1890s/1900 PART 7 – NORTH WOODS – SEEKING ONE’S FORTUNE – RELIGIOUS EXILE

Contents © 2016 by Harold Pfohl

ASSIMILATION – LIFE IN FAR AWAY PLACES – 1) SEEKING ONES FORTUNE & 2) SELF EXILE – DESTINATION NORTHERN MICHIGAN, LOGGING COUNTRY

After the passage of 50 years the Germanic culture and language were still very strong and vital in the Cedarburg region. Among the people in this multigenerational tale John Nieman Jr. is the individual most likely to have first become fully assimilated.  His youngest sister, Alvina, and her husband, Albert assimilated rapidly as well.

The assumption that this is the case is based on their departure from Cedarburg and immersion in an American melting pot, the logging industry.

SEEKING ONE’S FORTUNE – JOHN NIEMAN, Jr.

In the 1850s and ’60s Joachim and Marie Nieman were extraordinarily entrepreneurial immigrants, pioneering five or six farms in their lifetime.  Their grandson, John Nieman, Jr., inherited their entrepreneurial drive and after great personal tragedy, went into the northern wilderness and built the beginnings of a fortune.  John may be a good candidate for the blog as the first person among all those descended from the immigrants to become fully assimilated.  He surely retained a good bit of German culture, but was a hard driving and successful American businessman and financier.

0001c Joachim Niemann & grandson John F. Nieman late 1880s

Joachim Niemann and his grandson, John Nieman

John married his childhood sweetheart, Annie Thesfeldt.  She died eight weeks after the wedding – a crushing blow for the young man..

 

Fig 059 eIMG0042 northwoods

November 22, 1891 – Annie was 21, and John, 23

HEADING NORTH INTO LOGGING COUNTRY

John remained in Cedarburg for a couple of years. He had started out as a teacher and perhaps he spent that time as a teacher as well.  Sometime before February of 1894 he headed up to Hermansville, Michigan, 200 miles from Cedarburg.

WIS RUMSEY RAND MCN 1897  copy

Source – David Rumsey Collection

THE CEDARBURG THAT JOHN LEFT BEHIND

John was departing from a community that had been improving its culture, commerce, industry and finance for nearly half a century.  It was also in close proximity to a major city, Milwaukee.  It was a thriving, prosperous place to live.

Cedarburg 1892 Map industry 1Cedarburg 1892 Map industry 2

Courtesy – Cedarburg Cultural Center

Courtesy – Edw. Rappold (click to enlarge)

HERMANSVILLE, MICHIGAN DURING JOHN’S TIME THERE

(A note on the photographs: Charlie Nieman appears to have visited his brother John in what was then remote Hermansville, Michigan in 1899, 1902, and 1905. On at least one of those occasions he took family members along. Charlie took numerous photographs of the area and the operations there).

Hermansville was a boom-town created to service the logging industry much as mining towns were created in the far West to service silver and gold mines that were discovered in the latter part of the 1800s. It was a logging version of a gold rush and the lumberjacks that John and his partner dealt with were a rough bunch.

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The District School

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Photos of Hermansville, MI around 1905 – by Charlie Nieman – Bleak

There wasn’t much up there other than trees, trees, and more trees, lumberjacks, sawmills, milling operations and the commerce required to support that.  However, that industry was substantial.

LOGGING CAMPS

WIS SLIDE NIEMAN HERMANSVILLE MI OLD IMG3105 copy.jpg

Woods in the vicinity of Hermansville around 1905 – photo by John’s brother, Charlie Nieman – family in the horse-drawn sleigh on the right.

In the North woods John and his brother-in-law and partner, William Buch, opened a “merchandising plant” that catered to the needs of the community and also operated a logging camp, “Camp Buch.”  This was a radical contrast to being a teacher in very civilized well-settled Cedarburg.

WIS SLIDE NIEMAN HERMANSVILLE IMG3056 copy

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Mealtime At Camp Buch, Hermansville, MI Jan 2 1905…John Nieman (mustache and black cap just to the left of center), Minnie Mintzlaff Nieman, Dora Nieman (cousin from Hamburg, WI)

Charlie took the picture, Minnie was his wife. Photo taken in 1905, at which time John was 37 & Charlie was 36.

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Wendt’s logging camp, Hermansville, MI., 1902 John Nieman 3rd from right, holding the child.  Wendt was a friend.

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1902 – August Wendt & crew, logging in Hermansville, MI.  John Nieman at the top of the pile of the logs, 2nd from right.

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Typical bunkhouse interior – Source – Langlade Co. Historical Society

JOHN NIEMAN AT THE SAWMILL

Fig 041

John Nieman is the figure right of center with a mustache and a cap, leaning against the logs. Lumbering in Northern Wisconsin was a huge business involving large numbers of people and large quantities of equipment. (See footnote at bottom of post – Lumbering in Wisconsin)

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Fig 041b John N at lumber camp copy

John at the sawmill.

HARDWOOD FLOORING FACTORY

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Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company’s hardwood flooring factory in Hermansville

* * * * * *

Logging began in the region as a result of activity by the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company. The first facility was a sawmill preparing pine for shipment south in Wisconsin. The property owned by the company also had significant stands of hardwood trees on it. At the time there was no ready means of making use of the hardwood lumber.

The company was a pioneer in the invention of machinery to mill hardwood into flooring which was not an easy task. Their success in that regard made possible the mass production of acceptable, readily usable hardwood flooring.  A sizable factory for that purpose was completed in 1888. (Source – Bently Historical Library – University Of Michigan – see footnote Lumbering in Wisconsin  at the bottom of this post for more on the company)

* * * * * *

During the era of peak operation annual rail traffic amounted to 10,000 carloads of either logs and lumber arriving or finished product leaving.

BUCH & NIEMAN MERCHANDISING PLANT, HERMANSVILLE, MICHIGAN

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The Buch & Nieman “merchandising plant,” about 1899 – John is the mustachioed figure at the right of the doorway.

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Examining the photo carefully it is clear that the building had been expanded by the time of this photo, 1902.  The District School is in the background.

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Photo from the District School, looking south, 1902 – Buch & Nieman store on the left.

DESOLATION

lumbering environ cvr page

In the 1860s, the state created a commission to assess the deforestation in Wisconsin. The findings were completely disregarded.

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Road leading out of Hermansville, MI, about 1899

The ecological and environmental costs were huge.  This did not stop until the exploitation of the enormous forests had progressed so far that further logging was no longer profitable.  Vast areas of Wisconsin and northern Michigan were effectively ruined by logging practices that had no consideration whatever for the effect on the environment.

JOHN RETURNS TO CEDARBURG

John left Hermansville to return to Cedarburg in 1906, where he became one of the leading figures in business and finance in the surrounding region.  He continued to apply his business skills successfully by building and operating two canning factories, a bank, a savings and loan, and a fur farm.  John must have inherited a large dose of his pioneering entrepreneurial Grandfather Joachim Niemann’s genes. – Joachim and his wife, Marie, pioneered six farms.  John built several sizable businesses and eventually one huge business as the largest producer of silver fox furs in the world.

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John in his late 30s/early 40s –

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Farm Machinery Junkyard at the Heart of Cedarburg – 1907

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Site of John’s future home.  Note the boardwalk in 1907.

Fig 045bcedarburg from hill, 1910 copy crp

Courtesy – Edw. Rappold

John’s new home in Cedarburg.

John built a large, fine home immediately across Washington Ave. from, St. Francis Catholic Church. At the time that he purchased the land for the home an agricultural junkyard occupied the site, with remnant buildings from a defunct farm that had been swallowed by the expanding town.

He soon became involved in Hermansville again but this time as a fur rancher raising silver fox.  He continued to live in Cedarburg.

From “The Escanaba Daily Press, Dec. 15, 1946” (three years after John’s death):

“The Nieman ranches represent the largest fox raising business in the United States. Fromm Brothers of Hamburg, Wis., is the second largest, but the Fromms have the largest mink ranch in the country, pelting upwards of 20,000 mink annually.

At one time, the Niemans were financially interested in Fromms. John F. Nieman, founder of the Nieman chain, conducted a general store in Hermansville for 10 years around the turn of the century. Disposing of his Hermansville business, he left that community with about $50,000, {about $1.3 million in 2016 value} and went, to Ozaukee County, Wis. where he invested in farmlands, and established canneries and banks at Thiensville and Cedarburg. His cousins, the Fromm boys— Walter, Henry, Arthur and Edward—operated a ginseng farm at Hamburg for some years, and got dabbling in fox raising about 1912. Nieman helped with the early financing of the Fromm ranch operations.”

ALVINA NIEMAN AND ALBERT PIPKORN – HEAD NORTH TO POWERS, MICHIGAN

 In the previous post we saw Nieman family having a beautiful wedding in 1901 for daughter Alvina and her husband Albert Pipkorn.

0057 Wedding Alvina Nieman & Albert Pipkorn Oct 6, 1901_2 northwds.jpg

 Something was amiss that caused them to move from the rich farming country in Southeast Wisconsin.  Apparently it had to do with religion.  According to oral history the Pipkorn family and the Nieman family came from different sects of the Lutheran Church and the disputes over dogma were intolerable.  The resulting interfamilial acrimony caused Albert and Alvina to leave the region in 1903-04 and head north to a less contentious environment.  They moved to Powers, Michigan which is located very close to Hermansville and Alvina’s very successful brother, John.  By the time Albert and Alvina arrived, John had been in business in Hermansville for about 10 years.

NIEMAN INhermansville powers mi copy

Albert and Alvina, emulating brother John, opened a store in Powers.  However, it was a very small town with only a few hundred people.  The opportunity for prosperity was very limited.  Hermansville was something of a bustling metropolis compared to Powers.

WIS SLIDE NIEMAN HERMANSVILLE IMG3057

Powers Michigan.  Albert and Alvina’s store on the center right with the white horse in front.

Albert and Alvina’s store – click to enlarge

It was not particularly successful so Alvina eventually provided room and board to teachers.  She was remembered for having put in incredibly long hours for washing and cooking for her boarders.

WIS SLIDE NIEMAN HERMANSVILLE IMG3059

Albert and Alvina in front of their home in Powers, Michigan.

WIS SLIDE NIEMAN HERMANSVILLE IMG3058

Pipkorn home, Powers, Michigan – after the passage of a few years and the addition of children.

Note the addition of storm windows, e.g., the large window on the ground floor at the left side of house. It was common practice at the turn-of-the-century to construct homes without any insulation. Adding storm windows would’ve helped to reduce the chill of the northern winter.

Albert, unfortunately, developed a serious alcohol problem. On one occasion, Alvina had hidden some schnapps to use in assuaging her pain during an impending childbirth. When the time came to deliver, the schnapps was missing and she learned that Albert had found and drunk it. On another occasion he chased her around the house with a butcher knife while intoxicated. At some point the problem must have come under control because he lived to an old age, worked hard and had a fine family.

Understandably, Alvina deeply missed her home, large extended family there and her many friends in Cedarburg.  She would write to her sister Augusta begging for word of Cedarburg and home.

Alvina to Augusta 120719240001

Letter – Alvina to sister, Augusta, December 7, 1924

“It surely felt good to hear a little home news once; you don’t realize how precious home news is when a person is far away and alone amongst strangers otherwise you would probably write to me more often.”

Alvina to Augusta 120719240003

“I have seen you so little since I have left home that whenever my thoughts dwell around there it is when you and I were young. There does not seem to be a spot anywhere on the old homestead where my thoughts cannot ponder and see some memories. ‘Oh for days of yore – Mother’s love and Home.’”

The 1910 census shows them as having moved to Hermansville.  Albert started farming again although the land in the far north was nothing like as rich and fertile as that which they had left in Cedarburg.

* * * * * *

More on John, Alvina and Albert in the 20th Century, Section III of the tale.

NEXT – SECTION III – EARLY 20TH CENTURY

* * * * * *

Footnote #1–Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company – Hermansville, MI

Source:  Bently Historical Library – University of Michigan

 History (Extracted)

The Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company of Hermansville, Michigan was originally founded as a subsidiary firm of Charles J. L. Meyer, a successful Chicago and Wisconsin businessman. Meyer, following the Chicago fire of 1871, made a fortune by expanding his door and sash manufacturing plant located in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. As one of the few such facilities in the upper Great Lakes region, Meyer profited handsomely from the rebuilding of Chicago.

By the mid-1870s, lumber supplies in the Lake Winnebago region of Wisconsin were being depleted; and Meyer, to insure himself a supply of wood, purchased the Menominee County, Michigan land holdings of the Hamilton Merriman Company. In 1879, Meyer relocated the sawmill he owned in Fond du Lac to his Michigan property. The site of the mill became Hermansville (named after his son). Mill No. 1, as the facility was called, was a softwood mill, preparing pine for shipment to Fond du Lac. His Michigan property, however, also had significant stands of hardwood trees on it, and so, in 1882, Meyer began to operate kilns in Hermansville to convert the hardwood into charcoal.

The production of charcoal never proved profitable, however, and Meyer continued to search for a way to use his hardwood lumber. After much study, he concluded that a market did exist for hardwood floors. The problem was that there was no satisfactory machinery to mill hardwood into flooring. After years of experimentation, he finally perfected his “Meyer matchers,” milling machines which made possible the mass production of acceptable hardwood flooring. Meyer had begun construction of a hardwood flooring facility in Hermansville in 1885. That factory was completed in 1888 and the first regularly scheduled commercial production in the plant began in 1889.

While Meyer had identified a potential market and developed the necessary machinery to produce an acceptable product, he was unable to deal successfully with his rapidly failing financial situation. In the fall of 1889 his five companies fell into the hands of creditors, who appointed Henry A. Jewell to oversee operations. To pay the creditors, Jewell sold all of Meyer’s asset except for Wisconsin Land and Lumber in Hermansville. When the firm emerged from receivership in 1892, C.J.L. Meyer was titular head of the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company, but actual control of the company had slipped into the hands of his son-in-law, Dr. George Washington Earle.

Earle, who had received his medical degree from Buffalo Medical College and practiced in New York State, had come to Hermansville in 1889 for reasons of health. He had already invested in Wisconsin Land and Lumber and throughout the period of receivership and the next few years, he found himself pouring more and more money into the firm, in an effort to save his initial investment. As his financial investment grew, so too did his control of day-to-day operations.

For a time the firm’s finances remained precarious, suffering a serious setback when Mill No. 1 burned in 1891 and had to be rebuilt. In the end, however, Meyer’s estimate that there was a steady trade in hardwood flooring proved accurate, and the firm flourished. In 1901 the pine mill (No. 1) was rebuilt. In 1910 it burned and was replaced. In 1911 the hardwood mill (No. 2) was rebuilt of concrete. In 1909 the firm was assured an adequate supply of timber when it bought the assets of the bankrupt William Mueller Company at a sheriff’s sale. Most significant in this sale were large stands of timber near Blaney, Michigan.

  1. W. Earle died in 1923. His sons, G. Harold and Stewart, took over the family business. During the 1930s, the firm entered a period of slow decline. In 1939 the No. 2 mill closed, followed by the No. 1 mill and the flooring factory in 1943.

 Footnote #2 – Lumbering in Wisconsin (Extract)

 See: http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~dalbello/FLVA/background/economics.html

Though logging was done by the earliest territorial settlers for purposes of building, the commercial dominance of the timber industry started in the late 1840s and multiplied through the end of the 1880s. That this timeframe overlapped with great changes in agriculture is no coincidence; the expansion of the lumber industry meant a constant demand for feed crops for the oxen and horses used, and diversified food crops and grains for the many sawmill workers and lumbermen. Logging also meant winter work for farmers, drew railroads into the state and opened new land for settlement.

Wisconsin’s forests were part of a belt that extended from New England through the Great Lakes. The forests were especially thick in the Michigan peninsulas and the upper two-thirds of Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s forests contained an estimated 130 billion board feet of high grade pine; the amount of lumber would be even more impressive if it were to include the acres of hemlock, spruce, cedar and hardwoods that were also felled.

Wisconsin’s earliest sawmills were built in the first decades of the 19th century, and the 1840 census showed 124 sawmills in the territory. By 1865, that number had increased fivefold, and Wisconsin was producing lumber valued at over $4.3 million. After the Civil War, improvements in machinery and methods increased the value of lumber produced in the state to $15 million in 1870, $17 million in 1880 and over $60 million by 1890.

The work of lumbering was carried on in the late fall and winter. A timber cruiser would seek out tracts of land to be logged, and estimate the lumber that could be cut from the area. A logging crew arrived in the area to set up a camp. The camp’s foreman supervised the construction of the site, ordered roads cleared for bringing in supplies and oversaw the logging operations. The camps brought together between 50-150 lumbermen.

Lumbermen were divided into groups with specific tasks. The sawyers or chippers were those who felled the trees. They would notch one side with an axe and then cut through from the other side to ensure the tree fell into an exact position. Swampers then lopped off the branches and the top of the trunk of the fallen tree. A scaler measured the log and decided where cuts should be made in order to produce the best lumber. Skidders used chains and teams to drag the logs to the logging road, where logging sleds hauled them to a river bank. Log drivers had the dangerous work of steering the thousands and thousands of logs downstream to a sawmill, hopping from floating log to floating log to loosen jams and guide the logs. Lumbermen were not paid handsomely-usually between $12 and $25 per month. Many times the lumbermen were farmers who used the income to supplement what they made during the growing season.

By the end of the nineteenth century, it became clear that Wisconsin’s pine forests were rapidly depleting, and that no steps had been taken to replace the natural resource. Because of the common holding that the stands of trees were mainly an obstacle to settlement, there was no public support for limitations on the logging practices, and few laws were passed to protect forests until the timber boom had come and gone.

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