In 1899, La Farge was incorporated as a village. Since the arrival of the railroad two years earlier, the town had become a center of frenetic commercial activity. The production and sale of lumber was the economic leader in this activity. As the little river town welcomed in a new century, the lumbering boom in La Farge continued to expand.
In December of 1899, word came from West Lima that the Clark & James Company, a wagon stock production and mill partnership, would be relocating to La Farge. The move was made to secure a better mill site and be closer to the rail connection to ship products. The new Clark & James mill operation was located south of Main Street, along Mill Street and the railroad tracks. By June of 1900, the Clark & James mill was running at full capacity. The company purchased an electric dynamo to provide power for lights so the factory could run around the clock. When electrical wires were strung to a few other businesses on La Farge’s west end, the town had their first electric light system.
In January 1900, news traveled up the river from Wauzeka that the excelsior plant located there was moving to La Farge. Excelsior was a product comprised of wood shavings that was used as a packing material, which was much in demand at the time. The new excelsior production line would be added to the newly renovated mill at Seelyburg. Tosen Sine operated the sawmill business at Seelyburg. He had come north from Readstown shortly after the railroad had reached La Farge and rented the sawmill from Charles Seely. Although Sime’s sawmill operation had been shut down for several months after the great Kickapoo River flood of June 1899, the mill was up and running again by the time the new year began. Sime went into partnership with O. P. Vaughn of Wauzeka on the excelsior plant, with Vaughn moving his excelsior cutting equipment to Sime’s Seelyburg site.
When the new excelsior cutting equipment was installed at Sime’s sawmill in November 1900 another new product would join the lumber production output. Shortly thereafter bales of excelsior shaved from basswood was being loaded onto rail cars sitting on the branch line of the railroad that ran to the Seelyburg mill. By February of 1901, Sime was running a weekly advertisement in the La Farge Enterprise newspaper wanting to buy excelsior bolts for his mill. In March, Clark & James announced that they were adding twelve excelsior cutters to their mill in La Farge, further increasing demand on area farmers and landowners to provide material for the product. In May 1901 Clark & James added a second shift to the excelsior line and ran the mill day and night. At the height of the excelsior production in 1901, the two La Farge mills were producing 600 bales of excelsior each week.
In September 1901 August Kriigel had one million board feet of lumber at his La Farge yard and lamented the lack of available railroad cars to ship out his product. The railroad company, now called the Western Wisconsin Railroad Company, trying to meet the demand of La Farge’s lumber output, put down sidetracks along Mill Street to the Clark & James Mill, Kriigel’s lumberyard and the Hammer Brothers’ stave mill and factory. Empty railroad cars could be dropped at each of those locations when the need arose. Even with the improvements to the La Farge operations, the railroad still could not keep up with the demand for freight shipments; especially lumber shipments being shipped down the line. In January 1903, the railroad company announced the purchase of a second steam engine locomotive and the adding of another train each day on the Kickapoo line. Two trains would come into La Farge and depart the village each day, Monday through Saturday. One train would carry passengers and mail as well as pull freight when needed, while a second train would be reserved solely for freight shipments.
La Farge’s lumber industry continued to grow. New businesses continued to relocate to La Farge and the competition in the lumber business was fierce during these times. The Hammer Brothers’ stave mill, still running around the clock in the peak spring and summer cutting season, was combined with the Clark & James mill and moved the stave cutting operations to that site. The Keogh Excelsior Company moved its operations to La Farge and began production in the old Hammer Brothers’ site. Keogh’s new excelsior plant would need 4,000 cords of basswood annually, further increasing the demand for the bolts from area farmers and rural mills. The Seelyburg excelsior production had been curtailed by this time as Vaughn left La Farge and Sime devoted more time to the new gristmill operation there.
Perhaps feeling the effects of the increased competition for products and services, the Clark & James partnership disbanded. Clark took the wagon production part of the business to Stoughton, Wisconsin, while James remained in the village and continued to operate his sawmill at a diminished capacity. By the following summer, the James mill was closed and all of the machinery sold.
The Smith & Johnson Lumber Company began operations in La Farge in September 1902. Besides operating a sawmill in town, the new company also bought and sold lumber from rural mills. By the spring of 1903, the company was operating at full capacity when it was confronted with labor troubles at the mill. In March 1903, eight workers at the mill went on strike for higher wages. The mill was closed for one day, but reopened the next with eight new workers. (So much for labor negotiations at a busy Kickapoo lumber mill.)
In July 1903 the largest trainload of lumber ever assembled on the Kickapoo line made its way south from La Farge. August Kriigel, acting as the representative for American Hardwood Lumber of Madison, had assembled the rush order for oak and basswood lumber in only seven days. The order filled thirty railroad cars and it was surmised at the time that no town in southern Wisconsin besides La Farge probably could have made the shipment.
An article in an Enterprise issue of the time of the great lumber train extolled the La Farge lumber business, “The lumber manufactured here is from oak, maple, basswood, butternut, ash, elm and hickory. The Kickapoo Valley timber is recognized as the very highest grade for the manufacture of fine furniture, wagons, etc., being valued for its fine even grain. There were about twenty mills last winter engaged in sawing lumber for the dealers.” The article then goes on to list the sawmills including four in La Farge.
The principal La Farge buyers of native lumber at that time were August Kriigel, Smith & Johnson and the Thayer Brothers. Kriigel operated several mills besides his large lumber yard in La Farge, while Smith & Johnson bought mostly standing timber and then sawed it up at their La Farge sawmill. The Thayer Brothers operation bought most of their lumber from rural mills. Total timber purchases for the La Farge lumber operations in 1903 had exceeded $120,000 for the year. It was estimated that there were 180 men working in the lumber production industry in the La Farge area then. The economy of the town was booming at that time when lumber was king!