Railroad and logging photographs, Langlade County Historical Society

The Langlade County Historical Society in Antigo recently made a major addition to its digital collections: more than 400 photographs documenting railroads and the lumber industry in northwoods Wisconsin from the late 19th century up to the 1990s. Some photographs were taken by Antigo-based professional photographer Arthur J. Kingsbury for his picture postcard business, but many are by anonymous photographers.

A logging crew poses on a sled pulled by a horse team. The numbers written on the logs represent the number of board feet in each log. Langlade County Historical Society.

A logging crew poses on a sled pulled by a horse team. The numbers written on the logs represent the number of board feet in each log. Langlade County Historical Society.

The need for lumber first brought settlers to the forests of northern Wisconsin in the decades after the Civil War, and the logging industry continues to be a major part of the economy of Langlade County to this day. Initially, the harvesting of pine took place near rivers, and logs were then floated downstream to sawmills. Later, the railroad opened up new areas to logging. Skidding out logs was first done by teams of oxen, then horses, and later by machines. The images from the Langlade County Historical Society’s collection provide a closer look at life in Wisconsin lumber camps and document the laborious process of moving timber from the forest to the sawmill.

Three men (and a large pile of donuts) in the mess hall of an unidentified northwoods Wisconsin logging camp. Langlade County Historical Society.

Three men (and a large pile of donuts) in the mess hall of an unidentified northwoods Wisconsin logging camp. Langlade County Historical Society.

The railroad opened up the Northwoods to settlement and tourism. The first train into Antigo, the Milwaukee Lakeshore & Western (ML&W), arrived in 1880. In 1883 the Chicago & Northwestern (C&NW) took over the ML&W, expanded rail service and, in 1907, made Antigo the headquarters of its northern division. The C&NW made Antigo a rail hub and was a major employer until the 1950s when diesel began to replace steam engines. Photos related to railroads in the Langlade County Historical Society collection include images of the Antigo depots and rail yards, depots in rural communities in the Antigo area (Robbins, Mattoon, Elcho, Conover, Phelps, and Pelican), and several train wrecks.

Setting curb at the new passenger depot, Antigo, 1907. Langlade County Historical Society.

Setting curb at the new passenger depot, Antigo, 1907. Langlade County Historical Society.

Overturned rail cars with passengers standing nearby. Glass negative by A. J. Kingsbury, 1900-1920. Langlade County Historical Society.

Overturned rail cars with passengers standing nearby. Glass negative by A. J. Kingsbury, 1900-1920. Langlade County Historical Society.

This digitization project was made possible by grants from the Wisconsin Council for Local History and the Alliant Energy Foundation for purchases of archival materials and a scanner. The Langlade County Historical Society wishes to thank Ross Fischer, Lloyd Godell, Jim Klapste, Jeff Robinson, and Jamie Spychalla for their assistance in scanning and cataloging photographs for the digital collection.


Browse and search all railroad photographs and all logging photographs from the Langlade County Historical Society.

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