Dwight Peck's personal website

Summer 2019

A photographic record of whatever leapt out at us

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Views of Minocqua, Wisconsin, 20 September 2019

The chief tourist destination in this neck of the Northwoods, in summer at least, is the small city of Minocqua, "the Island City", population about 4,500 residents and any number of water sports fans in the summer, snowmobilers, ice-fishermen, etc., in the winter.

Back in the old sawmill days, and for a long time afterward, a rail line ran up from farther south and supported the tourism trade and a number of resorts and summer camps for kids. The central part of town, a four-block main drag and a few side streets, is literally an island in Minocqua Lake, except for an artificial isthmus at the north end, called 'the fill', that extends the town along the highway through Woodruff and points north towards Lake Superior.

The town centre is filled with mostly touristy sorts of shops, often with clever names, and our walking tour begins near Torpy Park at the northern end, at the justly famous Minocqua Brewing Co., a restaurant, bar, music venue, and of course a brewery, featuring our favorite, 'Roadkill Red Ale'.

Adjacent to the brewery, this is a new pavilion, today occupied by environmentally conscious citizens listening to speeches in honor of Greta Thunberg's Climate Crisis Day, during a pause in their marching through town.

And beyond that, the old pavilion overlooking the town beach and tennis courts (we were here for the 'pig roast' a few years ago)

This is where the highway, already reduced to a two-mile 'miracle mile' of chain restaurants and pharmacies, a 'Save More' and the usual big-box stores, comes onto the island, at the brewery and pavilions in the background, and proceeds at a civilized snail's pace through the town centre. It's a one-way street at this point; the northbound lanes are one block over.

We're starting at the apparently historic Belle Isle, until recently a pub and grill, now closed, and presently inhabited by other operations, including a tattoo parlor and a website design firm.

Looking southward on Oneida Street (named for Oneida County; also called Highway 51, with some embarrassment, because it's the only north-south thoroughfare in central Wisconsin; the interstate highway system ran out of gas somewhere around 60 miles south of here).

On the Labor Day weekend, the cars and trucks towing boats and trailers, driving down from approximately four million lakeside cottages north of here, line up right on this spot.

As the timber industry was penetrating into the Northwoods in the 1880s, the railroad had pushed up from Wausau to this place by 1887, and the town of Minocqua, named for an Ojibwe word, was founded in 1889 as a hub of the logging operations in the region. When the timber had all been cleared by the early 20th century, the railroad and residents turned to recreational tourism as an alternative resource, and resorts and summer and winter camps proliferated in this land of lakes. By the 1930s, Minocqua was served by the luxury Hiawatha Streamliner trains, including the 'Northwoods Hiawatha'.

We're stopping in to see the newly opened Shade Tree bookstore, recently mentioned favorably in a travel article in the New York Times. Perhaps necessarily, the fiction section is dominated by the usual handful of thriller and fantasy authors, and the history offerings incline toward the usual biographies of Reagan and Bush and other Americana, with perhaps a biography of Churchill for an international flavor. Still, the store is making a valiant effort in a difficult business.

A great fire leveled much of the business centre in 1912 and many of the present buildings were constructed after that date, but they tend of preserve a late 19th century flavor in any case. Even the fake Tudor-style half-timbered buildings.

Murals of this sort seem to be common in northern Wisconsin towns (cf., e.g., Ashland), maybe everywhere, for all we know.

Views along Oneida Street

And the clocktower (Uh oh, we're running late)

A bit twee, perhaps, but it's a competitive tourist market.

This building has been completed or renovated recently, and no one seems to know what the tower thing is for (storing grain, perhaps).

More murals (in inconvenient settings), the farther one celebrating the Min-Aqua-Bats, a venerable amateur water skiing show, begun in 1950 and described as the oldest continuous such show in the US. Quite a few of our friends here were members of the team way back in the day.

That's the Minocqua Popcorn centre across the street.

'One shot, one kill -- time to fire up the grill' (a celebration of the hunting possibilities here -- with sparse mention of Chronic Wasting Disease)

A very patriotic, and angry, eagle. How intimidating.

'The circa-1957 Island Café serves unexpectedly excellent biscuits covered with sausage gravy, a family recipe' (from the NYT article cited above).

An interesting office building or something, at the point where the highway bifurcates into north- and south-bound streets.

Here at the north end of the highway bridge, behind the rentals store, is the venerable restaurant now called The Boathouse. In a former incarnation, then called Bosacki's, it burned down in 1972, along with many of the boats in the marina out the back, and Kristin, working there at the time, almost managed to save the cashbox.

The Wayback Machine: Kristin (with braid) and Bosacki's staff, ca. 1972

The present marina behind The Boathouse

Interstate highway 39 comes up out of Illinois northward through the centre of Wisconsin as far as Wausau; we're left with the venerable old US Route 51, which continues nearly to Lake Superior. Hwy 51 was put in in the 1930s, about the time of the heyday of the recreational railway service, but as automobiles came to dominate after World War Two, rail use declined and road traffic on 51 became 'one of the busiest two-lane highways' in the country (Wikipedia, Interstate 39). Interstate 39 was intended to replace Hwy 51 in the 1980s and '90s, but stopped way short.

Here, 'one of the busiest two-lane highways' in the USA crosses a modest bridge onto Minocqua island at 25 mph. On the 4th of July and the Labor Day weekend, it's a parking lot.

The Boathouse, with windows onto the lake

A ski jump ramp just offshore from some stadium seating for fans of the Min-Aqua-Bats; the shows can also be viewed from the windows of the Boathouse dining room.

Pleasant sentiments

The Thirsty Whale bar and restaurant, built out over the water -- first built as a commercial boathouse in 1902, it was expanded to include a restaurant in 1909. Given over to other uses for a time, it was revived as a restaurant in the 1950s and remodeled in 1965, and has been operated by the same family since the mid-1980s. (History notes from here.)

Be Aware -- the vile invasive species, the Eurasian water-milfoil; not much of a problem on our lake, though, where the purple loosestrife is the main villain.

The former railway bridge crossing over onto Minocqua island

As automobiles succeeded the trains over time, the Northwoods Hiawatha was reduced to running 'Fisherman's Specials' on the weekends only, and finally all rail service was discontinued everywhere north of Wausau in 1956. The stretch of roadbed from here 18 miles southward was converted in the mid-1990s to a very good recreational trail for biking and walking, and snowmobiling in the winter.

The northern terminus of the Bearskin Trail

It's virtually a straight line of compacted gravel, with 13 trestles back and forth over the Bearskin Creek and associated wetlands for the next 18.4 miles (30km) to the south (and with some sort of recent semi-connected continuation at the far end).

Apropos of the Bearskin Trail, here it is later the same day, some miles south of Minocqua, as we're out hunting (unsuccessfully) for mushrooms.

The mushrooming season is evidently over now.

There are grim stories about whole locomotives and cranes sinking into that mess during the building of the railroad in the 1880s.

Back to the lake: the porch on the cottage

It's too nice to stay indoors

In one of the northern coves, we're trying to find the muskrat's home.

We noticed it briefly a few years ago, but no luck at all today.

Too bad. Zero for one on muskrats for this year. Perhaps next summer.

Reminiscent of certain biblical plagues

A last spin on the hydrobike . . .

. . . and a tangled-up ending to the hydrobiking season.

Summer 2019

Next up: Back to Virginia

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