During Langlade County's Early Days, Business Interests Eyed the Wolf River
September 7, 2016
Antigo Daily Journal
(Editor’s note: The following is an article published in the Antigo Daily Journal just over 50 years ago, with interesting information on the Wolf River, which so many cherish.
While there was no byline on the article in 1966, it was very likely written by Anita Peters, a resident of the Langlade and Wolf River area. There were a number of big-businesses very interested in the river’s potential, which would have put a resource at risk which we enjoy today.
More than 100 years ago residents of Antigo and eastern Langlade County were excited over prospects that a dam for the generation of electric power would be built on the site of the old Gardner water control dam of log driving days.
The energy might be transmitted to Antigo or it might be used to operate a pulp mill, for Wisconsin River Valley paper industry owners were showing an interest.
The March 4, 1908 issue of the Antigo Daily Journal quoted C. Wixon of Rhinelander to the effect that his company had been working on the project for about eight months. The surveys were complete and the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad had given its consent to use its right-of-way for a transmission line.
It had also agreed to extend a spur to the dam site to haul machinery. Its power was not transmitted to Antigo it was planned to use it in operating a pulp mill. Nate Bruce had been sent out to locate a route for the railway spur. The state public service commission had given permission to proceed.
Nearly two months later, on May 14, the Journal said Ed Sherry of Milwaukee, Henry Sherry of Neenah, a Mr. Simmons of Grand Rapids (now Wisconsin Rapids) arrange for a special train to take them from Antigo to Van Ostrand.
There they were to be met by carriages that would take them to the dam site. Bad weather delayed the trip but it was made on May 19. Those going on it were Ed Sherry, Milwaukee, said to be the owner of the site and the flowage rights, A. W. Shelton, project engineer, E. A. Forbes and C.A. Wixon, all of Rhinelander; Robert Camp, Milwaukee capitalist; V.P. Simmons, manager of the Grand Rapids Pulp & Paper Co., and Fred L. Berner, editor of the Antigo Daily Journal. Nate Bruce supplied the carriages that met the party at Van Ostrand.
Mr. Shelton said it was possible to raise a 90-foot head of water at the dam site and develop 4,000 horsepower. Mr. Simmons expressed interest in the pulpwood resources of the area.
Dinner was served the members of the party by A.J. Wood at Langlade.
By Sept. 1, 1908, the Journal quoted Nate Bruce as reporting nearly 200 men were at work on Gardner dam site. Things were being put in shape to run the line’’ downstream. This would be over 7,000 feet long.
Bruce said the power had been contracted for 20 years. The Grand Rapids Pulp & Paper Co. will erect a mill and use the power. The contract was that the power be ready in 36 months. The project would require an expenditure of about $700,000.
The death of A.W. Shelton, engineer led E.A. Forbes, of Rhinelander to say, quoted in the Nov. 16 issue, that this would interfere with the Gardner Dam project and might result in its abandonment.
Nothing more about it was printed until Oct. 27, 1909, when the Journal said:
John L. Beggs, the street car magnate of Milwaukee, Col. J. H. Davidson of Oshkosh and E.P. Sherry of Neenah, together with expert engineers, arrived in the city last evening, and left this morning in an automobile to visit the Gardner Dam power site. Mr. Beggs has become interested in the future prospects of the water power development on the Wolf River.’’
The issue of the following day said:
The gentlemen had nothing to give out for publication, not even caring to express an opinion as to the power prospects. C.N. Davidson, chief engineer, did say, however, that measurements were taken, all of which will be carefully examined, and if the findings are satisfactory, the power may be bought by Mr. Beggs.
End of Hopes
Subsequent issues of the Antigo Daily Journal through 1909 and 1910 contained no further information about the project so it is assumed that the engineer’s report was unfavorable. That the project was definitely abandoned was made plain when on March 12, 1934, the Wisconsin & Michigan Power Co., then owner of the site, gave lands totaling 1,240 acres, to the Valley Council of Boy Scouts, which since developed and extensive camp on it.
Although no statement was published as to why no power plant was built at the site of the old water control dam a number of factors may have influenced the decision. On is that, with the constantly falling cost of generating electric current in modern coal-burning plants, power companies lost interest in hydro-generation especially of far distant from the current market. It was about 1909 that great hydro plants were built on the Wisconsin River at Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells) and at Prairie du Sac and some of the current they generated was brought to the Milwaukee area. These plants, no doubt, presented a better economic picture.
The loss of interest in proposed use of the Gardner site for a paper mill could have been caused by a number of considerations, involving proximity to pulpwood reserves, transportation facilities, volume and steadiness of stream flow.
One power company, the Wisconsin Power & Light, still owns several descriptions in section 15, 22, and 23 of township 31-14, part of township of Langlade, and some of these are being considered for state purchase in the Wild River program.
The Wolf River roared under the Gardener Dam Boy Scout camp footbridge.