The mission of the Three Lakes Historical Society is to inspire an appreciation of the values and heritage of the Three Lakes, WI area. We pledge to preserve, exhibit, and engage our community and its visitors in our local history.
The development of Three Lakes into the town it is today began with the appearance of the railroad. In 1881 the Lake Shore Traffic Railroad Company bought this area from the US government. In 1884 it was sold to Milwaukee Lake Shore & Western Railroad, but would ultimately end up in the hands of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1893. With the railroad came the logging industry - in fact, the Three Lakes line was built with the purpose of supplying loggers in the area.
Three Lakes owes its name to the railroad surveyors who came across three lakes, one at a time, as they attempted to sight a line and move the rails north. Finally finding a clear route, they chose to name their supply station “Three Lakes.” These lakes are known today as Maple, Townline and Range Line. Each lake was named for the features that surrounded it: Maple for the trees that grew nearby, Townline for the town line that it crossed, and Range Line for the range line running along the lake.
It didn’t take long for tourism to become a part of Three Lakes’ economy. The chain of lakes and abundance of opportunities for the eager sportsman helped sell Three Lakes as an ideal escape from the city. The Chicago & Northwestern Railroad began advertising Three Lakes in this way to attract business to their new passenger train. Soon the depot became the happening place in the town, always busy with people coming and going and the locals who liked to watch the trains pass by.
As automobiles got faster and roads were better maintained, riding the passenger train up north fell in popularity. The last passenger train departed Three Lakes in 1971. In June of 1982 the very last freight train made its way out of the station and the line was abandoned and tracks removed. While the age of the railroad in Three Lakes was over, the old Chicago & Northwestern depot continued to serve the community in a new way. The centennial celebration of 1981 inspired a group of town members to establish the centennial museum in the old depot. But soon more space was needed and the museum was moved into the Johnson house next to Demmer Memorial Library.
Today the old depot serves as a tasting room for the Three Lakes Winery, the second oldest winery in the state of Wisconsin. Visitors can take tours of the winery and taste the fruit and berry wines such as their popular cranberry wines. The tracks have been removed, but the rail bed has been converted into the Three Eagle Trail, where pedestrians can bike, hike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski.