Even some of the most experienced anglers and boaters in the Eagle River area might not have ever used a feature that’s been on the World’s Largest Chain of 28 Freshwater Lakes for more than a century.
Yet, the Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist allows the 10 lakes on the Eagle River (north) side of the chain to connect with the 18 lakes of the Three Lakes (south). And it only costs $10 for a one-way trip or $15 for an epic roundtrip passage for your watercraft!
The hoist raises boats up from the Eagle River side to the Three Lakes side (and vice versa) and then across a 165-foot-long trestleway, which uses an electric gantry. It’s quite the site to behold as you walk across a small access road to the other side of the chain.
And while boat hoists might be used all over the world in various waterways, there are some really unique facts and a storied history that make the Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist truly one of a kind. For starters, the name itself has quite the story.
In the late 1800s, a group of lumberjacks burned a large shipment of logs on a rollway, which was a device used to transport logs down the river. This was done in protest of a shoestring jobber who couldn’t pay them after the lumberjacks had stacked the timber on the rollway along Ninemile Creek. The logs were supposed to be floated in the melt-swollen creek that spring to a sawmill. The men told the jobber that if they weren’t going to get paid, neither was he. The rollway reportedly lies submerged in a creek about a mile upstream from the present-day hoist.
The hoist is adjacent and regulated by the Burnt Rollways dam. The Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company operates the dam and hoist. It’s also responsible for the Burnt Rollways reservoir, which is known as the Three Lakes side of the chain. The Eagle River chain is regulated by the Otter Rapids hydroelectric dam and is operated by the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation.
The original boat hoist—built in 1911—was an inclined railway that used mechanical power furnished by the stream. The current turned a water wheel in the dam that pulled boats resting in a cradle onto tracks for transport to the other side. The electric gantry system was first set up in 1952 and moves much faster than the original—albeit cool-to-watch—water wheel from the turn of the 20th century.
If you’re out and about on the chain, watching the boat hoist in action is a fun experience for everyone. And no matter what side of the chain you’re on, don’t forget to have fun and be safe!
For more information about the Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist and fun activities on the water, check out the link: https://eagleriver.org/businesses/category/on-the-water/.