Building the Dam that Made the Whitefish Chain

The dam that we have to thank for the creation of the Whitefish Chain of Lakes was made more than 100 years ago- 135 years ago, to be exact.

Before the dam was built, the fourteen lakes that make up the beautiful Whitefish Chain here in Minnesota were all much more separate, connected mostly by small streams, or in some cases not at all.

This graphic, borrowed from "A Taste of History" and on display in the conference room at the Army Corps of Engineers in Crosslake, shows the Whitefish Chain both before (dark grey) and after (light grey) the building of the Pine River Dam.

According to "A Taste of History," the local history book compiled by the Crosslake Historical Society, the Pine River Dam is one of six dams that were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River and its tributaries (the Whitefish Chain and the Pine River feed the Mississippi). The idea was to aid navigation by holding back water and releasing it when the Mississippi River water level got low downstream, therefore allowing shipping to continue on the river during dry seasons.

Originally the dam was built of wood and the construction was completed in 1886. At that time the main road (now County Road 3) crossed over the dam, rather than over a separate bridge as it does today. The original wooden dam used timber "stop logs" to control the flow of water through the sluiceways. In addition to the wooden dam, a series of earthen dikes was built around the chain to hold in water at higher levels. Those dikes still exist today.

The original wooden dam built in 1885-86 and photographed in 1904. Photo courtesy of A Taste of History

For many years the road to Crosslake traveled over the dam, as pictured in this 1904 photo of the original wooden dam. Photo courtesy of A Taste of History

In 1905-06 the dam was rebuilt of concrete, as the untreated lumber used at the time deteriorated quickly. Photos of the rebuilt dam from over 100 years ago look remarkably similar to the dam today.

This photo from 1906 shows that the concrete dam finished that year looks remarkably similar to the dam today. Photo courtesy of A Taste of History

Today the dam is used primarily to facilitate recreation on the Whitefish Chain, allowing for boating, fishing, and enjoyable general use by the residents and public on the fourteen lakes.

The information  for the majority of this post and the photos are from A Taste of History, available at Judy's House of Gifts in Crosslake. The comprehensive book of local history is not only fascinating but also includes many favorite local recipes.

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