Tomahawk’s founder, William H. Bradley, was born in Bangor, Maine on February 25, 1838.
After many years of traveling with his father, in 1886, in connection with the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, he organized the Tomahawk Land and Boom Company. A dam was built (at the present site of the paper mill) and in 1888 he erected his first Tomahawk Mill.
Mr. Bradley had the largest shares in the Marinette-Tomahawk Railway and was instrumental in establishing the first school. This school which later became known as the Kindergarten Building and today it’s open to the public as a museum in downtown Tomahawk.
In the early days, Native Americans, who made this area their favorite hunting grounds, named this spot “Tomahawk,” which means “made by nature’s own hands.”
The completion of the final treaty with the Chippewa Indians, by which they agreed to live on reservations at Odanah and Lac Du Flambeau, allowed logging operations in this region to proceed. Prior to 1886, the sole mark of civilization was a trading post owned by Germaine Bouchard.
In October 1886, through land grants William Bradley purchased from a Canadian trapper Nazaire Faufau, construction began on the camps of the Tomahawk Land and Boom Company, with Bradley as the first president.
Angus Buie, who later became the first mayor of the town, erected the community’s first log building in October 1887. The first frame building was built by C.C. Lincoln in July 1888 (on what is now Rice Avenue). The first store was built in 1887 by John Oelhafen, Sr. and burned on March 6, 1929.
Pat and Mike Day, in September 1887, built the first hotel “The Somo House.” The first doctor, J.D. Cutter, opened his practice on December 19, 1886. The following year, the village was laid out to give a civilized community appearance.
Tomahawk was incorporated in 1891, during the height of the lumbering boom in Wisconsin, with approximately 2,000 inhabitants, when 60-75 million feet of lumber were produced every year.
William Bradley died in 1903 at the age of 64. Bradley Park was once called “Hog’s Back.” It includes 105 picturesque acres of virgin pine, all within the city. It was purchased from the Bradley Company in 1910 from the Bradley Company for $10,000. The name of the park was later changed to Bradley Park.
Adding to the colorful past of the area was the prevalence of “bootlegging” operations. During the Depression years, several establishments and farms began illegal liquor operations, some with ties to Al Capone and other mobsters.
In 1929, a devastating fire destroyed the Mitchell Hotel and eighteen other buildings on the west end of Wisconsin Avenue.
The spirit of the pioneer families, the heart and soul of the new city, is responsible for Tomahawk as we know it today.
Visit our historical museums during the summer months. The two museums are located on Washington Street, just east of the Chamber building.
The museums are open in the summer through August, Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, and Saturday from 10am to 2pm.