Welcome back to the Manitowish Waters Historical Society’s podcast, Discovering the Northwoods. During each episode, we take you on a journey through our local history with the help of primary source documentation. To learn more about this rich history or about the historical society – check out our website at mwhistory.org. There you will find blog posts, our YouTube Channel, and Show Notes for the podcast with full transcriptions including photographs and maps.
On today’s episode, we will explore the history of the Manitowoc Club. The brief history of the club is read by Kay Krans.
This is a brief history of the Manitowoc club located on Big Lake Vilas County, Wisconsin, as told by George T. Gill, on July 4 1960.
Sometime during the winter of 1935, I had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Louis Kuntz about the founding and background of the Manitowoc Club. At the time, Mr. Kuntz was in his 81st year and was the sole survivor of the group of men all from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, who had joined together to purchase and develop the site for the club some 42 years earlier.
It might be said that Mr. Kuntz was the real founder of the Manitowoc Club for it was his vision, foresight, and efforts in interesting a group of friends in the project that led to the formation of the club. He had a deep appreciation of this North Country, which has contributed so much of beauty and health and enjoyment to the lives of members and guests alike. From Mr. Kuntz, I caught a glimpse of the early days when this land of lakes and forests was largely untouched and unchanged, and the few habitations were widely scattered logging and fishing camps and cabins, or the small communities on railroad lines.
It was in the fall of 1892 that Mr. Kuntz and a guide paddle through Big Lake on their way to Buck’s Resort on Spider Lake, now known as Koerner’s Resort. He had been on an extended vacation on the advice of his doctor and had been staying at Bent Brothers Camp on Lake Mamie, fishing on Lake Mamie, Thousand Island Lake, and other lakes in that vicinity. As the season drew to a close, Mr. Kuntz decided to see more of the country so with one of the Bent brothers, he did not remember whether it was George or Bill, the two of them started out in a canoe from where they had camped on Wildcat Lake for the trip which would terminate at Buck’s Resort.
In the course of the trip, they portaged into Round Lake and paddled through Round and down Rice Creek into Big Lake. The only inhabited place on Big Lake at the time was at the northeast end of the lake near the point where Rice Creek empties into Big Lake. This property was then owned by a wealthy lumberman named Laflin, and is the present site of Badger’s Camp.
Mr. Kuntz said that when he saw Big Lake, it was surrounded by virgin timber, principally a fine, tall stand of pine, most of which he estimated at well over 100 feet high. He was so impressed with the beauty and extent of the lake that he decided to talk with some of his friends with the idea of obtaining a location for a fishing and hunting club.
The fact that Big Lake possesses the advantage of numerous bays, together with its considerable size, would permit fishing in almost any weather, and this particularly appealed to him. Furthermore, he learned that Big Lake was considered the best in the vicinity for “Musky” fishing, and that game of all kinds was plentiful. Mr. Kuntz said that bear, wildcat, lynx, and deer were numerous and that there was an abundance of partridge and other wildlife.
Mr. Kuntz also told me that there was some 16,000 acres of virgin timber around the lake at the time, which belonged to Minnesota interests, which could have been bought for $92,000. Much or all of this was later logged by the Buswell Lumber Company.
Later Mr. Kuntz and two friends, Mr. Charles Spindler, and Mr. W.B. Richards visited Big Lake to look for a campsite. They considered the island, now owned and occupied by Mr. Keith, which at the time belonged to a man named Doriot, who was the caretaker for Laflin’s place. The island contained about twelve acres and Doriot wanted $1,000 for it. While the island was beautiful and desirable in many respects, the fact that it was an island had its drawbacks in the hunting season, when ice usually formed on the lake making access difficult.
The point where the Manitowoc Club is now located appealed to Mr. Kuntz and his friends. It had an area of about fifty and a half acres, was covered in fine timber, and was accessible by land. In addition, it could be purchased for $800.
Following several conferences at the hotel in Manitowoc between Mr. Kuntz and his friends, the point of land was finally purchased in 1893. Mr. Kuntz could not recall the name of the owner, except that he was a resident of Ashland, Wisconsin. The group of men who purchased the property consisted of Mr. Kuntz, Mr. Richards, Mr. Spindler, Mr. Lindstedt, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Torison, Mr. Emil Sixta, and one other whose name couldn’t be recalled. The last two men were not active and somewhat later sold their interests to the remaining members.
Almost the first activity of the newly formed Club was to clear the property of windfalls and brush and locate a site for buildings. In those days in order to reach the camp the members came by train from Manitowoc, arriving at the Manitowish station of the North Western Railroad about 5 am. After breakfast, they would start out with a team and wagon to make the trip to Rest Lake Dam, which had been put in a few years before to enable logging crews to float logs down the Manitowish River to the Flambeau. After reaching the dam on Rest Lake, the men embarked in boats, and in this way traveled through Rest Lake, Stone Lake, the creek, and Clear Lake to the northeast shore of the latter where a portage was made into Big Lake. Thence by boat to the club property. All equipment and supplies were transported in this manner for several years, until a logging railroad and rough roads, which were little more than wagon tracks, were finally put in.
Clearing the site for the club and preparations for shelter required considerable work and money, and the help of local guides and labor. One of the guides who had a camp on a nearby lake brought in a team of horses, and for several weeks the job of clearing and building progressed Mr. Kuntz told me that the first building to be put up was the guide shack – the log house on the southwestern tip of the point. This gave the man a place to sleep and eat. Next, a barn was built to house the horses – later made into a chicken house. Next came the ice-house, which is the log building now used as a carpenter shop. The present dining room was then built, but at the time it was used as living quarters for the members with bunks along the sidewalls. It is easy to imagine that many a fine day’s fishing or hunting ended here to be talked of and long remembered.
For some time, the camp was used only by the men for fishing and hunting. There was no caretaker but guides were hired for the season, and cooks were brought up from Manitowoc, who had cooked on the ships of the Goodrich Transit Company. It was not too long however before some of the members wanted to bring their families to this beautiful healthful spot, and cottages became a necessity.
To accomplish this, the point was divided along the south and east shorelines into lots and possessions determined by drawing for location. According to Mr. Kuntz, the lot nearest the dining room beginning at the top of the hill was drawn by Mr. Richards. Then came Mr. Kuntz, Mr. Spindler, Mr. Sixta, Mr. Lindstedt, and the others. Mr. Kuntz, Mr. Spindler, and Mr. Lindstedt built their cottages where they now stand.
Changes in membership came as time passed. Mr. Rahr became a member and somewhat later Mr. Koenig also joined the club, purchasing the interest of Mr. Torison. Both Mr. Rahr and Mr. Koenig built cottages. Mr. Richards later moved to California for business reasons and relinquished his membership. Mr. Lindstedt also sold his shares and cottage to Mr. Rahr and later the Lindstedt cottage, together with a small guesthouse, erected by Mr. Rahr, were sold to Mr. Geer, who became a new member.
The dates of these changes in membership are not entirely certain. As near as can be recalled Mr. Rahr became a member about 1903 and Mr. Koenig about 1909. This later date being about the time that Mr. Lindstedt sold his membership and cottage to Mr. Rahr. Mr. Geer became a member about 1924 shortly after the death of Mr. Rahr. In fact, Mr. Geer purchased both membership and cottages from Mrs. Rahr. There is no record here of subsequent changes in membership since these notes were made in 1935.
It might be of interest to name the several caretakers who served the Manitowoc Club during the years. Apparently, Gus Heidman was the first. From my notes, it appears that he came to the club in 1904, then returned for the year 1912 or 1913. The next was Henry Bremer, who served until 1920. A man named Jones was with the club for one year, followed by a man named Seeling for one winter. The next in succession was Otto Blaha, who served until 1925. And he was followed by Warner Hansen, who was with a club in the year these notes were taken.
There are probably inaccuracies and omissions in the above account of the club’s background and history, which would require some research into records of the past. However, I believe that the narrative in general gives a true picture for those who have found “the woods” a never-ending source of interest in deep enjoyment.