"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Memories of a Forgotten Island

pictures from the article
Reprinted from the Lakeland Times, January 2, 2009, by Joyce Laabs.

Editor's Note: Memories fade, but some are captured to be renewed. This was the case of Beaumont's Island on Stone Lake in Manitowish Waters. The following appeared in The Lakeland Times in July 1978. We thought our readers would enjoy a piece of forgotten history.

My Sweet Little Miss as Manitowish
I've got a sweet little miss at Manitowish, Wisconsin 
With golden hair and blue eyes -- blue as the sky
When the moonlight shines on those Northern pines
She'll be waiting there for me.
On that island of Bliss -- I'll steal a little kiss
That will send me in ecstasy.
We'll find romance galore -- on the shores of Beaumont's Island
I'm in love -- so in love with my sweet Little Chick-a-dee
I'll take her into my arms -- with all of her charms and her beauty and love for me
Gee -- but I miss -- my sweet little miss
At Man-Man-Manitowish
At Man-Man-Manitowish.
  Last week the strains of the above song, written in 1948, echoed across Stone Lake in Manitowish Waters for the last time when Mitzi Beaumont again sat at the piano in the now-deserted bar on Beaumont's Island to knock out a little "honky tonk" jazz.

For those who heard it, memories of an era that spanned the years from 1932 to 1960 flooded back.

Those were the years when the bar and resort on the island really "swung" -- the years it was under the ownership of Maude Belter -- and after her death -- her daughter Mitzi Beaumont.

Beaumont's Island sits in the middle of the Manitowish chain. Many, many years ago it was part of the mainland. No one is sure which year it split off -- or why -- but one day there it was: six acres of land topped by some 2,000 trees, sitting in Stone Lake.

Records do show that in 1904 the United States Government, under Theodore Roosevelt, deeded the island to Edward McQuire. We also know that a boys' camp operated on the island at one time and that the Koerner's owned the island for a period.

Apparently, five cabins had been constructed on the island prior to 1904, but there is no information as to whether they were built while it was part of the mainland or after it split off. We also know that, prior to 1932, the Hungers had operated Cedar Lodge Resort on the island, but it had laid dormant for some four years before Maude Belter saw it.

In 1931, Maude was vacationing in the area -- visiting Mrs. Walter Mewes of Milwaukee at their resort, Mewes Lodge, on Spider Lake. Mrs. Mewes was the world champion in the women's division of national fly and bait casting, a title she won in 1934.

Maude decided she would like to spend her summers in Wisconsin's Northwoods, so set about looking for something to purchase. She found the island that summer, and the moment she saw it she knew it was for her.

At that time, the island held eight buildings: a homestead cabin, six rental cabins, and a large cabin that served as a dining area. The cabins were rented on a weekly basis, with some of them rented for the entire summer season. All were built of hand-hewn logs, chinked to fit. There were refrigerators and kerosene stoves in the cabins, linoleum on the floors, and the ever present out-house behind.

Maude Belter applied for, and received, the first liquor license on the island. She then converted the dining area into a bar and dining room, and in the summer of 1932 opened for business.

Getting the customers to the island was another matter. A great bell was stationed on the shore, directly across from the island. The bar customers would be picked up at this point. They merely rang the bell and boats would go and pick them up. After drinking their fill, they were returned to the mainland. Resort guests were picked up at the Rest Lake Landing.

Belter's Bar became known throughout the north. Knowing as a place where there was always a little music and dancing. A place where you could "sit in" and play for a set or two; where there was always fun and companionship. At one time, it was known as the "show place" of the north. Now it was known as the "fun place" of the north.

Maude ran the resort and bar each summer until her death in 1949. She even spent several winters living on her island. After her death, her daughter, Mitzi Beaumont, bought the island and continued the operation -- adding a few innovations of her own.

Mitzi loved to play the piano and sing, and one could always be sure of good entertainment on Beaumont's Island.

Guests from far and wide continued to flock to the island. Now, when the bell rang, customers would be picked up by a big war surplus inboard launch that Mitzi and her husband had purchased.

Mitzi had also added another innovation. Directly over one of the stools at the bar, they drilled an opening of about 10 inches. When young men brought their dates to the bar, they tried to sit right under the opening -- then, after a few beers -- would give Mitzi the nod.

Mitzi would go outside, climb the stairs to the second floor, position herself over the opening and drop a fox skin (with the head still intact) through. This never failed to bring a piercing scream, a wild jump and a round of laughter.

Mitzi ran the bar and resort from 1950 to 1960, but just during the summer season, returning to her home in Milwaukee each winter.

"There's no way you'd get me to live up here in the winter. It's just too cold, and I'd be isolated," she said.

In 1960, Mitzi shuttered the entire operation. "It got to be just too much work and I wasn't getting any younger." Mitzi turns 80 this year, although one would never know it to look at her, and one would never believe it if you watched her play the old piano and sing. She's still full of fun, has a love for people, and a deeper love for her island.

She now spends her summers puttering around the island, and travels to her daughter and son-in-law's home -- directly across from the island -- for breakfast and a little conversation -- each morning. Her grandson and son-in-law rake the grass that fronts on one side of the island -- but other than that, the island is quiet.

The furnishings remain in most of the cabins and there are still many wonderful pieces in the bar. Now, Mitzi has made a decision. This year, each of her children will choose the section of the island they wish to own and Mitzi will deed it to them.

"I may come back next summer and spend some time on the island, but I'm concerned I might trip over a  root, for walking isn't that easy on the island. I think though that the time has come for my children to take it over.

"They may restore some of the cabins, or they may tear them down. Whatever they wish to do with their part of the island is fine. However, there will be no trees cut down. The trees on this island are so beautiful -- and breath-taking in the fall. I'm just happy to see the island remain in the family."

So, its hey-day now past, Beaumont's Island remains isolated, tranquil and beautiful. The bell still stands on the mainland, its peal silenced for the most part -- but when it does sound -- the memories of the island linger on.


  1. Both my parents were born and raised in a small coal town in NE Pennsylvania, Nanticoke. Dad, after the war, relocated to Milwaukee to earn a living as the life of a coal miner was hard, dangerous and without sufficient means to raise a family.
    In the mid to later 1960’s my mother Eleanor worked with Mitzi in Milwaukee in a women’s apparel shop on Wisconsin Ave. by the name of Three Sisters. They became good friends and we got invitations to visit them on Beaumont’s Island where my father got the opportunity to fish for the Wisconsin game fish, the Muskellunge.
    When I was in my later teens and early 20’s I would take him up to Manitowish Waters for summer trips from Milwaukee. If memory serves me correctly the big bell was on the property of the Coffee’s, which they referred to as the Coffee grounds. The Coffees were the daughter and son in-law of the Beaumont’s. Ed and Mitzi would tell them of our intended arrival and would ring the bell for Ed to come out for us on his pontoon boat. Mitzi’s husband, Ed, always had a big cigar in his mouth.
    I remember Mitzi banged out rag time on an old out of tune upright piano. Ed banged out a rhythm on the drums and I played on a bass made from a bass string, a stick and a garbage can. The “Lodge” had a stuffed bear and the walls had game fish mounted. Ed and Mitzi would tell us stories of the loggers that would walk across the frozen lake in the winter and drink in the Lodge. The Lodge had old tables. Mitzi told us that came from the Schlitz Brewing Company. The Company would provide the tables and chairs to those who sold their product and where engraved with the Schlitz logo in large letters in the backs of the chairs.
    The cabins had the old gas light fixtures in them that still actually worked. Ed had a gasoline electric generator and in the summer months he would run it for about an hour or two in the cabins and the lodge. If memory serves me correctly, I believe Ed and Mitzi eventually got utility power out to the island, probably at considerable expense. All my old pictures where on transparency slide film and were lost. As real as it was, after 40 years your blog posting was like a miracle as my memories where almost a dream. I’d thought the island was on Spider Lake and could not find anything at all on the web. Ed and Mitzi’s stories of Vilas County, Little Bohemia and Dillinger’s hang out were some of my best times ever. Both My parents are now gone, but you have given me back some precious memories I had thought were lost forever.
    Gene Bojarski

  2. Hi Gene- Thank you so much for sharing these memories with us! Janelle & I are thrilled that the blog has made a difference for you. Please let us know if there's any more info we can help you with!

  3. About 1948 I spent time on Belter Island, I thin I was about 7 years old, Great memories still linger on, playing with a lot of kids, all the trees, the cabin & the chamber pot. I am the grand daugther of Vivian Sager Stark sister to Maude,

    1. Hi Lynn! I am Vivian Beaumonts Great Granddaughter. I would love to get in touch with you! :)

    2. HI! my email address is lbecannon@gmail.com would also love to get in touch with you.. Your name is?

  4. Wonderful memories! Thank you for sharing, Lynn.