Rib Lake, Wisconsin

“Where the Ice Age ends,

and your adventure begins!”



History of the Rib Lake Area

Early Rib Lake industries were milling and tanning. The first mill, named the Rib Lake Lumber Company, was built in 1882 by J. J. Kennedy and within a year was destroyed by fire.

In 1883 the mill was rebuilt and a railroad was built to serve its needs. The mill burned a second time in 1914 and was rebuilt once more. When the mill reopened it was one of the largest in the state and remained in operation until the summer of 1948.

A steam log hauler used in Rib Lake area around 1900.

A steam log hauler used in Rib Lake area around 1900.

The history of the entire Rib Lake area is rooted in the timber logging industry. Here is more information about early Rib Lake Logging History.

The tannery was founded by Fayette Shaw in 1891. The bark from hemlock trees was used as a natural tanning acid in the leather processing industry. The hemlock bark (tan bark) was cut and peeled into four-foot lengths, beginning at the tree base.

Ed Peterson peeling hemlock bark in the Spirit country.

Ed Peterson peeling hemlock bark in the Spirit country. Photo from "A Pictorial History of the Rib Lake Area" 1981, Robert Rusch, Ed.

The industry thrived until 1923, and then ceased operations. Many speculate that a less expensive synthetic compound was created, making natural tanning obsolete.

The two industries survived adversities because they were intertwined. Scrap lumber from the mill was ground and transported by railroad to the tannery and burned to generate steam.

The workers from both industries lived in Rib Lake. Both Kennedy and Shaw purchased hotels for their employees. The southern part of town was called Kennedy Town and the northeast corner Shaw Town.

The town of Rib Lake at one time included parts of present day Westboro and Chelsea. The village of Rib Lake was incorporated in 1902.

Rib Lake Name

The name "Rib Lake" is said by some to have originated from the finding of a pile of rib bones by the lake. Others believe the lake is shaped like a rib, and some say the name derives from the Chippewa Indians who named it "Opicwana" after Rib Mountain and Rib River.

Knowing from history how our Rib Lake name was derived is an interesting look into the past. Our community heritage is from people who overcame adversity through working together.

Rib Lake Herald Newspaper

Much of the early history of Rib Lake is recorded in the Rib Lake Herald newspaper. The Herald was published from about 1898 to about 1971, and contains a mixture of local news (some fact, some fiction).

Archives at the Rib Lake Public Library are from 1901-1921 and from 1939 to 1971. The missing years are perhaps from a fire at the newspaper. A copy of these Rib Lake Herald archives is on file at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Rib Lake Historical Society

For more comprehensive Rib Lake history, visit the Rib Lake Historical Society website. This site continues to be updated regularly with even more Rib Lake history.

Rib Lake Area Historical Places

Ice Age Trail

Rustic Road # 1

Historic St. Ann's (Town of Greenwood).

Lakeview Cemetery