Founded as Eagle River in 1885, the area’s history goes much further back. If only the trees could talk, right? The history of Eagle River can be broken into several different eras that lead to the serene present its residents and visitors experience today.
Native people, fur trappers, loggers, and farmers all roamed the same lakes, rivers, and land we enjoy now. Not always at the same time. And it wasn’t always peaceful during overlapping times. But one thing remains constant throughout the years, anyone who’s called the Eagle River area home or visited for more than a few days has found pristine water, clean air, and time for peaceful relaxation.
Visitors from the North
Native people called the Eagle River area home for many years before any European travelers visited. The first ones likely came from the north; not the south. French-Canadian fur trappers made their way down to the area for fur trapping and traded with natives.
Multiple trading posts were established in the 1850s, including one called Kee Mi Con, which roughly translated to “can you see it” in a native language. Eagle Waters Resort pays homage to this trading post with its own set of cabins near the land the original building stood. The Eagle River area still maintains several trading posts to this day, but they are a bit different as visitors and locals alike can exchange money for goods, gifts, and rentals.
Back in the 19th century, fur trappers and traders tended to live a transient life. It was another industry that really developed Eagle River into a town.
Logging Leads to Railroads, Health Resorts, and Tourism
The abundance of trees and access to water made the Eagle River area a prime location for logging. The burgeoning logging industry that took hold needed additional methods of transportation to send timber further south in Wisconsin, so railroads were built.
Merchant George Dickinson built his family home on the north bank of Eagle River in 1884. It still stands and is the oldest building in Eagle River. And anyone can visit for a meal, because it’s now Eddie B’s White Spruce Inn.
Loggers from southern Wisconsin and Chicago told friends and family back home of the clean water full of fish, endless natural areas to relax peacefully, and excellent hunting in the forests. It wouldn’t be long before the Chicago Northwestern Railroad would bring passengers to the Eagle River area to see the beautiful land for themselves. A downtown area would grow up around the railroad depot 100 years ago, which is still located at the intersection of Railroad and Wall streets.
Resorts started popping up on lakes in the area. Many of them were marketed as health resorts for people coming from industrialized areas with impure water and air, including Chicago. Some of the first resorts built are still in operation today (with modern updates, of course!). The health benefits of clean air, clear water, and miles of personal space were recognized then and now, although we don’t often refer to our resorts as health resorts today.
Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly, who had some colorful connections in the 1930s and ‘40s, built Indian Point Manor. It can now be rented out for anyone seeking the opportunity to steep themselves in history. The political visitors of Eagle River include President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a frequent tourist of the area in the 1950s.
Agricultural Stint Survives with Cranberry Fest
For a brief moment in time, the Eagle River area was home to a strong agricultural economy. However, in the time period after World War I and The Great Depression, many of the young farms couldn’t survive. Two large dairy barns on the north side of the World Championship Derby Complex still stand today.
One agricultural area that started more than a century ago is still going strong today – cranberries! The Eagle River area is home to many cranberry farms and we celebrate every year with Cranberry Fest – the first weekend in October during the harvest. Potato farming is another strong industry in the area.
Be a Part of Eagle River History
The history books already include outdoor activities in Eagle River, too. There’s fishing during warmer months, snowmobiling in the winter months, and gorgeous views to feed the soul for a lifetime. Be a part of that history and plan your next visit to our little slice of heaven. Even if your trip doesn’t make it into the schoolbooks, it can fill your next photo album.
For more information about the fun—and sometimes harrowing—stories of Eagle River’s past, check out the Eagle River Historical Society Museum. Volunteer guides can provide historical photographs, documents, and fascinating accounts of those who came before us to the land we all love so much.
Disconnect your devices to reconnect with your loved one in Eagle River. Get inspired by things to do and places to stay during a romantic weekend by watching this month’s featured Field Notes video.