Lost towns of Oconto County

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Author shares local history in newest book

Anna Olson Times Herald Correspondent

A retired history teacher, Rhonda Fochs is the author of five books featuring “lost towns” in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Her most recent release, “Wisconsin’s Lost Towns,” includes the Oconto County towns of Klondike, Pensaukee and Stiles.

Fochs was born in Ironwood, Michigan, and her younger years were spent in Iron County, Wisconsin. Her father’s family is from the Wausau and Mosinee area, and her aunt owned property in the logging town of Emerson.

“It always fascinated me how this wooded area, this place where there was nothing, was once a busy little town,” Fochs said.

When researching for her books, Fochs first checks a database listing the country’s post offices.

“I checked there for if and when a community had a post office,” she said. “If it still had a post office, I didn’t include it because I figured if I could mail them a letter, they weren’t really lost.”

Fochs found that America had more than 80,000 post offices in the 1900s. Currently there are fewer than 38,000 due to population shifts, consolidation of mail services and U.S. Postal Service budget constraints.

Fochs’ next step involves contacting historical societies and libraries to locate as many books and newspaper clippings as possible.

“I don’t think anyone can be an author without a library. They were tremendous help,” Fochs said. “Historical societies, too. You have a great one in Oconto County. Historical societies, they are the ones who save history for us.”

Fochs latest book, “Wisconsin’s Lost Towns,” covers about 200 Wisconsin towns, but she recognizes there are many more. She tried to include at least one town from each county.

Stiles, Fochs noted, began to boom when mill owner Amson Eldred arrived in the 1850s, building up the town and naming it after his son. Logging drew people to the area, and the mill was a prosperous business for approximately 25 years. Eldred even owned ships to export the lumber to countries such as England and Scotland.

In 1880, the Stiles boarding house burned down, and the town started to fade. But a rumor that the railroad was coming re-energized the community. In the 1930s, the town began to fade again, around the time the Stiles hotel was destroyed in a fire.

“(Stiles) became like a roadside hamlet,” Fochs said. “There is activity; it’s just not what it used to be.”

Fochs said she is eager to share what she learns because it feels like she is doing her part to save history.

“I always urge people if they have a story or photos, donate them to the historical society because historical societies do a great job of saving our history for the future,” she said. “These stories are too good and if we don’t save them, they are going to be gone.”