Town of Hiles History

The Town of Hiles is the headwaters for two of Wisconsin's premier rivers, the Wolf and the Pine. The Popple and Peshtigo also begin nearby in this high country of 1700 feet above sea level. Our small town here in northern Wisconsin is rich in history. It all started in 1860 when a woodsman named Dan Gagen built a trading post and inn on the banks of the Pine Lake alongside the old Military Road. The road ran as far north as Lake Superior serving as a mail route and was used to carry supplies through the woods for trappers and traders. J.B. Thompson of Wausau bought the trading post in 1863 and sold it to H.B. Fessenden of Argonne in 1895 who was the only actual settler.

Hiles Sawmill Workers

In 1902 Franklin P. Hiles of Milwaukee purchased not only the trading post but also the site that would soon become the town of Hiles. Organized in 1903, Hiles had a sawmill, general store, hotel, and a railroad branch from the main line of the Chicago Northwestern.

After a few years Mr. Hiles sold all his holdings to Foster Mueller Lumber Company of Milwaukee and they sold it all to Mr. C.W. Fish of Elcho, Wisconsin in 1919. Mr. Fish immediately started to improve the town by building more homes to rent to the employees of the mill. Streets and sidewalks were laid out and even trees were planted along the road. By 1924 Hiles had transformed from a crossroad in the woods to a small town. There were now twenty-six homes, an ice cream parlor, a Union Church and a new school. The new school, completed in 1920, was not just a one-room building like that found in most rural communities at that time, but a modern structure consisting of six large rooms with central heat and cement sidewalks. Now streetlights lined the streets powered by a generator from the sawmill, and the Village Park proudly displayed a water fountain the likes of which was only found in the 'big cities'.

Original Hiles Schoolhouse - About 1912

 

Toward the end of the 19th century logging also began in the northern part of the town. The first logging camp was converted into a resort on Butternut Lake at the turn of the century. Within a decade a second resort on Butternut Lake and then resorts on Franklin, Kentuck, and Seven Mile Lakes. Later residences were built on private land, even as the federal government was purchasing cut-over land to form the Nicolet National Forest.


A Good Catch on
Butternut Lake - 1925

 

   

In The Park

When the Southern Hiles sawmill closed in 1930 the mill, the land, and the homes that were built for the employees of the mill were all sold to the Forest County Lumber Company who later sold the houses to the people in Hiles. Over the years the Town of Hiles has seen many changes and has continued to grow. Being in the heart of the Nicolet National Forest, Hiles is still tied to logging, but with several large lakes, miles of trout streams, hiking trails, and well groomed snowmobile trails, it is now a great place to live or play and is an attractive location for families and visitors of all ages and interests.