Crandon's Pioneer: Samuel Shaw

Apr 21, 2021

Crandon from Teachworth Hill
Credit Wisconsin Historical Society

Every year the town of Crandon celebrates Kentuck Days. This local holiday honors lumber camp workers from Kentucky who settled in the area at the turn of the century. But Crandon was not founded by anyone from Kentucky. Rather, Crandon was founded by Samuel Shaw, who traces his heritage back to Scotland.  

Samuel Shaw was born in 1842 near the village of Kirkpatrick just outside of Dumfries in the lowlands of Scotland.  Samuel’s mother, Mary Bennet, immigrated to the United States when he was an infant, so Samuel’s earliest years were spent with his grandparents in Scotland.  In 1852, before he turned ten, Samuel’s aunt, Janet Shaw, brought the boy to the United States.  They moved in with Samuel’s mother, who was living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Samuel Shaw attended school in Oshkosh.  However, by the age of sixteen he had proven himself to be such an exceptional scholar that he was asked to take charge of teaching an overflow group of younger boys and girls.  Shaw completed his own studies while teaching high school students in Oshkosh.  When he turned twenty, he journeyed briefly to Great Britain, but returned in 1863 and began teaching at the town of Omro, where he met Louise Webb, whom he soon married.  In 1867 he won election as Superintendent of Schools for Winnebago County and was reelected in 1869.  When he gained a statewide teaching certification in 1871, he resigned that position and took charge of the Berlin, Wisconsin, high school.

Shaw had a stellar reputation as an educator, and in 1873 he earned appointment as principal of Madison High School and city superintendent of schools.  He held that position for ten years.  However, toward the end of his tenure in Madison his health began to falter.  He took to spending summers in the Northwoods to recuperate.  He fell in love with the region and purchased land around what is today the town of Crandon.  By 1883 Shaw’s health had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer continue with his work.  He resigned his position in Madison and resettled permanently with his family to his land in the Northwoods.

Shaw was not one to rest easy.  He started a logging operation and developed a large farm of 400 acres.  By 1885, he teamed up with Frank P. Crandon, who was tax commissioner for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, to lobby for the establishment of Forest County.  By 1887, the two had succeeded not only in creating Forest County but the town of Crandon as well.

Now in his late forties, Shaw began studying law and became a lawyer in 1890.  He went on to serve three full terms as Forest County District Attorney.   However, Shaw knew that Forest County needed further development.  With that in mind he established a newspaper and founded the Forest County Colonization Society, the goal of which was to attract settlement to the area by highlighting its vast timber wealth.  German and Polish immigrants came, but it was a hard life for them until the turn of the century.

In 1901, the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad built to Crandon and made large-scale lumbering possible.  This is when settlers from Kentucky came, expanding the town from a population of 800 to over 2400 people.

Samuel Shaw died in 1917.  He left behind a remarkable record of accomplishments both as an educator and as a developer.