Ron Arthur has been a summer visitor to the Chain O’ Lakes since the early 1970s.
He was first introduced to the area after a college buddy brought him to a family cottage on the Chain.
“When I retired a few years ago, I decided to move to the area,” said Arthur, who lives on Long Lake near Saxeville. “I heard that the Harbor was looking for a boat captain and I started last summer.”
As a captain on the Clear Water Harbor Bar’s Chief Waupaca and Lady of the Lakes, Arthur’s duties include telling passengers stories about the Chain.
“They give you a little script, and you start with that,” Arthur said. “But I thought the narration raised more questions than it answered.”
Arthur, who was a professional ghost writer prior to his retirement, began researching the history of the Chain O’ Lakes.
“I got a lot of help from the people at the Holly Center,” Arthur said, adding he also worked with the state historical society in Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“UW-Milwaukee has a great collection of old maps,” Arthur said. “You can tell whole stories about the Chain just by looking at maps.”
Among the stories maps reveal are the shifting names of local lakes.
“The fact that all these lakes have had multiple names over the years contributes to over which bodies of water are actually part of the Waupaca Chain O’ Lakes,” Arthur writes in his book.
He notes an 1878 plat book indicates the Chain had only three named lakes – Clam, Hicks and Clear Lake. The other bodies of water were not recognized as distinct lakes.
By 1898, a hydrographic survey by UW-Madison named 17 lakes in the Chain.
Arthur explains that what is now called Columbia Lake was previously called Columbian Lake and before that, it was called Round Lake, a name which subsequently shifted to its current location.
“Columbia Lake used to have an ‘n’ in its name,” Arthur said. “It was named after the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in the 1890s.”
In his book, Arthur notes the Columbian Exposition in Chicago engendered patriotism and pride in the Midwest. More than 200 structures, housing exhibits and attractions showcased America’s technological and economic progress in the 400 years since Columbus arrived in the New World.
However, by the Depression era of the 1930s, the Columbian Exposition was long forgotten, and maps began dropping the “n” from the lake’s name.
Arthur’s book will introduce Chain residents, as well as summer visitors, to the area’s varied history.
He writes about the Menominee who lived here prior to European settlement, Indian Crossing, the pioneers, the teetotaling Good Templars who launched Camp Cleghorn, the lost elegance of the Grand View Hotel.
Arthur also provides a history of tour boats on the Chain dating back to Hank Mumbro in the 1870s, followed by Hobart Edmunds in the 1920s and continuing to the Clear Water Harbor Bar’s paddle boats.
Called “Concise Guide to Historic Sites on Waupaca’s Chain O’ Lakes,” the 90-page, illustrated book “is not meant to be scholarly but entertaining,” Arthur said.
It is currently available at the Harbor Bar.