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Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places

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Big Sand Lake Clubhouse (photo by M. J. Hettinga, 2004)

Big Sand Lake Clubhouse (photo by M. J. Hettinga, 2004)

Big Sand Lake Clubhouse interior (photo by M. J. Hettinga, 2004)

Big Sand Lake Clubhouse dining room (photo by M. J. Hettinga, 2004)

Big Sand Lake Club
4571 Big Sand Lake Club Road
Town of Phelps, Vilas County
Architect/Builder: Northern Log Cabin Company
Date of construction: 1924

In August of 1928, the Chicago Sunday Tribune called Big Sand Lake Club "the finest resort retreat in the Midwest." Newspaper hyperbole aside, the Club has served as a private resort for wealthy Chicagoans since 1891. The Club is comprised of a main clubhouse, thirteen other buildings, and three other structures including tennis courts, a dock, a water tower, and an ice house set among 617 wooded acres along Big Sand Lake's north shore. After the first clubhouse, know affectionately as "the shack" burned to the ground, Finnish craftsman constructed a new clubhouse using a distinctive method of tightly fitting logs to eliminate the typical mortar chinking. At the time of its construction, the 15,000 square foot hemlock log Big Sand Lake Club clubhouse was reportedly the largest log building in all of Wisconsin.

The Club's buildings were constructed in the Rustic style, characterized by the use of native materials, shingled roofs, and broad overhangs. The interior of the clubhouse, with its huge stone fireplace, large leather furniture, fur skins, and mounted animals, rugs, and snowshoes, fits the simple, naturalistic sentiment of the Rustic style.

Ironically, though Rustic style architecture is synonymous with a simple, "roughing it" lifestyle, the lifestyles of the Club's members were anything but plain. The massive bronze statue of an elephant, which greets members as they enter the clubhouse, represents the Republican politics of many of the founders. Homer Galpin, chairman of the Republican Party in Cook County, Illinois in the 1920s and an owner of the extravagant Fort Eagle vacation home on the opposite shore of Big Sand Lake, invited many of his wealthy Chicago politician friends and their families to enjoy Wisconsin's Northwoods. As longtime president of the club, Galpin influenced the development of recreational tourism in Vilas County. Galpin frequently hosted elaborate "roaring twenties" parties for Chicago's high society amidst the club's decidedly unsophisticated bear rugs, snowshoes, and logs, introducing them to the natural beauty and recreational opportunities of Wisconsin's North woods.

The Big Sand Lake Club is a membership only club on private property. It is not open to the public, but is visible from the waters of the Big Sand Lake. Please respect the privacy and rights of its members.


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