White Lake is celebrating its Centennial in 2016 with events and activities taking place throughout the year. In 100 years the community has many happenings along the way. We start with details of the first decade 1916-1925.
A “Wausau Group” of investors organized the Yawkey-Bissell (Y-B) Lumber Company in 1916 and purchased large tracts of timberland in eastern Langlade County. These men had operated sawmills in other areas of Wisconsin and around the U.S. They began clearing land south east of the Lake and built a sawmill and company town. The sawmill became operational in July 1917. From early company records, the Company sold lumber including maple, birch, hemlock and green hardwood shipped by rail on the WI & Northern or Chicago & Northwestern Railroads to Oshkosh, Milwaukee and Chicago and beyond. By 1921, there was a store, barber shop, boarding house, hotel, grade school, rooming house, club hall, bank, Lutheran and Catholic churches, 2 depots, planing mill and over one hundred homes. Y-B operated two lumber camps year around and built a large horse barn in White Lake for the horses used in the lumber camp and mill yard. Y-B bought its first locomotive in 1917.
Where did all the workers come from? Settlements in the area included Polish immigrants from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, a large contingent of former Kentucky residents from the early 1900’s along with some Scottish and Irish families. A number of former Y-B lumbering operations employees came from Arbor Vitae, Marathon, other areas of Wisconsin and even Laurel, Mississippi.
There were two homes in White Lake prior to the arrival of the sawmill era. One a log home built by B. C. Larzelere in 1910 and a brick home built in 1913 by R. G. Johnson. Each was purchased by the Lumber Company; the Log House was used as a hostelry for visiting company officials and the brick house used as the doctor’s home and office. The first telephone line was installed in the Log House. Later a telephone switchboard was set up in the upper floor of the Store.
White Lake children attended a school located just a mile south of White Lake on Highway M. This was the second school built at that location and served the area settlers from the late 1800’s until the White Lake Grade School was built in 1918. The White Lake High School was built in 1922.
The boarding and rooming houses were home to many Mill and lumber camp workers, who did not move their families to the area. The boarding house was known for its hearty meals. They served 148 workers at each setting. Many other workers walked to work and lived in the surrounding area on small farms. They had to get up before dawn to do their chores and then walk to the Mill—and turn around at day’s end to walk home and complete their chores.
The General Merchandise store, included a butcher shop, and was a large two story building. It carried most supplies the workers and their families needed. The Club Hall opened in 1918 and had a big recreation hall with a stage and cloak room on the main floor. In the basement there was a bar and two bowling alleys. It was the main social center for the area community. It was used for church bazaars, suppers, movies, basketball games, dances, weddings, roller skating and many types of community meetings and events.
The early settlers received their mail from the post office at Langlade. Once the Mill was operational the post office was moved to the WI & Northern Depot and the Depot agent was the postmaster. Mail came by train but there was also transport of mail from Antigo. Later the Post Office was moved to the Store.
The State Bank of White Lake was organized in 1921 and did a thriving business. It was located next to the Doctor’s office and across the Street from the Store.
Watch for the next article on the 1926-1935 decade in White Lake’s history.