ElkFarm Stories

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Making Money in Early Amery

Amery Depot in 1908, viewing west. Soo Line Railroad.

Logs coming down the Apple River passed through Amery, but later it was the two sawmills on the west bank of the river that built the city. These sawmills were roughly in the area of the current dam and northward through to Birch Street.
A disjointed but somewhat complete history of the Amery area came from Smoky Sylvester, who wrote a thorough history in 1977. He penned it on notebook paper, single spaced, 127 pages long. My efforts so far have been to sort out the economics of the Amery region.
Of course farming dominated the economy of the Polk County and Amery area, but the following money-making ventures stood apart from farm work.
The two sawmills above expanded around the time the railroad came to Amery and the population grew. Before this, the settlement west of Amery called Lincoln Center near Bear Trap thrived. This was an economic spot with a hotel, stores, and if you can believe it, a house made just for cats (wink wink).


An earlier sawmill on the lower Sucker Branch coming out of Lake Wapogasset cut virgin logs, some boards as wide as 24 inches and lengths of both 16 and 32 feet.
At an area called Pine Knob in Garfield, men gathered and harvested pine pitch to produce tar. They hauled the tar to Osceola for the steamboat trade.
Teamsters with 2 and 4 horse hitches were available for logging as well as clearing stumps to create cropland. West of Deronda, Smoky described 12 oxen hitches working the land, pulling one way on stumps then the other way. The result there was a 20 acre debris free field that grew an unheard of amount of wheat, the talk of the region in the 1870s
Stillwater became the destination and focal point for many economic projects. Two men met in 1857 in Stillwater and agreed to work together, providing venison and deer hides to eager markets. Using muskets, they killed 210 deer, the meat selling for ten cents a pound to that city to the west.
Partridge was another cash “crop” after the deer herd declined. A man went out for a couple weeks north of Amery to hunt them, coming back with a wagon full of the birds that earned him a quarter each.
Ginseng, or seng as it was called by the seng hunters, could raise a lot of money in a short time if a person knew where to find these roots. The story at the Deronda Store was the man who came in and got $16 for his ginseng, then an hour later came back with another $16 worth—a lot of money in the 1890s.
More at a later date as I sift through the reflections and recollections of Smoky.

8 Comments

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    • Loren Elkin

      June 10, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      Log buyers, that’s news to me. What a business, maybe I could do a story on it. thanks L in Wisconsin

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    • Loren Elkin

      June 14, 2017 at 8:45 pm

      Thanks for the note, and I’m glad you enjoy it. It’s been fun putting it together. Tell me more about what you do and how you found this blog post, please. L in Wisconsin

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