Wisconsin’s Culture - Bayfield Peninsula

A  Crossroads of History

I have visited the Bayfield Peninsula in winter and summer, 2007. I found it a microcosm of Wisconsin culture.  Julie Buckles wrote, “Not-so-secret Bayfield Peninsula” published by “Lake Superior Magazine.” She said:

“Bayfield Peninsula is large and the wildlife – deer, bears and wolves – far outnumber humans. You won’t find one stoplight in all of Bayfield County … Named for Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield, who did hydrographic surveys of the region in 1823-1825, the Peninsula is a finger of sandstone jutting into Lake Superior. About 10,000 years ago, two giant glacial lobes dumped 600 feet of sand here. The area continues to be an intersection of natural forces. The lake effect provides a moderated climate suitable for orchards and fruit in summer and for lots of snow in winter. It’s a crossroads of history where Europeans first landed in Wisconsin and met the Ojibway people, whose vital communities continue … The Peninsula is a collection of small towns, rolling farmland and 22 Apostle Islands. “

Lake Superior's Wisconsin south shore

Lake Superior is known to the Ojibwe or Chippewa as “The Big Water.”

In an article entitled, "Snapshots of the South Shore Scene," by Sandra Hoth, she suggests, "South shore artists bring new life to historical buildings." She provides this good overview of the area we visited:

"Between the shoreline of Lake Superior and the vast forests of the Chequamegon National Forest lies the extraordinary area know as the South Shore of Lake Superior. Because it offers beauty and inspiration at every turn, artists have, for years, come to vacation here and have returned to live and work. The area, home to writers, musicians, visual and performing artists, offers to the visitor a wealth of cultural experiences.   

"The South Shore boasts a rich and varied history. Early settlement by miners, lumberjacks, fishermen and farmers, left the South Shore many interesting turn-of-the-century structures associated with those endeavors. Area artists, seeing potential in these abandoned or unused buildings, have created inviting studio and display spaces. Travelers visiting these studios, shops, and galleries have the opportunity to enjoy original art created by local artists while slipping back in history to early days on Lake Superior’s South Shore."


The City of Washburn is on the shore of Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay. It was founded in 1883. This historic town has interesting antique shops, wood carvings, pottery, paintings and old books.

This is a mural painted by local art students on the side of the building housing Washburn Iron Works. This is a small company in town that is central to the town's future: it is basic industry that exports products and brings new dollars into the community. It has established itself as a quality foundry with the capabilities to pour gray, or ductile irons ranging in weight from ounces up to 250#.

Bayfield city

Bayfield is a small town, 2000 census 611 people, but it is a beauty, and is a first-class stopping point for visiting the Apostle Islands. There are 22 Apostle islands which form a protective barrier for this part of Wisconsin. The Apostle Island National Lakeshore includes 21 of these islands. Madeline Island is approachable by ferry, which you can catch at Bayfield. It has a population of about 100. The other islands are accessed by boat.

I approached Bayfield on Route 13 from the south. This next photo shows what we saw when, for our very first time, we rounded the curve several miles south-southwest of the city.

It was still winter, Lake Superior was still sort of frozen over, it was cold. The view coming in is breathtaking. On the first shot, you see a basin about two miles south of town, the host to Pike's Marina and Port Superior Marina. If you look carefully center and center-right, you can make out Lake Superior's southern shore. On the second photo, you see the Marinas a little better. Idrove into see them once we got there.

I drove down in there briefly and tooK these shots.

This is a first class, modern operation. Plenty of slips, each spacious, with many amenities, and floating docks. No boats were in the water when we visited. Many were in dry storage. There is a very nice looking set of condominiums overlooking the marina and the lake. As an old Chesapeake Bay boat driver, this was top drawer.

Next I drove into town.

This is Newago's Fish Market, closed for the season, but ready to go when the season opens. Kathy and Alan Newago have been involved with commercial fishing in Lake Superior for over 20 years. Alan owns a fishing tug and has a crew to get the product. Alan's brother, David, owns the shop. Kathy makes specialty fish spreads.

This is a rather famous landmark and establishment, the Old Rittenhouse Inn, "Victorian lodging and dining." The Inn is comprised of five historic Bayfield homes: the Rittenhouse Inn, Le Chateau Boutin,  and the Rittenhouse Cottage. Each is located within a few blocks of downtown Bayfield, Wisconsin and Lake Superior.

Bates Art Barn features the artwork of Mary Rice (watercolors), Karen Soderman (mixed media) and Steve Soderman (photography, collages and one-of-a-kind cards). You are invited to browse their collections as well as those of other local artists.

Roxanne's at Currie Bell. This is a gift shop.

You can get a nice look through the window.

This is a view of Bayfield Harbor from out on the city dock, looking back toward the town. This looked to us like the place from which the serious fishermen launch out when the weather improves. The Apostle's Island Marina is also located here. I have seen summer photos of this harbor and it hosts lots of different kinds of boats.

Here's a nice look at the town from the Bayfield Harbor city dock. I want to zoom in just for the heck of it.

That's postcard stuff.

Here's the entry to the Bay Harbor, or exit, depending on how you look at it. Hook a right to the south and then a left to the east and you can head out into the wide open lake waters.

take a closer look at a boat that was at dockside when I was there. There's a nice web site operated by Harvey Hadland and Bob Mackreth about this kind of boat, "Fish Tugs of the Greatest Lake."  The Fish Tug is designed to operate in tough environmental conditions, which Lake Superior certainly offers. Hadland and Mackreth say "the Great Lakes fish tug is a form seen nowhere else." Indeed they remark that Bayfield is a great place to see this classic kind of boat. These boats were built in Bayfield for a long time, until the late 1940s.

These boats are more than a half century old. They are for commercial fishing. Their design evolves from the requirements they must meet. The crew can spend much of its time inside, away from the elements, there is a large hold for the fish, and little need for the crew to be on the deck. You'll note what's referred to as the "sprayhood" bow, covered. Earlier designs had this area open. Some pilothouses are mid-ship, especially on the earlier designs, but by the 1950s most boats were built with the pilothouses to the stern.

Cornucopia ("Corny" to the locals)

Cornucopia is a little seaside village nestled at the western edge of the Bayfield Peninsula along highway 13 about 22 miles from the town of Bayfield.. Since my 2007 visit, some things have changed, but the buildings I saw are still in place. Among the first things you spot entering the town on Rt 13 from the east is Cornucopia Public Harbor. Just prior to the public harbor is a nice wayside view of Lake Superior on a March day in 2007.

Once you pull into the public harbor area, you can park, and walk around to view the old buildings that people are turning into entrepreneurial ventures. They are really neat. Several have been freshened up since I was there.

This was the Good Earth Shop in 2007.  It has been converted into the Good Earth Outfitters and the from of the building has been remodeled a bit.

The building was and I’m sure still is most intriguing. This shot of the phone booth could be a video grab from a wide variety of movies. I think it’s gone now.

Next door is another fascinating set of artisan and gift shops lining the harbor. buildings. Both buildings abut the harbor. You can see part of a fish tug in dry storage behind on the right.

This is truly an intriguing building. There was no one around, so I had no way to ask what this was all about. I’ve labeled this "High Tech Central." He's got solar panels up there for juice, an anemometer on the tower to measure the wind velocity or pressure, and a row boat leaning against the side of the building.

If you were to round the corner here to the right, you would come on a harbor inlet, with a couple fish tugs berthed in all their splendor.  The area had a Scandinavian look to it; Norwegian to be sure. Everything green

Here you see the fish tug "Jackie II." She's a beauty. You can see she is likely to be an older model with her pilothouse mid-ship. The large green building is Halvorson's Fisheries, offering fresh and smoked fish and local specialties such as whitefish livers and trout cheeks. Our guess is Jackie II, and her side-kick Cindy Marie, which we will show in a moment, work for the Fishery.

This is Cindy Marie, pilothouse to stern. These are magnificent boats. One of the things running through my mind in looking at these ladies up close was how brave and experienced their crews must be to take them out against the challenges of Lake Superior. Next time, I’ll try to sweet-talk someone into letting us aboard to see what these gals look like down below

There are a total of three inlets in which to berth boats.  The other two are operated by Siskiwit Bay Marina, Inc.

It's also worth going into Cornucopia town. It's not a big place, but it too is neat. As you come into town, you run into the Siskiwit Bay Coffee and Curiosities.

Then, music to any hungry stomach or thirsty tongue, "Fish Lipps" Lounge and Restaurant. I guess it changed owners and is now called Little Nikki’s. The US Post Office is parked right next door, boasting it is Wisconsin's northernmost post office.

On the way back to Bayfield City, I discovered Blue Vista Farm, two miles southwest of the city, overlooking Lake Superior. It does give you “a taste of heaven.” You can pick raspberries, blueberries, apples,. And there are wonderful gardens all over. Here’s a short walk-around by way of the gallery below.