Potawatomi Property Owners Association Old Indian Head

Potawatomi History (continued)

In 1887, Island Lake Camp became the Gray-McCormick Camp.  Nettie Fowler McCormick, widow of Cnus McCormick, purchased with Gray, the property around Island Lake and the Island Lake Camp.  Cyrus McCormick was known for both his invention of the reaper and the McCormick Theological Seminary.  In the several hundred acres ownedby Gray and McCormick, there were a half dozen or more small lakes, as well as Island Lake.  The camp, as it stand today, began to slowly take shape.  When William Gray walked the trails to Island Lake, one of those he  met along the way was an Indian family who were homesteading in the area, by the name of Bill Morrison.  Bill Morrison was a breed Ojibway and his wife was an Ojibway (Chippewa).  Dr. Gray employed both when the Island was his summer camp.  Mrs. Morrison and her sister, Mrs. Bosquet, were survivors of the Sioux-Chippewa battle fought from canoes on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota.  After the battle the Indians walked from Minnesota to their home in Wisconsin, bringing their dead, dying and wounded with them.  The Morrisons served as cook, builders, and general helpers.  Their sons, Charlie and George, cut trees for the cabins and the buildings of Island Lake Camp.  Mrs. Bosquet worked as seamstress, cook, and helped with the laundry and various other tasks.

In 1887, large whie pines were cut from the surrounding land and ferried over to the Island, were hand-hewn to buildWinter Pictures the simple log structures.  As the cabins began to take shape, friends and family came to visit at the camp.  Seven year old Willie Purcell, who would grow to become a noted architect; Mr. James Kane, an inventor; Ard Wells, a Wyoming prospector, Will Bicknell; Lawten Parker, an artist; Dr. William Penn Nixon, a wagon train doctor, and many others.

The kitchen cabin was completed first; most of the work on the first cabins was done by Allan Woodruff and George Wilson, area lumberjacks with the skills to build a structure that would last a hundred years.  They still stand today in living testimony to the workmanship of the Wisconsin north woodsmen.

During the years of 1888-1890 the sleeping rooms, dining cabin, icehouse, library and first of the double cabins were built.  The Wanigan and the second double cabin were finished in 1895.  In the winter of 1888, William Green (caretaker, builder, lumberjack) and Lewis Ramsdell, who tended to the horses and did the haying, surprised the Grays and built the boathouse.  Island Lake Camp must have been a refuge for the aging Lewis Ramsdell who, in 1840, was a sailor on the slave ships, followed by a gun master at Mobile Bay August 1864.  Later, he worked his way north to the lumber camps from Michigan to Wisconsin during the 1870’s.  From the summer of 1887 to 1901, the year of Dr. Gray’s death, seven log buildings had been constructed; several replaced the building that had burned.  The boathouse was replaced in 1915-1916 by the McCormicks.  The main dormitory cabin was build in 1887, the first log structure built on the Island.  The unique design is a ‘dog-trot’ cabin a form not often found in Wisconsin.  It consists of a single story, saddle notched structure with transverse beams running the length of each room, with an open area of Dr. Gray’s ‘court’ between the two cabins.  The building s were simple, rustic and well constructed to provide shelter and warmth for the island visitors for almost 100 years and are still in use today.  The two double bungalows have had a cement floor placed in the center ‘court’ area and both sides are now screened.  In recent years, the root house and the icehouse have disappeared and the logs have been stained a dark brown.

During the Gray’s years at Island Lake Camp, Dr. Gray’s grandson William Gray Purcell, spent every summer from the age of 7 to 21 at his grandfather’s island retreat.  Mr. Purcell graduated from Cornell University with a degree in architecture. At the beginning of his career, he worked for Louis Sullivan, the noted Chicago architect.  He later formed his own firm in partnership with George Elmslie of Chicago and Minneapolis.  The firm became well known across the country during the first decades of the twentieth century.  Later Mr. Purcell practiced in Portland, Oregon, and then moved to Pasadena, California, where he died in 1965 at the age of 84.  During his long life, he held fond memories of his youth at Island Lake Camp, the forest, the campfire stories, the folks who came and went were well documented by the writings of Purcell in his book, “St. Croix Trail Country,” Lund Press, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1967.  The book is no longer in print.  Mr. Purcell writes:



“Today modern highways carries travelers swiftly over the nearly two hundred miles between the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul on the banks of the Mississippi and Bayfield Wisconsin on the south shore of Lake Superior.  But there was an earlier land route from the Lake to the Great River.  This was the St. Croix Trail.

It began long, long ago as a series of narrow footpaths through the virgin forest, over the wild-grass and wild flower barrens, past lakes and rivers and trout streams.  Trees were blazed by the Indians to point the way when snow covered many of the landmarks.

Then came the white man, the soldier and the settler.  As the clouds of Civil War gathered, Army engineers and a group of interested civilians slashed roads along the old paths.

The military objective was to link the western terminus of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes trade way with the head of navigation on the Mississippi River at St. Paul, the civilians wanted to open the northern Wisconsin wilderness to homesteaders.  For a decade and more, stagecoaches trundled passenger, mail and goods along the trail.”

After Gray’s death in 1901, the McCormick estate held it until 1940, long after Mrs. McCormick’s death  to in 1923.  During 1945-1951, Willis Roland Ford constructed a variety of buildings for his personal use and for large groups from his church.  He built toilet facilities, cabins for staff, modernized the kitchen, built a recreational hall, a home for the caretaker, and a lodge for himself.  Upon Mr. Ford’s death in 1966, Island Lake Camp and the surrounding lands were left to an Illinois YWCA, which in turn sold the property to land developers.   No buildings have been constructed since the years of Mr. Ford’s ownership.  The island for the most part, is in a Property Owners Association ownership for their community use.