Prime Time History: Mattoon named for Civil War hero, entrepreneur|
(Editorís note: The news that the Pineries Bank is closing its branch in Mattoon, which has been home to the renamed Mattoon State Bank since 1906, brought the history of that northwestern Shawano County community into focus. This story, which appears on Leland Fischerís Antigo Genealogy Gopher Website, looks at the man for whom the community is named, George B. Mattoon. It was written by George A. Fuhrman and appeared in several newspapers.)
BY GEORGE A.
George B. Mattoon was born in Troy, N.Y. on Feb. 27, 1847. His mother's name was Mary Vaughn, and his father's name was Samuel Mattoon. George was the eighth child in a family of nine children.
At the age of 12, George petitioned his father for permission to go out and make his own living. His father granted his wish and George left Troy and Journeyed to Swanzey, N.H. He obtained his first job as a farm hand but after three months he decided this job and the hours weren't for him. He went to his employer and told him he was ready to move on and would like to be paid. Since money was a scarce item for early pioneers, it was agreed his wages would be a three-year-old heifer. He put a halter on his prized steed, and went waltzing through the wilderness woods.
Stumbling and trying to get the heifer to follow or lead didn't prove to be too successful, but luck smiled on him when he met a horseman along this pathway. After a brief greeting and explanation, the horseman, who lived in this area, wanted to barter for this critter that would enhance his chances for a gain. After lively bidding back and forth, George decided he would trade the heifer for the horse and a silver watch. George reasoned this would beat dragging, pulling or shoving the heifer because he could now ride. He rode his new steed to Ashuelot, N.H. where he applied for work at a hotel. The manager told him he would hire him for room and board and George accepted. In George's spare time he decided to go to school and eventually received a 12th grade education. He stayed at the hotel for one and one-half years then told the manager that he quit. George departed and rode to Northfield, Mass. Stopping at another hotel he applied for work, this time for pay, and managed to save $200.
George was now 14 years old and the Civil War had started, so he decided to join the Cavalry of the Union forces on Sept. 12, 1861. He was assigned to the First Vermont Cavalry. His service record is amazing, in three years and two months he fought in 70 engagements, 43 of these were major battles. Incredibly he had two horses shot out from under him, one at the battle of Gettysburg, and the other at the battle of Culpeper Court House. In his entire enlistment he never spent a day in sickbay or was off duty because of hurt or pain. In the battle of Cedar Creek, where Sheridan made his famous ride, his citation reads: The First Cavalry, capturing 61 prisoners, 23 pieces of artillery, three battle flags, 14 caissons, 17 army wagons, six ambulances, 83 sets of artillery harnesses, 75 sets of wagon harnesses, 98 horses and 69 mules. This is amazing because the whole army had only 48 pieces of artillery. Sheridan stated, up to that time, this was the best war record for loot by any Company under his command. George was given a discharge in the spring of 1865, George's brother Charles and his father Samuel also served in the Union forces for the State of New York, each serving about three years.
After his discharge George went to Sheboygan Falls where his brother Obed, had a chair factory. He worked as a laborer for his brother for three years and then bought him out. George hired a partner, William Parker and they built furniture stores in the larger cities of Wisconsin and also went into the bedroom furniture business. This business was a huge success with the work force of some 80 men. The men were kept busy supplying his furniture stores. To help production, in 1881 he installed a planing mill.
Two years later George sold his stores to the Hanchett Brothers and purchased three acres of swampy land to build a larger furniture factory. At the same time George went to Rockville, which later was named Mattoon. George started a lumber mill, a veneer mill, and a shingle mill. These mills helped supply his furniture factory in Sheboygan. The productivity in 1892 amounted to $1,063,000. George was operating his mills under the name of Mattoon Manufacturing Company.
George needed a way to move his wares to their market. The Milwaukee, Lake Shore, and Western Railroad Company was building tracks into northern Wisconsin, and in 1880 had just finished 10.30 miles from Eland to Aniwa. George purchased the land right from Aniwa to Mattoon and contracted the M. L. S. & W. Railroad and convinced them to construct a spur for him. This spur stayed private for only a year and then because of pleas from other mills in Mattoon this became a common carrier railroad. The C. & N. W. Railroad purchased the M. L. S. & W. Railroad in 1893, which then bought the rail bed from George for $50,000.
In 1895, under re-incorporation, the company name changed from Mattoon Manufacturing Company to Wisconsin Timber and Land Company. George maintained the office of president and co-signed with E.E. Pauzer as secretary treasurer. On Jan. 2, 1895, they bought 20,000 acres of land for $50,000. Under an umbrella of a subsidiary, the W. T & L. Company also formed the Mattoon Railway Company.
The only known spur built and maintained by the Wisconsin Timber & Land Company was known as the Weikel Spur. It was a distance of about two miles from their main line in Section 26, Almon Township to Section 23, Almon Township. George had purchased the Weikel sawmill to aid in his timber harvest thereby having a sawmill not only in Mattoon but also in Regina, which was known as Weikel's mill. The Weikel mill ran until the flood of 1912, which washed out most of the dams in the villages of Shawano County. This spur was constructed starting in 1898, going as far as Section 28, Almon Township. At Section 28, Almon Township George established a place called Mattoon Junction. He had great ambitions of establishing a community, and from his timber holdings, he had laid out a 10-acre tract for business. These lands, after being logged, were to be sold to settlers. This was not a success, and the idea was scrapped when this phase of his land holdings was logged off.
There was also a Westerly rail segment going to Section 30, Almon Township, which was the extreme edge of his timber holdings. There a loop was built so the engine could turn around. Since they also kept a switching engine at this junction, a storage shed was built so the engine could be serviced during the night time, if needed. Then, in 1899, from this Mattoon Junction to Section 35, Bartelme Township, which was the far end of the land holdings to the East, a line was continued which was a distance of 10 miles. These rails were pulled in 1901, and then placed in service starting from Dabill's Junction to Beecher Dam, a distance of 9.59 miles. These rails remained in service until 1913 when Brooks and Ross purchased 13.181 acres of the holdings after the death of George in July 1904.
The process continued by the German Bank to divest themselves of George's estate and the Mattoon Railway had to be dealt with. It has been said that by agreement with the C. & N. W. Railroad and the bank, the Wisconsin Timber and Land Company placed the Mattoon Railway in abandonment, and for this the estate was paid $5,000. Following this process then in 1913 the C. & N. W. removed the rails remaining at the Mattoon Junction. They also removed the trackage as far north on this line to Section 26, Almon Township, including the trackage to the Weikel Mill. A siding was left at this rails end, and the C. & N. W. serviced the railway until 1933. They then abandoned this portion and pulled these rails to within 1.27 miles of Mattoon, or the area previously described as Dabill's Junction. This was then the demise of the Mattoon Railway.
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