Doctor turns author for historyRon Seningen, a retired M.D., is the first to admit he isn’t a historian.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Ron Seningen, a retired M.D., is the first to admit he isn’t a historian.
But working as a radiologist over the years his specialty in looking at pictures and figuring things out lent itself well to pulling the pieces of Gordon’s and Wascott’s histories together in a pictorial display of Douglas County’s second large settlement that grew up in the mid-1800s.
Seningen said it was his wife’s grandfather, Dale Benson, whose infectious enthusiasm for Gordon and its history that got him started on “Mr. Gordon’s Neighborhood.” Benson had owned the lumberyard in Gordon for more than a quarter-century.
“Back in the 70s, we would be at his cabin and he would tell me stories about Old Gordon, about the Indians, the Chippewa and their conflict with the Sioux, and about the fur trade, and the logging, and the railroads, and on and on about Old Gordon and how it got to be where it is,” Seningen said.
After all, Gordon might have ended up on Wisconsin’s western border – a Gordon was located in what is Danbury today, according to early maps of the region, southwest of Wascott.
But Antoine and Sarah Gordon moved northeasterly to establish the town on the eastern edge of Douglas County with Wascott to the south and Solon Springs to the north.
Seningen said he was fascinated by the stories Benson told. A year after Benson died, the Gordon Historical Society opened its museum, and Seningen would go in from time to time to try to fill in the blanks amidst Benson’s stories.
He would take notes. Among the things he noted was the town was nearing its sesquicentennial – the 150th anniversary of the town founded by Antoine and Sarah Gordon. Among his many discoveries of the town’s past was a booklet published in 1960 for Gordon’s centennial.
That booklet sparked an idea.
“I thought wouldn’t it be nice if someone did that for the sesquicentennial,” Seningen said. He said he asked around and it didn’t seem anyone else was working on it.
So, Seningen got to work. From local residents’ essays and photo albums, the quest for knowledge took him as far as the National Archives in Maryland and Smithsonian in Washington D.C., to search for Gordon’s past.
“I just started pulling it together about three years ago and then I finally put the enormous jigsaw puzzle together,” Seningen said.
The book brings together maps, diagrams, photographs and a written history of a community that stood at the crossroads of changing nation.
“‘Mr. Gordon’s Neighborhood’ is part of a larger neighborhood that stretches from the Brule, St. Croix River Valley … going from LaPointe on Madeleine Island – the hub of all early activity and goes down to about St. Croix Falls,” Seningen said. “This area was the center of a lot of the very early activity in this part of Wisconsin.”
A couple months ago, Seningen printed up 500 copies of the book that features hundreds of images of the town and the people who influenced its rich history. He donated the book to the Gordon Historical Society to sell as a fundraiser as the town celebrates its 150th year as a community.
“I think Gordon’s fortunate in a lot of ways because it’s had a lot of people who came here and stayed for a long time,” the retired doctor said.
The story, written chronologically, starts just after the glaciers melted and includes the histories of early tribes and Paleo-Indians who lived in the area.
“They found their spear points – 7,000 year old spear points – when they were laying the highway down, so we know they were here,” Seningen said.
The book then progresses to 1860 when Antoine Gordon established the town up to contemporary times.
Gordon, part French Canadian and part Chippewa, established a stopping place on the trail between Fort Snelling in Minnesota and LaPointe for the stagecoach – a place like a general store where the horses could be watered and passengers could rest for the night.
During his research, Seningen said he learned from an old article in Harper’s magazine written by someone who stopped at Gordon that Sarah’s mother lived in a wigwam in front of the store.
“That was just an interesting bit,” Seningen said. “Fascinating.”