The Truth About Townsend: Volume I: Transforming the Northwoods

Contents of Book

Chapter 1: Our Little Corner of the World: Geography
Chapter 2: Everything Old Is New Again: Early History
Chapter 3: Overview: Edith Van Cleve’s Walk Down Memory Lane
Chapter 4: Early Logging in the Eternal Forest: A Chip Off the Old Block
Chapter 5:  You Can’t Get There From Here: Waterways to Railways
Chapter 6: It’s Not Easy Being in Trees: Life as a Lumberjack
Chapter 7: It’s a Dam Disaster!
Chapter 8: There’s No Place Like Home…stead: Settlement
Chapter 9: Was That Really Legal? Hunting in the Early Days
Chapter 10: Fire in the Slashings!
Chapter 11: We Just Want To be Free: Political Independence
Chapter 12: I Touch the Future; I Teach: Townsend Schools
Chapter 13: God Save Us All: Early Churches
Chapter 14: Baby Steps: Townsend Finds Its Way
Chapter 15: A Woman’s Work Is Never Done
Chapter 16: Farming Here Aint for Sissies!
Chapter 17: Hanging on by a Thread: The Roaring Twenties
Chapter 18: Scandals, Tragedy and the KKK
Chapter 19: It’s Not a Government Handout: WPA
Chapter 20: Will Work For Food: CCC Camps
Chapter 21: Winds of Change: A New Townsend Emerges

Chapter One: Our Little Corner of the World: Geography

Townsend, located at 45.328N latitude and –88.589W longitude, is a 42.5 square mile township set within the Northern Highlands of Wisconsin. Geographically measured as the highest area of elevation in the state, geologists theorize that a million years ago Townsend was a tiny part of a majestic mountain range, perhaps the size of the Swiss Alps. Over hundreds of thousands of years, glacial activity rounded the tops of the mountains into hills and carved deep “kettles” that later filled with melting glacial ice to form the natural rivers and lakes that today make this area of north central Wisconsin a prime tourist destination.  Many small rivers and streams originate here, with run-off eventually draining into Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and the Mississippi River. With close to four square miles of the town being surface water, nearly ten percent of the township is officially considered “under water.”

Townsend is a relatively affluent and fast-growing community that lies in the northernmost part of Oconto County, a nearly one thousand square-mile county situated in what was once called the “Territory” of Wisconsin. Oconto County takes its name from an early Indian settlement bearing the name "Oak-a-toe." The peace loving Indians who lived in Oak-a-toe were members of the Menominee (rice eaters) tribe. Oconto County has been ruled by four different political entities in its recorded history: the Menominee; the French who claimed the whole region of the Great Lakes in 1671; the English, who took possession in 1760; and the United States which claimed it at the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783. In the early 1800s, the rich timber resources of the region attracted several adventurous men whose intention was to amass great wealth. As the white population quickly grew to the required levels, the Territory of Wisconsin was established in 1836, with statehood being attained in 1848.

On November 4, 1851, the first election was held in what is present day Oconto. Its purpose was the formulation and naming of a new county carved from the northern portion of Brown County. The boundaries were established, and the mill settlement of Oconto was chosen as the county seat. Because of its elongated shape, Oconto County measures approximately 66 miles on its northwest-southeast diagonal. This means that Townsend’s residents must travel over 60 miles to the county seat in Oconto, which is situated on the shore of Green Bay at the mouth of the Oconto River.

The main waterway in the Town of Townsend is the scenic McCaslin Brook, which meanders its way to the Oconto River enroute to its final destination of Lake
Michigan. McCaslin Brook, a Class A trout stream, has been permanently dammed in several places to create three beautiful lakes: Reservoir Pond, which has access to Explosion, Big and Little Horn Lakes; Upper Wheeler Pond, which links to Mosquito Creek; and the Townsend Flowage. Other lakes within the township include Bass, Big and Little Archibald, Bowman, Gluckie, Lauder, Mary, Mosquito, Little and Big Pickerel, Plantation, Smoke, Spring, Surprise, Upper, Lower and Little Wapota, plus several other small, unnamed private lakes.

Much of the township’s surface water, and a majority of its land, lie within the huge Nicolet Chequamegon (nik-o-lay/scha-kwa-ma-gon) National Forest. With more than twenty lakes, and thousands of acres of lush pine and hardwood second growth forest within its borders, the township is a virtual outdoor paradise. The best example of its allure for naturalists, sportsmen and tourists is Jones Spring Empoundment, a pristine wonder almost hidden within the National Forest. Jones Spring lies at the southwestern town line and sprawls over into the Town of Doty. The entire Jones Spring wilderness area is an ecological treasure that features an incredible variation in typography, from marshy wetlands to rolling hills to thick forests. It stands as testament to the power of the mighty glaciers that formed it, and the blessed foresight of the conservationists who preserved it.

Thanks also to the retreating glaciers and Wisconsin’s dedication to preserving the environment, Townsend has been blessed with another bountiful natural resource…this one far below the earth’s surface. The town sits atop porous, sandy soil and rock that are a natural filter for the 20% of rain water that eventually makes its way down to a hundred foot deep, vast aquifer of deliciously pure, although very hard water. Some consider the water a bona fide elixir. Nearby communities such as Mountain and Wabeno have taken advantage of the commercial interest in such excellent H2O. They bottle the water and market it as natural artesian well water, the perfect drink in any kind of weather.

Regarding weather, the climate in Townsend offers conditions typically associated with its position in the north central temperate zone. The U.S. Weather Bureau calculates the average summer temperature over the past three decades to be a very comfortable 75 degrees. However, recent years have seen much warmer summers, with readings in the 80s to occasional high 90s. Winters range from mild to severe, with totally unpredictable snowfall. The average high in winter is 28; the average low is 7. Recent winters have been fairly mild, with few extended subzero cold spells. However, half of the days each year will feature below-freezing temperatures; an average of 37 days will see below-zero readings. Extreme conditions are always possible. The thermometer topped out at 97 on July 15, 2006, just three degrees under the record of 100 sweltering degrees set exactly 11 years earlier on July 15, 1995. The record low temperature was a paralyzing 43 degrees below zero, set on January 17, 1982. Late autumn has been known to bring on early winter. The famous Halloween Blizzard of 1991 dropped over 15 inches of snow, creating six-foot drifts in North Central Wisconsin.  Even the arrival of spring is no guarantee of balmy weather. The record low temperature for the month of April is a frosty -9 degrees Fahrenheit!

Regardless of its form, precipitation in Townsend is abundant, with a normal annual total measure of above 30 inches. The maximum average precipitation occurs in September, but summers in Townsend can also be wet, with 4.3 inches being the most rain ever recorded within a 24-hour period. Winters in Townsend are usually blessed with adequate to abundant “white stuff.” The past 30 year average snowfall was 70 inches, with the record for the most annual snow set in 1971 when 120 inches fell! Suffice it to say that falling moisture, whether it be in the form of spring rains, summer thundershowers, fall drizzles, or winter blizzards, is vital to Townsend as it replenishes the aquifers and waterways that are the lifeblood of the town.

Though precipitation in the area is plentiful, abandoned dairy farms dot the countryside, testament to the fact that Townsend’s soil is not well-suited to modern agriculture. Composed of gray, sandy loam, a mix of sand, rocks and silt that contains a preponderance of small to larger stones, the topsoil is thin, only an inch or two in many places. More importantly, the earth does not hold water like the rich black loam with which other parts of the state are blessed. So it is understandable that, though generations gave it their blood, sweat, tears, hearts and souls, homesteaders could not sustain dairy farming in Townsend. At the current time, there are no operational dairy farms, and only a handful of working beef cattle farms in the town. Horse ranching, though, is very popular, as is tree farming. The soil and climate do support both deciduous and evergreen trees. Most common are aspen, poplar, white and yellow birch, red and white oak, beechnut, basswood, black cherry, soft and hard (sugar) maple, ash, hickory, hornbeam, balsam, hemlock and several varieties of pine, including red, white, and jack.

Wildflowers are one of the most delightful forms of “eye candy” that greets anyone venturing outdoors in Townsend from late April straight through to Halloween. Snowmelt and spring rains bring forth a virtual carpet of woodland blooms, too numerous to name. Favorites include several varieties of liverwort and violet, bravely peeking their pretty heads out as soon as the soil warms. These early arrivals are followed by dainty meehania and starflower; then the fireworks really start sometime around mid to late May. Depending on rain and nighttime temperatures, the woods are covered for two weeks with a virtual blanket of white trilliums, one of Wisconsin’s most cherished wildflowers. When these white, lily-like beauties fade to a soft mauve, look along the water’s edge or in marshy areas for a profusion of gorgeous wild iris. Their intense purple blooms soon give way to a succession of color provided by asters, avens, black-eyed susans, bugbane, buttercup, yellow and purple clover, columbine, daisies, daylilies, everlasting, hawkweed, lupine, nightshade, primrose, wild chrysanthemum and yarrow, just to name a few. Those enjoying a canoe, kayak, or pontoon boat ride on the waters of the township are in for a special treat as both white-water and spatter-dock water lilies bloom all summer.

A discussion of Townsend’s natural assets cannot be considered complete without mentioning one final “gift” left behind by the retreating glaciers. Many a homesteader’s heart (and back) was broken by this special bequest: huge stones, some the size of SUVs. These charming boulders, which might make rock farming a profitable enterprise, appear serendipitously, as if sprinkled like pepper around the area. They are prized by almost all of the town’s residents who often use them in landscaping their homes. Notable exceptions are the landscapers, well drillers, building contractors and road crews who come upon them. Many a cuss word has been uttered by a frustrated workman as he is forced to exert super-human strength in an effort to wrangle one of these gigantic monoliths into submission. Still, these limestone and granite monsters must hold incredible secrets from ages past, for as a Native American sachem once observed, “Only the stones live forever.”



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