MW Town History

Town of Manitowish Waters


The first Indigenous people arrived in what is now Manitowish Waters 10,000 years earlier, with numerous Indigenous communities calling this chain of lakes home. The Lake Superior Ojibwa won this region from the Dakota and Sioux by 1745. They resided on the eastern shores of Manitowish Lake and Fox Island on Rest Lake, where they seasonally accessed many natural resources. The Ojibwe found a plentiful supply of wild rice, sugar, fish and maple syrup. The next to establish settlements in the area were loggers intrigued, by the capability to use the chain of lakes to conveniently float logs to sawmills. In 1862, the first township boundaries were set by government officials, and by 1887, the first dam was built to hold chain waters in place to assist logging and river driving.

The earliest Northwoods vacationers were drawn to the area by the serenity, abundant fish and game and the access to pristine lakes and streams.  The first lodge was built in the 1890s on Island Lake. Some of the original buildings are still standing, and family members of the pioneers still occupy the area today.  Deer Park (what is now Chippewa Retreat) was built around the beginning of 1900. Henry Voss came along soon after and started an American Plan Resort in 1911. Voss’ Birchwood Lodge still stands today. Manitowish Waters has always been a home to travelers yearning to escape city life.

Manitowish Waters holds plenty of history during the Prohibition Era.  Manitowish Waters was the home away from home for several Chicago mobsters, including—most famously—John Dillinger. But the hideout didn’t last long, because in 1934, the FBI caught wind that the gang was staying at the Little Bohemia Lodge, where the infamous shootout with the FBI occurred. Dillinger escaped, but the town constable, Carl Christensen, wasn’t so lucky. He was caught in the crossfire and was shot eight times. The government paid him a fair amount of money for his troubles.  Christensen later founded the Cozy Cove Tavern, where the annual Midsummer Bluegrass Festival is held today.

The town’s rich history doesn’t stop there! The Manitowish Waters Skiing Skeeters, going strong since the late 1950s, are also a great asset to the community. This water ski club has earned Manitowish Waters the title, “Barefoot Capital of the Midwest.”

Among the biggest attractions today in the Manitowish Waters area is the cranberry industry. Then there is the outstanding legendary 10-lake chain and the fantastic paved bike trails that take you all over the Northwoods.

In the early 1900s, it was said Manitowish Waters was “America’s Vacation Land,” where “Vacation Days are Happy Days.” We invite you to slow down and take in all the beauty life has to offer here in Manitowish Waters. Come visit us and enjoy your original Up North Experience.