N. Okerstrom bought the sawmill from Moore and Kepple, and on December 31, 1914 it burned to the ground. By this time most of the timber had been removed from the area and the lumbering/logging industry’s boom was over.
A lot of folks left Port Wing to find work in other parts of the country. Most that stayed continued on as farmers or business men. There were several items in the papers that told about the Port Wing farmers and the wonderful wheat and grains they were able to grow. Many prizes were won at the County Fair by Port Wing farmers. They were also noted for the wonderful fruit they grew, mostly apples.
1923 – T.N. Okerstrom, (Orville Swanson said he was a visionary) announced he was prepared to go ahead with the construction of a power dam at Orienta Falls on the Iron River. By September of 1923, work was progressing with T.N. Okerstrom working right along with the men. By November of that year PORT WING HAD ELECTRIC LIGHTS.