In the small town of Hermansville, just off US-2 in the central Upper Peninsula, stands a large two-story building. While big old buildings are common in 1900s lumbering towns, this one is different. The front of the structure is adorned with a red circle and the letters IXL in the center. At one time, that IXL logo was known and respected across the country as a symbol of high-quality lumber. That building is the IXL Historical Museum.
Hermansville has been famous for production a couple times in its history. In the early 1900’s the Hiawatha Silver Fox Farm operated there. The farm was a commercial fur producing company covering about 2,000 acres. During most of the year they kept around 900 carefully chosen breeders. During the fall season as many as 10,000 additional animals would be shipped in from Wisconsin for priming purposes. The foxes were allowed to run free in the woodlands that covered much of the farm. Their diet was supplemented with various meats and cod liver oil. When it was time to harvest the pelts, the foxes were collected using runways, chloroformed, and shipped off to the pelting station. Before fox farming it was the timber industry that produced wealth in Hermansville.
Mr. Charles J. L. Meyer was a cabinetmaker from Germany who established a factory in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He needed wood for his products and bought thousands of acres in Menominee County in Michigan. Eventually he moved his business to Hermansville and established the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company. The company began making hardwood flooring and the IXL brand was the result. The IXL logo is a derivative of the wording “I excel” and is indicative of the superior quality that went into every product produced there. The logo was stamped on every piece they made. The development of a precise tongue in groove process led to this company becoming the largest hardwood flooring producer in America. They developed the finest hardwood flooring available. It was used in mansions and public buildings across the country including the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City Utah.
The story of the company and the people who built it has been preserved at the IXL Historical Museum. There is a main structure and a few outbuildings. One of the outbuildings, a house, faithfully represents living conditions for an employee and his family. There are very few of what we would consider modern conveniences in the home. It was definitely a simpler way of life.
The main museum is that two-story building. The IXL logo makes the museum easy to find. Inside, a fascinating story is told through quality exhibits. Much of the ground floor is dedicated to the administration of the company. When you enter, you find yourself in an office setting that looks for all the world as if the clerks have just departed for lunch. The desks are neat and the work on them is orderly. There are open ledgers that appear as if an entry has just been completed. Memos are ready for distribution and sales orders are being logged.
The interior architecture has also been preserved from period wallpaper to the carved wooden stair banister. The collection of artworks and photographs from these bygone days is worth the tour. The common, everyday items exhibited are a catalog of technology rarely found elsewhere. There are gadgets and appliances from the late 1800s through to the 1950s. Each room in the building houses different curiosities and treasures. In one, an old reel-to-reel movie projector is found. Another is decorated as a study. In the attic are jumbles of odds and ends collected over the years. Illustrating that day-to-day concerns haven’t changed much is the “belly buster” waistline fat reducer and a couple of really old exercise machines. A tour of the museum is a fascinating glimpse into another time.
Hermansville is on Route US 2 about 35 miles west of Escanaba in the upper peninsula of Michigan.