Long before tourism took hold on the Whitefish Chain, logging was the main industry that shaped the chain, allowing for the creation of cities and many homesteads, bringing the chain to life.
The logging history of the chain is fascinating. All winter, lumberjacks toiled in the woods, cutting the large Norway pines and using horse teams to drag them on sledges to the water’s edge of the Pine River or Whitefish Chain. Strong, hard-working men brought down the massive timbers and loaded them onto the sledges, which was sometimes an acrobatic feat. Their wages were $15-$40 a month, with their room and board provided by the logging company. They could buy items from the company store, which were deducted from their pay. Often they walked away from the winter with less than $100.
In the spring, at breakup, the logs were put into the water so they were parallel with the flow. Some said that Cross Lake would become so filled with logs that one could safely walk across them from one side of the lake to the other.
In the spring, the waterways were temporarily dammed by logging companies to build up a large store of water. Once the logs were lined up, the temporary dams were released- sometimes using dynamite. Then, men known as “River Pigs” would ride the logs down the river, through the rapids and in ice-cold springtime water, guiding the logs to the mills downstream. Often carrying dynamite with them, it was the River Pigs’ job to break up any areas where the logs would jam or build up, often at the twists and turns of the river.
Millions upon millions of feet of lumber were brought through the Whitefish Chain, carrying logs from north of Whitefish Lake all the way up to Longville down the water to the sawmill near Moonlite Bay in Crosslake. Otherwise, the logs were sent further downstream to where the Pine and Mississippi rivers come together, to a sawmill that was once located there.
In the late 1800s, the dam was built on Cross Lake, forming the reservoir that we are now familiar with as the Whitefish Chain. Loggers were pleased with the development, as they no longer had to build temporary dams to wash the logs downstream. Now, they could line the logs up and let them through the sluices to send them downstream.
Even in the logging era, the Whitefish Chain area was becoming popular among fishermen and hunters. It was only a few decades, though, before the logging industry was through with the area, and then nature continued to provide everything needed for the perfect vacation: pristine lakes, good fishing and hunting, and forests that continued to be beautiful.
Soon homesteaders began offering the sportsmen a place to stay and hot meals, and the tourism industry was slowly born in the area. But, it was the logging that brought industry and infrastructure to the area, shaping it into the vacation gem that it is today.
Much of the information in this story came from A Taste of History, a fascinating historical book published by the Crosslake Historical Society and available at the historical log village (when open), Lakes Area Gallery and Frame (Crosslake), and Judy’s House of Gifts(Crosslake).