The Town of Land O’ Lakes Formerly Stateline & Donaldson

Formation of Township

The Town of Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin, was first called the Town of State Line.  It was part of the Town of Eagle River until officially set off from Eagle River on January 3, 1907.  On April 1, 1907, the first town meeting was held in the office of the Mason-Donaldson lumber mill, two miles west of the State Line railroad station.  In 1948, the name of the Town of State Line was changed to the Town of Land O' Lakes.

The Town of Land O' Lakes currently sits in Vilas County. Prior to January 1, 1875, Vilas County was part of Marathon County; from 1875 to 1885 it was part of Lincoln County; from 1885 to 1893 it was part of Oneida County, and then set apart as Vilas County in 1893.

In 1922, the assessed value of State Line/Land O' Lakes was $1,256,883.00. The 1997 valuation was $145,662,500.00. The population in 1920 was 75. Population in 1930 was 302, and population in 1950 was 548. As of 2018, the population was 883.

Railroads and Logging

The economic origins of the Town of Land O’Lakes (State Line) go back to the 1880's when the Milwaukee Lake Shore and Western Railroad brought rails up to the state line of Wisconsin, bordering the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  A railroad station was located near the border and the community of State Line developed.

At one time it was said that County B went through timber so thick that one "40" (forty acre parcel) produced one million board feet of lumber. This rich resource led to the development of area logging camps and lumber mills. 

The first area lumber mill was the Rudolf Otto Mill, started in 1887 on the shore of present-day Mill Lake.  It was one of the best single-rotary mills in Northern Wisconsin.   It was later succeeded by the Mason-Donaldson Lumber Co. of Rhinelander, Wis. which purchased the saw & planing mills in 1905.  Mason & Donaldson Co. overhauled, rebuilt, and updated the mill operation which increased the daily capacity of logs processed.  The number of workers increased, as did the need for housing, which led to the growth and development of the mill town of Donaldson.    

Logging camps in the area included Bent's Camp which established in 1893 on Mamie Lake, the Pine Camp near Tenderfoot Lake about 20 miles West of Land O' Lakes, the Moccasin Pine Logging Camp about 7 miles west of Land O' Lakes established in the 1890s, the hardwood camp located on present-day Notre Dame property about 17 miles West of Land O' Lakes and established in the early 1900s, the Wisconsin River Pine Logging Camp on the Wisconsin River 2 miles South of Land O’Lakes, established in the 1890s, and the Duck Lake Camp located a few miles north across the border on Duck Lake in Michigan.

State Line (Land O' Lakes) early 1900s
Donaldson Mill
Logging Camp
Downtown State Line, west view from railroad tracks. LaChance store on left.
Company houses, Mason Ave., Donaldson, Wis.

State Line & Donaldson

In the early years, the communities of State Line and Donaldson grew side by side.

The community of State Line developed along the north/south line of the railroad tracks near the Depot.  In 1895 Peter LaChance came to State Line and built a store located at the site of current Brew's Pub (corner of County B and Airport Rd.). This building included a saloon, pool hall, telegraph office, the first gas pumps and a beauty parlor.  Peter also served as town superintendent.   In 1919, his son Oliver and wife Lulu took over the LaChance establishment and added an ice cream parlor.  In 1922 Peter built the first modern home in Land O’Lakes with electricity and plumbing, together with a rooming house and dance hall.

1950s downtown. LaChance Bar & Grill on left.

In 1902-1903 the Dickman family established a farm between Donaldson and Stateline. They later moved the farmhouse to State Line converting it to a boarding house and hotel (building still sits opposite the Land O' Lakes Library).

The community of Donaldson developed out by the lumber mill.  From 1905 to 1908, the mill had great success.  At its peak, Donaldson boasted 20 to 30 homes, a boarding house for single workers, saloon, community building, company store and offices, and a striking 2-room school house.  In 1907, upon petition of the mill manager, the post office was moved from State Line to Donaldson.  In 1908, a destructive fire changed the fate of Donaldson.  The saw mill burned to the ground and the company chose not to rebuild.  Within a few years, the mill town was nearly vacated and many of the houses were moved to State Line near the railroad tracks.  The school remained and continued as the District School through 1930.

From 1894 through 1936, the business district of State Line/Land O’Lakes grew around LaChance’s store and saloon, Knuth Bros. lumber yard, Dickman’s Garage, the Hi Hat Restaurant, Pitts grocery, Schrecks store, the post office and the Tackle Box.  Early settlers in these times included the Mayos, the Grovenors, the Elys, the Warrens, the LaChances, the Millikens, the Carlsons, the Williams, the Britz’s (he was postmaster at Donaldson) the Gudegasts, the Dickmans, the Heinigs, the Halverts, the Sparks, the Pitts, the Sensibas, the Caudills, the St. Clairs and the Flodins.

Post Office Designations and Locations

The first post office was established in 1887 at State Line and located near the railroad station. 

In 1907 the Post Office was moved to Donaldson to serve the growing mill town and surrounding area.  All area mail was addressed to Donaldson, Wis.

In 1913, as Donaldson vacated after the saw mill burned, the post office was moved back to State Line.  It was situated in a little store started by two brothers named Maas.  The store was located across from the railroad depot.  Both brothers were called into service in WWI and Washburn Bates became postmaster. 

In 1919, the name of the Post Office was officially changed back to State Line. 

In 1923, the post office name was officially designated as Land O' Lakes.  The name change had been requested by the U. S. Postal Service due to the number of State Line post offices in other states which created a confusing situation.   George St. Clair, following an outdoor show in Chicago and a meeting of a number of summer home owners, suggested the name Land O' Lakes to further enhance the tourist appeal of the town and to clarify its position in "the land of lakes!"   

Rumor says that the State Line railroad depot, which was the receiving station for all mail, had been built half in Michigan and half in Wisconsin. In reality, the depot was built on the Wisconsin side and moved to the Michigan side when a law known as the Wisconsin 8-hour labor law came into effect.  In 1928 the depot burned to the ground and was rebuilt on the Wisconsin side.

There were several more moves of the post office operation within Land O' Lakes, until early 1970's when the current post office was built on County Rd. B.  It continues to serve the community today.

State Line Post Office. Washburn Bates, postmaster, on right
Donaldson School


Around 1900, a small school was built in State Line.  It was a tar paper building, and the first school teacher was Mr. Ebey. 

There was also a small school near the Otto lumber mill.  Around 1903, a newer two-room school was built which came to be called the Donaldson School.  In addition to regular classes, the Donaldson School served the community for church services, Sunday school classes, graduations, and community events.  The Donaldson School was the District School through 1931. 

In addition to the Donaldson School there was another school known as the Michigan School just across the state line on Duck Lake Road. The children living just across the state line attended the Michigan school. It was eventually moved to Watersmeet, Michigan where it was first used as the Legion Hall, and then moved to the Lac Vieux Desert Native American settlement to be used as a school. Eventually it was moved back to Watersmeet where it became a part of a restaurant known as Minnie’s Cafe (later the Peppermill).  The building was later demolished.

In 1930, with increasing enrollments, a new larger school was built in downtown State Line/Land O' Lakes.  It was dedicated in January 1932. An addition was built in the 1950’s. 

In the fall of 1997, the consolidation of the Conover and Land O' Lakes schools took place with the opening of the new Land O' Lakes Elementary School housing grades K through 4 and SOAR Charter Middle School.  The old elementary school was then remodeled to become the present-day Land O' Lakes Town Hall.

Tourism and Resorts

As the logging era ended, the slash and debris left by the loggers made the land ripe for numerous fires. The scarred, cut-over land was initially promoted for agriculture, much of which was unsuccessful due to the huge number of stumps and poor soil.

While timber and its regeneration and harvesting remained a strong influence, tourism began to make its presence felt. The tourism industry, however, was not completely new to the area. In addition to the 1884 Thomas Resort on Lac Vieux Desert, Bent's Camp began functioning as a tourist camp in 1896, eventually becoming one of the first resorts on the Cisco Chain of Lakes.

Black Oak Resort
King's Gateway Hotel. Ski jump in background.

In 1906 George St. Clair bought 92 acres of land on the east shore of Black Oak Lake and started a prize winning potato farm -- later building Black Oak Resort.  He was State Line Town Clerk for 14 years and also served as Town Chairman.

By the 1930s, the forests were growing back.  The beauty of renewed forests and the more than 1300 pristine lakes and dozens of rivers in Vilas County attracted more people to the North.  Many built cabins and small resorts on the area lakes.  After World War II, tourism boomed.  The Northwoods was promoted as a mecca for fishing, hunting, recreation, relaxing and getting away from the summer heat in the cities.   Resorts grew and people flocked to the North.

In the late 1930s, The King's Gateway Inn, the King's Gateway Hotel, the Gateway Golf Course, the Gateway Airport, Gateway Ski Hill and Chalet, Gateway Ski Jump, and Riding Stables came into existence.  Built by Detroit theater magnate, John H. King, and designed by Milwaukee architect, Henry Messmer, the Gateway Complex was built from 1937 to 1939, and accelerated the development of the business district of Land 0' Lakes.

The King's Gateway Resort Complex was a premier year-round resort destination in the Midwest.

Mr. King died January 2, 1952, and Mrs. King continued to operate the complex until Feb. 17, 1961. The property was then sold to Mr. Walter Williamson, owner of the Wagon Wheel in Rockton, Illinois.  The airport was eventually turned over to the town of Land O’Lakes by King's widow, Sarah King, under the auspices of the King's Gateway Corp. The original airport terminal was then moved north, across County B, to become the clubhouse for the Gateway Golf Club.  A new Airport terminal was erected.

The Gateway, along with other area resorts, suffered financial reverses in the 1960s. Reasons for the decline in resort properties included the easier accessibility to less rustic, more elegantly modern resort areas in the South and West as well as overseas, the gasoline shortages, and the inability of old resort owners to financially survive rising property values coupled with extremely high interest rates. When these resorts were developed, most of them grew cabin by cabin as the owners built them up. When these owners came to sell in the 1960s and later years, property taxes and interest rates had risen so high and resort accommodation rates were so low, that most prospective buyers could not, in the short resort season, come up with a large enough down payment, plus taxes, etc., to make the investment profitable. The older resorts by this time often needed substantial modernization. Many of them, as their owners reached retirement age, were difficult to sell as resorts, and the owners were forced to divide land and cabins. Those resorts which remained and thrived did so by modernizing and marketing for year-round recreation.

The tourism industry was the economic force in the Northwoods for decades, and remains so today.

(see Galleries for a list of historic area resorts and photos)

Land O' Lakes Community

Originally the town of Land 0' Lakes developed along a north/south line, following the railroad tracks which led from Eagle River, through Land O' Lakes to Watersmeet, Mich.  With the decline in the timber industry and railroading, and with vehicles carrying more of the tourist traffic, the downtown area of Land 0' Lakes began to grow in an east/west manner along County Road B.  Thus, the town's original historic district lies in several old homes and buildings located on a north/south line following the abandoned railroad bed which bisects the town.

In 1927, a large Community Building was built in the downtown on land donated by the Ferry-Surpless families (location of present-day Land O' Lakes Fire Dept.).  The Land 0' Lakes Community Association was formed July 26, 1927.  Housed in the Community Building were the town hall, the first library, meeting rooms, as well as kitchen and basketball court.  All four of the current Land 0' Lakes churches had their beginnings in the  Community Building.  Ely Memorial Church, St. Albert Catholic Church, Hope Lutheran Church, and the Land O' Lakes Bible Church all held services there until the individual congregations raised enough money to build separate churches.  Ely Memorial Church was built in 1939, St. Albert Catholic Church in 1949, Hope Lutheran Church in 1959, and the Land 0' Lakes Bible Church in 1969-70.

Community House

A Library was started in the 1920's when the Women's Club began a "lending library" with books donated by community members.  The Town of Land O' Lakes Board officially established the library in 1942 with location in the  basement of the Town Hall.  In early 1989 the decision for a new Library was made. On April 13, 1991, the library broke ground for the new building on the site of the former Chicago-Northwestern Railroad Station.  An addition was added several years later.

Medical services were available only at Phelps Hospital until 1949 when Dr. Everett Eickhoff, after serving in World War II, opened a medical clinic in Land 0' Lakes. He provided medical care, delivered babies and did minor surgery at the Land O' Lakes Clinic, but he also served on staff at the Phelps Hospital.  Later, Dr. Eickhoff served the Eagle River Hospital where he was in general practice, obstetrics, and orthopedic surgery.  Dr. Eickhoff  retired in 1985; he passed away in 2003.  Dental services in Land 0' Lakes were provided first by Dr. Harold Johnson, then Dr. Ed Miner and then Dr. Harry Gremban, and currently by Dr. Pete Schindelholz and Dr. Laura Goll.

In 1950 the Nagel Lumber Mill was formed, 3 miles west of Land O' Lakes along County B.  Built by Alfred and Ed Nagel, it began as an 8-foot mill for aspen only, later processing all species of wood.  After 55 years of operation , it closed in 2005.

In the early 1960s, Land O' Lakes had the distinction of electing the first female town chairman in the state, Violet (Vi) Becker. She was honored as such in the Madison, Wisconsin Legislature.  Under Becker's direction, the second 'sod' runway was built at the Land 0' Lakes Airport by Euclid Earth Movers.  Becker arranged for the runway to be constructed gratis as a demonstration of their equipment.  John Garber, then manager of the Gateway Hotel, housed and fed the workers as a donation to the town.