Would you believe that before the Pine River Dam was built in Crosslake, Loon Lake didn't exist? That before the dam, Arrowhead Lake was much smaller and known as Mud Lake? Big Island on Whitefish was not even an island, but part of the shoreline! The damming of the Pine River in Crosslake changed everything.
There were even completely separate lakes that are now flooded by other lakes on the chain. Portage Lake, which was in the southeast corner of Upper Whitefish, is now part of Upper Whitefish. And Hat Lake used to be totally separate from Rush Lake, but is now a part of Rush. It's true, before the dam, the Whitefish Area looked very different.
A Taste of History, a comprehensive book of Crosslake area history compiled by the Crosslake Historical Society, supplied this graphic of what the chain looked like before the dam (dark shading) and after (lighter shading).
The dam was built in 1885, and at that time it was made completely of untreated wood. A Taste of History tells of how County Road 3 originally traveled right over the dam, not over a bridge east of the dam as it does today. The dam's untreated wood had to be quickly replaced, and in 1905 the dam was rebuilt of concrete. Pictures from that time show that the dam looked quite similar to how it looks today, with its numerous arched gates.
In those early days, the dam was constructed to aid in the navigability of the Mississippi River. The Pine River, which exits from the chain at the dam, eventually flows into the Mississippi. Damming the river and creating the Whitefish Chain as we know it today allowed for water to be stored up and released to raise water levels on the Mississippi as needed, allowing for boats to travel or for lumber to be washed downriver.
A Taste of History tells how the area's topography is relatively flat, so only a small rise or drop in water level has a large impact for navigability. Since the area at the time was driven by the logging industry, the dam allowed logs to be floated in the lake in the spring and then flushed to sawmills downstream.
Along with the dam, a series of dikes was built around the chain that allowed the chain to rise much higher than its ordinary high water level. Those dikes are still in place and maintained today.
Today, recreation drives the beautiful Whitefish Area. The Army Corps of Engineers does its very best to maintain a relatively consistent water level that's optimal for recreation. Now, the many lakes connected on the Whitefish Chain are one of Minnesota's most popular destinations.