Given the geographic location adjacent to the North Channel of Lake Huron, close proximity to Lake Lauzon, and encompassing the estuary of the Serpent River, there is ample evidence this area attracted the early aboriginals. Champlain's map of 1632 has a notation indicating Spragge as the site where aboriginals met annually to gather and dry blueberries & raspberries. Artifacts have been discovered in the gravel ridges forming the receding shorelines of Lake Huron in Algoma Mills. These artifacts indicate the early presence of aboriginals and voyageurs in the region, since the North Channel formed part of Canada's first freeway known as the Route of the Voyageurs.
Waterpower available from Lauzon Creek and easy access to miles of forested shoreline afforded by Lake Lauzon, made a sawmill on the creek in Ullin (Algoma Mills) inevitable. In 1870, the Gunn Lumber Company built this sawmill and later sold it to the Hillborn Lumber Company, who sold the sawmill and accompanying timber limits to the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) in 1881.
In 1882, a second sawmill was opened at Bootlegger's Bay in Algoma Mills. During this time the C.P.R. acquired 200 acres of land in Algoma Mills. They used this land to began construction of a rail line from Algoma Mills to Sudbury and started the foundation work on a planned 300-room hotel for moneyed travellers. Rails, equipment, material and workers were brought in by boat to a new dock that was constructed on the east bank of Lauzon Creek. An economic boom was underway along the entire North Shore as the C.P.R. branch line between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie was being surveyed. The C.P.R. developed plans to enlarge the dock located in Algoma Mills, in connection with the work on the railway, and build a grain elevator in order to compete for carrying U.S. grain from Chicago to the eastern seaboard.
By February 1884, the railway from Algoma Mills through to Lake Nipissing was completed, and it was in this year the first train arrived in Algoma Mills. Shortly thereafter, all work on the rail line west of Algoma Mills was abandoned. The work on the grain elevator was stopped as one was being constructed in Owen Sound, Ontario. By the early summer of 1884, two steel ships were carrying freight from Algoma Mills to Port Arthur, Ontario. This meant freight could be transported by rail from Port Arthur to Winnipeg, Manitoba, a distance of 1,320 miles in 66 hours. This was the beginning of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Service.
By 1886, hotel construction by the C.P.R. in Algoma Mills was abandoned and the funds transferred to Alberta to be used in the construction of the Banff Springs Hotel. Gradually, the importance of Algoma Mills as a railway headquarters diminished with the train crew layover point being moved to Webbwood, Ontario, the locomotive depot to Sudbury, and the water tank to Blind River, Ontario.
In 1906, the John Harrison and Sons Lumber Co. Ltd. erected a sawmill on Lake Lauzon for making cedar tie plugs. These plugs were sold to the C.P.R. at a rate up to 1,000 bags per day. In addition, the Keenan Brothers of Owen Sound cut hemlock at Algoma Mills and stripped the bark to be used in curing leather.
By 1907, Algoma Mills became the C.P.R.'s major coal delivery port for the Algoma District. Coal barges with 700 ton capacities were towed to Algoma Mills and tied three abreast at the dock where cranes would be used to load gondola cars for shipments to North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Cartier, and Mactier, Ontario. Over 200,000 tons of coal moved across the dock during a single navigational season. The barges returned to their homeports carrying lumber from mills at Cutler, Spanish, Blind River, Cook's Mills and John Island. At this time, Algoma Mills had an immigration and customs office, a post office, three general stores, a bakery and two hotels. As many as six passenger trains were arriving daily. The coal chute held 45 tons of coal and was emptied three times per day working around the clock. In 1910, Algoma Mills was abandoned as a coal receiving port in favour of a more modern facility at Byng Inlet, later called Britt, Ontario, where 7,000-ton vessels could be handled in less time. Commerce in Algoma Mills deteriorated rapidly after this time.
By 1918, the John Harrison sawmill burned down and by 1927, the once most dominant C.P.R. station in the area, closed its doors. Algoma Mills became strictly a residential and resort community with a few business serving the general public. A family owned commercial fishing business, which has been in operation since the 1930's, has continued to flourish and employ new generations.
Early commercial activities involving the plentiful supplies of white pine resulted in a major sawmill being constructed in Cook's Mills, now called Spragge, in 1882. Built by Cook's Brothers Lumber Company, the mill operated until 1906 when it was sold to Waldie Brothers Lumber Company who in turn sold it to McFadden and Malloy in 1913. Over time a small village with a school, hotel, barbershop, general store was created, and by 1926 the community had a population of about 300 people. Sawmill activity was terminated in Spragge in the early 1930's following a disastrous fire, which eliminated the mill, lumber inventory, docks and most of the town.
Spragge's devastating loss was renewed when Karl Gunterman made the discovery of uranium in Long Township in 1953. By the persistence of Franc Joubin and Joe Hirshorn, the opening of Pronto Mine in 1955 created the Elliot Lake uranium boom with Pronto Mine becoming the first producing mine. Service stations, motels, car dealerships, trucking firms and heavy equipment service depots servicing the expanding population and the mines were established, almost overnight. Given the terrain, most of this was located along Highway 17 forming strip development with little depth. Coinciding with the uranium discoveries in the Elliot Lake area, the first major copper discovery in Algoma, after Bruce Mines, was at Spragge in 1953 resulting in the development of Pater Mine by Rio Algom Limited.
Carmeuse Lime Limited and Lafarge Canada Inc., formerly Reiss Lime Co. of Canada Ltd., was established in Long Township during the 1970's to serve a resurgent uranium industry. With a dock accessible by Great Lake freighters, Carmeuse receives shipments of limestone, coal, and coke to make lime for the mining industry. The company has expanded to include storage for sulphuric acid for redistribution and is a major trans-shipment point for road salt that is distributed throughout Northern Ontario. Lafarge Canada Inc. produces a slag cement product used for backfilling in area mines.
During the 1980's, the population and, as a direct result, the service industries diminished appreciably in step with the declining uranium industry. During this time market prices for ore were lower than the production costs, and as a result contracts were lost. With depleting ore reserves, closure of the mines was inevitable and the impact on the area from 1991-1996 was drastic, with the local economy being hit hard. Despite this setback the area continues to thrive in its own way.
The present economy in Spragge is based on a mix of some commercial activities, with a modest service sector catering to both local people and the travelling public.
The Village of Serpent River is a relatively new entity being a product of the uranium discovery and the Elliot Lake boom. What was once part of an old farm became a collection of houses that were serviced by two grocery stores, two service stations and a restaurant. For a time during the 1960's, the Mayflower, a local nightclub, was a favoured watering hole for many between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie. They will long be remembered for their featured entertainers and topless dancers. Another popular form of entertainment was the Atomic Drive-in that operated into the 1970's as the only drive-in theatre in the area.
Because of its highway location, tourism has been a feature of the Village economy and remains so today with several businesses catering to local needs and those of the traveling public. Market gardening in the flood plain of the Serpent River has also created micro businesses during the summer.