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Family Gathering on Bass Island, Photograph by Elizabeth Abernathy Hull, 1916. WHS Image ID 1973

Family Gathering on Basswood Island, Photograph by Elizabeth Hull, 1916. WHI 1973

A Summer Place

Photographs from the Apostle Islands

The Apostle Islands are the northernmost location in Wisconsin. Comprising 22 islands, they are located just off the tip of the Bayfield Peninsula in the waters of western Lake Superior. Madeline Island is the largest of the islands and the only island with year-round residents. La Pointe, the only town on Madeline Island, is Wisconsin's oldest permanent settlement. The history of La Pointe is well documented in the book La Pointe: Village Outpost by Hamilton Nelson Ross.

The Apostle Islands have a long and storied history of human occupation. For centuries, numerous nomadic woodland Indian tribes made the islands their home; the Ojibwe is the only tribe that still holds claim to this area. When Europeans came in the 17th century, the Apostle Islands served as a center for Lake Superior fur trade operations for nearly 200 years. While the fur trade declined in the early 19th century, commercial fishing developed in its place and continues today, though at a much diminished level. Sandstone quarrying and logging also played a role in the historic record of the Apostle Islands during the 1800s and early 1900s, but since the beginning of the 20th century, tourism has been the most prominent human activity on the islands.

Summer residents and tourists began finding refuge on the islands as early as the mid-1800s, searching for relief from the heat of the cities, and enjoying the boating, fishing, and beauty of the area. By the early 1900s Madeline Island had received national acclaim as a healthful and relaxing summer retreat, an approbation it maintains to the present day. A particularly charming collection of photographs by Elizabeth Abernathy Hull portrays island life for summer residents in the 1910s.

In 1970, largely through the efforts of Gaylord Nelson, 20 of the islands and 2,500 acres on the tip of the Bayfield Peninsula were designated as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. In 1986, Long Island was added to the designation, putting twenty-one of the islands under the direction of the National Park Service. Madeline Island is the only Apostle Island not designated as part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Leo and Bella Capser of St. Paul began summering on Madeline Island in 1903. In 1955 they began efforts to establish a museum there, enlisting the assistance of both year-round inhabitants and summer cottagers, specialists and amateurs. The Capsers opened Madeline Island Historical Museum on June 15, 1958, and a decade later deeded the property to the Wisconsin Historical Society as a historic site.

View the Gallery

Suggestions for Further Reading

A Summer Place: Elizabeth Hull's Madeline Island Photo Album (PDF, 404KB) by Vikie Lock in the "Wisconsin Magazine of History"

What Do You Do Up Here? Tales of a Lake Superior Lighthouse Keeper (PDF, 664KB) by Jim Feldman in the "Wisconsin Magazine of History"

La Pointe: Village Outpost by Hamilton Nelson Ross

Madeline Island and the Chequamegon Region John O. Holzhueter

Madline Island Events Calendar

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