Chainsaw artist Jeff Mohr from Oxford stands by his wood relief of a paddler on the Fox River.  The Packwaukee Historical Society hired Mohr to create the beautiful sign that now is located in Washington Park in Packwaukee.  Come to Heritage Day this Saturday and see the sign and have some brats and fun.  (Photo submitted)

Packwaukee heritage honored in two new projects

By Kathleen McGwin
The Packwaukee Historical Society is once again contributing to Packwaukee pride with two major projects.  First is a beautifully carved sign in Washington Park that was created by Jeff Mohr from Oxford.  The carved wood relief shows a paddler in a canoe on the Fox River, representative of the Indian, explorer, and fur trade heritage of Packwaukee.  The sign has been a dream of the historical society that they made come true and visitors to Heritage Day this Saturday can view the skilled work of this Oxford carver who has been making his living doing chainsaw art since 1991.

Mohr travels across the United States and Canada to carve with “the best in the world,” according to the artist when asked about his work.  He said, “I have traveled this year to Maryland, Butler, Pennsylvania, Ontario Canada and Northern Wisconsin. In two weeks I leave to compete in an international carving event in Alaska called the Alaska Cup.  There will be eight carvers in this prestigious event and I am honored to be hand-picked for competition there. This event has invited the best chainsaw artist's in the world. Then in September I am off to compete in Hackensack Minnesota.”

The skilled artist’s website is northwoodscarver.com.
The second undertaking was just approved by the Town of Packwaukee Board.  The historical society will be moving a historic agrarian outbuilding to the park.  The building will be restored and used to house a number of exhibits about Packwaukee.  The building is a granary and comes from the Bessie Eggleston property in the Town of Buffalo but originated on the land settled by Daniel Muir.  The Marquette County Historical Society and an anonymous donor are contributing toward the cost of the project.   

Some of the rarest historical artifacts are those that had utilitarian purpose because no one sees them as valuable so they are often destroyed.  This little granary represents an example of farm life in America and early settlement in Marquette County.  Nephew to Bessie, Ken McGwin, recalls up to 900 bushels of oats being stored in the bins that line the walls.  Oats, rye, and sometimes clover seed would fill the bins.  Oats and rye were carried in burlap bags, then dumped in the bins, but the precious clover seed was stored in sacks, at times stored in the farm houses because it was so important as a cash crop to get families through the year.  Year after year, this granary saw the incoming glories of harvest and the emptying of the bins as grain was taken out either to sell or to take to the mill to be ground into animal feed.

 The building is connected to another piece of history as well.  In 1850, the Daniel Muir family, as did other settler families, came to Packwaukee to celebrate their first 4th of July in their new home.   John Muir, 12 at the time and son to Daniel, grew up to become the Father of our National Parks, the great naturalist who hosted President Teddy Roosevelt in Yosemite and worked to influence the forming of the National Parks we now enjoy.  But the first bit of wilderness he tried to save was the little kettle lake that is now John Muir Park in Marquette County on which this building sat. 

From oral histories of people who witnessed the moving of this building, but who are long dead, we can say confidently that the small building originated on the Daniel Muir property.  Matching buildings were moved off of the Fountain Lake Muir home site and onto Ennis land across the road.  Howard and George McGwin then each moved one of the small buildings to their own farms.  Howard’s farm was bought by Bessie and her husband Reginald.  Bessie was niece to Howard McGwin.  The McGwin brothers Howard, Samuel, Hugh and George were all born in the Ennis home that stood about where the granite marker is in John Muir Park.  Their mother was Mary Ennis McGwin.  Samuel was Bessie’s father.

Although not completely unraveled, the history of this plain little utilitarian building has connections to early settlement in Marquette County, John Muir and is a piece of Marquette County agricultural history in its own right.   It will be used to tell the stories of early Packwaukee, farming, settlers, and John Muir.      

In 1850 when the Muirs celebrated the 4th of July in Packwaukee, there were 15 families living there.  A ferry still took people across the river that was soon replaced with a causeway built up of timber and lumber debris with a float bridge.   Packwaukee was an important stop on both land and water routes.  When David Galloway, John Muir’s brother-in-law, brought his parents from Scotland, they took the stagecoach from Milwaukee to Packwaukee where he already had a home built for them.   And as newspapers of the time report, steamers also made Packwaukee a regular stop on the Fox River. 

After Bessie Eggleston died just a few months ago at 101, her niece and nephews looked for a home for the historic little building and found one in Packwaukee, the place the Muirs celebrated their first July 4th in their new country. 

Outside of the building will be a two panel historical kiosk that tells the history of the building as well as the history of Packwaukee.  The Packwaukee Historic Society will also be developing exhibits in the granary.  Each bin will hold another piece of history that tells the story of the Town of Packwaukee.  There are plans to have exhibits on the farming history of Packwaukee, schools, churches, businesses, and the railroad.  Display areas will also include space for artifacts the society holds.   The historical society hopes that people will volunteer to help develop the exhibits.  Call Kathleen McGwin if you would like to help with exhibits at 297-9746 or if you’d like to help with the move and restoration of the building, call Jody Bowman, board member of the historical society who has been a leader in both of these projects, at 608-697-2633.