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Bois Brule River Cabins District

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c. 1893–1930. Bois Brule River between County Rd. S and U.S. 2. Visible only by canoe, covering 12 river miles

In the 1890s, the landscape along the Bois Brule River became a private playground for wealthy families from large midwestern cities. Wealthy men in particular hoped to recapture their manly vigor as hunters and fishermen, foster male camaraderie, and celebrate their allegiance to a distinctly American landscape. While imagining the landscape as primeval wilderness, these men actually redesigned this woodland to conform to an idea of wilderness promoted by popular magazines such as Forest and Stream. The sportsmen built comfortable lodges, private estates, and cabins, and they stocked the river with nonnative trout and salmon. This redesigned wilderness became nationally renowned for its rustic beauty and its abundant fish and game. By 1920, more than thirty buildings dotted the Bois Brule’s riverbanks. These included lodges, dining halls, family cabins, boathouses, guides’ and servants’ quarters, and icehouses. Exteriors mimicked the primitive buildings constructed in logging camps, while interiors offered the comforts of tastefully appointed homes. To blend these buildings with the surrounding cedar and pine groves, designers used logs and native stone and blurred the boundaries between outdoors and indoors by constructing broad verandas. Lodges, cabins, and boathouses also feature decorative twig work in the manner of rustic Adirondack architecture.

Beginning at the boat launch at Stones Bridge, where County Road S crosses the river, canoe to Mays Rips Rapids. As you round a bend, the river forks around several islands. On the left is the boathouse of Cedar Island Lodge, the most elaborate of the Bois Brule River properties. Residents secure their canoes to rings on large bronze frogs. The lodge became President Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House in 1928, but nearly a half-century earlier, a group of St. Louis businessmen purchased the island and built a communal clubhouse here. By 1893, St. Louis oilman Henry Clay Pierce transformed the property into a private Rustic resort, with a dining hall (identified by cobblestone chimneys), a superintendent’s house, a boathouse, and assorted guesthouses. The main lodge is octagonal, although the building’s wings and screened front porch obscure the form. The walls are of vertically laid cedar logs. These look natural, but the builder first stripped off the bark, treated the logs with wood preservatives, and then reapplied the bark. Inside, light fixtures incorporate deer legs, and the dining room features hunting and fishing scenes sculpted by Swiss wood carvers. Outside, an expansive lawn provides a parklike setting amid the Norway and white pines. Bronze light fixtures in the shapes of owls, bear cubs, and squirrels illuminate the paths between the buildings. Cedar Lodge also included a zoo with native and exotic animals and a fish hatchery (once supervised by Fred Mather, the nation’s leading fish culturalist).

Past Lucius Lake and just beyond a modern footbridge, on the left is the Alexander McDougall House, a log “cabin,” built for the developer of Lake Superior’s whaleback steamers (DG5). The cabin looks out over a broad lawn and the water. Magazine stories about McDougall’s fishing prowess helped popularize the Brule among wealthy men seeking wilderness experiences. Farther downstream on the right is the Gitche Gumee Boathouse, a long building of wooden planks and logs, covered by a jerkinhead roof and a cross-gabled dormer. Decorative driftwood adorns the entrance at each end. This building originally stood on Winneboujou Club lands but was relocated here in the late 1890s. Three men from Milwaukee established the Gitche Gumee Club in 1889. Clubs like this stood at the center of social life on the Brule, sponsoring communal fishing, hunting, and camping adventures. Here at the boathouse, the men stored their handcrafted birch bark canoes. Each summer they went out in the canoes with Ojibwe (Chippewa) guides and “played Indian,” reenacting the romantic visions of life they had learned from reading James Feni-more Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.

Farther downstream is a small, log boathouse on the right, its semicircular dormers half-hidden by a tree. This marks Wendigo Lodge, constructed for N. E. Sanders as the first private compound built on Winneboujou. Each summer the Winneboujou Club almost literally transported the social life of St. Paul, Minnesota, to the banks of the Brule. Wendigo Lodge included a cabin for Sanders’s fishing guide, a bathhouse, and a dining hall and kitchen, all in the Rustic mode. A cobblestone stairway leads to Sanders’s log house with a side-gabled roof with wood-shingled gable ends. Geometric twig work embellishes the full-width screened porch. Continuing downstream, on the left is Muskikiwininni Lodge, consisting of a house and an elaborately detailed boathouse. Nestled among the trees, the log house features geometric twig work along the porch. The impressive log boathouse has curvilinear branches that form a lacy ornament under the wide overhang of the jerkinhead roof, which shelters a half story clad with jagged-edged bark. A decorative arch of bent wood crowns the door. Beyond Winneboujou Landing is the Rustic log Hall’s Bridge, marking County Road B. It is the last original footbridge remaining along the river. Here the river quickens somewhat, and the number of cabins and lodges dwindles. After Station Rapids, Winneboujou Landing B is a place to land canoes. Beyond are several more miles through small rapids to the landing point at U.S. 2.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.



Marsha Weisiger et al., "Bois Brule River Cabins District", [Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 292-294.

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