Between hundreds of old photographs, antique artifacts and the original railroad depot building, the Boulder Junction Historical Society keeps the town’s past alive.
“It’s hard to believe that this was a railway junction. That was the reason it got the name ‘Boulder Junction,’ because it was a junction point for trains – railroad going in four directions,” Jim Zamrazil, board member of the historical society, said.
“In our museum, we are fortunate to have hundreds of old photos of the logging era, resorts, fishing guides of the area, Dr. Kate and her wonderful story, photos of past activities such as cutting ice in the winter for summer use and old Musky Days,” Ron Winter, vice president of the historical society, said.
One of the main ways the Boulder Junction Historical Society preserves the town’s history is through photographs.
“We have some really wonderful sets of pictures here. It’s hard to realize what Boulder Junction was like back then,” Zamrazil said. “These are pictures that we’re so glad that somebody took, because there’s no way to go back and get a picture.”
These photographs from the turn of the 20th century were difficult to find, noted Shirley Doolittle, board member of the historical society.
“It was like panning for gold. [These pictures are from] the first 50 years, and that was the Depression hard times up here. It wasn’t even a community until almost 1930, so even finding a photo was difficult,” Doolittle said.
Thanks to a generous donation, it’s now easier to show and save these photographs.
“This DVD recorder and flat screen TV was donated by the Lion’s Club, for which we are very thankful,” Zamrazil said.
With this gift, the historical society now has the ability to transfer old VCRs and pictures to CDs and play slideshows.
Life in the early 1900s
Within the historical society, several displays show different aspects of early life in Boulder Junction, including a telephone section, household items from the era, lumberjack equipment and an area showing life in a logging camp.
“This is kind of a sampling of the things people had. We didn’t have a lot here in the beginning. Everybody was striving for existence,” Doolittle said.
She went on to explain that not very many people owned telephones in the 1930s, “maybe a dozen.”
“The world has come so far in my lifetime, you can’t even imagine.
Early telephones only had party lines with up to three or four people on each line.
“The lady at the switchboard, she used to listen to most of the calls so she knew everything that was going on. But sometimes it helped because then they could find a doctor or they knew what was going on,” Doolittle said.
Even electricity had a slow start in certain parts of the Boulder Junction area.
“I think in the early ’30s electricity came into town. In 1934 we had it in Boulder Lake where we were, but way up towards County B or out on K seven or eight miles, they didn’t get it until the ’50s or ’60s,” Doolittle said.
Since Dr. Kate lived in Boulder Junction, the historical society has a section dedicated to her life and work.
“Dr. Kate saved my life when I was 3 and two other family members in the winter. She was my grandmother’s best friend, so we had a tight connection,” Doolittle said.
Like most of the Northwoods, the resort business played a key role in the development of Boulder Junction.
“We had at least eight big resorts here, where people came and you gave them three meals a day – you entertained them, you gave them cabin maid service, you gave them guides,” Doolittle said. “Some people would come for the whole summer and put their kids in boys and girls camps.”
Though resorts were important, Zamrazil pointed out that it’s “kind of a dying business.”
“I live out on High Lake, and at one time there were five, maybe six resorts, and now there aren’t any. People just don’t want to do that anymore. It’s a lot of work,” Zamrazil said. “You think of owning a resort as being very romantic, but it means fixing a toilet that won’t flush in the middle of the night.”
Another big business in the Boulder Junction area was logging and railroad.
“Our log-marking hammers and their matching log ends are somewhat unusual. A lot of visitors are unaware of that period in the logging industry,” Winter said.
Before the railroad industry came to Boulder Junction in 1903, the logging companies had their own brand they would use to mark which logs were theirs.
After all the logs were branded, they were shipped by rivers in the spring to saw mills on the Mississippi River. There they were sorted by each company’s brand.
“They could run them all the way to Iowa from our ... tiny rivers here,” Doolittle said. “It must have been something trying to sort them out when there’s up to 100 [logging brands],” Doolittle said.
Examples of these logging brands are kept near the entrance to the museum.
“These brands were given to us by Paul Brenner, and he has about 100 of those. He would find them in the woods at the old logging camps,” Winter said.
With such a large logging industry, the Northwoods had some innovative ideas that spread across the globe.
“This town early on worked very closely with the conservation department and the fisheries. Our reforesting and forest fire prevention models went worldwide, and so did the development of the fisheries in Woodruff,” Doolittle said.
Adjacent to the historical society is the original train depot, covered with initials and names dating from the turn of the 20th century.
“The depot was kind of the focus of the community because there was no television, there was no radio, there wasn’t any electricity. There were telegraphs, but the newspapers all came in by train,” Zamrazil said.
Stored inside the old depot is a variety of railroad instruments, including freight scales, telegraph equipment, a ticket counter with original ticket stamps for different towns, and the bell that would toll when a train pulled into town.
“I’ve heard that when the train was coming in, they could hear that as far away as Trout Lake if the wind was right,” Zamrazil said.
History of the historical society
“We consider this beautiful building an asset to our mission, which is to collect, display and share the history of the area,” Winter said.
The community came together to build the historical society, which was finished in 2008. Pukall Lumber supplied the wood paneling; the plumbing, restroom fixtures and profession installation was donated by a local family; the dirt moving was donated by a local contractor; and the town crew came whenever they were needed.
“It was a ‘pay as we go’ project, and we never went into debt for it. I consider this museum a testimony to the powerful results of volunteers and donations,” Winter said.
For those who volunteer their time as docents, the Boulder Junction Historical Society has a special meaning.
“I’ve vacationed up here for 40 years, and this area gave me so much. I’d like to give back,” Winter said.
The Boulder Junction Historical Society is open Tuesdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. For more information or to set up an appointment, call 715-385-0063 or 715-385-2617.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org