Butternut History

The First Inhabitants

In 1865, a tired band of rugged government surveyors from Medford, camped on the west banks of what is know now as Butternut Lake. It took two weeks on foot to make the journey. Since they believed that Butternut Lake was part of the Mississippi River, the surveyors marked boundaries for the northern part of Wisconsin. So became the birth of Butternut and the friendship between the settlers and their Native American neighbors.

The country was only populated with small band of Chippewa Indians who lived along the lakes and streams. The Sioux (Dakota) Indians also once lived here. They were pushed west by the battling Chippewa. Both tribes battled against each other because of cultural differences. Friendly relations were established between the two groups and trading eventually developed on a fairly large scale. Since money was worthless to the Indians, large prime beaver or fox pelts could be exchanged for goods. Tobacco could also be used to barter for necessities such as clothing and fishing supplies.

The Chippewa (Ojibwa) were nomadic people, moving from place to place in search of food. Their beliefs did not allow them to hunt and fish off the same place they had hunted the season before in order to replenish the land. They made birch bark canoes and floated along the lake shallows for wild rice. In the spring, syrup would be tapped from maple trees. Wigwams, made of birch bark, were easy to pack and move to their next site. The skeleton of the wigwam would be left intact to be reused when they returned. The Indians would frequently visit the town of Butternut and its people. Though there were never any skirmishes with the people of Butternut, the Chippewa didn't stay around town long enough to form any intimate relationships.

No Indians ever lived in Butternut, but often camp out on the hill next to the water tower. An Indian chief named Indian John McNockway, a name given by the town's people, lived on the high site of the Park Falls paper mill. He made his living by acquiring deer hides from the surrounding villages. He would tan the hides and resell them back to the people. John came by canoe, up the Flambeau River, and then by foot on the Indian trail to Butternut. His usual camping place was up on the hill where the baseball grounds are now. He would stay as long as he could get "fire water", but as soon as no more was available, he moved on.

Indians from the Bear Lake region made frequent visits to the Butternut area. They camped for five or six days. Indians from Odanah would visit, traveling a path that, supposedly, no white man ever walked upon.

In the autumn to spring months, deer could not be found as far south as Medford. But from August to September, the Indians would cut down a line of trees, put up branches too high for the deer to jump over and have a narrow door for the deer to pass. There the Indians would ambush their prey quite easily. The Indians continued this yearly process until the government appointed land to the Ojibwa Indians, putting an end to the history of their visitation to the town of Butternut.



The earliest memories of one pioneer were that there was little to distinguish Butternut from any other railroad stop. Because of the large swamp area associated with Butternut, passengers would walk on long hewn tamarack. This pioneer's family homesteaded about three miles west of Butternut. They traveled nearly ten miles, zigzagging through swamps and woods, to reach their home. The only road was a forest trail that avoided as much of the swamps as possible. All furniture, including the stove, had to be packed on the father's back and transported through the trail. Provisions were scarce. The stores rationed bacon and lard so that all would be able to get a share.

When a child from this pioneer's family died there were no boards to make a coffin. Relatives dug a pit and laid logs across the top. With a crosscut saw, one man in the pit and one on top, ripped planks out of the log for the coffin.
This pioneer also said that settlers had to contend with mosquitoes and porcupines, along with the lack of roads, money, or other conveniences. Some settlers left Butternut and moved back to their former homes. Very slow progress was made in getting the trails to the homestead. There was nothing to sell except a few farm products. Pumpkins were one of the first money crops. When these were harvested, the whole family would walk eight or ten miles through the woods, each carrying as many pumpkins as possible. These could be traded at a store for ten cents each to be applied toward supplies. In later years, pine lumber camps in the neighborhood bought farm products such as potatoes, rutabagas, etc. Big loggers bought pine lumber from the settlers and sold it at $9.00 per thousand feet.
In 1871, the Wisconsin Central Lines crept into northern Wisconsin and took over ownership from the Portage, Winnebago, and Superior Railroad. It gradually extended the main line to Fifield. The line continually moved north and came to a temporary end at Butternut's Union Cemetery, one mile north of town. With a mode of transportation established in the area, settlers began to settle and create a town. Two such pioneers were George Parker and George W. Stubblefied, who both arrived about 1873. They were credited with the first store buildings to be built in Butternut. Stubblefield was a mulatto from Kentucky and was a veteran of the Civil War. He devoted much of his time in Butternut to exploring the land. He built his home on the island in Butternut Lake, naming it Eagle Island. Parker was the assessor for the county for many years.
Hart and Barnadge built the first boarding house. Joseph Harper built and operated the first saloon. Personnel from the Wisconsin Central Lines built small shanties, worked on the railroad, and patronized the local establishments regularly.
Matthew J. Hart, of the firm of Hart and Barnadge, erected the Butternut House in the fall of 1876. The Butternut House was the only hotel between Highway 101 and Ashland. Hart also supplied the Wisconsin Central Railway personnel with their construction needs. The Butternut House was used as a stopping place for the wannagans. (A wannagan is a large boat used by the lumberjacks to carry food, sleeping equipment, and clothing. Meals were prepared on the boats, but served on shore. The men slept in tents. Later, this term was applied to any camp store carrying supplies for lumberjacks).

 The Butternut House Hotel on Main Street in the 1880's

 Henry Besse, of Milwaukee, moved to Butternut in the fall of 1877. Henry Spille of Cedarburg (in Osaukee County), also relocated to Butternut at the request of Henry Besse. They were so pleased with the country that they encouraged a number of settlers from the Milwaukee and Cedarburg vicinities to relocate to Butternut. These people formed the German colony, which consisted of about 120 families. Most German immigrants lived on farms near Butternut. Railroad agent Spille, and family, were the first to homestead in Butternut. He was appointed Town Board Chairman in 1878 and town treasurer in 1881, and became a key instrument in the first major growth in the town. Henry Besse became the first postmaster in Butternut and established a postal stop for the newly arrived residents. Postal service has been in existence since the late 1800's. Some faithful rural carriers continued to serve nearly 50 years of employment.

John Russell opened the first sawmill in Butternut. He was born in Buffalo County, New York, and later moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin. John married Katherine Mahloch in 1872, and then moved his wife and four children to Butternut in 1878. He also owned 180 acres of farm land for farming and worked it when he was not in his mill. John became the Town Treasurer in 1880 and served on the School Board as well.

Many settlers to Butternut came directly from Germany. They commonly spoke the German language. Some German immigrants came from Milwaukee. John Danckwardt brought his family from Sheboygan and built a log house. In 1885 they moved into theirnew house located on the hill off of Highway 13 just north of town.   

Some of the first settlers were Civil War veterans. The government, as well at the Wisconsin Central, opened up land to homesteads. It was necessary for the homesteader to clear five acres of land within five years and provide the primary buildings to fulfill the government's requirements. Also, to complete the claim, two witnesses had to be taken along to prove it was accomplished. Taxing the land soon followed.

In 1878, the first railroad depot was a large tent. The first agent was named Mr. Mathews. The next season a small wooden depot was built on the east side of the tracks. The tracks were in the same place as they are now, only between the side track and the main track there was a platform of cinders. At that time, the railroad only went as far as the cemetery. Farmers hauled wood, which was used as fuel for the engines. There was also a water tank and a roundhouse, but later the tank was moved to Glidden and the roundhouse was moved to Ashland. The train, which was made up of freight cars and a passenger coach, came only once a day, coming north at 4:00 p.m. and leaving again at 7:00 p.m. The railroad engineers didn't favor Butternut because of the hill they needed to climb. Butternut became "Bothernut" from their frustrations. The railroad continued to bring passengers to and from Butternut until the discontinuation of services on January 6, 1959. Train service was then limited to freight, which ran daily.


        Butternut received its name during the construction of the Wisconsin Central Railroad. Near the head of Butternut Lake, the northern most point, butternut trees were found. The butternut or 'oil nut', resembles an oversize black walnut tree. Pioneers made a delectable relish from the fruit of the butternut by a pickling process with spices and vinegar. This was usually served with wild game, fish, or fowl.

Though the village site was platted in 1877 by the Wisconsin Central Railway, the following townships were set off on July 8, 1878:

            Township 41, Range 1 east and Township 41, Range 1,2,3 and the east half of
            Township 41 Range 4 west.

On June 17, 1877, Butternut received the remaining territory from the vacancy of LaPointe, which it had acquired earlier. In 1879, Butternut received additional territory by the vacation of the Town of Jacobs (formerly Juniper).

The first election in Butternut was held at the home of M. J. Hart on August 13, 1878. The following officers were elected:

            M. J. Hart, chairman; H. Spille and R. Rom, supervisors; S. P. Hogan, town clerk;
            Henry Besse, town treasurer; M. D. O'Brine, assessor; A. Stangle, overseer of highways;
            M. J. Hart, R. Rom, A. McQuillan and William Erixson as the justices of the peace.

There were thirty-one votes cast at this election.


The first industry was the gristmill built in 1879 by Karke, Russell, and Aldrich. A three-acre storage reservoir was created to supply a constant current of water for energizing the grinding machinery.

This was a direct drive turbine. Rye and wheat were ground into a fine grade enriched flour. The residues of wheat, bran shorts, and middling were used for livestock feeding.

Before the new decade of 1880, Butternut's commerce situation had grown to seven stores, three hotels, two butcher shops, three blacksmith shops, two wagon shops, and a post office. The town's booming business continued to attract people to make Butternut their home.

Butternut not only attracted opportunist from Wisconsin, but Germany as well. The state of Wisconsin sent pamphlets to Germany to advertise these opportunities for those who would move to the state. Each pamphlet was written in German as well as English. Eastern Wisconsin had a major influx of Germans, around Milwaukee and Sheboygan, but Butternut also received a small share.

Indians traded their wares at Wieh's store. To receive rifle shells for hunting and other goods, they traded such things as birch bark canoes, maple syrup, maple sugar, and deer, mink, muskrat, and beaver hides. The canoes were sold to trappers, loggers, and hunters.

The year 1888 was a good year to start a business. Henry Besse built a store one block north of the Butternut House where he conducted a general merchandise business, while brother Herman Besse developed the first banking system in 1888. This made it the banking, trading, and marketing center of the area.  Frank Heiderer Sr. purchased a store about two and a half blocks west of the depot. The following year, Herman Zoesch built a general store on Main Street.


 Main Street of Butternut in the 1920's
(The white building in the middle of this picture is where the post office sits today)


In the summer of 1888, the management of the "Muskanozee Hotel" (Muskanozee is an Indian word for Big Fish and later named it "Idlewind Resort"), floated the first steam powered cruiser on Butternut Lake. The seating capacity was twenty passengers and it was equipped with a metal canopy painted yellow and bright red. It was christened the "Daisy Mae." Sunday and holiday sight seeing trips were made around the lake for twenty-five cents a passenger. Trains coming in from the north and south would carry numerous people for these excursions. A horse and buggy would supply the transportation from the train to the boat. The "Daisy Mae" served its owners well for many years, but was later removed when faster gasoline powered cruisers came along.      

The Idlewild Hotel was built (or rebuilt) in 1892 by Henry Besse. For many years it was the most popular resort in the north. During the summer, the Wisconsin Central Railway would put on one or more special excursion trains to Butternut which brought hundreds of people to the lake; also, several bands would come up to make the celebration a success. An excursion boat, owned by James Dygart, the barber, was kept busy giving the excursionists a ride around the lake. Horse drawn buses would also run from the depot to the lake to transport the people.       

Henry Hett purchased the first steam powered threshing machine in 1896, signifying the passing of the old hand operated flail. It required ten men to operate. The equipment consisted of a steam-propelled engine, directional type blower and separator, mobile water tank unit, and an auxiliary supply wagon. Hett Threshing Service extended a radius of thirty miles. It was often on the road during an extremely busy season for up to three or four months. The threshing procession passing through the village created much excitement with the head engine man cleverly operating the steam whistle rendering staccato effects and improvisations.       

William Fredricks, a pioneer schoolmaster, established the first newspaper in Butternut in 1882. The printing plant was housed in a small famed building next to his home. The printing press was hand operated.


The first lumber was hauled up the grade from Station 101, now Worchester, south of Phillips.
The need for lumber was great as settlers began to arrive shortly after the railroad went through.


The 1880's and 1890's proved to be a period of rapid growth for Butternut. New buildings were built as well as older establishments changed hands. A census was taken of Butternut township in 1890 by Dennis Spellacy and reported 1,210 people. The early settlers were stimulated by the discovery of the "unlimited" lumber resources in the forest. Economic development was fairly rapid during this period. As lumbering began to decline, agriculture began to grow in importance. First attempts at farming were mainly to supply the needs of the lumber companies. Oxen supplied the main source of hauling power.       

The Butternut Eagle was published from 1887 to 1921. The origianl building was moved a number of times and is now a block from its original location.       

The leading industry of the 1880's was that of charcoal manufacturing for the blast furnace at Ashland. The charcoal kilns had much to do with opening up the community. The kilns were in operation for only a few short years. It profited the settlers of those days very little. The Ashland Iron and Steel Company operated the charcoal kilns at Butternut, as well as at Stetsonville, Colby, Glidden, and Highbridge. The Ashland Company had a blast furnace at Ashland, which used the charcoal in smelting ore from the Goegebic Range. They shipped pig-iron via boat through the Great Lakes to the lower lake ports. The Butternut set of twelve kilns was built in two rows with a tramway between the rows. The kilns were of brick construction and were filled from an opening in the top. Sixty cords of hardwood were piled in each kiln and then ignited. After burning for about three days the kiln was sealed and the contents allowed to char, which took about six days. When sealed, each kiln was given a coat of whitewash as a sealing medium. The weather had much to do with the burning of the charcoal. The velocity of wind was the prime consideration and here the charcoal burner had to use his experience to regulate the draft. This was done through a series of holes, the size of a brick, spaced about three feet apart and about three feet from the ground all around the kiln. Should the wind be brisk, some of the holes were plugged; if the weather was calm more holes were opened, as was the kiln door. The kilns were about thirty feet in diameter and about 20 feet high. The dome was shaped like a beehive.        

The operation of the kilns was a year round operation, although the bringing of the cordwood was seasonal and done with horse and sleigh during the wintertime. The local yard at that time was covered by 15,000 to 20,000 cords of wood each winter and measured about thirty acres. This product was measured by the bushel and the annual output of the Butternut battery of kilns was 480,000 bushels.       

The kilns operated from 1893 to 1902, at which time the Charcoal Iron Ashland Company built a set of kilns in Ashland. They had the ability to rescue the chemicals, which were lost from creosote, and could not be saved at the small burning plants. However, the waste materials at Butternut had been used as insulation in many of the houses. Cordwood sold for $1.50 a cord and a charcoal raker received $1.35 a day for his ten-hour day.


The first St. Paul's Lutheran Church was built in 1883. The dedication service was held on July 22, 1883. The building was 26 X 40 feet by 14 feet high. The last service in this building was held on November 11, 1905. The church was moved to the west part of town and later torn down. The second parsonage was built in 1897 and was torn down in 1967 and replaced by the present parsonage on the same site.

The old Catholic Church was started in 1885, and was completed in 1887. It was a 30X50 feet building. In 1907, the church was moved to the vacant lot where the present church is now. The corner stone for the present Immaculate Conception Catholic Church was laid on May 22, 1910, with Bishop A. F. Schinner, Superior, presiding. The Church was completed in 1911, with a structure of 46 X 112 feet. It cost the town $14,500. The members donated the stained glass windows to add the final touches. However, the bell would not be installed until 1914. The old church was torn down in 1921. In May 1966, a special Mass honored senior citizens of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Many of them had worshiped in the first church and helped build the present church. Father Kreinbrink gave each member a crucifix blessed by the Holy Father at the time, Bishop George Hammes.      

United Brethren "Friedens" Church was built in 1900. At first it was housed in the old Legion building, complete with a high steeple. However, lightning hit the building, which forced the congregation to move to the new Legion building to continue worship. One of the last services of the church was in 1967, for Lee Edwards, a pioneer mail carrier in Butternut. That building is now the American Legion Hall. All the churches had their services in German.        

A log cabin, previously used as an icehouse, was utilized for a school in 1878. It was located where the Lutheran church now stands. Miss Hannah Tomkins was the first teacher and she had fourteen pupils. A regulation school house was erected the following year. It was a wooden structure with four recitation rooms, two libraries, and a large attic used for various purposes, mainly as a gymnasium. In 1900, two rooms were built on the north end, one for the kindergarten and one for the eighth grade. The school was heated with large wood burning box stoves.       

The G. A. R. Hall (Grand Army of the Republic) was built in 1882 and was then the largest post in northern Wisconsin. It was built to honor nearly 100 civil war veterans who decided to call Butternut their home. The people of Butternut and the soldiers bought five acres of land for this purpose. The first floor contained a spacious dining room, able to seat several hundred guests. It also had a checking alcove and a complete kitchen. Twenty-five cents would purchase a three-course dinner and a schooner of beer. The top floor served as an auditorium, dance hall, and political rendezvous with weekly entertainment. The basement at one time was earmarked as a well-fortified arsenal.      

During the hectic lumbering days, Captain Metzer and his famous artillerymen were called out to quell feuding rival camp lumberjacks. The captain had an artillery piece on the order of a small cannon which when stationed at a street intersection produced a tremendous blast. It always got highest respect from would be rioters. After one or two shots, tranquility was quickly restored.       

At the annual town meeting held April 5, 1887, a motion was made and carried that the town board be authorized to erect a building for a town hall. It was located south on west Main Street.


Sometime during the year of 1902, a group of citizens of this settlement decided that the community needed a different form of government, other than the township form; one that would meet the demands of the growth of the new settlement. The village was expanding, growing up around the railroad. Much needed sidewalks were demanded, planning of street and alley improvement and extension, police and fire protection were needed and ordinances to govern the community were indicated. Citizens discussed incorporation "under the laws of the State of Wisconsin". A survey was then made and boundaries established by John Grieves, who on December 31, 1902 filed a complete map, with established boundary containing 945.37 acres as the Village of Butternut. After meeting all preliminary requirements, an election was held on June 1, 1903, to decide whether a separate village should be established. A total of 132 votes were cast; of these 103 were for the incorporation and 29 were opposed. The new municipalities took the corporate name "Village of Butternut." The result of the first election was:

            Frank Heiderer Sr., president; H. D. Klein, clerk; John Danckwardt, John Ebert,
            Fred Heinske, George Weber, W. B. Graf and Fritz Zoesch, trustees; Joseph
            Schienebeck, assessor; Herman Otto Zoesch, supervisor; C. B. Kilger, constable;
            F. C. Fredricks, police justice; C. J. Roethig, justice of the peace.

These officers met for the first time on June 30, 1903. The only official who received compensation was the clerk who received $25.00 a year. Two to four meetings a week were held until a complete set of by-laws and ordinances were drafted to govern the new village.       

Sidewalks were being made of corduroy. There were gas streetlights, which were lit every night by hand. The first fire truck was a pumper that was pumped by hand. Water was taken from the cisterns for fighting fires.  

A mid-way located in the old Blaschko addition was a rendezvous for young and old every Sunday afternoon during this period. Butternut's twelve-piece brass band played country folk songs. On the mid-way, there was an open-air dance pavilion, African dip, coon dodger, shooting gallery, taffy pull, and the Old Dutch Bratwurst stand. Schooners of beer (nearly a quart) could be bought for a nickel.       

Traces of iron ore were discovered in 1902. Geologists found only a trace of low-grade iron ore in test pits west of the village. A specific survey showed a 20:1 ration that necessitated removing better than 20 tons of worthless slag in order to recover one ton of low-grade ore. Cost proved too prohibitive to warrant extensive ore mining. However, a few years later, tests were taken at Whiteside Camp 22, which revealed a fairly good grade of iron ore. Samples were shipped to the smelters, but more research was needed to determine if the project would be economically sound. Not only was it expected to get iron from the mines, but gold and silver as well, which was proven false.      

A local cigar factory employed eight to ten people on a full-time basis. George C. Klein was the proprietor. Some of the tobacco filler stock, which is the heart of the cigar making business, was grown and cultivated here in Butternut. It was harvested in the early fall of the year and stored in a well-ventilated warehouse to undergo the sweating out process. After moisture was removed, the leaves were stripped and cut into proper lengths and pressed into the cigar mold. The wrapper, usually an imported Havana blend, was creased and gently applied to the filler; this was a delicate procedure, as utmost care had to be exercised to obtain uniformity in the shape and size of finished cigars. After a careful check-up, the cigars were labeled, sorted, and packed, ready for shipment. All north and southbound trains generally carried a large shipment of the Klein cigars. Trade names of the high-class cigars made by the Klein cigar factory were "King of the Trail," "New Wrinkle," "Highway 38," and "Little Idlewild."       

The Grand Army of the Republic Veterans erected the first flag pole in Butternut. They decided to utilize native material and a large 80 foot pole was selected. It was placed at the corner of Michigan and East Main Streets. In the haste of raising it for the 4th of July, someone forgot to attach the rope for raising the flag. Since the pole could not be lowered, George Stubblefield climbed to the top of the pole to attach the rope.       

William Schultz built the first generating light plant in 1910. At this time it was used to furnish electricity for his home and the Ebert Theatre.     

The Circuit Opera Show House was located at the Butternut Lumber Company and was a two-story building. The ground floor was used as a combination confectionery store, ice cream parlor, and restaurant. Upstairs was a large hall that served as a movie theatre, dance palladium, and a community-gathering place.      

The first automobile appeared in Butternut in 1910. Dr. Violet's Lambert special roadster rolled into town. A long-handled crank got the machine started. The maximum speed was never over twenty miles per hour and it used premium fuel. The roadbed in town still resembled the rutted historic trails of covered wagon days. Driving was not a pleasure.       

The first creamery was built in 1895 by August Semerau and son Conrad; later it was sold to William Whittam. Fire destroyed this building and a new concrete block building was erected. Many farms in the area led to the organization of the Butternut Cooperative Creamery Association in May of 1915. A. N. Newell, Gus Tank, O. A. Schaekel, Matt Bruch, and John Klein worked together to have a factory built. The first butter maker was James Waagan. Starting with 75 patrons, it made 40-50 tubs of butter per week. Moving to 112 patrons in 1923, it shipped 100 tubs of butter a week in the summer. Later, an addition was built with an icebox downstairs and a meeting room upstairs. Ed Russell used the old creamery building as an ice cream factory and a bathing place.


R. F. Goellner built a shingle mill on Butternut Creek in 1900. A stave mill was built during that same year (owner unknown). Also that year, a veneer mill, built by the Creamery Pack Manufacturing Company was built and operated for many years, but finally went out of business and the plant was dismantled. The next year, 1901, Mr. Goellner built a sawmill in the back of his house on Butternut Creek. It was destroyed by fire in 1903. He rebuilt it in 1904. Mr. Goellner built a cement block hardware store in 1907. At about this time, E. A. Drott built a stave mill in back of his house. He built another building when the stave mill was taken over by Edward Russell some years later.       

Fritz Zoesch built a meat market on east Main Street at the southeast corner of Michigan and Main. It is now Blue Ribbon Meats & Grocery. Herman Zoesch conducted this business until 1906 when he sold it to his sons, Charles and Arthur. They erected a modern and up-to-date building in 1909.      

Mike Zimmerman's store, previously purchased from Henry Besse, was later sold to Harry Sharf in 1902. Mr. Sharf operated a general merchandise business at this place until 1906 when he built a new store on the west side of the track.       

The Bloom, Haire Company, purchased from M. Wehe on August 28, 1890, conducted this business for three years when Alfred Bloom bought out the interest of M. Haire.  Alfred and J. L. Bloom conducted the business until 1903 when J. L. Bloom took it over alone.       

William G. Fordyce organized the Ashland County Bank in 1892. Alf Elm was the cashier and Helene Kuehl and Caroline Keenan were assistant cashiers. This bank was incorporated in 1903 with Mr. Fordyce as president. In 1918 the bank had a cashier by the name of Ted Scofield. He was best remembered as always having a pet pig follow him wherever he went, including at work at the bank.      

Between the years of 1905-1910, the "Tin House" was a store. Later, it was converted to Alyce Schultz's home. The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1919 and Arnie Timm built his lumber company on the site. His son, Dick, took over in later years. Admission to the theatre in those days was 5 and 10 cents.      

The Zoesch store was built by Fritz Zoesch in 1909 and occupied until 1937. He then sold it to W. R. Boettcher. In 1907, Mr. Stockhouse built the Boettcher home, now occupied by the Dick Timm family. Mrs. Vogel had a bakery just north of the lumber company in these early years.      

To accommodate his many and varied customers, R. Scharff, an early businessman, spoke seven different languages, and employed at least five clerks.      

In 1916 L. S. Barber & Sons of Merrill came to Butternut and erected a broom handle factory.      

In 1916 the Village board granted a franchise to the Butternut Electric Light and Power Company. For the first few years lights were furnished to only a small number of residents, but eventually most homes and businesses were "electrified." In 1919 the plant was destroyed by fire, but a new brick building was immediately built.        

In 1917, a new train depot was built on the west side of the main track. It consisted of two waiting rooms, an office, and a freight room.       

Schools always seemed important to the citizens of the village. In 1914, the school burned when it was struck by lightning. It was rebuilt immediately with a complete steam-heating system, a hot and cold air system, a high school, a grade school, a boy's and girl's lavatory, a lunchroom, four cloakrooms, and an engine room. There were eight rooms in the grade school and five rooms in the high school.       

It was also in 1914 that a County Normal School was begun in Mellen. However, in 1917 it was moved to Butternut with nine students in attendance. The two teachers were Mr.Weldon and Miss Lange. Due to Mr. Weldon's illness, Mr. Lorschetter took over as teacher in January of 1918. The attendance was shortly raised to 15, but with his insistence, the county normal was moved to Ashland in the summer of 1918.


In 1921 the Butternut Veneer Company was organized and a new and modern brick veneer mill was built, of which E. I. Ross Sr. was the manager. This factory gave employment to about 50 men. They purchased all the logs offered for sale by the farmers and loggers and besides shipped and trucked several million feet more into Butternut each year.       

In 1921 the Butternut Lumber Company was incorporated with Arnold Timm as manager. A building and office was erected on the old Ebert corner. The principal business of the company was building materials. In 1926 an addition was built to take care of their increasing business.       

Fritz Zoesch, C.A. Besse, and his son Arthur Besse later purchased the Butternut House sometime in the 1890's. It was sold to Charles Newell in 1923. Mr. Newell then sold thehotel in 1925 to Charles Vashaw. A fire took away this town landmark in February of 1927, when it was burned to the ground.     

The village had a funeral home about 1920 when August Felch offered his services. In addition to the parlor, he also operated a furniture business. Upon Mr. Felch's death, Henry Russell took over for his father-in-law until the 1940's.       

From the first advent of printing in the village, people's voices were heard. The old Eagle was sold to the Peavy Publishing Company who, in the early 1920's, moved the plant to Ashland and established the Ashland Journal. The Butternut Bulletin was established in 1922 by W. C. Currie and published by him for two years, then sold to H. Fautek. Later, it was taken over by Bill Kuehl and Soren Anderson. Matthew Hart took it over in 1925 and published it through its final issue of December 27, 1967. Copies of the Butternut Bulletin can be viewed at the Hart Publishing Company in Glidden.       

A blacksmith shop was built in 1915 and used by Carl Wartgow and sons Fred and Herman as a garage and repair shop. It was later leased to George Kline as a tobacco-drying shed, and further used by Otto Schaekel as a farm machinery store. When the Hudel-Koch blacksmith shop burned, Charles Koch purchased the building and conducted his business there. It was later sold to Charles Teschner who did smithing until 1947 when Fred Wartgow purchased it and added a machinery department to his motor sales.       

Charles Fischer, one of Buttenut's most famous native sons and the namesake of the Butternut High School sports teams, was a true champion. The undefeated Middle and Light Heavy-weight Wrestling Champion of the World drove from New York to California and all points in between, wrestling an average of three bouts per week. He took on any contender, most taller and heavier than his 5'3", 160-pound frame. During his phenomenal amateur career he won seven gold medals and the A.A.U. Amateur Championships in the 160-pound and 175 pound class. In the Olympic tryouts he won high honors. In 1925 he turned professional. He won the World's Championship in the 160-pound class in 1929 by defeating Johnny Meyers, and the 175-pound title by defeating Billy Edwards. He won over 1000 matches and lost only 6 decisions in his career. He retired in 1938 with both titles and the Diamond Belt. Although Charles Fischer died in 1982, the Butternut ''Midgets" still carry on his winning tradition. In the 1920's, a great number of logging camps were in existence. One of the largest was the Newell camp, which employed many woodsmen and offered good living for many. In the late 20's logging dropped off, but farmers were still bringing in varying amounts of hardwood timber. Few hemlock ties were being placed on the local landing, as hemlock logs were not in production. Woodwork slowed down considerably toward the end of this decade.      

In the 1920's, independent trappers did quite well financially by trapping muskrats, skunks, red fox, mink, silver fox, black fox, coyote, lynx, and beaver. Other enterprising men shipped Christmas trees to the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee. One impressive shipment in 1929 was six carload of tress, with 1500 to 2200 trees per carload.     

Doctors have come and gone throughout the existence of the village. In 1915 there were two dentists and three doctors in the village. The doctors were Violet, Marble, and Doherty. Dr. Kirsten was also in Butternut, but left about 1929. Dr. Ansfield had an office in Butternut from about 1948 through the fifties.       

On November 14, 1928 the highest flag pole in northern Wisconsin was blown down. Being 81' high, it was in a concrete foundation on Vashaw's corner.      

The Village of Butternut in the year 1929 had the following establishments: five general stores, three churches, band, grade and high school, creamery, cheese factory, veneer mill, two sawmill, broom handle factory, shingle and floor mill, and four garages.


The Northern Hardwood Veneer Company has always played an important part in the economy of the village. When it opened in 1905, it made only cheese boxes, but added a heading mill soon after. During the depression the veneer mill did not run. It made a big comeback after the financial situation was settled, and in 1942 employed about 250 men. Its production was about a carload of finished veneer each day. It was also at this time that women first went to work at the mill. Production kept up until the disastrous fire on April 26, 1964. The fire was spectacular and could be seen for miles. After years of setting idle, it is now back into production.       

The village has changed its face in many ways. In the 1930's, a store stood on the corner of Michigan and Main, where the bank is now. It belonged to Blooms and Bix, later itwas operated by George Sibernagle who ran it for about a year and tore it down. Across the street was George Hirtreiter's Commercial House, offering overnight lodging. This burnt down in 1940, being replaced by what is now "Slim's". Until the depression the bank was known as 'Ashland County Bank', and it stood next to the Log Cabin. Evidence is still there in the form of the old vault. After the depression, the banks organized and the name became Northern State Bank.       

Butternut has had a succession of small mills throughout the century. Barber's handle factory employed from 6 - 10 men when in full production and lasted into the 1940's. The Bauer and Knoop mill started 1902, then was later sold and operated by Hardy Sharff in the 1920s. The mill was torn down in the late 1930's. The Radlinger family had a sawmill at the veneer plant. Haegerl's had a tie mill north of the Lutheran Church. They employed about 10 men, and Schultz's handle factory employed a dozen men.

During the decade of the 30's the C. W. A. (Civil Works Administration) came into being. Most of the work done was on highways by men working at these wages: 50 cents an hour for unskilled labor, 65 cents an hour for semi-skilled labor, and $1.20 an hour for skilled labor. A supervisor received 10 cents an hour more than the highest class of men that he supervised.      

Changes in the village in the 30's were not spectacular. However, Ed Koran built Knoop's station, with masonry done by George Danckwardt. In 1938 a new waterworks and sewer system was installed in the village.


During the Second World War, Northern Hardwood Veneers, Inc. of Butternut manufactured plywood (or veneer) that was used to build the famous de Havilland "Mosquito" Bomber. Thirty-five percent of the wood going into this plane was from the plant at Butternut. It is recorded that one thousand carloads of Butternut veneer "winged its way over Europe" -- the "Mosquito" Bomber.        

Meanwhile, back at home, Nora Gaab purchased the saloon next to the Catholic Church in 1940. Henry Miller previously owned it. Before the church was built, the Father would use a room upstairs as his temporary home. During the hunting season the rooms would all be occupied with deer hunters. In the morning before and after their daily stalk, the hunters would come downstairs, in the back, where a large picnic table would be and they would be served breakfast and supper family style. In 1948, Howard and Rose Schultz (Nora's daughter) purchased the saloon where they continued to serve customers until their retirement in 1995.


A consolidation of the school district took place in 1950. Other improvements during this decade were a building of the new gymnasium in 1953, the co-op built a warehouse, a new fire hall, a new post office, and a new trailer park with sewer and water facilities were installed.      

Several buildings were raised or burned in the late 50's and early 60's. The boulevard of trees from the Catholic Church corner to Highway 13 was removed in September 1958. The Schienebeck building was raised in 1959. The G.A.R. building was razed in April 1956. On March 4, 1958, the Bright Spot was destroyed by fire. This landmark was built by August Yankee about 1888, and was used as a residence and a tavern for the succeeding years. The Heiderer store and the Schoenberger building were both torn down in 1963. The village town hall was torn down in 1967. Louis Wagner has built a new home on that site. Also, the Town Hall of Butternut, built in 1887, was torn down by Louis Wagner in July 1965.        

A spectacular event took place around Butternut on June 30, 1954 with a total eclipse of the sun. The event took place at 5:08 am and made the town completely dark. The next eclipse is scheduled to arrive in the Butternut area again on May 3, 2106.        

New ideas for a clinic for Butternut are in the making, with chances of full-time doctors and nursing service as a possibility. A new home for retired persons has been built. Hopefully, more will come, with other new people making their home here in the north.        

The village is moving continually on. New additions have been added to the school, the latest being a complex of offices, music room, art department, and a large complex for the industrial arts. In 1994 a new gym, a kitchen, commons, and 10 new classrooms were added. The old gym was converted into a library.      

The churches in the village have continually kept in good repair, making changes as congregations have grown and see new needs. Both churches have excellent parish halls and well-kept grounds.     

Homes are being continually improved. More young people are choosing to stay in the areas and some of the old timers are coming back to spend their retirement here. Many who had moved away are returning here to raise their families in the atmosphere of small town living.     

It is good to look back to our forefathers. It gives us a good prospective when we consider what they have done. It gives us the courage to go on and make the next writing of our history as spectacular as the first.


As far back as the late 1600's, Chippewa trappers would travel to the Flambeau flowage to hunt and fish. There were no known Indian settlements around Park Falls because of the cold climates. They were perhaps the first human inhabitants to fish along the 16-foot high falls. The muskellunge was so appealing to them that Park Falls received its first name, Muskellunge Falls.      

Later in the mid 1800's the name was changed to Gould's Siding. There was no particular reason for this name, only speculation that Gould was a railroad worker who lent his name to the Wisconsin Central map makers when a name was needed. Gould Siding was one of the two tiny settlements that later merged.   

In 1877, the name was changed to Flambeau Crossing. This was the year the first school opened, making this one of the first three schools made in Price County. Also in February of that year, a newspaper reporter from Fifield visited Flambeau Crossing and gave an ill-report of what he saw. "I fail to discover anything nice about the place," he wrote,"... five frame buildings, one log ditto, and a good depot." However, six months later he reported that "settlers are pouring in almost everyday".      

With a strong hold on the land surrounding Price and neighboring counties by the Cornell University and the railroad, it was difficult for settlers to own and sell timber on the land. Cornell cut and sold the timber. At the end of the 25-year hold on the land, the University made a profit of 4.5 million dollars. In 1885, Cornell sold its property at the falls to Henry Sherry of Neenah, a veteran lumberman who set up his own sawmill next to the falls. With a park-like stand of mature pine trees surrounding the falls, Park Falls finally received its permanent name.       

In 1889 when Park Falls became a town, the population was around 400 people. In 1901, the population rose to 800 and 1972 people in 1910. The population dropped down to 1398 in 1930, and continued to decrease to 1241 by 1960. However, by the time of the Centennial, in October of 1988, the population was up to 1348 people.       

Since the lumber days of Cornell and later with Henry Sherry, the lumber business has been a big part of Park Fall's history. With the incorporation of the Park Fall's Lumber and Pulp Company, Park Falls had become one of the largest active lumber operations in Wisconsin. The Park Falls Lumber and Pulp Company has now become the Flambeau Paper Company.       

There is much more on the written history and pictures of Park Falls compiled into a book called "100 Years on the Flambeau" by the Weber Publishing Co.


This is a written history of Butternut, Wisconsin. It was put together from segments of "The History of Northern Wisconsin" (1888), oral history from the town's people, and an essay by Ruth Gear.