Courtesy of Anuta Research Center 
The old wooden boat, primitive equipment and archaic method of fishing provides a stunning clue how the earliest commercial fishermen toiled during the maturing age of Menominee and Marinette. William “Billy” Farnsworth, a fur trader and fisherman, was the first white settler on the Menominee River in 1823. He and a partner set up fish weirs on a darn they constructed on the river in 1832. From then on a slew of anxious fishermen began arriving to take advantage of the abundance of varies species available on the river and the waters of Green Bay. 
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center 

The old wooden boat, primitive equipment and archaic method of fishing provides a stunning clue how the earliest commercial fishermen toiled during the maturing age of Menominee and Marinette. William “Billy” Farnsworth, a fur trader and fisherman, was the first white settler on the Menominee River in 1823. He and a partner set up fish weirs on a darn they constructed on the river in 1832. From then on a slew of anxious fishermen began arriving to take advantage of the abundance of varies species available on the river and the waters of Green Bay. 

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The Marinette and Menominee area, once a haven for commercial fishing, has become a roadstead for sport fishing. A variety of species make the Menominee River, waters of Green Bay and the many lakes and streams snaking through our wonderland, popular places to bait the hook.

The collection of fish today is different from the classes that were available in the founding days of our communities. Walk into a local restaurant and you’re likely to be escorted to a booth or table with a place mat in front of you that touts “fresh water fish” — yellow perch, walleye, northern pike, brook trout, bass and other varieties.

Sport fishing and commercial fishing were a way of life in the beginning of M&M land. Fur traders and fishermen built dams and set up seines, a type of fishing net, on the river.

William Farnsworth was a fur trader and fisherman and is registered as the first white settler to arrive on the Menominee River in 1823. He and a partner, Charles Brush, set up fish weirs on a dam they built on the river.

Andrus Eveland was an early arrival here (1841) and soon became a well-established commercial fisherman. He and his crew rigged a chain of seines. John Quimby joined the Eveland operation in 1850.

Mrs. Caroline Lehmann Quimby gave a speech at a Menominee Rotary Club banquet in 1923 that well described life in Menominee in earlier times. Mrs. Quimby was the sister of Billy Lehmann, one of the city’s unflinching historians who liked to keep history alive with his timely stories on a maturing community.

Caroline was pretty good, too, at letting people know what life was like here in the 19th century.

Speaking at the “Old Settlers’” banquet at the Rotary Club, Mrs. Quimby pointed out that in the early days of Menominee, “every one was a member of the Rotary Club.” It may have been a slight exaggeration of the club’s membership, but her point was that a large number of Rotarians were involved in the growth of the community from early on.

“We all served each other unselfishly and everyone was just a member of a great big household,” she noted in a prepared speech that later wound up in the files at the Anuta Research Center.

“Things have changed greatly since I first came here, but my fish stories tonight cannot be denied by any member of the present Rotary Club,” her speech notes continued, “and so when I start to fish watch out for a whale.”

She remembered that when she first arrived “everything from Kirby Street (2nd Street) to Parmenter Street (5th Street) was water. It was just a slough, filled with wire grass, cattails, willows and the like. The fishermen used to bring their boats up the Menominee River and into this slough because they did not think they would be safe in the river if a heavy storm should come up.”

Corduroy roads were built through the slough, she said, “so that people could get from place to place.” Corduroy roads were logs laid together transversely so people could cross swampy land.

According to Mrs.Quimby, the slough was eventually filled with edgings and sawdust from the old Kirby-Carpenter Lumber Co. mill in the early 1870s. She noted the first macadam that Main Street (1st Street) had was slabs and sawdust, which cost $1,500, the sum paid to Kirby-Carpenter for its slabbing and sawdust that filled Main Street from the river to Ogden Avenue (10th Avenue).

After laying out the complexion of the city’s east side in her address to the Rotary Club, Quimby turned to fishing.

“The fish caught in the early days of Menominee included sturgeon, herring, dory, white fish, trout and also so-called coarce fish,” she said. “The early settlers caught loads and loads of herring but never dressed them. They took boat loads of them out and dumped them.”

According to Quimby, white fish at the time “was worth nine or ten dollars, and sturgeon, which is almost extinct now (1923) was caught in the nets by the hundreds, but was left to rot. There was a fortune to be made in those fish if we had only known it. Sturgeon is now 19 or 20 cents a pound.”

Fish buyers from the city of Green Bay and other surrounding towns would come to Menominee and Marinette and buy from local fishermen.

The fish were packed in barrels made by Nicolas Gewehr and Sam Abbot, each of them in the cooperage business of making casks and barrels. Gewehr came to Menominee in 1850 and went to work for John Quimby in the fishing business. He left here three years later for Racine, but returned a year later and worked at Quimby’s shop making casks and barrels.

Some of the local fishermen made their fish nets by knitting them, while others bought their nets from outside the area.

In the winter of 1879, John and Edwin Quimby were worried their nets would be lost if the ice began to crack and move. The ice broke while they were retrieving their nets. They made their way to Green Island in the dark to reach safety. After a shivering night on the island, the brothers found solid ice at daybreak and decided to make a run to shore in Menominee.

“The women folks watched all night for their return in a building on the former National Hotel site,” Caroline told Rotarians. The National Hotel was located across from the present-day Miller Office & Supply Co.

According to Caroline’s notes, John and Edwin Quimby were on ice skates. They picked up their fishing nets and catch of fish and carried them on their backs while they skated home to safety.

“Menominee has grown from a sawdust village to a city of more than 10,000 people, all in my time, the sturdy pioneer turns over to the younger generation the fish we didn’t take during our time,” Caroline told her audience. “I guess the present day fish (1923) are used to the ways of the flapper and it will not be so easy to hook them.”

Caroline Lehmann Quimby’s address about the early days of fishing to the Menominee Rotary Club 95 years ago gives us a perception of what the commercial fishing trade was about in the ripening years of two communities. The history of fishing is so interesting and colorful that I’m going to have Billy Lehmann, a brother to Mrs. Quimby, tell his story next Monday.