Hayward History

“Vacation at White Manor Resort on Nelson Lake in the Hayward Area in Northern Wisconsin and become part of our history.”

History & Events of Hayward, Wisconsin

Deep in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, Hayward is one of those places where you plan things like a dream wedding, a gorgeous honeymoon, or the ultimate family vacation! Loggers come here from New Zealand to compete. Tough guy, Al Capone, used it as his own personal retreat. In the Hayward Area they’ve got it all – gorgeous natural settings, pleasant weather, world class restaurants and caterers, a thriving business economy, and venues eager to cater to your every whim. Come spend relaxing days on the lake, browse the many interesting shops in the area, or maybe even catch a walleye or two. Like to be more active? Hit the trails – hiking, mountain-biking, or riding an ATV. In the winter, try cross country skis or a snowmobile!

Woods, Water, and World Class Events, the town is friendly and bustling, a shopper’s delight! The woods are spectacular, vast, and lush, with an unspoiled, feral beauty unique to the area. The waters are pristine, relaxing, crystal clear and calm. Catering to families, fisherman, snowmobilers, and skiers, Hayward is the perfect destination spot for that second home, or dream vacation. It’s a place to rest the body, revive your spirits, relax your mind, and just let the rush and stress of 21st century city life melt away. A timeless refuge from tension, Hayward invites you to come back to an extraordinary and increasingly rare combination of relaxation, beauty, and fun – to come back to what really matters…to rediscover your soul!


American Indians, voyageurs and loggers who once traveled this land, left behind a wealth of visible opportunities to explore and discover the colorful history of this region.

In the 1870’s, Hayward’s founder, Anthony Judson Hayward, visited the area and saw that a very large and seemingly inexhaustible supply of pine lumber made the area a prime location for a lumber mill. The high banks of the Namekagon River made it an ideal location for a wood pond, and the railroad being built to Ashland created a means to transport the sawn lumber from the mill to the market. The railroad was constructed during the summer of 1881 and by the summer of 1882, power dams were constructed on the Namekagon River. The dams powered a small lumber mill, which provided lumber to build the stores, the boarding houses, several private residences, and a larger mill that was completed in 1883.

In that year, Sawyer County was formed, and Hayward became the county seat. Roads were cut to other cities in order to obtain the trade of loggers who were cutting in other areas, thus creating other jobs aside from logging. The first public school, a multi-purpose building near the lumber mill, was built in 1884, and burned down in 1885. It was rebuilt, and burned down again in 1922. It’s interesting now that one of the core values of the Hayward School District is “to value lues of the Hayward School District is “to value property”! But, the spark of education survived! Hayward now boasts fine schools, and both a community and a technical college. Still, the fire of 1922 marked a turning point for the Hayward economy, because it also destroyed the old mill. By that time, most of the pine lumber had been cut down and shipped away, only remnant pine was left. Large logging camps were practically non-existent by this time.


Northern Wisconsin was now being advertised in the larger cities in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois as a vacation area. Resorts were either already established or being built. Shops were catering to the visiting public. It was time for a change! Hayward went from an economy based on logging, to an economy based on tourism. That was particularly interesting, because this was the time when city newspapers were giving away tracts of “worthless” Northwoods lakeshore property as a gift to their new subscribers. The land was considered unfit for either logging or agriculture, and they were looking for ways to get rid of it as cheaply and easily as possible. That’s a telemarketing call you’d love to get! “Well, for our 90-day trial period, you can get the whole week for just the price of the Sunday paper. That’s the movie guide, sports, business…and ten acres on a thousand feet of lakeshore!” You can bet there were more than a few who said, “Nah! What am I going to do with a bunch of useless land? I’ll never get up there anyway. Just send me the paper!”

The Hayward area is truly a reminder to us all of how we sometimes so obviously overlook what’s really important. In our haste to be “productive”, we trade beauty, serenity, and infinite value for the sake of industry, profit, work, and “busi-ness”. But what is it that truly endures across generations?

History of Nelson Lake

Local History & Nelson Lake

The city of Hayward and the surrounding area, as we know it today was first began in the 1870’s, when the large areas of trees was seen as a source of lumber for the growing cities around the state.

Hayward’s founder, Anthony J. Hayward, visited the present site of our city in the 1870’s and saw that this area would be a prime location. He knew that there was a very large supply of pine lumber. The location on the Namekagon River would be an good location for a wood pond to be used as timber storage before going to the new sawmill. Another benefit of this location was that the railroad was going to construct a line to Ashland, Wisconsin providing a way to transport the lumber. There were power dams built to run a small lumber mill, which provided lumber to build a large mill, stores, and several private homes. By June of 1883, the mill at the new village of Hayward was ready to saw the wood.

Some other important things occurred in 1883, which would affect Hayward. This is when Sawyer County was established and Hayward became the county seat. I have given you some history of the city, so plan your Hayward trip and come to some of the World Class events.

The Totogatic River area has always had the reputation of being a true wilderness.

The loop of the river, shaped like the footprint of Paul Bunyan’s ox, comes nearest to Hayward at a point only a few miles north of town where its waters reach within a mile of the Namekagon River at Phipps – kept apart from it by a quirk of the glacier – the inverted horseshoe valley is now occupied by Lake Nelson.

The virgin pine forests were sparse along the upper Totogatic so it was almost ignored during the famous logging days and the soils were so poor that the land agents were not able to lure farmers into buying the waste cut – over lands of the timber barons. Consequently records of the activity of either loggers or settlers are also scarce; building a story from them was difficult.

The land survey in 1950 mentioned only one detail of human usage in the township, that of an Indian trail which crossed what is now Big Island in Nelson Lake. The next visitor of record was Albert Stuntz, the “landlooker,” who came up from the Namekagon April 8, 1867, according to his diary, and stopped for lunch at the “Narrows” – probably the site of the present dam forming Nelson Lake. He then went down the river to a dam and an old camp, probably at the lower end of the bird sanctuary. ( Now a sanctuary that houses more than 120 species of birds only blocks from White Manor Resort.

The first record of the logging of the “Big Bend” country is October 16, 1886, when D.E. Tewksbury put in a camp on the river, contracting for Hersey and Bean who owned most of the timberland here. Their dam “eight miles northeast of Hayward” went out in 1891, putting it about a mile above the head of Lake Nelson, where the remains of an old logging dam can still be found.

John Moore appears to have been the first settler in the valley around the big bend. He took out a homestead claim on May 19, 1891, at the section corner beside the river near the east end of the big island where the roads from the south and the east meet under the water of the lake.

Another event which opened up the valley was the building of the Hayward and Northwestern railroad up Bradley Brook by the Hayward Hardwood Lumber Company in 1900 to their mill at the upper end of Smith Lake which was to tap the virgin hardwood and hemlock stands on the ridges to the north. It was later extended and crossed the present lakebed east of the dam and far into the depths of the Tobatic. It was in use by the Hines Lumber Company until they sold out in 1911. After this the valley reverted to a virtual wilderness for twenty years, its solitude disturbed occasionally by hunters and in the summer by nearby farmers harvesting “bluejoint” and “scratch-gut” hay in the marshes in the bottomlands.

The period of the 1920s brought a new consciousness to the people of the North Country of the excesses of the logging and settlement times, and a new concern for their forest environment developed. Led by conservationists, professional and volunteer alike, a movement to save what was left now became active. Fires were curbed, conservation clubs were formed, and citizens took part in making plans to repair some of the damage done by our reckless occupation of the land. The great depression proved to be a boon to this program. Work had to be found for the unemployed and conservation offered plenty of it.

On January 9, 1934, a resolution was brought before the County Board by Frank O. Nelson, a member and an untiring worker for conservation, to “build a dam across the Totogatic River to create a large flowage or lake from the backwater, suitable for fish and which would furnish a refuge and breeding grounds for all kinds of wildlife.” This was to be done with Civil Works Administration funds but this program ended in confusion. The Works Progress Administration followed and made a survey for this project. By October 1935, forty men from the Federal Transient Camp at Hayward were working at the dam with Jim Hamblin as the construction foreman.

There was often opposition to the conservation projects that Mr. Nelson, then chairman of the County Board and the Planning Committee which he appointed, proposed. A report in the newspaper stated that the project, “will make one of the finest lakes in the county. It is rumored a few resort owners are opposed to the creating of the lake, believing it will be a choice resort territory. It may be true that someone may establish a resort somewhere on its shores, but the intent of the Conservation Committee for the flowage is to make it a nursing pond for pike.” In that they succeeded!

Unfortunately Mr. Nelson died on November 15, 1935, before he could see the dam completed. After his death the County Board passed a resolution naming the flowage being formed at the big bend of the Totogatic, “Nelson Lake,” in his memory, stating that: “this project was primarily proposed and started through the untiring efforts of the late F.O. Nelson.”

Visit the Hayward Area and vacation for the week or the weekend. Stay with us at White Manor Resort for lakeside lodging & accommodations, activities at the resort or on the lake, enjoy the many events and festivals that are apart of our history.