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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A look back at resort era activities

The Teens or even 1909 brought three or four more resorts on the American plan format, and the Twenties added several others, but then the development trends turned toward furnished housekeeping cottages.

Most likely the first host to rent furnished cottages without pairing them with a dining lodge was Henry Voss around 1911. He supplied some of his guests' needs from his garden, chickens and cows -- and added American plan facilities around 1920. By 1930 there were half a dozen housekeeping cottage resorts, and the early 1930's witnessed the first clusters of complete little homes with city conveniences built for housekeeping rental.

By 1936 many resorts were running full and turning away guests, and the optimism born of that situation resulted in a great deal of resort and cottage construction, as older resorts expanded and brand new ones opened.

Till then a group called the Manitowish Waters Association had been promoting and advertising the area, but in 1936 the newly formed chamber of commerce took over and issued the first regular edition of the vacation book you are now reading.

Campers were a small but interesting minority among early visitors, not as much the people who went off to rough it all by themselves as the families that returned regularly to the same favored spots year after year and brought a certain flair to their tenting (and often went on to build homes on the chain). One family, for instance, used to engage local people to help with the children, and another would bring their beds up from home, on the train with them, to make their tent more comfortable! Saloon-keeper Jim McKinney would rent tent space to campers before 1910 but Bob Loveless was the first to center facilities around camping, in the 1920s near Alder Lake.

Many of the people who built the earliest private cottages had received their introduction to the lake's region by coming first as resort guests of campers. So summer home development. Big Lake, just northeast of the chain, received some of the earliest and most impressive developing, including the unique Manitowoc Club complex on a wooded point that the loggers had spared. There, on land that the club owned, several families from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, erected their own family lodges as early as 1900.

Summer home development on the chain proper began in or around 1900.

Rest, Spider and Island Lakes received the greatest attention at first but in 1910 there were cottages on almost every major lake of the chain, and the elaborate establishments on Island and Rest, one even boasting a hobby farm. As resorting gave the area many of its later summer home owners, so too did it give the area many of its summer homes, for after 1950, roughly, some summer resorts were subdivided for sale to individual property buyers.

Some early cottages were built of local posts or logs, but the proximity of sawmills at Buswell, Winchester and Winegar (now Presque Isle) made it practicable to build with frame construction after 1906. Construction activity from the Teens until the '30s also helped keep a little sawmill in operation on Alder Lake and there were other brief sawmill efforts besides that one. Construction labor was one of the important sources of income for local residents, who also found employment in lumbering, care-taking and odd jobs.

The area has also seen several types of specialized camps, not all of them leisure camps. A girls' camp operated on Big Lake before World War I and another occupied a set of fine log buildings on Alder Lake in the 1930s. A private estate was converted to a boys' camp around 1948 and it came under "Y" ownership, [becoming] Camp Jorn soon after.

The Statehouse Lake youth camp, which passed its twenty-fifth birthday in 1986, is a state DNR summer camp that helps introduce young people to possible careers in conservation and the outdoors as they engage in forestry and stream improvement projects, for instance. It had a precedent of sorts in the CCC camps of the 1930s, and the Manitowish area had just such a camp along the river just beyond the Iron County line. Camp Mercer closed with the onset of World War II but many still remember its now-vanished tarpaper buildings with the white batten strips. Countless fire lands and forest improvements are continuing a legacy of the CCC "boys'" efforts.

Fishing was one key activity that lured pioneer vacationists. Then as now the musky was the principal prize, and anyone looking at the number of wooden boxes on the red and green, steel-wheeled baggage cart at the Manitowish railroad station could tell how good fishing was, as fishermen dispatched their fish packed in ice and sphagnum moss.

Walleyes then were thought of more as a shore lunch fish that the guides would cook at shoreside tables which the local guides association had set up and maintained cooperatively. (They also worked together to assure sportsmanship in fishing.) In those days the guide was indispensable not just for his knowledge of fishing spots, his good company or his shore lunch. It was he who seined minnows for bait, long before bait shops were innovated, and it was he who provided the fishing party's only propulsion -- with his strong arms -- before the outboard motor. The guides' favorite boat was a lapstrake rowboat with prows at each end for easy rowing. (It was introduction of the outboard motor that popularized the cut-off stem.)

The guides added to the local atmosphere even by the way they viewed themselves. In the first annual issue of this Vacation Days, published in 1936, one guide advertised that he was the "chief musky tamer -- all others imitations."

Maintaining good fishery was so important that the old dam was retrofitted with a fishway to allow fish to climb up to the lakes, and the new dam was teamed with a fish lock. The town of Manitowish Waters built a hatchery to raise muskies and a few walleye and suckers in 1932, and ran it till about 1942.

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