Our History

A long and colorful history

The Chequamegon Bay area had a long and colorful history well before the settlement of Bayfield. Before the time of written records, Ojibwe (Chippewa) legends have placed this group and others, including the Huron, Ottawa and Sioux, here sometime prior to European discovery.

The 1850s were a turning point for the Chequamegon Bay region. In 1855, the “Soo” locks at Sault St. Marie opened, allowing for the first large ships to enter Lake Superior. In addition, these years were a time of optimism and available credit. Men began to dream of great inland harbor cities that would rival Chicago as port terminals for Midwest grain and lumber.

Early Bayfield was dependent on lake transportation to provide goods and passage to the outside. Boats stopped running in December or January when the Chequamegon Bay froze over. Ice boats might carry travelers to La Pointe or Ashland over the long winter. Service resumed only after four or five months when the spring thaw melted the icy waters.

When the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railroad finally steamed into Bayfield in 1883, lumbering and fishing were already established. Brownstone quarrying and tourism were just beginning to gather strength. The population reached 500. Bayfield was becoming civilized, boasting schools, churches, lodges, hotels, and boarding houses. An impressive sandstone courthouse was constructed the same year to herald the booming quarry industry and the village’s passage into maturity.