History of the School Forest and Lindsey Area
Prepared by: Don Hoehn
When the first white men came to America, we can assume that the area of Lindsey was just like the rest of the Wisconsin wilderness. Forests of giant hardwoods and conifers stretched almost endlessly, broken only by an occasional marsh, lake, or stream. Wild game of all sorts lived on the land. Indian inhabitants included the Winnebago, Chippewa, Huron, and perhaps and occasional band of Sioux. It was the timber that was to bring the first large influx of white men into working for the federal government. They surveyed the land in this area for the first time. The early 1850’s saw the first of the lumbering industries in this area when George Hiles started the George Hiles Lumber Company at Dexterville. Solomon Nason and his brother purchased several sections of land around the Nasonville area in 1856. This purchase included sections 16 and 17 on which the School Forest is now located.
Mr. Hiles continued buying timber in the Lindsey area. He eventually owned 70,000 acres. In 1883, he purchased the land of the School Forest under a land contract.
It seems that white pine was the first timber to be cut. This early logging was at the time of the famous log drives on the rivers. These drives took place in the spring of the year when the ice went out, and the logs which had been skidded out on the ice in the winter floated downstream. Dams were built on some rapids along with streams to lessen the problem of the fast water. Little Bull Falls, on the Yellow River, north of North Wood County Park once had a dam for this purpose. There were also dams on Lindsey and Barbes Creeks. As the railroads branched out into new areas, the hardwoods were cut and hauled to the rails, as they did not float as well as the pine.
One of the greatest fears of the settlers at this time was fire. In September and October of 1891, much of this part of the state was afire. Weather had been dry and the sparks from steam engines on the railroads probably started many of the fires. They burned for about ten days, but a heavy rain curbed them around October 1. One of the fires undoubtedly went through the School Forest land. There is record of a fire burning over Lindsey Bluff in 1887. This was responsible for the new growth of trees and brush in later years.
Sometime in the years from 1880 to 1900 various camps and communities sprang up along the railroad in this area. Of course, Lindsey is an example. It was, undoubtedly, the largest, and the only one remaining today.
The logging industry was gradually losing importance as the turn of the century came about. Though one cannot end the logging definitely at any one point, the early twentieth century saw the disappearance of most of the timber interests in the area. Now, the lumber magnates and colorful lumberjacks were being replaced by the farmer who wished to make a permanent home here, the plow was replacing the axe and saw.
In 1907, John D. Bowes bought the land that included the School Forest. It seems that the property of the School Forest was in his possession from the time of his purchase until he died, though this land was actually farmed by others. The types of farming crops attempted were many varied.
On the property of the School Forest there were some crops raised. According to Mr. Edwin Ketelle, a man by the name of Blakely lived there. He built a small house and barn where the old foundations just west of the driveway still are. This was about 1901 and 1902. Blakely raised good corn and hay crops.
Blakely, the first to live on the School Forest property sold out to James “Dus” Johnson, a stone mason, in 1911. Johnson farmed there, and also worked as a stone mason when he could. His wife died from tuberculosis about 1920.
In 1921, Mr. and Mrs. John Steffen and their family rented the School Forest property from Dus Johnson. The Steffen’s lived there until the fall of 1922. They raised some pretty good crops of corn, oats, and hay. The pines by the driveway were not there then. The Steffen’s found that the best crop land was about where the pines are now standing. A great disadvantage to the place was that there was no well. The stock was driven back to a spring at the foot of the bluff for water. Dus Johnson moved back to the farm for about two years, after which he held a personal property sale and moved out West. Prior to this, the house burned in about 1924. However, a nice orchard of apples and plums still remained there for many years. From that time on no one lived on the property, although it was used for grazing from time to time.
After the Steffen’s moved out and the Johnson’s stopped farming, trees took over the richer spots and grass and weeds took the rest. It seems that the sandy soil of this area “burned out” fast. Many of the trees on these abandoned farms are aspen, white birch, scrub oak and thick hazel brush. The fires also contributed to the loss of fertility, some of the fires had burned into the thick moss and peat. The last fire of any size was in about 1933. Mr. Ketelle said that this fire retarded the growth of what trees there were and only made the brush grow thicker.
After this, the land was considered to have little agricultural value until the Marshfield School District purchased the land in 1956.
The idea of acquiring a school forest originated with our students who returned from the Trees for Tomorrow camp, where they had heard of the large school forests maintained by neighboring schools. The subject was discussed at many meetings of the Student Council; and, although the Board of Education would have direct control, the council members felt that they would like to assume as much responsibility as the Board would delegate.
Mr. Bluemke and Mr. Martinson, agriculture instructors, were alerted to look for tax delinquency property that we could afford. Both the classes of 1955 and 1956 had left some money earmarked for the purchase of a suitable site.
At about the same time, a Mrs. Henry Meigs, of West Allis, wrote to Mr. Hurst, forester for the Consolidated Paper and Power Company, offering to sell 240 acres of forest land in the town of Rock. Mr. Hurst was of the opinion that it would make an excellent school forest but thought it was far too expensive for us. Mr. Raymond Anderson, biology instructor, who had a school forest experience at Nekoosa High School, was asked to cruise the acreage and when he returned he was most enthusiastic about the entire area. We contacted Mrs. Meigs, whose father, John Bowers, willed the land to her in 1949, and explained our great interest in the land owned by her and her sister. Mrs. Meigs, being a former school teacher, board member, and member of the Joint Committee on Education in Wisconsin, realized the great educational value of such a forest to a school. She sold us the 240 acres for a small amount plus back taxes.
This was quite a financial undertaking for a Student Council. However, Mr. Stauber of the Citizens National Bank came to the rescue and offered the money on a non-interest bearing note until they were able to raise the necessary funds, after the deed was completed, on October 1, 1956; the School Forest became a reality.
It soon became apparent that we should own our own access road. A Mr. and Mrs. Paul Lindner, residing in Pittsville, owned the forty acres described as the SW ¼ of the SE ¼ of Section 17. The Lindner’s were ready to sell it to us, and the purchased was made in April of 1957. The Student Council again turned the deed over to John H. Stauber, City Attorney, for processing; then it was turned over to the City Clerk.
After the land was acquired, it was realized that the actual development of the forest for outdoor educational purposes held tremendous potential. Shortly after securing the 240 acres tract of land as a school forest, the Trees for Tomorrow organization at Merrill was contracted to outline a forest management plan for this area.
In August of 1958, the concrete slab for the building was laid. By the second week of September some of the framework had gone up, but it wasn’t until the middle of November that the work began in earnest. The students worked feverishly in an effort to put the roof over the building before it snowed. The building was completed in the spring of 1959, and dedicated in the fall.
While the students did the majority of the work, they were supervised by Senior High School Industrial Arts Instructors, Marvin Schutts, Alvin Bitzer and Richard Johnson. Principal Russell Knapp, also a stone mason; built the beautiful Lannon stone fireplace. He was assisted by two student stone masons, Dave Larson and Darwin Craft.
In February, 1963 the city of Marshfield purchased the final forty acres from Gustav and Agnes Hahm. This forty is the northwest corner of the Forest property. This brought the total acreage to 320 acres.
In the late sixties a shower house and shelter- storage building were constructed under the direction of Jerry Holubets, Senior High Construction Technology Instructor. Since then many improvements have been made to the School Forest Property, among them:
Pond enlarged and improved
Construction of a pier
Road, development and improvement
Trail sign construction
Fire protection equipment
Benches around outdoor fire ring
Remodeling and updating of the lodge
Mapping of vegetation, soils and trails by Paul Herder, Junior High Science Instructor
6.5 miles of cross country ski trails
Half log siding and new roof on the lodge
Parking lot by the entrance
Since its inception the School Forest has had an ongoing Forest Management Program utilizing the resources of the DNR and the Tree Farm Program. Income from the sale of pulp through the program has funded some of the improvements such as the gravel access road through the property now known as the Hahm Trail and remodeling the outside of the lodge. Some of the more recent improvements and teacher training programs have been funded by a Weyerhauser Grant in 1990-1991.
Since the inception of the School Forest Program, four directors have headed the development and growth of the program: Raymond Anderson 1954-1957, Don Helgerson 1958-1966, Pete Kopplin 1967-1991, Larry Wisniewski 1991-2011, and Mark Zee 2011 to present.
A History of the School Forest and the Lindsey Area by Douglas Helling
A History of the School Forest Laboratory from 1956-1960, complied and written by the U.S. History classes of Mr. Robert King
Abstract of Title for the School Forest Property
The Pond's History
The Pond was man-made approximately 1960 where there was an extremely high water table in the township. Many of the area homes have ponds and soil in area is very sandy, yet five miles east it turns to clay.The pond was a wetland where natural seepage came out of, and still does come out of the north east corner of the pond today. Swamp was dredged out and soil stacked on west side which is now the trail on west side of the pond (Levee). A culvert is on the north corner of levee which allows the existing wetlands west of the pond to continue to exist. The pond slops gradually goes from 1ft. deep on the east side to 6 ft. to 8ft. deep along the west levee. The island that sits in the pond was also man-made when the pond was created.The water of the pond is slightly stained. This is a result of the rainwater run-off which picks up the tannic acid from the leaves. Usually it is compared to leaves in dog’s water bowl in the fall, which turns brown but still is drinkable. The pink aerator is turned on each winter at first ice. A cable is buried underground from the aerator to the little shed near the dock.There are three types of fish in the pond
- Largemouth Bass - A few years ago we had a number of extremely large ones about 22 inches, 6-8 pounds. They were caught and not returned to the pond. When the large bass were present Bluegills were also quite nice in size.
- Bluegills - these fish were also fairly large, but the large bass would eat many of the smaller Bluegills resulting in the larger Bluegills having plenty of food to grow.
- Bullheads - we have some bullheads which are somewhat smaller than the Largemouth Bass.