Ashland's Historical Museum

January 21, 2013


After I learned that the Ashland Ore Dock, a historic landmark in this northern Wisconsin city, was being demolished, I raced up to take pictures and then discovered the city’s Historical Museum, located at 509 Main Street. It is a small museum with a very small staff and volunteers, but these people are very gracious and proud, and the museum is interesting and informative. They’ve done a lot with a little.

museum describes itself this way:

“The Ashland Historical Society, a non-profit volunteer organization promotes the appreciation of local history and pride of community through a visual connection to the past by collecting and preserving memorabilia and artifacts, stories and traditions and by functioning as an educational resource.”

This is what every city and town needs, no matter how small.

I’ll walk you around a bit to give you can idea of what is inside. You could easily spend a few hours in there.


Right up front, the museum has a DVD playing on a display, “The History of the Ashland Ore Docks.” Ed Monroe, a former Ashland mayor, produced the video. Richard J. Pufall wrote about “Monroe’s historic ore dock show” for the Ashland Daily Press and its website. he said:

“The photo presentation dates back to 1885, 31 years before the current steel and concrete ore dock was built in 1916. Monroe’s show has become a pictorial history of the Ashland docks. At one time there were four coal docks and five ore docks. The original Wisconsin Central dock that sat alongside the Soo Line dock is now just a row of pilings. And there were three Chicago Northwestern ore docks down by Bayview Park … The photos in Monroe’s presentation come from the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, the company that built the ore dock; pictures from his own collection, pictures from the Ashland Historical Society Museum and from the current demolition.”

The DVD is available for purchase at the museum.


Some furniture, a piano and an organ from the day, along with brochures, cards and calendars. That is an organ to the right. Way in the back, about center in the photo, is a restored Beaser Piano, brought to Ashland by Martin Beaser in 1849. It was manufactured by Chickering Piano of Boston. Chickering was the largest piano manufacturer in the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century, only to be surpassed in the 1860s by Steinway. Today it is a brand name of the Baldwin Piano Co.


This is a closeup presented by the museum. Now that’s a beauty.


Ashland, then and now


There’s a real admiration for nurses in this museum. Having been married to an emergency room RN, I enjoyed this section a lot. Like many cities in the day, women who went to college often studied to become nurses and teachers. They picked nursing for many reasons, one of which was to contribute to the community.


As a retired USAF officer, I found this display especially interesting. Irwin H. Kreinbring of Ashland served in WWII aboard the USS Spadefish (SS-411), a Balao Class Submarine. The Spadefish served for only one year in the Pacific, but took down 88,091 tons in 21 ships and numerous trawlers. She served on five patrols in the Pacific, offshore Luzon, the Philippines; in the Yellow Sea between the Korean Peninsula and China; the East China Sea and again in the Yellow Sea; and the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan. That is a photo of Kreinbring who appears to have received the Bronze Star. Quite a tribute to him. He survived the war, as did the Spadefish.


Now here’s something for us little kids to look at. I am going to try to break it apart into individual pieces.


This is a model of the Butterfield. She was one of the best known tugs on the Great Lakes. She had a life of distinction, becoming a central part of the logging trade. She towed acre-sized “rafts” of timber across Lake Superior. Following that, she served her country in the Aleutian Islands towing supply barges to remote island outposts for the military in WWII. She then returned to the Great Lakes after the war and continued general service for the logging industry. She has gone through several design changes, is now known as the John Purvis, and is on display at the Door County Museum.


This is a model of the J.L.Mauthe. She entered service as an ore boat in 1953 and performed most of her service between Duluth-Superior and various lower lake ports. She would later get involved in the grain trade. Jody Aho reported, “The J.L. Mauthe's trim lines and distinctive profile for her class made her a favorite among boatwatchers, particularly in the later years. The vessel now finds herself in a revived career in the newest trend in Great Lakes shipping.” After several modifications, to my knowledge she is still operational, now known as Pathfinder.


This is a model of the John Roen III tugboat. She has quite a history. John Roen was born in Norway, loved the water since boyhood, and eventually made his way to Michigan, to Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. He built a company and, I believe, tugs from John Roen I through John Roen V. Capt. John Roen is a legend on the Great Lakes. As an example, he was contracted to salvage the George M. Humphrey, which sank while down bound for South Chicago with 13,992 tons of iron ore aboard. She collided with the steamer D.M. Clemson in June 15, 1943. Thirty-nine crew were rescued and the Humphrey was abandoned. Roen managed to recover 8,000 tons of ore and he employed two barges to bring the Humphrey to the surface, accomplished on September 10, 1944.


I love this model a lot. This is a model of the John Schroeder Lumber Co. operation in Ashland. It ran rail lines on two of the Apostle Islands and rafted them from railhead on the islands to Schroeder's mill in Ashland. He logged pine, other softwoods, and hardwoods in northeastern Minnesota and the Apostle Islands tugs pulled them across to the Ashland mill. In addition, pine, hardwood, and pulpwood from Oak, Michigan, Outer, and Stockton supported Ashland's economy for more than 30 years.


This is a model of a typical ore dock in Ashland.


The museum has a collection of photos of the ore docks. This one, left to right, shows Docks #1, #2 and #3. The museum also has photography of the ore docks being built.


Ashland was a port of choice, especially for the Gogebic mines to the east. But Ashland would also grow to become a rail hub for wood coming from the mills for shipment and tourism coming from Milwaukee and Chicago to the Lake Superior and Bayfield Peninsula areas.


This blowup of the model shows wood planks piled up on rail cars, ready for shipment out.


From the outset, Ashland was the port of choice for the Gogebic iron ore mines. The first problem was to be able to move the ore from the mines to Ashland. Rail was the mode of choice. At least 11 rail lines competed for this iron ore and logging-rich region.

There was tremendous competition among the rail lines, and a lot of demand. The miners and loggers both needed the rail service. Shipping iron ore to Ashland was a relatively new requirement; logging in Wisconsin's northern regions was starting to grow as loggers moved from Michigan's depleting forests to Wisconsin largely virgin forests.

The Wisconsin Central completed tracks to Ashland by 1877, connecting her with Milwaukee, Chicago and points beyond. But the rail way ended up in economic upheaval until it went over to the Soo Line in 1908.

The Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western Railroad (MLS&W), known as the Lake Shore, had its roots in the route from Chicago-Milwaukee along the Lake Michigan coast line. Wisconsin had just become a state in 1848, opportunities were everywhere, so the Lake Shore worked hard to attract hunters, fishermen, tourists, speculators, settlers, capitalists, and entrepreneurs, and then turned its attention to logging and mining.


I visited on December 4, 2012, as we were closing in on Christmas. The museum had a marvelous display of Santas in what it called the “Community Collection Nook.”

I’ll close with that. Lots of fun. And more important, lots of exciting history.

My thanks go to Amy Tromberg, the curator, and Joan Haukaas, a volunteer and board member who took quite a bit of her time and energy to show me around.