Southward on Lake Superior out of Bayfield, a number of small Wisconsin
towns line the perimeter of Chequamegon Bay. Washburn, seat of Bayfield
County since 1892, was for a while a thriving lumber port, fell on hard
times, then revived when the Dupont Corporation opened an explosives plant
nearby, creating the community of Barksdale (named for a Dupont executive).
Barksdale provided welcomed new customers for Washburn merchants. The DuPont
factory turned out the explosives needed for nearby copper and iron mines.
During World War I the factory became the largest supplier of dynamite in
the world. Post-war demand remained high into the 1950s. Taconite processing
plants provided a new market but by 1971 the boom (pardon the expression)
had gone bust, and the plant closed.
Ashland is the southernmost town on the bay. It was in 1854 that Asaph Whittlesley
and George Kilborn founded the little settlement. Kilborn was a great admirer
of Henry Clay so he naÙcommunity after Clay's home in Kentucky. It
almost died in infancy, as that old bugbear, the Panic of 1857, sent everyone
elsewhere to seek work. Just one family remained. And, as we've seen over
and over, the approaching railroads came to the rescue. That and the discovery
of another source of iron ore, the new Gogebic Range, that stretched eighty
miles south of Lake Superior west from Michigan to Bayfield County. Sawmills
sprang up to process the rafts of timber that floated down local rivers,
followed closely by brownstone exporters, shipping local product to major
Great Lakes cities. The growing popularity of cement as a building material,
as well as the depletion of the pine forests ended both industries, but
ore shipments continued to play a major part in the region's economy for
some time. Today the shipments have all but faded away. In the late seventies
only one of the four major ore docks still projected out into the bay, mostly
deserted. But the region had been extensively reforested and today lumber
is once more big business in Ashland.
Nine years earlier the steamboat Independence had been brought onto
Lake Superior from a shipyard in Chicago. Her first season had nearly been
her last. A fierce early winter storm nearly sank the vessel, as well as
the fifty kegs of dynamite she carried as cargo. In 1852 the ship's luck
turned sour again. Captain Redmond Ridder rode her onto the beach, at what
would become Ashland, during another storm. There she rotted until 1854,
the same year Whittlesley and Kilborn arrived. Other visitors were a Captain
McKay and his fourteen-year-old son who set about refloating and reoutfitting
the vessel, with the help of local Indians. Later that season, near the
Soo Canal, the refurbished boilers blew out. Purser Jonas Watson was tossed
a hundred and fifty feet skyward, but saved himself from a nasty landing,
by grabbing hold of a fellow projectile, a bundle of hay. Or so they say
on the Lakes.
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.
© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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