Fathered by the Chicago and NorthWestern Railroad in 1881 and born in the frustration of railroad surveyors seeking a pathway through the timbered highlands of this lake region, Three Lakes, Wisconsin, became a colorful milepost along the historic trails of Wisconsin.
Little did the original surveyor realize, as he finalized his notes after three attempts to "shoot" a line north and each time was stopped by a lake (Maple, Townline and Rangeline, respectively), that his notes had been recorded for posterity 100 years later.
The coming of the rails ushered in the exploitation of the land, marked roughly by three eras...the logging of the pine, the plowing of the land, and the tourist cabin. Each era tended to overlap the other as each reached its zenith of importance in the economy and then began to fade. The last era might be called the "Marty" era when the late Carl Marty established on the the first luxury resorts, the Northernaire, on the shores of Deer and Big Stone Lakes in 1946.
The farming era was much diversified and included activities ranging from potato growing to cheese factories and moonshine stills. Post World War I and through the Depression years of the '30s, economic survival was a fact of life in the North Woods. The end justified the means so bootlegging was accepted and tolerated, not only in the Three Lakes area but throughout the North Country. As the resort industry struggled in its infancy, slot machines and even casino gambling were common practices.
The key to the popularity of Three Lakes as a vacation paradise lies in the fact that a chain of 28 lakes stretches north from its waterfront to Eagle River, every mile navigable with no portaging, except around the water control dam at Long Lake exit. (Further, it is claimed and is entirely feasible, for the adventurous to go by canoe around the world and return to within one mile of one's starting point!) More mundane facts inform that there are over 100 miles of scenic shoreline, cradling some 7,000 water-acres of sportsman's utopia.
Skyrocketing land values of the 70s soon decimated the large-scale cottage-housekeeping resorts in favor of retirement-oriented homeowners. From some 75 big resort operations in the 40s, rental units have dwindled to a scattered few, some offering only one cabin for rental. The socio-economic flavor of the community has changed and will continue to change but the scenic beauty of the area and the historic romance of the North Country is still very strong.
The scars upon the landscape left by the passing of the years have healed well. The most horrible devastation was left by logging companies and the forest fires that followed. Between them, the country was left charred and barren-- a wasteland from horizon to horizon.
Well over a million acres in the immediate area are now under the management of either the U. S. Forest Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, or private timber and paper companies. Consequently the streams run clear, wildlife flourishes, the trees grow tall to create a vacation paradise all four seasons of the year.
Used with permission.
Three Lakes Genealogical Society
P O Box 101
Three Lakes, WI 54562
This site last updated Sept. 15, 2013