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Gurney prepares for centennial celebration

 

Submitted Photo

MEMBERS OF the Gurney, Wis., baseball team pose in the early-to mid-1950s. Baseball has been a tradition in Gurney from the time the town was established in 1914. On July 5, the town will celebrate its centennial with a parade and town picnic. Members of the baseball team include, first row, from left, Marvin Innes, Dick Rowe, Joe Adamavich, Robert VanOurkirk, Gary Ellis and Frank Heffner; second row, Bob Ofstad, Jackson Edwards, Richard Swartz, Raul Peterson, Irv Peterson and Bob Adamavich.

GURNEY, Wis. - This year marks the 100th birthday of Gurney and the town is preparing a centennial celebration for July 5.

The event is co-sponsored by the Gurney Centennial Committee, Gurney Community Club and Saxon-Gurney Fire Department.

According to fire chief Stacy Ofstad, this year's event is changing locations.

"Normally, each year we host a July 4 celebration in Saxon at the Iron County Fairgrounds, but to help celebrate the centennial, we're moving everything to Gurney Town Park," Ofstad said. "There will not be a parade or events in Saxon on July 4 this year."

The centennial party kicks off with a parade up Wisconsin 169, through the "metro" area of Gurney. The theme of this year's parade is "Gurney - Past, Present and Future."

People are encouraged to register floats at noon on July 5 at the Rowe Farm on South 169.

After the parade, the public is invited to come to town park for an afternoon full of events.

"We wanted to make sure we had a variety of things to help people celebrate with us," Penny Rowe, centennial committee and community club member, said. "Gurney only turns 100 once, and we want to make sure we celebrate it in style."

A short presentation will be made, highlighting the town of Gurney, as well as photos and other items on display.

Food and beverages will be available for purchase, and throughout the afternoon different activities will take place, including a whiffleball game, frozen T-shirt contest, horseshoe tournament and gunny sack, relay and three-legged races.

"This is an old-fashioned town picnic," Tom Innes, town chairman, said. "We have events for all ages, and people will have a lot of fun. Everyone planning the event is really excited to have this." There will also be 50-50 and bag raffles. In the evening, the band "Strange Cru" of Ashland will play from 6-10 p.m.

History of Gurney

The town was officially established on April 25, 1914. At that time, Gurney was one of the few communities in the region to have electricity. Each home in Gurney had at least one light bulb.

Many residents of the community worked in the Gurney Lumber Mill, built in 1897. Employees of the mill worked to cut down the huge stands of White Pine, hemlock and maple that covered the area. By 1912, more than 200 men worked at the mill.

Steam engines were extensively used to haul the logs to the mill, and Gurney was nearly inaccessible by any other means than rail.

There was a trail into Gurney, but during the entire year of 1912, only one horse and buggy came into town. Everyone else arrived by train.

In 1913, a Chicago businessman took over the ownership of the Gurney Mill and decided the rural community lacked "entertainment."

The mill's owner overlooked construction of the town hall, which held dances each weekend, with local musicians providing music.

In addition to the dances, a projection booth was built into the hall, allowing movies to be shown. Films were exchanged weekly and residents watched them twice a week.

All of the films were silent, and because Gurney did not have an orchestra to accompany the film, a piano player played along. The first film shown in Gurney was "The Invaders," filmed in 1912.

Baseball has also been a long-standing tradition in Gurney, starting with the construction of a diamond south of Gurney in 1913. The mill's owner ordered the field be cleared to host a game against Saxon in 10 days time.

Because of the short deadline, the field had a few problems, but the game was still played. The condition of the field gave the Gurney baseball team its nickname, "The Stump Dodgers."

Gurney also played teams from Cedar, Ironwood, Odanah and Mellen.

In 1914, Gurney Township had three schoolhouses, in Cedar, Curry and Gurney. Cedar School was destroyed by a fire and the Curry School was torn down when it was no longer needed.

The Gurney School operated until 1964, and was dismantled before the construction of the current community building in the early 1970s.

Despite the boom of Gurney in the early 1900s, prospects crashed when the lumber mill burned down in 1918. A second fire also leveled Gurney's town hall, saloon and hotel.

Work and cultural activity in the town slowed to nearly a stop.

Despite the damaging fires, Gurney survived. The public is invited to attend the event on July 5 to relive Gurney's history, enjoy its present and look to the future.

"This event is open to everyone, not just residents of Gurney," Rowe said. "We hope to see as many people as we can."

For more information, call Rowe at 715-893-2374 or Ofstad at 715-893-2290.