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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the resort era in full swing

Resort guests in the first few decades stayed longer than most guests today: from a month to a whole season, and there were more men, generally, than women. Cottage owners often came for the entire seasons, bringing along the season's supplies -- "Kerosene lamp chimneys by the hundred," recalls one lady. Or they ordered things like from mail order grocers like Pieper's, Steinmeyer's in Milwaukee, and other things from Sears.

Getting here, in those days, wasn't any too easy. North Western Railway Pullmans sped guests up from Indianapolis or Chicago or Milwaukee, but when they clambered down from the trains into the Manitowish dawn, it was a horse and buggy that awaited them, and a rough ride paralleling the river bank on the little lane to the dam site... the end of the road. Most resorts and some homeowners had big, gasoline-engined launches, and at the Rest Lake dam travelers and their baggage transferred to those for the last leg of the trip. (For travelers to Big Lake, two more transfers were ahead: an overland portage from Clear Lake to Big and then a boat trip on Big. Can you imagine moving up a piano in the face of such handicaps? One party did -- and it took days!)

Supplies for many resorts, cottages and local settlers came by rail and stage to the dam. About 1907 resorter C.W. Buck and drayman Sherman from Powell carved out a road from Powell to a landing on Little Star Lake, which shortened rail, buggy and water travel and appealed to guests from Buck's, LaFave's and other resorts.

The brief interval from 1906 until 1914 saw another colorful alternative: travelers could take the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway's trains via Minocqua and could shift to the nadir of all trains, the single-coach run between Star Lake and Buswell.

The train was so slow that its folklore even today has rumors of the train crew getting off to go fishing. What actually delayed the train so much was the fact that it often handled local freight cars or long strings of log or lumber cars from Buswell, in addition to the coach; but that frequent freight role was a huge godsend to people living around the chain or north of it. The track crossed the waters of Rice Creek right above Island Lake. Not only could launches reach it to meet a long-suffering passenger or two, but building supplies, groceries and even beer that was shipped up in full boxcar loads could be transferred directly from train cars to lake launches or barges without any wagon haul at all.

The first automobiles appeared in the area around 1909-1910; draymen were among the first owners and the cars had to come in at first by train. Travel was possible toward Mercer by road before it was possible to the south, and the narrows between Spider and Manitowish lakes was an obstacle till about 1913. Travelers who somehow made it through by car before the road was completed via Trout Lake -- and a few did -- had to float their cars across the narrows on a floating dock until the first bridge was completed at the present site. Motorists making the trip from as far as Indiana were no longer a novelty by 1916, and by 1918 the state had numbered the road through town as Highway 10. It still had a curve almost every quarter mile or every mile as it followed section lines and property boundaries, but the federal highway program took it over in 1927 and gave it its straight course into the township by 1930.

Motorists back even in the Highway 10 days could find a bite to eat or a cold drink at pop stands along the road. These long-forgotten conveniences and the resort dining rooms are the ancestors of the fine dining that is today synonymous with Manitowish Waters. Coffee shops and lunchrooms came with better roads, and the end of Prohibition spawned several taverns, some of which have evolved into supper clubs. (The earliest saloon was probably Jim McKinney's, on Rest Lake not far from the dam; at his island resort, Abe LaFave also had a taproom, both by about 1910.)

At first the important social institutions that help shape the character of Manitowish Waters all required going outside of the limits of the present township: schools, churches, town government.

Till 1910 the nearest schools were at Manitowish or Buswell, but around 1911 the first school opened right in the town, near Deer Park Lodge. A modern school, but still in one room, replaced it along Highway 51 around 1928. School consolidation brought a multi-town, multi-room school, in the early 1970's North Lakeland Elementary. High school consolidation in the 1950s had routed our students to Lakeland Union High School; before that they had been bussed to Hurley, and previous to that, families had to make their own arrangements to send kids to high schools and to board them near the schools.

For even more years, getting to church meant driving to Mercer or Minocqua, except for Catholics around the 1920s when some priests had a summer home on Clear Lake, complete with a little chapel, and many Catholics would take their boats over to Mass.

In the 1950s Protestant and Catholic congregations both arranged to use the original town hall for services while working toward the churches that they built in 1954 and 1958 respectively.

The township here had begun as part of Oneida County and the Town of Minocqua but became part of Vilas County and the Town of Lac du Flambeau with the establishment of those. It was an unhappy arrangement, though, to have two population centers that had few interests in common and that were not even linked by a through road, and yet were governed as one town.

So in May, 1927 the state legislature accepted local arguments and set off a separate town, first called the Town of Spider Lake but renamed Manitowish Waters in 1940.