The Town of Minocqua has a long and interesting history, before and after it officially became a town in 1889.
Aerial view of early Minocqua
Minocqua was officially founded as a Town in the year 1889. The name “Minocqua” is derived from the language of the area’s earlier inhabitants—Ojibwe Indians—and is believed to mean Good Woman. [Historical account of how Minocqua got its name.]
In the late 1800’s, Minocqua was a logging town and also saw many French fur traders. Clawson Hill was a famous landmark in town and is the current location of the Pointe Resort & Hotel at the south end of the Highway 51 bridge.
The railroad was the primary mode of transportation facilitating Minocqua’s early growth. The Milwaukee Road railroad company originally came to the area to access timber; railroads later catered to sportsmen and tourists transforming Minocqua into the vacation getaway haven it remains to this day.
The two railroad trestles that brought trains to the Island are still intact and are part of what is now the Bearskin State Trail (hiking and biking in summer, snowmobiling in winter). The area where the northerly trestle connects to the Island forms the trailhead of the Bearskin Trail. The foundation of the old railroad water tank is still clearly visible there.
Street scene during Fire of 1912
1912 Fire & Rebuild
Much of the town’s business district was wiped out by a major fire in 1912. Many of the buildings on our main street today are those built after the fire.
Like many main streets, the main street of Minocqua had a store for every need. Even into the 1970’s Minocqua’s main street contained three grocery stores, a fruit market, two car dealerships, a gas station, a bank, a dentist, a newspaper, two hardware stores, two pharmacies, two barber shops, a cafe, a candy store, a shoe shop and a few clothing stores.
While the last several decades have brought a higher percentage of visitor-oriented retail stores, our downtown still retains the U.S. Post Office, several restaurants…even an old fashioned barber shop.
The Island serves as Minocqua’s civic center; you’ll find the Campanile Center for the Arts (former St. Patrick Church), the Minocqua Police Department and the Minocqua Center, which houses our town’s municipal offices and public library.
Minocqua School, built in 1907. Present day location of Minocqua Town Offices and Public Library.
Dr. Torpy, Town Chairman
Some of the more famous landmarks on the Island are Bosacki’s Boathouse at the north end of the Highway 51 bridge (now known simply as “The Boathouse”) and the Thirsty Whale, which is just down the shore from The Boathouse and built entirely over the water. Bosacki’s burned to the ground in 1972; ordinarily a structure could not be rebuilt so close to–or in this case, partly over–water, but a public outcry convinced the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to allow it to be rebuilt where it was.
Torpy Park and its beach are also Island landmarks, along with the Belle-Isle building and the three-story Minocqua Center, which was originally the Minocqua Grade and High School from 1907 to 1967. The Minocqua Center is where the town’s municipal offices (third floor) and the Minocqua Public Library (first floor) are located.
There have been 30 town chairpersons in the history of Minocqua. The list of early town chairmen reads like a who’s-who of early Minocqua settlers—names like John Sullivan, Frank Rogers, Pat O’Malley, Jay & Thomas Bolger, Art Dorwin, David Jenkinson, Jacob Huber, William Schlecht and Dr. Torpy. The current Town Chairman is Mark Hartzheim.
503 Flambeau St.
Minocqua has a very charming and informative museum where visitors can learn more about its history. Operated by volunteers during the summer season, it’s filled with artifacts, memorabilia and displays depicting Minocqua’s past. Admission is free, but free will donations are appreciated.
Open weekdays from June to Labor Day, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Other times by appointment. Phone: 715-356-7666