Shaw Point designated national historic district

Three properties mark first developments of Sand Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

A girl sits in the Mackinaw boat at the Shaw Point dock in 1906. (Courtesy of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore)

On the southeastern edge of Sand Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, there is a historical district worthy of national recognition.

The district is a collection of neighboring properties reflecting the interconnectedness of commercial, recreational, agricultural and seasonal residential development on the island in Lake Superior starting in the 1870s.

The Shaw Point Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in late-July.

“Although most people know Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for its dramatic sea caves and offshore beaches, every island is layered with human history extending thousands of years back in time,” said Lynne Dominy, superintendent of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. “This national registry designation assures that we will remember that people have and always will be an integral part of this landscape.”

The district started to form in 1870 with the Shaw-Hill Farm, a commercial fishing camp and farm. The farm has had a place on the national register since 1976.


Shaw Point Historic District.jpg

According to registry records, the Shaw Farm was the first permanent settlement on Sand Island; it set the precedent for a year-round community of fisherman and farmers.

Francis Shaw, a Civil War veteran, received the land as a bonus for his service. Deeded in 1870, Shaw built two log structures the following year. The isolation of the island home prompted Shaw, primarily a fisherman, to gradually clear the land to make room for fruit and vegetable gardens and apple and cherry orchards.

In 1911, Shaw’s son-in-law Burton Hill moved to Sand Island and took over the fishing and farming operation. Hill also fashioned farm tools, boat fittings, and made and mended boat sails. He served as the island’s postmaster. He quit fishing in 1919 but continued to rent his facilities to local fisherman.

The district also includes Camp Stella, a summer resort founded in 1886. The first resort in the Apostle Islands was opened by a newspaper publisher and Wisconsin lieutenant governor, Sam S. Fifield. Fifield retired from politics at the end of his only term in 1887 and served as Ashland’s postmaster. The camp offered rustic accommodations until it closed after Fifield’s death in 1915. The closure became a catalyst for summer homes on Sand Island, according to a historic resource study of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore prepared for the National Park Service in 2008.

This 1910 image shows the Shaw Point dock, Sand Island's co-op store and the telephone exchange. (Photo courtesy of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore)


Even before Fifield's death, another property in the newly established historic district was developed solely as a private getaway. The Campbell-Jensch property was established in 1909 as a second home.

The Shaw-Hill Farm and Camp Stella became private seasonal getaways as commercial fishing and summer resorts dwindled in economic importance in the 20th century, according to Wisconsin Historical Society records.

The properties included in the historic district are not open to the public, except by appointment, but the families are working on virtual ways to host public open houses, according to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Listing on the national register offers some legal protection for historic properties and can help with maintenance and preservation.

The lengthy process behind the district’s designation was made possible by a public-private partnership overseen by Apostle Islands National Lakeshore staff, and funded and coordinated by the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy (AIHPC) with donations from historic Sand Island families.

The conservancy hired a multidisciplinary team led by historian Charlene Roise of Hess, Roise and Company to assess the district’s significance. After extensive research, fieldwork and evaluation, the team concluded that the property qualified. The company subsequently prepared the nomination, a process that took seven years.

“A major part of what makes the Apostle Islands so special is the connection of the people who have lived here to the land and water,” said Tom Gordon, conservancy chairman. “We are delighted to have been able to work with the National Park Service to achieve this designation that recognizes that historical connection.”


The turn-of-the-century photo of Shaw Point demonstrates some of the hardships of life on Sand Island in the Apostle Islands. (Courtesy of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore)

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