For over a year, local historian Gary Entz has uncovered why many towns in the Northwoods are named what they are.
Some previous installments of A Northwoods Moment in History have included how the towns of Phelps, St. Germain, Sayner, and Lake Tomahawk got their names.
In this week’s installment, we hear how the town of Woodboro got its name.
The town of Woodboro is a small village of roughly seven-hundred full-time residents located just west of Rhinelander in Oneida County. Like many Northwoods communities, Woodboro’s population grows considerably during the summer months, but what many summer visitors may not realize is that the pristine waters of the lakes around Woodboro were at one time filled from shore-to-shore with timber from the logging industry.
Prior to American settlement, both the Ojibwe and Pottawatomi had villages around what is today Woodboro. There was enough land for cultivation along with ample hunting and fishing to sustain everyone. All that changed with the arrival of American settlers. The town of Rhinelander was founded in 1880 while the town of Tomahawk was founded in 1886, and the fact that the land between the two towns was thick with timber was not lost on opportunistic businessmen.
William H. Bradley, who is credited as the founder of Tomahawk, was among the first to establish logging operations around Woodboro. However, while the Bradley Company may have gotten an early start, Woodboro’s name and origin as a town comes from the George E. Wood Lumber Company. George Wood was a Chicago businessman who started his lumbering operation in the Woodboro area around 1890. Wood Company lumberjacks began work immediately, even before there was a sawmill or means to transport the lumber out of the region. In those early years, the felled pine logs were placed into Squash Lake until it was full. Most remained there for the better part of a year until the Wood company sawmill started operations. The Soo Line, which had built to Rhinelander in 1886, passed through the area and became the transportation link once the Wood Company sawmill was complete.
Originally, the land around Squash Lake had been part of the town of Pelican, but as more people moved in and began to populate the area a village began to form around the lumber mill. In 1893 the new town of Woodboro was formally established. Even though it never had a large population, in those days Woodboro spread out over a much larger land area than today and encompassed Cassian, Little Rice, Lynn, and Nokomis. In 1903, just as the timber was being cutover completely, those townships were separated from Woodboro to become independent entities.
Previously, farming had not been an attraction for people moving to Woodboro, but as lumbering began its decline potatoes, grain, and hay became common crops in the region. But probably more important than agriculture for the economy was the development of tourist resorts. The first resorts in Woodboro were what was termed “cabin settlements.” In other words, basic wood fishing cabins with few if any amenities. But as in other Northwoods locations, the resorts improved over time. Woodboro soon had many more family-friendly vacation spots located around Squash, Crescent, Hancock, Washburn, and other lakes in the vicinity.
Highway 8 was commissioned in 1926 and built over the older wagon roads that had led to the area, which allowed for further development of tourism.