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Every Wednesday at 6:45 a.m., 8:45 a.m., and 5:45 p.m., we turn back the clock on WXPR with local historian Gary Entz to find out what life in the Northwoods used to be like. This is part of a new initiative by WXPR to tell the history and culture of northern Wisconsin.You can keep track of A Northwoods Moment in History and all of WXPR's local features on the WXPR Local Features podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

Pioneer Edward Walsh

wisconsin historical society

There are many stories of early Northwoods Pioneers. Most of us recall the lumbermen as being the first, but the tourist industry developed simultaneous to the logging industry, and early resort builders like Edward Walsh were key in the economic development of the Northwoods. Historian Gary Entz has the story.

There were many early pioneers who settled into the Northwoods and lent a hand in its economic development. Most passed on into history without leaving much record of what they did. Others, however, left an interesting account of what they accomplished in life, and from them we can get an idea of what life in the Northwoods used to be like. Edward Walsh of Minocqua was the latter sort of individual.

Walsh was born in Wausau in 1864, which makes his family one of the earliest to reside in that city. More than anything else he loved to go fishing, so in 1884 at the age of 20 he struck out for the excitement of the Northwoods and relocated to Three Lakes. He found employment as a hunting and fishing guide and was paid $3 per trip, two of which went to his employer and one to him. Still, he could live inexpensively in the north, saved his earnings, and soon had his own boat.

Walsh started working out of the Denton House in Eagle River and independently guided tourists around the Eagle River chain of lakes. In 1886 he was hired to take some fisherman to Kawaguesaga Lake. While there he visited the shores of the island that later became Minocqua. Walsh fell in love with what he saw and relocated just as soon as the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad began building into the area. There was no town yet, but he pitched a tent and became one of the first settlers in what would become Minocqua.

In addition to Walsh and a few others like him, there were dozens of saloons in tents set up to serve the railroad workers and lumberjacks. By the time the trestle was built over the lake to the island, some of the tents began to take on a veneer of permanence as a few board walls began to appear. Still, few things had a finished appearance as most of the establishments were crudely constructed gambling halls and saloons.

The town of Minocqua was formally established in 1889. The first railroad station in town was nothing more than a boxcar deprived of its wheels, but the first hotel built by Patrick O’Malley also appeared at that time. Walsh re-established his business and was soon guiding fishing parties from Minocqua north to Trout Lake.

By 1896 Walsh had earned enough to build his own hunting and fishing resort on the shores of Shishebogama Lake. It was the first resort west of Minocqua, and Walsh obtained the prime lakefront property for the princely sum of five dollars. Walsh made certain that his resort would be comfortable, attractive, and convenient to summer tourists, which is why his resort had the first telephone extension out of Minocqua.

It was attention to detail such as this that attracted some well-heeled visitors to Walsh’s resort, not least of which was former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and his family, who came to stay with Walsh in 1901.

Edward Walsh died in Tomahawk in 1931 at the age of 66.

In addition to being a historian and educator, Gary R. Entz serves on WXPR's Board of Directors and writes WXPR's A Northwoods Moment in History which is heard Wednesdays on WXPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.