When I first heard of this place in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, I didn’t have the faintest idea how to pronouce yet, yet alone where this place might be found. I was 14 and living in Aurora, Illinois. My girlfriend’s parents were doing well and were in the habit of sending their daughters to a girl’s camp in Wisconsin for the summer. I remember the annoucement from my 8th grade girlfriend, Julie – “I’m going to Minocqua for the rest of the summer. I’ll see you when school starts”. Minocqua? What’s that?
I took out a map when I got home and looked this place up. Wow! Minocqua is really up there. Is that place even in the lower 48? That was my introduction to this place called Minocqua.
I really love Minocqua. Fast-forward about 46 years and you’ll find me living about 50 miles north of this wonderful town. Minocqua is an Indian name meaning……… Minocqua is actually built on an island. Highway 51 runs right through the middle of it. When you cross the bridge to get off the island on the north, you are in Woodruff, Wisconsin. Woodruff and Minocqua are indistinguishable. So we just refer to the town as Minocqua.
It was a small tourist town build on an island and surrounded by lakes back in the 1960’s. Picture original log cottages, boat houses, mahogany boats, woman with bathing caps on and swimming suits that provide full body coverage, men wearing ties, white shirts and a blazer in the middle of the afternoon. That was Minocqua. A playground for the rich and famous hidden in the Wisconsin wilderness.
The ties, blazers, and full body coverage swimming suits are gone. But Minocqua is still a little town in the Northwoods for the rich and famous. A good portion of the population are well-to-do seniors and retireds. But in the summer when their children come to vacation is when the town really comes alive.
To me, Minocqua represents a return to civilization. Much of the Northwoods consists of woods and lakes and an occasional home. The population is scarce. Amenities are few. If a person wants to shop, they need to make a drive to one of the larger towns like Minocqua, Rhinelander, or Eagle River. We drive 45 minutes to Minocqua about twice a month to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions at Walgreens, or go to the hardware store and do other shopping.
Now before you say, “No. That’s not for me. I like to be able to run down the street for a gallon of milk or make a short trip to Home Depot when I’m working on a home project for the wife”. Let me ask you this. If you could live free of stress and noise in your comforatable house at water’s edge on a lake that overlooks miles of wilderness, and have no neighbors other than an occational bear, fox, or deer, BUT you need to plan a bi-weekly 45 minute drive to Minocqua for the things that you need – would you trade your stressful suburban life, stoplights, miles of concrete, and noise for that? Are you really that attached to the malls and shopping centers? In your wilderness home you can still have DSL Internet and have most of what you need delivered to your front door by FedEx or UPS.
What I love about Minocqua is that it’s an old logging town become tourist town, rich in history and beauty. It’s changed but you can still find those 1940’s resorts and cottages from an era long gone. I can spend a day shopping in Minocqua and be back on my wilderness lake in 45 minutes. The best clinic in the state is there – Marshfield Clinic along with Howard Young clinic and hospital where Elizabeth Taylor’s personal physician practices. Actually, Liz is a niece of Howard Young, who owned the land that the clinic and hospital are built on.
Minocqua is probabaly the only place in the Northwoods where BMW’s, Audi’s, and Mercedes Benz are commonly seen on the streets. Locals call it “the playground of the rich and famous”. The town has always had character. It became a favorite summer get-away beginning in the 1940’s for folks living in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Even Al Capone and his gang have been there.
You won’t need a map to find it. Just take Interstate 39 due north through Illinois or Wisconsin. Highway 39 narrows from a 4-lane highway to a two-lane road and goes right down main street through the heart of Minocqua.