But the risks were great. The pine woods of northern Wisconsin were susceptible to theft, financial swindles, and poor surveying. And fire.
Fires in most northern Midwest forests were common – a combination of weather conditions, poor logging practices and carelessness. I didn't realize how close Cornell was to losing its woodland investment (initiated in 1866) until I thought about the Peshtigo Fire of 1871.
In early October, after Ezra returned from a visit to the Wisconsin pines and Chicago a week earlier, he was unable to contact the Midwest. His telegraph lines were down throughout the region.
As every school student knows the Great Chicago Fire of October 8-10 destroyed this Midwest metropolis. Mrs. O'Leary's cow aside, the fire consumed the wooden city and provided a blank canvas upon which the leading architects and inspired planners designed the modern city. Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Daniel Burnham introduced the world to a new view of urban life and landscape.
|5:35 PM CST, October 8, 1871|
The description documented in "Firestorm in Peshtigo," by Gess and Lutz is powerful and terrifying. The description of the tragic loss of human life is horrific.
|Peshtigo Fire Destruction|
Initially Ezra considered purchasing acreage near Green Bay. Correspondence with a former Ithaca resident and friend, Ira Millard of New London, WI, discussed the possibility of locating some of the scrip on the Green Bay watershed. If he had, Cornell might be a much different institution.