Sayner and Star Lake are the two communities which comprise the township of Plum Lake. Both have long traditions as vacation centers, and both communities have gone through an interesting evolution.
In the eighteenth century Plum Lake Township was the center of a vigorous lumbering industry. By the beginning of World War I, however, lumbering was on the wane and the area was being discovered by tourists who came to view the beauty of the alkes and forests, as well as sportsmen who were attracted by the abundance of fish and game.
In the years following World War II the change in the American lifestyle was reflected in the vacation habits of visitors to the area. These changes were primarily due to the growing popularity of winter sports. In no small way was this interest in winter sports the result of the efforts of an ingenious mechanic and businessman who constructed the first workable snowmobile in his shop in Sayner.
Today the Sayner-Star Lake area contains not only the gradeur of is history, but the riches of the present, while always maintaining the sout-soothing peace of the wilderness. Housekeeping cottages where families can take up summer residence, and the growth in recent years of fine restaurants and supper clubs, hotel and motels, beautiful golf courses, olympic quality tennis courts, groomed snowmobile and cross country ski trails, plus unique shops and attractions make Sayner and Star Lake a mathcless vacation area all year around.
Plum Lake is also knowns as the "Hearth of the Headwaters". The Sayner - Star Lake area holds many historic sites and points of interest Some 90% of the Township is still state owned provided unsurpassed scenice and natural beauty. (From U.S. H. 51 north of Woodruff, to CTH M, then right on to CTH N) you enter the western most edge of Plum Lake Township. The first point of interest is Musky Mountain, thurn right on Plum Vitae Rd, and drive straight ahad to the base of Musky MT. This is the highest point in Vilas County and the first location where a fire tower was constructed after the forests were depleted to prairies and scrub trees. The local towns people, through a land use agreement with the state, ran a Down Hill Ski area, complete with rope tow and chalet. Many locals and trourists still pull pull their sleds and toboggans to the top, taking the main run down for some winter excitement.
(East down CTH N) you next stop is just aver the bridge of West Plum Lake. On your left is Warner's public fishing pier, established in honor of Herbert N. Warner in 1976. To locals this site is known as Plum crossing, where the railroad crossed the west end of Plum Lake. The original pilings were used for the fishing peir with the remainder still visible above the water, showing the railroad path. Mr. Warner was a lumberman and resort owner with interest in Vilas and Oneida Counties. He homesteaded on Plum Lake ini 1899, where be built Forest Home Resort. Warner was also instrumental in bringing about the reation of the Township of Plum Lake. He became the Town's first accessor [sic] and donated 40 acres of land and cash to help establish the Plum Lake Golf Course.
(Continuing East on ETH N straight through the stop sign, one block, turning left onto Plum Lake Drive), next stop Froelich's Sayner Lodge. More than nine decades ago, Orrin W. Sayner believed this beautiful region of Wisconsin wilderness held the potential to become one of the nation's greatest recreational areas. In 1892 he build the first crude buildings for vacationers that would grow through the years to become Sayner Lodge.
The first Post Office was established in 1892 in the kitchen of the main lodge, and patrons called for their mail at the back door. In 1957 William and Mary Froelich purchased the lodge and today is still known as Froelich's Sayner Lodge. As you pull into the parking lot you'll notice the magnificent virgin pine trees towing over the grounds. A short walk around the property and down to the lake is a must. One can only imagine what this vast wilderness must have looked like before logging. Then back to the car. (Continuing down Plum Lake Drive, turn left on Golf Course Rd., left again on Club House Rd.), next stop: Plum Lake Golf Club, founded in 1912. Plum Lake Golf Course is the oldest 9 hole course in Wisconsin with a part 36 and open to the public. Take a quick stroll through this turn of the century club house, with its wrap around porch and beautiful views of Plum Lake. (Back track out to Golf Course Rd. and return to Sayner, keeping left at the intersection, where you came from Sayner Lodge. Turn left at CTH N) Main Street, Sayner. On your left was the site of the Sayner grade school, now a park and playground. The school was built 1914-1915 with a wing added in 1924. The school was occupied by kindergarten thru 8th graders until its closing in 1973. Across Main Street from the park and playground is Pastimes Gift Shop. If you look closely you'll be able to recognize this original structure--built in 1947 by Curley & Myrle Schneider as an integral part of the current building at 441 Main Street. After 50 years as a sport & apparel store, known as Schneiders Sport Shop, the current building is now home to Pastimes Gift Shop. Stop in and talk with the owners about the building's history. It's a northwoods "Pastime" we think you'll enjoy. As you drive into town on your left is the Sayner Pub, with a painting of the Musky Mountain ski area on the original ceiling, a nostalgic piece of art work. The next building on your left is Carl Eliason & Company business since 1924. A full line of building materials, lumber and hardware is currently available. Carl Eliason and Elmer Ahlborn purchased the business in 1924 from the Froelich family. The store carried all general store items of the day, and was operated under the name Eliason and Ahlborn. Carl Eliason built his first snowmobile in the back room of this store. The partnership continued until 1932 when Carl purchased Mr. Ahlborn's interest, and the name was changed to Carl Eliason & Company. A fire completely destroyed the wood frame building in 1945, and a new building was constructed of concrete block shipped by rail from Chicago. The business was operated until 1965, when the store was sold to Russ Davis and Nick Seegert. The lumber and building material portion was retained by Carl Eliason, and a new store was built one block south of the original location. Carl Eliason & Company is currently run by John Eliason, John Eliason, Jr. and Jona Eliason. A few of the first models of snowmobiles and many other historic pieces of the town's past, may be viewed in the large glassed in porch of the new store. Kiddy corner from Eliason's and back to the north is Accents Gift Shop. The owner recently purchased the attached building which was the Froelich's Tavern and Boarding House. They expanded into the bar area and discovered all the original tin ceilings and woodwork, and have left everything, as a reminder of its colorful past. The building to the right or north of Accents Gift Shop was home to the town's first restaurant. The no nonsense sign "Eat" and the waitresses warm smiles beckoned early Saynerites; it was later converted to the private home of the town's oldest living resident--Kunnigunda Froelich (1892-1999). In 1996 the building was extensively remodeled but retains much of its original charm and building materials. It seems to be in perfect harmony with its current occupant "Coming Around Again" a unique gift shop. Further on Main Street to your right is the Vilas County Historical Museum founded in 1959 by Mable Sayner DeWitt, daughter of Orrin Sayner the founder of the town. The Museum has had four additions since inception and have over 7500 square feet for displays. Inside you'll find an incredible array of artifacts from the first snowmobile invented here in 1924 by early resident Carl Eliason, the pioneer room, guides room, doll collections, native wildlife mounts, lures, boats and outboard motor collectible, to Jim Froelich's African Safari mounts. The Museum is open Memorial Day through Colorama. (Just east a few hundred feet CTH N turns left and heads northeast, seven miles to Star Lake). Along the way you'll see a scattering of homes most of them occupied by descendants of the first settlers. As you reach the stop sign and the end of of CTH N you'll (take a left on CTH K) to the Town of Star Lake. On your left will be the Star Lake Cemetery located on the hill just east of the town. One can only 9imagine the commanding view of the Lake and one bustling lumber town the site must have shared. Today, shrouded in conifers, the burial grounds are a nostalgic visit almost linking the visitor with the past. This plot was immediately put aside by the lumber company and harbors hillside graves marked with nameless white wooden crosses. In the early years epidemics, drownings, laborer accidents, high infant mortality and transient workers were often buried without identity. A rustic tablet given by the townspeople lists the known dead from the early burials. Indeed a trip to Vilas County is not complete without a visit to the lakeside Village of Star Lake. Few would guess that in 1895 this picturesque little hamlet, was once a metropolis, consisting of more than 100 homes, with 84 being company housing. In August of 1895 the company finished their railroad line to Star lake with a special train arriving, bringing the majority of mill employees, their families and tall of their worldly possessions. Earlier arrivals during 1894 built the town, so basically overnight, Star Lake became a booming lumber town consisting of a saw and planing mill, houses, general store and post office, railroad depot, warehouses, school house, Hotel Waldheim, butcher shop, town hall, doctor's office and board house, where a single many paid $6.00 per month for room and board. Star Lake was named after the Starr Brothers, Harry and Bob. They were the surveyors for the lumber company and the first company employees to come to Star Lake. They selected a site for the first building; Hotel Waldheim. Brother Harry Staff was killed in a pile driving accident and the town became known as Starr Lake, then evolved to Starlake, and today as Star Lake. [See correcting information in the topic The Name of Star Lake.] (Just down TCH K west towards town) you'll see on your right, a little white, one room schoolhouse, built in 1920 after the original 3 room school burned. The first school served both Star Lake and Sayner until 1915, when Sayner built their own school. The school is now a private summer home [and later an art gallery/historic site]. Just beyond and to your left is the Star Lake general store and Post Office. The original store was raised in the late 1970's.
Just past the Store on your left is (State House Road, turn here and then left) again into the driveway of Fredrickson's Minnow stand. Adjacent tot he once great milling operation is the mill pond, where on the edge of the tranquil waters stands Fredrickson's Minnow's, the oldest bait shop possibly in Vilas County. Edith & Hazel operated the bait shop through the 1998 season. In February of 1999, Edith, the younger sister died. Hazel is now 100 years old and lives comfortably in a community based residential facility. The bait shop has been turned into a historical landmark. It is still undecided what will be done with the family home near the shop. It was Company House 1, and remains as an example of the original housing. They are the daughters of Fred Fredrickson (and wife Mary) one of the first white men to settle in Star Lake. After the day of logging ended, Fred became a local fishing and hunting guide, purchasing the bait stand in 1935. The stand had been in operation since the 1920's, however at that time, it was nothing more than a box of a spring in the lake. Fred continued to build up the business and when the railroad left in 1943 he purchased a building made of box cars and moved it to the current site, continuing operation of his bait shop until his death in 1954 at the age of 90. Across the mill pond from Fredrickson's lies the site of Northern Wisconsin's largest milling operation. (You can walk or drive back out to State House Road, turn left) and just ahead is a large wood sign marking the entrance to the mill site. Today the area is a public beach and playground. Nearly two billion board feet of pine was logged from the Star lake area and as much as 3 million board feet of lumber was stock piled in the yard at all times, ready for shipping. On August 8, 1908 the last log was draped with an American Flag and carried through the mill, thus signaling the end of an era. By 1910, Star Lake was a sleepy little village on its way to becoming a resort haven. (State House road dead-ends to your left and heads the start of The Star Lake Nature Trail) located on the peninsula which creates the "Two Wings" of the Lake. The trail winds through the states first Silvaculture Laboratory. This 100 year program started in 1913 in part to monitor managed and unmanaged tree plantation production. Many experimental native and introduced species of trees are planted here. [No, the Plantation is almost exclusively red or Norway pine.] The shorter self-guided trail is complete with information markeres describing the program and many plant species. (Your last stop in Star Lake is back out on CTH K to your left just a short distance to Hintz's North Star Lodge.) Originally names Hotel Waldheim, built in 1894-95 as the home and retreat for railroad and lumber company officials and guests, Hamilton Salsich, part owner of Williams, Salsich and Company helped select this site and build the hotel. [Articles in the Minocqua Times Newspaper indicate that the hotel functioned as a public accommodation.] The lumber company continued to build cabins, a dining room and other out buildings resembling a resort, but never was used as one until 1909 when it became known as the prestigious Oliver Lodge. [In fact, Oliver ran the Hotel Waldheim in 1908 and in prior seasons it was owned by the lumber company and run by a manager. The Forbes family were hotel guests the summer of 1908.] Oliver's prospered during the early years, as they were the last stop for Pullman cars on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul line from New Lisbon to Star Lake. sold by Olivers and closed during the way, the Lodge reopened as North Star Lodge in the summer of 1945. The new owners were Herbert and Lorraine Theel who operated the resort as an American Plan Resort until 1970. Thomas and Jill Moorhead owned the resort between 1970 and 1980, closing the dining room and operated the Resort with a string of caretakers. The Hintz's purchased the resort in 1980 and still operate Hintz's North Star Lodge, a housekeeping family style resort and the Waldheim Room Restaurant. The property is lovingly maintained and restoration is carried out to maintain the historic integrity of the property.
On the Lodge property are two of the remaining original buildings built by the Star Lake Lumber Company [Not the correct name]. The Lodge (Hotel Waldheim) is an extraordinary log structure with the first floor open to guests and the public, displaying many pictures and mementos of earlier days. The grounds provide a breathtaking view of Star Lake. Feel free to pull up one of the deep old rocking chairs on the large expanse of porch, and experience the sunset over the beautiful tranquil waters of Star Lake. As quoted in an earlier brochure from Olivers Lodge, "The climate in this section of Northern Wisconsin is clear and bracing, the drinking water is pure and a health-giving tonic. This country is a cure for insomnia." As you leave the Sayner-Star Lake area on the States most beautiful rustic road #60 (CTH K) northwest towards Boulder Junction, it's out hope that you've enjoyed your historic tour through the Plum Lake Township and will return again and again.
For further information about local history and legends, the Plum Lake Library in Sayner has the following Books, also available for purchase:
Daylight in the Swamp, by Jim Froelich and Pat Dewitt A Taste of the Northwoods, by William Hintz The Land The Way It Way, by Cecelia Ellerman Up a Ladder, by William Froelich The Lake People, by Mary Elizabeth Hickey