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White Lake History Behind Centennial Celebration

July 5, 2016

Anita Peters

Antigo Daily Journal

White Lake Marking Centennial

(Editor’s note: The Antigo Daily Journal has reprinted a history of White Lake prepared for the Langlade County centennial in 1979 by Anita Peters, a historian, writer and longtime contributor to the newspaper.

The article is long, but offers a view of how the community, which is celebrating its centennial Saturday, got its start and developed.

The article is being published with the cooperation of the Langlade County Historical Society.

The original mill at White Lake is shown
from the trestle with logs shown in the water.
Much of the mill was lost to fire in 1950.

Long before the white man came to Wisconsin, White Lake was important for its fishing and as a camping place for the Indian tribes that followed the Lake Superior Trail to the Copper Country of northern Michigan. It was the Indians that named it White Lake because of the white sandy beach and the marl on the lake bottom.

When Charles McFarland traveled the Lake Superior Trail carrying the mail on foot in 1864 he stopped at what was called the White Lake station. It was a stopping place for travelers situated on the southwest shore of the lake about what is now the lumber yard. It was run by a Stockbridge Indian, George Gardener, and his wife, Rebecca.

Charles Larzelere, early pioneer must have stopped there on his historic trip up the Trail with a team of oxen in 1865.

The earliest pioneer to settle in the area was Marcus Wahleithner, Sr., an Austrian immigrant who came to Elton village in 1884 and then to White Lake in 1889 and took up a homestead of 80 acres in section 29. Two of his grandsons are still running a dairy farm on the property.

In 1891, Theodore Smith purchased some land on the site of the old Murray farm and lived there for awhile in a log house. After the little Evans saw mill on the creek moved out he purchased that property and built a house there. His daughter, Mrs. Louis Bricco, 94 years old, still lives on a corner of that farm.

Byron Larzelere, son of Charles Larzelere, built the first house in 1910 in what is now the village of White Lake. Constructed of logs it was well planned and became known as the "log house". When the Yawkey-Bissell Lumber Co. came in 1916 they traded 40 acres of land one mile north of the lake to Mr. Larzelere for the Log House which the company used as a hostelery for visiting company officials. It is now occupied by a grandson of the man that built it, Terry Conto and his family.

The second house in the village was built by Green Johnson in 1913. It is of white brick and all materials for it were shipped up from Shawano by the railroad. This house was also purchased by the Company and was used for the doctor's house and office.

About the same time the Charles Lambacher family came from Chicago and built a log house about a half. mile south of the lake.

The Wisconsin and Northern Railroad extended their railroad from Neopit to Van Ostrand about a mile east of the lake in 1907. This railroad was later purchased by the Soo Line and they extended the line north to Crandon and Argonne. The depot at Van Ostrand was enlarged and used as a post office and barber shop for a short time as well as a depot. W. H. Gamble was the agent and postmaster.

The Northwestern R.R. built its line into the area in 1908. It was a branch line out of Antigo and plans were to cross the Wolf River into Oconto County but due to a legal techicality were unable to do so. There was only a small building for freight at Van Ostrand until the railroad built a depot in White Lake in 1917. Mike Brennan was the first agent. This line was used for shipping lumber products for many years until trucks proved to be more advantageous. It was discontinued and the tracks removed in 1956.

This then was what the area was like when the Yawkey-Bissell Lumber Co. decided to locate here. Surrounded by virgin hardwood and hemlock timber they had purchased large tracts of timber land from Menasha Woodenware Co., Kimberly-Clark Co., Crocker Chair Co., Kellogg Co., and the S.W. Hollister Estate. Most of it was located in Langlade and Oconto counties. There were two railroads to transport their products to market.

The Yawkey-Bissell Lumber Co. was organized in 1916 by a group of lumber men from Wausau who had many years of experience having operated saw mills at Arbor Vitea and Hazelhurst. The first officers were W.H. Bissell, president, W.W. Gamble, Sr., vice-president and general manager, Aytch Woodson, secretary and C.C.Yawkey, treasurer.

In July 1916 the company began clearing land on the south and southeast shores of the lake for the saw mill and the village. Other buildings that were erected were: store, office, barbershop, boarding house, rooming house, hotel, club house, bank building and 110 houses for employees. The first to occupy the first house built were Mr. and Mrs. Julius DeHorn. He was a millwright and had come to set up the machinery in the mill. Mrs DeHorn is now living in the Superior Nursing home.

The saw mill began operations June 1, 1917. Otto Glasso took charge of the mill in August and served in that capacity until the last log was run through in March 1946.

In August 1917, work was begun on the planing mill which was in operation by January 1918. The annual cut of lumber for the saw mill was 30 million feet and more than 500 million feet had been turned out during the first 25 years of operation.

The company business office was located in the Log House until the store was completed. Then a corner of the second floor was used until the present building was built. Office personnel at that time were E.G. Woodford, sales manager, O.A. Olmholdt, sales assistant, Emil Prahl, stenographer, Walter Caver, auditor, Charles Wickstrom, bookkeeper, Jon Andregg, timekeeper, E.D. Sterling, general superintendent, Peter O'Connor was the lumber cruiser and John Collins and William Edwards were in charge of the lumber camps. William Abendchein was general store manager and postmaster. An addition to the store for a post office had been added.

The bank building was ready for business in 1921 with a capital of $15,000. Mr. Cavers was president, Woodford, vice-president and Victor H. Johns was the cashier. Peter O'Connor and W.W.Gamble, Sr. were the directors.

The company maintained two lumber camps all year round, having had 17 camps in all at the closing of operations in 1946. About 200 men were employed in the camps and the mill was running two ten hour shifts, one days and one at night. This was the Paul Bunyan era of White Lake and the real Paul Bunyan would have been put to shame by the tall tales told by some of the lumber jacks. White Lake was at its peak with a population of about 650 people. Movies were held three nights a week.

The company operated its own railroad to some of the camps and one of their own engines, known as the Yawkey-Bissell special, used the Soo Line track to travel to the other camps. They also maintained their own telephone lines to camp.

The saw mill was enlarged in 1920 and in 1927 a dry kiln and flooring mill were built. They operated continuously up to 1946 when the saw mill closed for lack of logs. Except for the depression year of 1932 when it shut down because no one was buying lumber or building.

On May 25, 1941, the Yawkey-Bissell Lumber Co. observed the silver anniversary of the organization and the beginning of White Lake. Four hundred employees gathered at a silver jubilee party in tribute to W.W. Gamble, Sr. president and general manager since 1916. He was presented with a gold medal engraved with a picture of the mill and a chain designed as a miniature logging chain. During those 25 years each employee was remembered at Christmas time and each family presented with a gift such as a bushel of Washington state apples or a Christmas tree.

The party was a community affair as all houses in the village belonged to the Company and all residents were employees. About 300 men worked in the mill and office and another hundred at the lumber camps.

The flooring mill continued to expand and operations continued there even though the company went into liquidation in 1944 and 1945. A new organization, known as the Yawkey-Bissell Corp. was formed April 1, 1946 with W.W. Gamble, Jr. as president, John Behm, vice-president and James Madison, secretary-treasurer. The saw mill closed down in March. The flooring mill was enlarged and the most modern equipment installed and they concentrated on the manufacturing of maple and oak flooring.

About this time the Company began selling houses in the village. Before most houses were all the same dark brown. Now each owner painted his house a different color and repaired it and fixed up his yard. Some houses were moved out of the village leaving vacant lots that were also sold and new houses were built.

On February 4, 1950 the saw mill, which was one of the biggest in the state, burned to the ground. It had stood slient for four years. It was White Lake's only disastrous fire. There was snow on the ground and luckily the wind blew the flames toward the lake which helped to save the flooring mill and the gas station across the road. The saw mill was never rebuilt. The debris was cleared away and there is now a park there.

That same year the corporation became the Yawkey-Bissell Hardwood Flooring Company and had the same officers. It was just after the war and they faced a couple of tough years. Then in May, 1953, the Company went into voluntary receivership and the mill was shut down until October. Gamble remained as president and his family still held 50 per cent of the stock. Robert Furber, who had been receiver, acquired the other half interest and became vice-president. Peter S. Gamble was treasurer; Ernest Simon, secretary and Mrs. Marion Anderson assistant secretary, while Mr. Pat Berg worked in the accounting department. Both women grew up in White Lake and graduated from the high school there. James Damos, was salesman and Mrs. Zela Griffiths, receptionist. Both lived in Antigo.

Business improved and the plant ran fairly well until the spring of 1957 when production was stopped for 13 weeks because of a strike. This was the first labor dispute between the company and employee's in all the years of operation in White Lake. The mill resumed normal operations after signing an agreement with the Union in September of the same year.

Four years later, W.W.Gamble, Jr., passed away and his son, W.W. Gamble, III, took his place. Shortly afterward remaining principals decided they could not continue as a small family concern. If they wanted to survive they would have to merge with a nationally known firm to sell its products. So they entered into an agreement with Robbins Flooring Co. in October. Robbins would handle the sales of all materials produced by the mill.

In December 1962 a super-sales force moved into the office. Carl Abendroth became sales manager and vice-president with James Durret as his assistant. A.W. Schroeder was advertising manager. W.W. Gamble, III, who grew up with the business became plant manager with Mike Berg as superintendent of operations.

Although 12 or 15 women were hired during the war years, their jobs had been given back to the boys returning home from service. In August 1966 - women were again hired in the flooring mill and they run the machines and work right alongside the men.

After 14 years as plant manager, Gamble decided to strike out on his own. He and Abendroth and another partner bought a flooring mill in Amasa, Mich. and he moved there in the fall of 1975. They still maintain their home here.


The first school in White Lake was a frame building located on mile south of the lake. Marcus Wahleithner, a mason and farmer, purchased 80 acres of land in section 29, town 31, range 14E in 1889 and later that year Theodore Smith bought what is now know as the Frank Murray farm and built a log house there. He was a carpenter and farmer.

The two familes had three children of school age and more younger children so they decided to build a schoolhouse for them. Wahleithner donated one acre of land from the southern corner of his farm and the men cut trees from their farms, hauled them to the Evans saw mill to be sawed into lumber and built a one room frame school house.

Miss Vernie Larzelere of Langlade was the first school teacher with three pupils the first year. She boarded with the Smith family and taught two years. One of her first pupils, Marietta Smith Bricco, still lives in the area and is now 94 years old.

The frame building was used until 1914 when it was replaced by a larger, more modern brick building and had an enrollment of 41 pupils in 1915. The old building was moved to the Wahleithner farm that is now operated by two grandsons of the original owner. It has been used as a grainry and is now a garage.

After the Yawkey-Bissell Lumber Co. built its saw mill and more families moved into the town, there was need for a larger school. The first school board, consisting of Walter Cavers, Mrs. Bryon Larzelere and Green Johson, contracted to have a new school building in the village in the spring of 1917. Cost was $11,920. for the eight room two story brick building. It was ready in October and opened wtih 170 pupils. The old school was still used for grades one to six for children in that area and Wahleithner transported seventh and eighth graders to the new school. Grades one through 10 were taught by five teachers.

In the fall of 1921 a full four year high school course was offered and Conrad DeHorn, John Christianson and Paul Brice were the first White Lake high school graduates in May, 1922.

By then the town had grown to a thriving village with approximately 650 people and the mill was running a day and night shift. So again more room was needed in the school. A new high school building was started in the summer of 1922 that cost $22,000. and students moved there in February 1923.

It was run under the Gary, Ind., 6-6 plan with six grades in the grade school and six grades in the high school. The building housed and auditorium or study hall, library, three class rooms, commercial room, gymnasium with stage, domestic science and manual training rooms, office, lavatories, locker rooms and showers.

That fall the old school south of the village was closed and pupils transported to the larger school Shurbie Shannon, Langlade, was the last teacher in the old building.

In her book, "Jewells and Gems, " Eva Jewell, who was the teacher for the 1914-15 school term, tells how she boarded with a White Lake family during the week and drove to and from Antigo with a horse and buggy on weekends. The road wound through the deep forests from Elton to the Lake and was just wide enough for one vehicle. One time two lumberjacks leaped from the roadside and grabbed her horse's bridle. She whipped the horse and he gave a jump, getting free and started to run to White Lake with the men screaming curses after her. After that she traveled by train which took all day and cost 50 cents a trip.

By 1925 the enrollment was 251 in all grades on through 12 and there were 12 teachers on the staff. This was the year the school was put on the accredited list at the University of Wisconsin. It became a member of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Northeastern Wisconsin Athletic Conference.

Enrollments still grew and the high school was soon inadequate. In 1939 a new gym was built at a cost of $36,000. It is a modern building with folding bleachers that will seat 500 people and has a playing floor, 90' X 50', made of Yawkey-Bissell Hardwood maple flooring. The old gym was remodeled into two large classrooms, a science and home economics room.

In 1945 the Markton school district voted to merge with White Lake and transport their eight pupils to the village school. George Bricco was the first bus driver for this area.

A hot lunch program was introduced in 1948 using the basement room of the grade school building. Mrs. Hobert Crouch and Mrs. Arden Johnson were the first hot lunch cooks.

In 1960 the school board authorized an addition to be built on the west end of the gym for a music room and industrial arts shoproom. It was constructed of cement blocks and was 60' X 60'. The cost was $129,000. The shop class constructed the work benches and cupboards.

With the Wisconsin Department of Education insisting on consolidation of smaller schools the Hollister, Cozy Corner, Wilson, Lang1ade, and Elton school districts all joined the White Lake school system on at a time.

In July 1962 a joint school district was organized combining the seven school districts. A new Board of Education consisting of seven school districts. A new Board of Education consisting of seven members was elected. They were Herbert Buettner, Irvin Kriewaldt, Edmund Mackiewicz, Art Heistad, Lawrence Pomasl, Mrs. Carl Olson, and Ms. Audrey Peterson.

The increased enrollment created very crowded conditions in the grade school so in January 1963 plans were discussed to build an addition to it. It was built at a cost of $155,000. and was completed in January of 1964. The new section consisted of six large classrooms, a kindergarten, utility room and lavatories. The first kindergarten in White Lake opened in September 1964 with Mrs. Genevieve Wesley, Antigo, as teacher.

The old building was still used by the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades and an art class. By 1966 when the Village of White Lake celebrated its golden jubilee, the grade school had 297 pupils and there were 116 high school students. Twenty-one teachers made up the faculty and five buses were used to transport 300 children to the school.

The State Department of Public Instruction recommends an enrollment of 400 students in high school for curriculum purposes. With only 118 students in the White Lake high school in 1970, which was not enough students for economical operation and diversity of subjects, the school board contacted the board of the Antigo Unified district about joining Antigo high school which was over-crowded then and still is, so such an arrangement was not feasible.

In April, 1971, Townsend and Lakewood requested that their towns be transferred from the Wabeno district and added to a new district which would include White Lake and the Oconto County towns of Armstrong, Doty and Riverview. The petition was denied by CESA 3. White Lake took the problem to the State Board of Appeals in June and the decision was reversed. As a result the fall enrollment was increased to 418 students.

With the larger enrollment there was need for more expansion and in 1972 an addition that joined the grade school and the high school buildings was built. It consisted of two classrooms, high school library, offices, large kitchen, cafeteria and lavatories.

Some of the Wabeno citizens were not satisfied with the new arrangement and there ensued a series of meetings and legal battles over the next five years. The last decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the 231 students back to the Wabeno school system, effective March 1, 1976. The students were allowed to finish the school term.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction inspected White Lake schools last fall and were very impressed with the effort to comply with the 13 Standards the state has set for all public schools. R. VanRaalte, state assistant superintendent, said in a letter to clerk, Irvin Kriewaldt. "The Board of Education, administration, staff and people of the White Lake community are commended for their dedication to provide the best education possible with the resources available to the students in the district. There has been a sincere effort to provide quality".

The citizens of the White Lake district have moved a step further toward providing the best buildings possible by voting to remove the 60 year old grade school building and replacing it with modern classrooms. The two story building was ruled a fire hazard by the local fire chief.

The third floor of the old grade school was removed and it was remodeled. The second floor now houses the sixth grade and an elementary library and instructional materials center.

A new addition for junior-senior high school students was opened in 1978. The unit contains a business education area, band and music room with practice room and three classrooms.

The 1979-80 enrollment in grades K-12 is 373 students. Twenty-eight teachers are employed by the district. Other professionals serve the students through the cooperative Educational Service Agency #3, (CESA3) in the areas of psychological services, speech therapy, social work, physical therapy and special education.

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