The Town of LaFollette is named for Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. (June 14, 1855 – June 18, 1925), a Wisconsin Congressman, Senator and presidential candidate (Progressive Party 1924). The town is approximately six miles long and six miles wide. Its current boundaries are Polk County to the south, the Town of Sand Lake to the north at Shrider Rd, the Town of Dewy to the east at Williams Road and the Town of Siren on the west at Malone and Paulich roads.
The Town of LaFollette has changed size and shape a number of times. Prior to 1901, the area that is now the Town of LaFollette was part of the Town of Wood Lake. On April 15, 1901, upon mutual agreement between the boards of the new Town of LaFollette and Town of Wood Lake, the Town of LaFollette was created. In 1910, the Town of Wood Lake was reorganized into the Town of Daniels and the Town of Wood River taking land from the Town of Marshland: the Town of Wood Lake ceased to exist. In 1915 the state of Wisconsin standardized townships to approximately 36 square miles, where feasible. Between 1915 and 1918, the Town of Sand Lake was formed from the northern section of the Town of LaFollette. Also during this time period, the Town of Siren was created from the eastern part of the Town of Daniels and the western portion of the Town of LaFollette. This division created the current boundaries of the Town of LaFollette. Click here to see boundary changes.
Within the Town of LaFollette there are two unincorporated communities, Coomer and Hertel. Both communities help shape the future of the Town of LaFollette.
The first nonindigenous settlers to the Coomer area were the August Fahland and the George David families. They arrived 1879 and were followed by several relatives who founded the small community.
In 1884, a log schoolhouse was built on the Lee Fahland farm, about one mile west of Coomer. Around 1906 the Coomer store was started by Frank Fahland (son of August Fahland). By 1909, a post office was established to provide weekly delivery to the settlers in the area. A cheese factory and dairy were established in the around 1920, but closed several years later.
Hertel is named for Otto Hertel who came to the area in early 1895 with Mr. Steinkiiler. A few years later Fred Larrabee and Alex Lauder arrived. The four men each married one of the Hotchkiss sisters. Hertel married Charlotte (Lottie), Lauder married Edith, Steinkiiler married Mamie and Larrabee married Inez.
Hertel operated the first post office in the area and also opened a general store. Alex Lauder and his brother James would help deliver mail to the settlers. The post office and store were originally located on Hertel’s property on the peninsula on Warner Lake (now called Gatten Point). In 1898, Hertel moved the post office and store to a location on what is now the intersection of Highway 70 and County Road X. James Lauder purchased the point from Hertel after the post office and store were moved to the new locations. The Hertel Post Office and store were in operation until 1997.
St. CROIX OJIBWA RESERVATION ON BIG SAND LAKE
The St. Croix Ojibwa, also known as the St. Croix Chippewa, community is located in the northern portion of the Town of LaFollette on the southern shore of Big Sand Lake near Hertel and are a vital part of the town. According to the official website of the St. Croix Chippewa (http://www.stcciw.com), they were considered “The Lost Tribe” because the 1854 Treaty of LaPointe did not mention the members of this nation. It wasn’t until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 that the tribe received federal recognition and tribal lands in Northern Wisconsin and Burnett County.
The St. Croix Chippewa provide the northern two thirds of the Town of LaFollette with fire protection via the St. Croix Hertel Volunteer Fire Department. They are also the largest employer in the town (and Burnett County). They operate the casino and restaurant, a convenience store and smoke shop, as well as a BP franchise gas station. They have recently opened an RV park on Big Sand Lake and an outdoor venue for summer concerts.
As settlers came to northwestern Wisconsin and the Town of LaFollette, school districts were organized to accommodate the resident’s children. Due to the distribution of the settlers, several school districts were organized.
The rural schools were closed in 1951 when the Burnett County School committee dissolved these districts. A referendum was held, the results of which closed the town’s schools and incorporated the districts within the Siren School District where the town’s children currently attend. The White Pine and Coomer Schoolhouses became private homes and the May Schoolhouse was used as the Town of LaFollette Town Hall until 1997 when the new town hall was built on the same location. The May Schoolhouse was moved in 1997 to near the intersection of Spencer Lake and Stiles roads and became a private residence.
Getting the mail delivered in the early days of the town was a concern to the residents. Otto Hertel reportedly offered to sort and deliver the mail for free for six months if the US Postal Service would allow him to open a post office in the town. The Hertel post office originally operated from a building on Warner Lake and was moved to a location near what is now the intersection of Highway 70 and County Road X. This post office operated for almost a century before being closed in 1997.
Another post office was operated out of the Coomer General Store from around 1892 until 1912. Unlike the Hertel Post Office, residents served by the Coomer Post Office came to the general store to get their mail.
Currently the residents of the Town of LaFollette are served by one of four post offices, Webster, Siren, Fredric, or Shell Lake. The routes are determined by the resident’s location within the town.
There are three cemeteries located within the town’s boundaries, White Pine Cemetery, Lakeview Cemetery (sometimes referred to as the Hertel Lakeview Cemetery), and Big Sand Lake Cemetery, operated by the St Croix Ojibwa. The cemeteries are the final resting place to many of the original settlers of the Town of LaFollette and both cemeteries are still in operation.
White Pine Cemetery is located on Warner Lake Road about one half mile east of Anchor Inn Road. The land for the cemetery was donated by Otto Hertel and was originally designated that anyone who resides in the White Pine School District could be buried there for free. The cemetery’s first burial was Vernon Baird, the youngest son of an early settler. The cemetery is now managed by the Town of LaFollette.
Lakeview Cemetery is located on the eastern edge of the town at the intersection of County Road X and Williams road. Although it is located across from the Lakeview Methodist Church, it is managed by an independent board not affiliated with that church.
Big Sand Lake Cemetery is located on Angeline Road. It is situated at the northern boundary of the town.
Commerce in the Town of LaFollette has been varied and robust since its inception. Around 1889 the C.D. Searle Cranberry Company started growing and harvesting cranberries. The bog was developed in the wetlands southwest of Pokegama Lake. The company made several improvements to the lake and its outflow into the cranberry bog. The company also hired local staff and Native Americans to maintain the bog and especially during the fall harvest season. The Searles Company was in continuous operation until it shut down in 2002.
The town was also home to farmers. The farms produced vegetables, eggs, and dairy products. These products were sold in the two town stores, the Hertel Store and the Coomer Store. Dairy products were taken to the Coomer Cheese factory for production, sale and to be shipped within the area. The two stores were also gathering places for the town’s people to meet while carrying out their daily activities.
Recreational activities have also been part of the town’s employment opportunities. Resorts sprang up on several of the lakes and were frequented by vacationers from the Twin Cities and from as far away as Milwaukee and Chicago. Otto Hertel was reported to have opened the first resort in the town, locating it on the southern shore of Big Sand Lake. It was in operation until the death of his wife, Lottie, in 1949.
The Anchor Inn Supper Club and Resort was located on Viola Lake at the corner of Anchor Inn Road and State Route 70. The club had a small airplane landing strip on the north side of Route 70. It was rumored that the landing strip was used by Milwaukee and Chicago gangsters so they could fly in for a meal. They might also stay at the lodge and enjoy fishing or hunting before returning to their respective cities and business operations.
About one half mile east of the old Anchor Inn Supper Club site is a roadhouse, now called Sand Bar on 70, on the south side of Big Sand Lake. The roadhouse has been in operation since the mid-1970s operating under various names and owners. Over the years it has offered, food, a full bar, live music and a game room for pool. It has also had outdoor volley ball and horse shoes.
There are two bars in Hertel. The one is a full service restaurant with a liquor license called X-Marks the Spot and is located a quarter mile north of Highway 70 on County Road X. The other is a gentleman’s club called Misty’s located next to the site of the old Hertel post office.
Coyland Creek is located on the southwest side of the township. It is a Sporting Clay and Game Reserve offering multiple locations for Trap and Skeet shooting. They also offer Pheasant hunting on 610 acres of prime northern Wisconsin land. They offer a clubhouse open to the public as well as a venue for weddings, birthday and graduation parties as well as a lodge for overnight stays.
The town’s largest employer is the St. Croix Casino located on the south side of Big Sand Lake in Hertel. The casino, besides having full service gaming, offers a full service restaurant, a convenience store, and smoke shop. There is also gas station. Recently they have added an outdoor entertainment center with live concerts in the summer months and an RV park on Big Sand Lake.
Compiled by Scott P. Lauder, January 2020