Courtesy of Anuta Research Center 
The largest fish processing and storage facility on the Menominee River in the bygone years was the Dormer Fish Co., which in later years became Angwall-Dormer under Orin Angwall. Commercial fishermen from the M&M area, Door County and Washington Island brought their catches to the plant. After processing, the fish were shipped to markets on the Great Lakes, East Coast and as far south to New Orleans. Herring was the choice species in the cold weather months and smelt in the spring. Central West Coal Co. and Limestone Products Co., to the left of the fish plant, were once local mainstays. K&K Integrated Logistics now occupies the property.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center 

The largest fish processing and storage facility on the Menominee River in the bygone years was the Dormer Fish Co., which in later years became Angwall-Dormer under Orin Angwall. Commercial fishermen from the M&M area, Door County and Washington Island brought their catches to the plant. After processing, the fish were shipped to markets on the Great Lakes, East Coast and as far south to New Orleans. Herring was the choice species in the cold weather months and smelt in the spring. Central West Coal Co. and Limestone Products Co., to the left of the fish plant, were once local mainstays. K&K Integrated Logistics now occupies the property.

There must have been a lot of fish tales exchanged at the Lehmann family dinner tables many years ago when Menominee and Marinette were sprouting towns. Caroline Lehmann Quimby and Billy Lehmann were brother and sister. Both had a barrel of stories to tell about the early days of fishing and they put their recollections into speeches or had someone else write their folklore for them so that future generations would better understand the colorful history of commercial history in our area.

Their father was the first blacksmith in Menominee. His shop was at the corner of Ogden Avenue (10th Avenue) and Main Street (later Sheridan Road and now 953 1st St.), a site made famous when Augustus Spies built a three-story brick building in 1900 that has been a community landmark since. It was the first brick building in Menominee.

Caroline Lehmann Quimby’s narration of the fishing trade was covered in a column I wrote last Monday. She gave a speech to the Menominee Rotary Club in 1923 and her printed remarks wound up in the files at the Anuta Research Center. Billy Lehmann’s description of early day fisheries appeared in a 1947 “Town Crier” column written by Jean Worth when he was editor of the Menominee Herald-Leader. Worth often used Billy as his unofficial town historian because he was so talkative and prided himself on knowing more about the developing years of Menominee than any other person in his generation.

According to Billy, Menominee had five fisheries along the shores of Green Bay in the 1860s. Although the county was organized in 1863, the city of Menominee wasn’t chartered until 1883. The first fishery, Billy told Worth, was that of Joseph Juttner who had a shop in back of the old National Hotel, which was located on the east side of Main Street across the street from the present-day Miller Office Supply Co.

Juttner tied his fishing boat to a crude home-made dock on the shoreline. The dock likely was in the same general location where sleek yachts now are moored at Great Lakes Marina. Juttner’s fish house was near the shoreline. Try to picture a shabby-looking fish house and a dilapidated boat dock on a picturesque beach more than a century ago compared to the beautiful layout of current times.

Fishermen didn’t build their docks to last very long. They drove a couple of piles into the bottom and cross timers on which planks were placed. The winter ice played havoc with the docks. The ice destroyed them so often the fishermen didn’t bother to build sturdy mooring sites for their boats. 

The fishermen were satisfied to rebuild their docks each spring so they could tie up their small sailboats and carry their catches of fish ashore for dressing and salting. There was no fresh fish market in those days except for the harvests that were sold locally. 

Nicholas Gewehr, who arrived here in 1850, was the second fisherman to work local waters. He was of German descent and his last name meant “gun” to many locals, so they commonly referred to him as “Billy Gun.” 

Actually, Billy Lehmann’s account of early fishermen clashes with other chronology of the trade. History tells us William Farnsworth was the first fur trader and white settler on the Menominee River, coming here in 1823. He and a partner set up fish weirs on a dam they constructed in the river. Andrus Eveland is believed to be the second fisherman to settle here in 1841. 

In fact, Juttner’s name isn’t even mentioned on some of the rosters identifying early fishermen. But discrepancy often turns into a question mark when early history is researched. The recollections of our pathfinders will sometimes differ on names, dates, locations and so forth. It’s left to later historians to sort out the inconsistencies for the sake of accuracy. 

Gewehr was more than a commercial fisherman. He and Sam Abbot (first postmaster) were partners in a cooperage business of making casks and barrels. Gewehr packed his own fish and the harvests of other fishermen to ship to other growing cities. His cooperage shop, fish house and residence were located at the site of the First National Bank building at the corner of 1st Street and 10th Avenue. 

According to Lehmann, the former municipal water station, now a lounge for pleasure boaters at the marina, was the grounds where Gewehr dumped the offal from his fish cleaning as well as the noxious fish he captured in his nets. 

In later years, when commercial fishing was a big business in Menominee, Marinette and the Cedar River area, fishermen would quiver when you mentioned their counterparts of old and how they would discard what they considered to be worthless fish. For example, lawyers (burbot) were held in low esteem in the late 1940s, but the Department of Conservation (DNR today) was promoting them with housewives on how to make them tasty and nutritious.

Sturgeon and suckers were other species that were ignored by early-day fishermen.

“Big log-like sturgeon that weighed 100 pounds and were as tasty eating as any fish in this world were thrown away,” Lehmann was quoted in the Worth column.

According to Lehmann, “tons of fish went into Gewehr’s ‘gut pile’” in a pit he dug in the sand. The smell was obnoxious in the summer months and Gewehr simply piled sand on top of the rotting fish.

Andrew McIver, an Irishman straight from the homeland, built a home and a fish shanty near the site of the former John H. Binker home adjacent to the Veterans Memorial Park on 1st Street. He made Lehmann’s list of early fishermen.

Eveland’s residence and fish house were located in the vincinty of McIver’s operation. City fathers eventually named a street in his honor. It was called “Eveland Court,” now 13th Avenue since the city went to a numbering system in 1950.

Lehmann recalled that most of the early commercial fishermen used small sailboats to do their work, some of them only 18-to-20-feet long with one mast. 

He remembers fishermen made fishhooks from wire or went to his father’s blacksmith shop and had them made. He said fishhooks weren’t sold in a store back then. 

“The fishermen lived high when they had a good run,” Lehmann told Worth. “They fished fall and spring and sold their fish in kegs.” 

The commercial fishing industry, at least in the Marinette and Menominee region, may not be like it was in the developing years of our comnunities, but it is rich in history and that’s important for younger generations to know. In folklore, it’s right up there with the logging industry.