History: Vesper industry is swept away by fire
By Kris Leonhardt
The Vesper community grew up around a saw mill and store, built in 1874 on Hemlock Creek, by the Girand and Drape Company. The community saw heavy grow in the coming years, as it welcomed loggers and new businesses to the area.
In 1894, a fire in the timber lands put a stop to its development as it swept away the saw mill, much of the timber, and two dozen homes.
A Sept. 1, 1894, Centralia Enterprise story chronicles the fire that occurred on Aug. 28. 1894:
“The thriving little town is all but wiped out. Ashes and ruins mark the site of its former industry. The sawmill, planing mill, lumber in the yards and about 25 dwelling houses, in fact all of the little town west of Hemlock Creek, was totally wiped out by the fire.
“The fire had its origin in the forest fires that have been running throughout that region for weeks. But no immediate danger was apprehended. Tuesday afternoon about half past three o’clock the wind shifted to the south, and before anyone was aware of the danger, the fiery element was beyond man’s control. The fire was first observed in a large boarding house in the southwestern part of the town. From here it leaped with ferocious rapidity to adjoining dwellings and into the lumber yard where about 9,000,000 feet of lumber were piled. Everything was dry as tinder, owing to the long drought.
“The sawdust burned like powder and a strong wind swept waves of flame over the doomed portion of the town. Half an hour after the fire started, the mills, lumber piles and houses were one angry roaring mass of flames.
“There was time to save but little. Mrs. J. W. Cameron was sick abed at the time and her safety was first looked after. After that there was only time to save Mrs. F. J. Cameron’s handsome piano and a box of furs from Mr. Cameron’s residence. Few people had time to save anything.
“Fears for the safety of the other part of town resulted in a call to the Grand Rapids fire department. Hurriedly the fire engine and hose carts were taken down to the stricken town via the Port Edwards, Centralia & Northern road, but the company could be of little service. A strong south wind blew the smoke and heat away from the east half of the town and there was, hence, but little danger from fire in that quarter.
“The mills and the lumber belonged to the Sherry-Cameron Lumber Co. The plant consisted of a double-band sawmill and a planing mill (and the 9,000,000 feet of lumber ). The loss to the company will amount to $150,000 covered by insurance to the amount of about $90,000.
“The fire will probably mean the wind-up of affairs at Vesper, as the mill will not be rebuilt, all of the timber of the company having been cut.”
Within four years, Vesper had recovered, but with much of the timber gone it never regained its original momentum and the dairy industry took over were lumber had left off.