Looking Back at Lake Nebagamon

by Brad Herzog

More than three decades ago, the Village of Lake Nebagamon published a spiral-bound history book—a 321-page tome that features a half-dozen pages about Camp Nebagamon. Among the photos included: Herb Hollinger, “Big Pete” Peterson, the weddings of Sally Lorber/Nardie Stein and Jane Stein/Euan Kerr, a Lorber-Stein-Mendelsohn family photo on the steps near the Rec Hall (the photo was reprised by the current Stein-Kerr-Diamond clans at the 90th reunion), and a 1985 photo of 20 campers and counselors in front of the “Welcome for All” sign. Perhaps the most compelling photo comes from 1903—a shot of lumber baron Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his family sitting on the front steps of… the Big House.

The book was published in 1986, on the 90th anniversary of the construction of the village’s first post office. Now, 90 years after Camp Nebagamon’s launch in 1929, here are 29 fun facts and historical snippets about Lake Nebagamon:

ORIGINS: Lake Nebagamon was originally called… Lake Nebagamain. Its origins date to 1882 when the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad constructed a line across northern Wisconsin. A portion of that line ran above the “lake passing.”

BARON MIND: The name was shortened to “Nebagamon” in 1902 by the Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company, principal land owner of the village.

THIRST: With lumbermen abounding in Lake Nebagamon, there was a total of $2,800 paid for saloon licenses in 1901—at $100 each.

1900: “The football craze has struck the town. A meeting Tuesday evening, October 16, was held to organize a team.”

LOGGERS: When the Weyerhaeuser’s Nebagamon Lumber Company started in 1898, the mill was expected to remain in operation for at least 20 years. But after 12 years, the area had been largely cleared, and the company moved on.

GLAMPING: After the Patrick-Duluth Company purchased the property in 1920, the company offered it as a resort for employees on vacation. The vacationers traveled in elegant dining cars from Duluth to Lake Nebagamon.

LAWN BEACH: The building now called Lawn Beach Inn was built in 1900 for a Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company executive named F.L. Wilkins. It boasted some of the building’s first electric lights and was soon dubbed The Poplars… then the Lake Hotel. During Prohibition, there was a speakeasy in the basement.

BRAVE FAMILIES: During World War II, two Lake Nebagamon families each had five sons serving in the military. Another, the Edgette family, saw six sons serve. Captain Delbert Edgette, who received a bronze star at the Battle of the Bulge, was later killed in action during the Korean War.

1900 (part 2): “The Douglas County Agriculture Society will give 40 acres of land to the first couple who offer to be married at the fair this fall. Come young fellers, spruce up and get a home for yourself.”

NO RELATION: In 1904, exactly 100 years before Stephanie Hanson’s first summer as co-director at Camp Nebagamon, a family settled in the Lake Nebagamon area, having arrived from Norway by steamship, train and horse-drawn carriage. Their names: the Hansons.

MAR-A-LAKE-O: President Calvin Coolidge opted to spend the summer of 1928 at an estate along the Brule River. It housed his entourage of 60 soldiers, 14 servants, 10 secret servicemen, many of whom spent their free time in Lake Nebagamon. Coolidge established an office at Superior’s Central High School, and Douglas County spent more than $30,000 upgrading a dirt road into a modern gravel road now known as Highway B.

1903: “A coin of considerable value was discovered in the contribution on the evening of the Catholic Ladies’ sociable. If placed there by mistake, please call on Mrs. F. Ginder.”

NUMBERS: The Village of Lake Nebagamon consists of 12.6 square miles of land and 1.74 square miles of water.

CENSUS: As of the census of 2010, there were 1,069 people, 446 households, and 321 families residing in the village. Median age: 47.5 years.

CROPS: In 1899, farmers in Lake Nebagamon produced 5,000 pounds of butter, 965 bushels of potatoes, 805 bushels of root vegetables, and 95 tons of hay.

ED THE MC: More than 250 people gathered in June 1981 for an all-class reunion of students of the Lake Nebagamon School. Ed Drolson, who spent 19 years on the Camp Nebagamon staff between 1953 and 1974, served as master of ceremonies.

1904: “Tuesday evening, June 14, seems to have been chosen as the suitable time for robbery. First Charles Olson’s saloon, about $15 taken; next Pete Nero’s place, about $40 taken; then Archibald’s beer warehouse, several kegs of beer.”

TWINE STEWARD: Since 1979, Lake Nebagamon resident James Frank Kotera has been constructing what is believed to be the world’s largest ball of twine—eight feet high, 22 feet wide, and weighing nearly 23,000 pounds.

ICE DREAM: During the winter of 1914, the village leaders decided to draw crowds to a newly planned Ice Carnival by building an Ice Palace. The place was built out of 12x24x30-inch ice cakes cut from ice on the lake. Inside, a skating rink completely surrounded the village pavilion.

TRIO: In 1977, when only about 700 people lived in Lake Nebagamon, a set of triplets was born. The boys were given alphabetical names—Aaron, Brian, and Christopher.

1905: “Plans for a special train from Superior to Lake Nebagamon were suspended in February, 1905. Two boxing bouts were scheduled there, but District Attorney Foley instructed Sheriff McKenzie to enforce the Wisconsin anti-prizefight law.”

DEATH HOAX: One of the most talked about incidents in Lake Nebagamon history occurred in 1920. After a fire destroyed four homes, some clothing and jewelry belonging to one Edward Sailstad (a married father of two) were found amid the remains of a bed. Also, some bones matching Sailstad’s size. Three years later, Sailstad and his mistress were arrested in Eureka, California. Sailstad was charged with grave robbery, desertion of his family, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

HISTORIC: The Lake Nebagamon Village Auditorium, constructed in 1936, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique log construction.

1930: “Thirty barrels of mash and other paraphernalia for manufacture of moonshine were seized Tuesday by Federal Agents in the woods near Lake Nebagamon. No one was on the premises and no arrests were made.”

RARE AIR: There is a Noel Wien Public Library in Fairbanks, Alaska. Wien, a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, founded Alaska’s first airline and made the first flight over the Arctic Circle. He was born in Lake Nebagamon in 1899.

SONG AND DANCE: The Tamburitzans, the longest-running multicultural song and dance company in the United States, originated at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University in 1937. But they first began summering (and rehearsing) in Lake Nebagamon in 1947. The “Tammies” take their name from the Tamburitza family of stringed instruments in the folk cultures of southeastern Europe.

BOLOGNESI CHEESE: In 1917, a fellow named Count Guilio Bolognesi, the Italian Counsel General in Chicago, purchased one thousand acres in Lake Nebagamon and established the Stella Cheese Company. The factory was located at a site that later became the Lake Nebagamon Laundromat. In 1983, the Bolognesi home was sold to the Friends of the Tamburitzans.

1933: “Russell Creamery of Superior has arranged a regular route for Lake Nebagamon and milk will be delivered twice a week by Carl Carlson, George Dippy and E.G. Holmquist. Until now, consumers who wanted fresh milk had raw milk delivered by local farmers. Everyone could tell when the cows started eating fresh grass. The milk was yellow in color and all who drank it got sick! The pasteurized product was very welcome!”

GOOD GRIEF: The town constable in 1899 was named… Charlie Brown.