HIGHLAND EARLY HISTORY
By Todd Carlson
The area of our township has a very rich history. The Brule River which is the heart of the town has had some very important visitors. Known as the river of Presidents it has been the sight of the summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge who was a guest at the Cedar Island Estate owned by Henry Clay Pierce and loved it so much that he spent his summers up here and moved the U.S. Capital to our little township. Among the other notables to visit the Brule were General Grant, who came in the 1870’s before he became President, Grover Cleveland was a guest of Senator Vilas at his lodge on the Brule in the 1880’s. Roosevelt and Hoover were also visitors to our area.
Before any of these people came, the area was inhabited by both the Sioux and Chippewa Indians (who were at war for many years over the area). At some point the Sioux suffered a devastating battle on the river somewhere north of the Town of Brule area and soon after were pushed to the west and the area became Chippewa land.
The first European of record to traverse the Brule was Sueur Danial Graysolon Dulhut in 1680. His name is spelled in various ways but is now called Duluth and the City of Duluth is named for him. Later names like Jonathon Carver, Samuel Lewis, Henry Schoolcraft and many others used the route to reach the West. Many people don’t realize that the Brule was the only route to reach the West as it was a relatively short portage from the headwaters of the Brule which flows east to Lake Superior to the headwaters of the St Croix River witch flows west to the Mississippi River. This means our town was a part of the original route to discover our nation. Not bad for a little town.
One of the most interesting places on the Brule and in our town is known as Cedar Island. The Island itself is small, about 150 feet in diameter but the area is the location of the Cedar Island Estate established by Henry Clay Pierce in the 1880’s. He was partnered with Robert Carr, Oliver Hart and Frank Bowman all of St Lewis. Bowman and Hart are noted to have been a couple of scalawags whose adventure provided plenty of colorful tales. They were game hogs who shot at everything that moved and were just as ruthless in there fishing. In ‘84’ the estate was deeded to Louis Dozier in trust for joint use and benefit if Pierce, Bowman and Hart. As you paddle by you will see the main building has three wings and they were assigned to each of these men. An agreement that if for any reason any of the three should not use the property for a full year that he would forfeit his ownership to the remaining members. Eventually Pierce was the only one left and upon his death during the depression the property became tax delinquent as was only inhabited by the care taker. Finely the property came into the hands of John Ordway whose son John Jr. (Smoky) currently owns the property.
All of this took place before the Town of Highland became a town but is a big part of our rich history. Before the lumbermen came in 1897, most of our township was made up of great pine forests like you will still find in the valley around Cedar Island. Many changes have come to our area over the last hundred plus years, but never forget our past.
The Town of Highland is the largest in area of the northeastern Douglas County towns. In 1887, Highland was separated from the original Town of Superior along with the old Town of Brule and was a part of the greater Town of Nebagamain. It became The Town of Highland in 1907 (along with Hawthorne and Solon Springs). Highland’s Upper Brule with its springs had long been a magnet to settlers and visitors, and to Native Americans well before the creation of Douglas County in 1854. There is cluster of small lakes in the southeastern corner of the town with many seasonal cottages to go with permanent homes.
The earliest town hall was built in 1924 and still stands today, although it is owned privately. A forest fire in 1936 consumed many acres in the south part of Highland and burned the Volker School as well. Highland saw a total of four schools in the past: The Hazel Prairie and Frances E. Willard Schools in the north, and the Volker and Spring Bank Schools to the south. The next town hall was built in 1937 by the WPA, was once an archery club on the land of John Ordway. It became the Town Hall in 1940. This building was used until 2007 when a new Town/Fire Hall was built. Sears was the name of the post office that operated from 1905-1908 during the logging heyday. The Sears homestead and post office, and all other settlements in this section of Highland are only a memory, having been absorbed into the Brule River State Forest.
The Highland Fire Department was established around 1948. The Highland Town Cemetery was donated to the town in 1962 by Ida (Mrs. John) Degerman. The cemetery was dedicated to Ida’s memory in 1967. There have been several Brule River resorts operated over the years, beginning in the late 1800s. John and Ida Degerman ran Valley Farm Lodge and the rustic cabins were open for deer hunters as well as fisherman.