Florence County, Wisconsin

Florence County, Wisconsin

Commonwealth Town and Township

Commonwealth in the News

Commonwealth, History Including Biographies ----History of the upper peninsula of Michigan, 1883, Western Historical Co., Chicago; Western Historical Co.

Commonwealth In Pictures


Commonwealth, Florence County, Wisconsin, was named from the Commonwealth Iron Mining Company's mine, which was located here.

 --A History of the Origin of Place Names Connected With the Chicago & Northwestern and Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Omaha Railways, 1908



The Town of Commonwealth owes its name and unique history to the world of iron ore mining and to what became known as the Commonwealth Iron Company. In 1859, U.S. surveyor, Charles Whittlesey found traces of iron ore in the area. He later persuaded a man, Mr. Tuttle and others to buy the land in 1863. However, it was not until 1875 that test pits were ever dug. This is when Charles E. Wright found loose ore while conducting a geological survey.

In March, 1880, the Commonwealth Iron Company laid out what would soon become the Town of Commonwealth. And it wasn't long before people were flocking to the town to make their fortune. The majority of settlers were of Swedish and Finnish. The Swedish built homes in town with gardens and a few cattle while the Finnish settled on the local farm land. In addition, large beautiful homes were built for the mining personnel in what was called the Badger Location. One of these houses remains today.

The community of Commonwealth had streets lined with buildings of all sizes and businesses of all kinds. The first town hall was built in 1886 and the first water supply came from wells on almost every street corner. In the first 10 years, the population of Commonwealth gew to 1,200 people.

The Commonwealth mine operated for 11 years and by the end of the 1890's, the market for low grade iron ore had run out. By 1920, the last mine in the area closed, people moved away, and buildings were torn down, leaving Commonwealth much like it is today. Various attempts were made over the years to reopen old mine, but none made it long term.

Commonwealth may not be the prospering boom town it once was, but the history of the town can be seen throguh the woods, the old railroad grades, stock piles of ore, and the many thick basement walls that still stand today. All these things are reminders of the hard work of the ancestors and founders of the area. Their efforts, and the present people of the township are what presently make this palce a quiet and lovely place to live.

--Heritage of Iron & Timber, 1880-1980, Published for Florence County, Wisconsin under the direction of the Florence County Centennial Committee, 1980




Like its neighbor Florence, the Town of Commonwealth owes its founding to the discovery of iron ore in the last half of the 19th century. H.D. Fisher, the same man whose discovery of red ore fueled the development of the Florence Mine, also sank test pits what is today known as Commonwealth soon after a 1875 geological survey pointed to the existence or iron.

March 1880, the Commonwealth Iron Company planned and parceled out the town that would bear its name. People, many from Finish and Swedish descent, flocked to Commonwealth to extract ore from the red earth, and a bustling little town grew. In 1886, the town purchased a Town Hall for $600, and a log jail was built out back for 301.50. Complaint records indicated the town got its money's worth from the structure. The streets of this company town were lined with businesses of all kinds and buildings of all sizes.

As workers streamed into Commonwealth by the hundreds, taverns flourished. At one time, as many as 13 operated in Commonwealth. The original Commonwealth Mine operated for only 11 years and yielded 717,344 tons of ore. But shortly after Capt. James Tobin opened the Commonwealth Mine, five more were discovered: The Ernst, Badger, Buckeye, Davidson and Little Commonwealth. The ore was shipped by the Chicago and Northwester Railroad to Escabana, Michigan, and then across the Great Lakes aboard massive ore carriers.

Near the turn of the century, the market for low-grade ore found at Commonwealth began to soften, and the last mine in Commonwealth was closed in 1920. With the loss of jobs, people left Commonwealth in droves, and the town never recovered despite a glimmer of hope in 1952 when the Zontelli Brothers reopened the Davidson Mine for four years.

Several interesting facts distinguish Commonwealth. In 1883, the town received a donation of two parcels of land for a cemetery and town buidlings. The western part of the cemetery was given to the Catholics, and formally deeded to them the following year. That same year, Commonwealth shelled out $21 for a new horse-powered plow and scraper. Commonwealth also saw the first iron bridge to cross the Pine River, build by Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Compnay for $475.

The population of today''s Commonwealth, 399, is a far cry from its heyday of more than a century ago. Forests have reclaimed most of what the miners laid bare. But through the trees, one can still see the railroad grade and stock piles of red ore. The mining pits are now deep ponds that are home to bass. Although the boom days are long gone, Commonwealth remains a quiet and lovely place to live.

LaSalle Falls, one of Florence County's most magnificient sights, is contained within Commonwealth, as is Pine River Flowage and beautiful Lake Emily.

--Florence County Chamber of Commerce, 2013 Visitor Guide






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