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Hazelhurst and the Yawkey Lumber Company

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The town of Hazelhurst, like so many in the Northwoods, got its start thanks to the forestry industry.

But unlike other Northwoods communities with logging origins, Hazelhurst’s ties to the Yawkey Lumber Company gave him a slightly different trajectory.

It was a path that shapes the community to this day.

Cyrus Carpenter Yawkey was the nephew of Michigan forest industry magnate William Clyman Yawkey and grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, where he learned the trade. In 1888 William, Cyrus and George E. Lee acquired a large tract of land around Lake Katherine and established the sawmill village of Hazelhurst. The three men founded the Yawkey and Lee Lumber Company and immediately began logging in the winter of 1888-1889.

Cyrus Yawkey was a teetotaler and did not allow saloons or other unsavory businesses in his new village, which set Hazelhurst apart from other booming logging towns. However, shortly after the founding of the village, a large barge topped with a building appeared in the bay of Lake Katherine. A smart contractor circumvented Yawkey’s ban by setting up a saloon in the lake. The owner would send a speedboat to the village, pick up people and bring them back later that night in various stages of intoxication. Of course, the rowboat had to be careful and never touch the shore, which meant that intoxicated guests had to wade through the water all the way to shore at night. More than one fell and had to be fished out in cold water.

Yawkey was the kind of man who wanted to control every aspect of his logging camp, and the barge was just too heavy. To defeat him, he compromised on his ways of taking the teetotal and allowed Frank Bryant to build a single living room near the dormitory outside the colony. The barge lost its business and never heard from again.

Logging remained the main activity and the extraction of cut timber from the district remained a problem, as it was not possible to remove logs from the Hazelhurst area. George Lee came from a railway background, and although the company became simply the Yawkey Lumber Company after 1893, Lee continued to focus on transportation issues.

In 1896, the Hazelhurst and Southeastern Railway Company filed articles of incorporation with the Wisconsin Secretary of State. It has been proposed that the road be twenty miles in length and connect Hazelhurst with the Northwestern Line at McNaughton. When completed, it gave the company access to transport links going north and south.

Naturally, a railroad requires a locomotive, and rather than buying a new one, the Hazelhurst and Southeastern Railroad bought the # 5 engine from the Milwaukee, Lakeshore and Western Railroad. The Milwaukee line was transitioning to charcoal burners, and the No.5 engine was an old wood burner that was obsolete. Yawkey had it rebuilt as a coal burner and renamed it Engine No. 99.

Tracks were soon laid as far as Tomahawk Lake, and this station replaced McNaughton as the main outlet. At its peak, the railway had 400 cars and 13 engines.

By 1911 the wood was exhausted and Hazelhurst began the transition to resort tourism. But Yawkey Lumber was not finished. In 2018, the Northwoods Land Trust received a donation of 431 acres of virgin land from the Yawkey Lumber Company. It is being held today for everyone’s enjoyment as a Yawkey Forest Reserve.


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