George F. Sanborn

Lawyer, land and timber speculator, father, civic leader

The Sanborn family moved from Swanton, Vermont to Antrim, Ohio in 1860 where George W. Sanborn (George F.’s father) contracted to build the Ohio Central Railway; with him came his wife, Cornelia C. Whittemore Sanborn. After completing the railway, George W. turned to farming in the rich farmlands of Ohio until his death in 1905.

George W. and Cornelia had seven children: May Sanborn Trimble, Florence J. Sanborn, Alma Sanborn Bond, Albert W. Sanborn, Paul H. Sanborn, Dr. Marcus E. Sanborn and George Frederick Sanborn, the subject of this biographical sketch. As will be seen, George F. and several of his siblings remained in contact, indeed, working with each other and living in the same place for much of their lives.

George F. was born in 1870 in Antrim, Ohio and received his elementary education there. George F. got his high school education in Stevens Point, Wisconsin; then entered Muskegon College and graduated with a law degree from Cincinnati College in 1894. In August of 1894 George F. came to Eagle River, Wisconsin and became a member of the Sanborn and Walsh law firm. This venture lasted two years, ending in 1896 when he married Mayme Slattery at Antigo, Wisconsin.

After leaving the Sanborn and Walsh partnership, George F. practiced on his own until 1900, serving as Vilas County District Attorney in 1897 and 1898. In 1900 George left Eagle River for Ashland, Wisconsin to enter into the timber business with his brother Albert for nine years; calling it the Sanborn Company. The Sanborns were so influential in Ashland that a township near Ashland is named Sanborn Township.

During this period, Mayme’s sister, Deborah Slattery McIntyre, died of appendicitis in Ashland, leaving four small children behind to her husband, Fred McIntyre. Fred was unable to care for four children, being partly incapacitated by an accident working in his father’s store that left him partially disabled for the rest of his life. The four children: Eileen McIntyre Sanborn Enerson, Deborah Ethelwyn McIntyre Sanborn, John Gilbert McIntyre Sanborn, and Helen Margaret McIntyre Sanborn were taken in and raised by George and Mayme. Mayme and George had a child, George W. born in 1897 who died very young in 1898. In 1908, while living in Ashland, George and Mayme had a son born, John Marcus Sanborn.

In 1909, George and his brother, Albert moved their business to Portland Oregon. The woods around the Eagle River area had become mostly cutover lands and Oregon enjoyed a thriving timber industry. In 1915 they moved their headquarters to Chicago, Illinois for three years, and then returned to Eagle River, specializing in cutover lands and insurance. At one time, the Sanborn Land Company owned over 32,000 acres of cutover lands, buying the properties for the back taxes; sometimes paying as little as $1.29 per parcel of forty acres or more.

To avoid having to pay taxes on the land, George Sanborn would transfer, every six months or so, ownership from the Sanborn Land Company to the Sanborn Company, then maybe to his wife, Mayme Sanborn, then to the Dairy Dollar Farm, and then maybe back to the Sanborn Land Company and the cycle would repeat. It wasn’t illegal back then; there were no regulations or laws to prevent it. Nowadays you can’t sell land without paying the property taxes first.

In order to sell the cutover lands, The Sanborn Land Company enlisted the help of local Croatian immigrants to spread the word around the Midwest about available farmland. Croatian locals like Joseph Habrich traveled to immigrant communities, where many Croatians worked in the steel mills, telling them of partially cleared land at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, after the buyer had loaded all his earthly possessions in a railroad car and had it shipped to Eagle River, the buyer had to locate a drayman to haul his goods and family out to his newly purchased farm.
Imagine the buyer’s surprise and consternation looking out over forty (or eighty or more) acres of stumps, snags, tops and branches of the cut trees left by the loggers. In those days they didn’t cut up the whole tree like they do now. In those days, on those magnificent cathedral pines and spruces, they stopped cutting when they hit the first green branch; meaning that they often left more than half the tree on the ground just taking the merchantable logs. The buyer faced months of back-breaking work cutting up the slash and tops, hauling them into piles, and burning them to clear the land for farming. Then they had to remove the stumps, a not insignificant task. Unfortunately, most of the land in the Eagle River area was good only for growing trees or potatoes, with a few berries tossed in.

George and Mayme built a large, expensive house at the corner of Main and Courts Streets that still stands today. In the 1930 US Census, the residence was valued at $18,000, an enormous amount for a home in 1930 in Eagle River. Now it has been split into three or four apartments and is still somewhat of a showplace.

George and Mayme also started a farm, the Dairy Dollar Farm located where the Eagle River Country Club now occupies. Pictures of the farm show neat and orderly rows of buildings on either side of the driveway.

George and other Eagle River civic leaders induced the Wisconsin-Michigan Lumber Company to locate a saw and planning mill in Eagle River. At the time, the mill was the largest employer in Vilas County.

In 1922, George built a 50’ X 80’ two story building on Wall Street, just west of Wall Street Drugs. Two businesses on the bottom and several offices upstairs for the district attorney, the Radcliffe Manufacturing Company, a dentist and several more, including one for George, who did little lawyering then; though he did represent the Chicago and Northwestern Railway in legal matters.
George F.’s brother, Marcus E. Sanborn also lived in Eagle River where he practiced medicine for many years. George’s brother, Paul practiced law in Waupaca and was a frequent visitor to Eagle River to visit his brothers.

Those old enough to remember tell stories of seeing Mayme Sanborn driving the Sanborn car around town. She was such a small person in stature that she had to sit up very straight in order to see over the steering wheel or sometimes only through it.

George Frederick Sanborn died April 27, 1943 and is buried in Eagle River. His wife Mayme followed on February 9, 1957 and is buried beside him.

L-R: Helen McIntyre Sanborn, John Sanborn, Mayme Sanborn, John Gilbert McIntyre Sanborn, Eileen McIntyre Sanborn, circa 1910.