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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Rice Lake [brief history]

Definition: Rice Lake is located in the North woods, about 48 miles northwest of Chippewa Falls, in Barron County.  The Chippewa and other Indians called the area home, trapping and gathering wild rice in the lakes and bogs until the 1880s.

Around 1867, John Knapp (1825-1888) bought acres of forest in the area that became part of property owned by the largest lumbering company in the world, Knapp, Stout & Co. The firm owned 115,000 acres and produced 90 million feet of cut lumber annually by 1880. By damming the Red Cedar River around 1870, the company created a lake for use as a holding pond. It also flooded the wild rice beds, which angered the Chippewa. To make amends, the lumber company agreed to bring them food, replacing their wild rice diet with one containing pork and flour.

The village was platted in 1870, 1875, and 1884 by Knapp, Stout & Co. They left a 100 - foot wide thoroughfare that became Rice Lake’s business district.

In 1882, harness maker August Ringling moved his family to Rice Lake. Four of his sons went on to form the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo. Another group of Rice Lake brothers, the Shafers, formed their own circus around the same time.

Today, Rice Lake is a commercial and tourist center. Indian Mounds Park preserves twelve Indian mounds while the Bayfield Hiking Trail takes people near the ancient pipestone quarries, old rice beds, and rice storage pits. Mt. Hardscrabble and Barron Blue Hills are other popular recreational sites.

[Source: WHS Library-Archives staff, 2009]

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