Odd Wisconsin Archive
English Tudor Logging Camp
Most of our northwoods villages began life as crude log structures that rose out of the primeval forest to house lumberjacks and the businesses loggers needed. Where two rail lines came to a junction or a waterfall made possible a lumber mill, a tiny hamlet might spring up. In the early 20th century the log cabins often gave way to a few single-story frame buildings with false fronts that housed a general store, blacksmith, post office, and tavern, the entire village vaguely resembling the set of a Hollywood western. There was a predictable sameness about "the ugly square front shops which seem to be the favorite style of architecture of the small town business men" and the "dingy boarding houses or patched huts of tar paper" that housed the village residents.
But not at Elcho, in Langlade County. A fire destroyed the village in 1923, and mill-owner Charles Fish decided it was as much an opportunity as a disaster. Instead of throwing up the same types of boring and ugly structures that had been destroyed, he hired a Chicago architect to make the main street look like a traditional English village. This was such a remarkable sight amid the endless bogs, acres of stumps, and desolate burnt forest of the north that when trains approached the village, passengers would "shout to each other and all make haste to the right side of the car."
Half-timber Tudor-style structures stood alongside one another on Main St., "each in turn marked by its own charm but all conforming to the same idea of beauty... Although the eye passes from one to another, it is impossible to decide which is the most pleasing." One visitor remarked, "If I had seen such a business street in England or France I would have said: Yes, such a village of beauty is possible in an ancient well ordered land of culture. But to find such a paragon in the wilderness of Northern Wisconsin, that is impossible. I pinch myself in the arm and stare out with my face to the window-pane until the train is again engulfed in the ravaged wilderness."
You can see a photo of Elcho's main street at Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles, along with an account of its odd history, and that of its founder, Charles Fish. And you can read more about Wisconsin architecture on our Historic Preservation pages and in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History.
:: Posted in Curiosities on May 5, 2006