Lake Wapogasset Park belongs to the people of the Town of Garfield.
The park was deeded to the Town of Garfield November 13, 1926 after a public subscription raised the necessary money to buy the property from the estate of Major J. Stannard Baker, the St. Croix Falls representative of the Cushing Land Agency. There were stipulations in the deed:
"The said property will be held, used and maintained exclusively for and only for a public playground and recreation subject to such rules and restrictions as to its use as may from time to time be ordered by the Town Board of Supervisors of said Town of Garfield; that it shall be known as Lake Wapogasset Park and that no public dancing, use of intoxicating liquors or disorderly conduct of any kind shall be permitted on said premises."
The park was established because of the vision of some lake residents, notably Dr. James Wallace, the local Garfield Town Board officials, and the residents of the town. Garfield added to the original area by buying two more parcels: a lakeshore lot bordering the park in 1926; a block of land in 1937 that brought the size of the park to about seven (7) acres.
The land has always been a recreation area. William L. Sadler, the first permanent settler in the immediate area, established a sawmill on the location in 1865 and improved the primitive dam. He wrote at the time of our nation's 1876 centennial that Sucker (later renamed Wapogasset) and Bear Trap Lakes have long been a favorite resort for fishermen and pleasure parties. Sadler built the first frame house in the Town of Lincoln at this site and later was authorized in 1878 by the legislature to build a dam. Sadler moved away in 1882 but the dam probably remained until 1910 when it was dynamited by the New Richmond logging interests, reportedly unhappy with the debris collecting at the dam site. Sadler's place was a stop on an early tote road from St. Croix County to St. Croix Falls; he served as postmaster (1874-80) and a town official in Lincoln (Garfield became a separate town in 1886).
In 1901, Dr. James Wallace, President of Macalster College in St. Paul, purchased Pine Island (now the site of the Minneapolis YMCA) as his summer retreat. Wallace pursued many efforts to make the lake a prime recreation area. In 1910 he hired Worthy Prentice to survey the lake preparatory to repairing the dam; in 1911 he took the lead in forming the Lake Wapogasset Improvement Association, the first lake association in Wisconsin; in 1912 he successfully proposed and later obtained the approval of the Geographic Board in Washington DC to change the name from Sucker Lake to Wapogasset, the later closely resembling various names such as Wahpuggaisee in the government survey notes; he requested government stocking of crappies to increase fishing variety; from 1911 onward he sought various schemes to obtain control of the park and the dam site from Major Baker, with whom he had real estate investments in various Polka County locations. Baker platted the land surrounding the park in 1914; he had already started selling lots for vacation-minded people who arrived via train at Derando.
It was Dr. Wallace who successfully sought the cooperation of the Garfield Town Board in helping in the public subscription which ultimately resulted in the purchase of the land. He also pushed for the acquisition of the dam to prevent it from falling to hands op power companies. In 1922 Dr. Wallace and six local farmers bought the dam site. In 1962 it was turned over to the Wapogasset and Bear Trap Lake Association. The dam was rebuilt by the association in 1999. Dr. Wallace was honored in 1941 with the monument that stands on the highest point in the park for his many activities on behalf of the local community.
The origin of the name Wahpuggsiee or Wapogasset is uncertain. Saddler said it means "White Pelican" from the Sioux language. Other sources believe it was named after the abundant suckers in the lake, hence the popular reference to the lake as Sucker Lake.
During the pre-war years, the park was the site of speeches by gubernatorial and other political candidates, farm leaders and evangelists. They spoke from a wooden platform between two ridges framed by a canopy of trees. There was a concession stand with boats for rent, a swimming beach, and groups and families picnicked around open campfires. The DeLawyer family operated the concession stand from 1934 to 1942.
The tornado of May 13, 1942 changed everything. It uprooted all the finest trees, destroyed the concession stand, and park life came to a halt. Over the ensuing years, efforts were made from time to time to restore the park but it never came to life like it once had been.
In 2006, as restoration work on the park began, an archeologist hired by the town uncovered a spear tip, several pottery fragments, and other artifacts while inspecting the property. He concluded from his research that the site had been inhabited during various prehistoric periods, as long ago as 3,000 B.P. (years before present). Those artifacts are now in the custody of the Town of Garfield. More recently, prior to pioneer settlement, the Ojibwa and the Sioux used the lake and a bitter battle was fought o9n a small island in the northern section of the lake.
"We now have the best park on the best lake in the best county in the best state in the best country in the world." B.S. Isacson, Chairman, Garfield Town Board, speaking at the June 16, 1925 picnic held on the grounds of the newly acquired public park at the outlet of Lake Wapogasset.
-- written by JoAnn Hollquist (7/17/2007)