Boathouses On The Lakes Of Wisconsin, A Bygone Era
The Summer of 1989 was spent on my sailboat. I was living in New England at the time, and it was a very enjoyable summer I’ll never forget. I now live in Lake Nebagamon, and while Summer’s spent on the lake are long gone, I still manage to cruise around our lake every so often. Many times I’ve wondered whatever happened to the boathouses that were so common years ago. I decided to do some research.
According to Christina Slattery who wrote for the Wisconsin Historical Society, boathouses on the lakes of Wisconsin were often familiar sites to visitors who frequented the lakes. Some were basic, some ornate, even some two story complete with living quarters. Whatever the style, they were practical and picturesque as well.
From the beginning of the twentieth century through the 1950’s most of Wisconsin’s boathouses were constructed of wood as a simple way of protecting and storing your boat and related items. Typically constructed during the winter months, using the frozen lake as a platform, and usually built over wood pilings in the water. Most featured a gable shaped roof, although some used flat roofs.
Boathouses used manual hoists located above the slip to lift the boats in and out of the water. Most featured from one to three boat slips plus additional room for storage. Many of these water garages featured a send story as well, ranging from the most basic to architectural works of art. Typically used as a fun gathering spot, some were often used another living quarters with kitchens, living rooms, bath and so on.
During the 1960’s, fewer boathouses were constructed, probably due to a couple things. First, the invention of free standing boat lifts. Acceptance came rapidly, as consumers saw it as cost effective when compared to the required maintenance of a building. In addition, a state statute in 1979 severely restricted construction of new buildings on state waters.
Today boathouses on the lakes of Wisconsin are rare indeed. An era has come and gone. If you still happen to own one, you have an architectural rarity for sure, and I for one sure miss seeing them.