Script No. 71

We'll begin with a couple of translations. The first expression is "Scansin", which is the native's way of saying Wisconsin, thus "speak Scansin" means to talk like the natives, also known as cheeseheads. And when we say "go by" Bayfield, we're simply saying "go to Bayfield. So let's.

Today Bayfield is best known to most tourists as a jumping off place for excursion boats to the Apostle Islands. Chicago Tribune travel writer Alan Solomon described the place as ". . . a town with no traffic lights. In fact, there are no traffic lights in the entire county. House doors aren't locked at night. Car keys are left in the ignition 'in case somebody has to move it.' There is no McDonald's here, no Wal-Mart, no Holiday Inn." Sounds about as close to paradise as you can get.

Julius Austrian of the American Fur Company had begun milling lumber in the area sometime around the year 1840. Then in 1856, the year after the Soo locks had opened Lake Superior to large vessels, U. S. Senator Henry M. Rice, of St. Paul, founded the Bayfield Land Company, which he named for his hydrographer friend Commodore Bayfield, on March 24th. It was anticipated that a rail link with St. Paul, would soon be established. A road was cut between Bayfield and Ashland, at the head of Chequamegon Bay, following an Indian trail.

It would be some time before the peninsula would get its rail link. A few little matters like a devastating financial panic in 1857 and a Civil War in the first half of the following decade would get in the way. I wasn't until 1883 that the Chicago, St. Paul, Minnesota and Omaha Railroad would reach as far north as Bayfield. Meanwhile fishing (especially for whitefish and lake trout) and lumbering would become important to the area. In 1879 there were 130 men employed by one local fishery; the amount nearly doubled the following year. By the 1890s fisheries hired close to 500 year-round workers.

Hindered by a relatively late start, the city never became another Chicago or Duluth, but it proceeded to grow steadily. The same year the railroad arrived, architect John Nader's two-story Neo-classical Revival sandstone courthouse on Washington Avenue was completed. Tourism flourished for several decades, waned for several more when the automobile opened new horizons, then revived somewhat, with excursion boats becoming one of the main activities, even today. One of Apostle islands, Basswood, across a narrow channel, provided a third industry - Lake Superior brown sandstone. The material for many of Milwaukee, Chicago and Brooklyn's brownstone buildings came from the area. If any trees still grow in Brooklyn, chances are they're in front of Basswood Island stone buildings.

© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte