Von Platen-Fox logging history explored in new book
IRON MOUNTAIN — In conjunction with a new exhibit featuring logging and lumbering in Dickinson County and the surrounding area in the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum, an 82-page book on the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company has been compiled by William J. Cummings.
“History of the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company, Iron Mountain, Dickinson County, Michigan 1910-1943” contains a detailed account of the company in the first 55 pages and biographical information on Godfrey Von Platen and Myrton J. Fox and their families in the remainder of the book. Some 39 historic photographs illustrate the company’s amazing role in the development of the logging and lumber industry in Dickinson County and the western Upper Peninsula.
Books are available at the Cornish Pumping Engine & Mining Museum Gift Shop and the Menominee Range Historical Foundation Office (828-1822) for $10 plus tax. All proceeds go to the museums.
Myrton J. Fox served as manager of Iron Mountain’s Von Platen Lumber Company from its inception until Aug. 16, 1920, when the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company was incorporated with a capital of $2.5 million, divided into 250,000 shares each having a par value of $10. Officers were Godfrey von Platen, president; Pauline von Platen, vice-president; and Myrton J. Fox, secretary and treasurer.
In 1920, the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company purchased the 172,000-acre Ayer Tract of timber for $2 million. Located in Gogebic, Houghton, Iron and Keweenaw counties in the Upper Peninsula, this acquisition assured years of lumber production at the Iron Mountain sawmill.
Cutting in Florence County, Wis., stopped in 1922 and logging operations were moved to the Basswood area in Iron County. That same year, fire burned over 23,000 acres of the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company’s timberland in Houghton County and Ontonagon County.
In 1923, the company built 15 houses for its employees, a boarding house accommodating 35 men and a barn capable of stabling 20 teams of horses. A local retail lumber yard was also established at that time.
The company cut and shipped 35 million feet of lumber in 1923, paying out $90,000 in log freight rates. The company, then one of the largest lumber operators in Upper Peninsula, expected to log 35 million feet of timber again in 1924 with 6.5 million feet already sold to the Ford Motor Company’s plant located in Kingsford and other interests.
In mid-January 1924, Fox announced that the sawmill had been thoroughly renovated and the machinery had been cleaned and repaired during a 10-day shutdown. Work resumed with 300 men on the payroll in Iron Mountain.
The company’s extensive operations in the woods at that time consisted of six logging camps employing 450 men and the company also had contracts with four jobbers who had crews totaling 100 men.
The company’s woods equipment included 70 teams of horses, three locomotives and three 10-ton tractors. Its camps were models, providing conveniences and comforts for the lumberjacks that were unknown in the early days of logging.
The biggest year’s cut in the history of the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company occurred in 1924, when 64 million feet were handled to save the timber after a forest fire struck 18,000 acres. Indeed, the Von Platen-Fox and Ford Motor Company sawmills combined made Iron Mountain one of the largest — if not the largest — lumber-producing center in both Michigan and Wisconsin.
While in Chicago on a business trip, Godfrey Von Platen unexpectedly died on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1924. Myrton J. Fox succeeded Von Platen as president of the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company.
During its first 30 years of operations in the Upper Peninsula, the company had cut and sold 800 million feet of timber. Thirty-two million feet were cut in 1939 — 16 million feet in Iron Mountain, 8 million in the Trout Creek mill, 7 million at Mass and 1 million at Basswood.
Company camps and land were located at Foster City in Dickinson County; Pentoga and Chicagoan Lakes, Smoky Lake near Iron River and Golden Lake, all in Iron County; Mass City in Ontonagon County; and Dunbar, Marinette County, Wis.
Myrton James Fox died on May 1, 1941, and Abbott M. Fox succeeded his father as president of the Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company.
In 1943, due to the scarcity of timber in the area and the long transportation haul to bring in timber, it was decided to go into partial liquidation and close the Iron Mountain sawmill.
The company was reorganized that year with Karl von Platen, of Grand Rapids and the son of Godfrey von Platen, succeeding Abbott M. Fox as president. Other officers of the reorganized company were Curtis Wiley, vice-president, and Noyes Avery, treasurer, both of Grand Rapids; J.R. Hubley, assistant secretary, and Albert Baribeau, assistant treasurer, both of Iron Mountain. Fred Luckman, associated with the company for many years, served as assistant manager. Abbott M. Fox retained his interest in the company and served as vice-president of the board.
Abbott M. Fox organized the Abbott M. Fox Lumber Company in early November 1943. The newly-formed company took over the sawmills at Mass and Trout Creek, as well as considerable timberland in Houghton County and Ontonagon County and continued operations in that area. All Von Platen-Fox Lumber Company equipment at Mass was purchased outright by the new company.
Dismantling and sale of the Iron Mountain sawmill proceeded rapidly. Karl von Platen worked here assisting in the dismantling and disposal of the sawmill and other lumbering machinery. All lumber in stock had been shipped, ties and rails had been removed and negotiations for the sale of the buildings and sawmill equipment were in progress in November 1943.
The company sawmill burned to the ground on April 13, 1945, in a spectacular blaze with flames rising more than 100 feet in the air at the height, lighting up the area for several blocks in every direction.
The building and contents were owned by the Lake Shore Engineering Company, which had recently purchased it from Louis Arnovitz, of Milwaukee, a salvage dealer, who obtained it for scrap from the company after the mill was closed in November 1943. Wreckers had been at work for some time cutting up the heavy metal and timber in preparation for shipment to Marquette. Only a few loads of salvage material had been taken from the building.
Two buildings on the mill-site — the concrete boiler house and the former machine shop, then occupied — were saved, although the roof of the former structure was burned away.
Iron Mountain and Kingsford civic leaders began a campaign to secure a Veterans Administration Hospital for the area in 1945 and secured presidential approval in August of that year.
A 31.5-acre parcel formerly home to the company was selected as site for the six-story hospital. Architects Fugard, Olsen, Urbain & Neiler of Chicago were retained to prepare plans in July 1946 and construction began in March 1948. The Gust K. Newberg Construction Company of Chicago built the 265-bed structure with its adjoining complex of garden apartment buildings for staff
The $6.5 million hospital — the largest building project ever in the Upper Peninsula up to that time — employed 300 construction workers at its peak period of construction. The completed complex was dedicated March 5, 1950.
The Iron Mountain VA Hospital was renamed the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center on Oct. 1, 2008, honoring one of two natives of Upper Peninsula who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. The other recipient was Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg. Only 464 men received this honor for their actions during World War II.
The facility has the largest geographic patient service area east of the Mississippi River, encompassing 15 Michigan counties and 10 counties in northeastern Wisconsin.