History of St. Germain

Vilas County

Vilas County, at the top of Wisconsin, is the heart of the most outstanding vacation area in the upper Midwest. The scenery of our natural resources — over 1,300 lakes, 73 rivers and streams and one-half million acres of forest lands — makes Vilas County a top vacationland.

Two national forests are part of Vilas County — The Nicolet and Chequamegon. The largest state forest in Wisconsin is the 150,000-acre Northern Highland State Forest. It lies west and north of St. Germain. The 40,785.91-acre Vilas County Forest offers 11 walking trail systems totaling 89.7 miles, and 11 boat landings.

History of the name St. Germain, Wisconsin

The history of this community has been traced back to the 17th century, when traders were regulated by the French government.

Soldier Jean Francois St. Germaine, had married an Indian and rather than return to New France he deserted and settled with his wife’s tribe. In 1747, Antoine St. Germaine, a fur trader, was living in this area, and by the 1800’s, several St. Germaines were recorded by the Northwest Fur Co. Leon St. Germaine served as a Chippewa interpreter in the War of 1812 and was employed by the American Fur Co. in Lac du Flambeau. Big St. Germain Lake was so named for the French Indian family. The community took the same name, dropping the final “e.” The statue of Chief St. Germain, which stands in the village, honors the many Indians who had this name. There was no Chief St. Germaine. Taken from The Romance of Wisconsin Place Names by Robert S. Gard, published by October House, Inc. N.Y.

Town of St. Germain

The first settlers arrived in 1903. Occupations ranged from logging, trapping, resort operator and guide to sawmill operator. The first school was formed in 1904. The Town of Farmington was established by the Vilas County Board on January 31, 1907 on 36 sections of land set aside from Eagle River. It was thought that as soon as the loggers had cut off all the timber the land would be cleared for farms and that agriculture would follow. So the name Farmington seemed most appropriate. The cutover lands were purchased at reasonable prices. Some built resorts to accommodate the fishermen from the cities, and some tried their hand at farming. The season being too short, farming was soon given up. Tourists were attracted by the scenery, good fishing and better roads and the name was changed to Lakewood. On June 20, 1930 it was changed to St. Germain.

On January, 3, 1923, another school opened on the corner of Highways 155 & 70. The enrollments were 28 and included grades 1 through 8. This building would later become the first town hall. In 1944, six sections were acquired from Arbor Vitae and added to the west boundary of St. Germain. The purpose was to make it more convenient for residents in that area to attend school in St. Germain rather than be transported to Woodruff. In that year, a two room school was built with indoor plumbing. In the fall of 1997, a new school, K-5, 48,000 square feet, costing approximately $3.7 million was dedicated. It is part of the Northland Pines School District and students, grades 6 to 12, are transported to schools in Eagle River.

St. Germain

The statue of Chief St. Germain, a landmark of the area, is located near the information booth at the junction of Highways 70 and 155. The name St. Germaine spelled with an “e” dates back in record in this area to a French soldier Jean Francois St. Germaine, who married an Indian maiden and settled with his wife’s tribe. He served with the armed forces as a guard for fur traders until 1696 when the French government discontinued trading in the area. Records are fragmentary; however, the name “St. Germain” has appeared many times in records as leaders among the Chippewa Indians. Beyond honoring these leaders, the statue is meant to commemorate all Indians who used the area of St. Germain as one of their favorite hunting and fishing haunts, as they loved their forest retreat, the name “St. Germain” meaning forest.

Indian names throughout our area can be mainly attributed to the Chippewa, a tribe of the Algonquin stock. The word Chippewa is a poor attempt to say Ojibwa, which is usually translated to mean “to roast until puckered up” with reference to the wrinkled seams on moccasins. The Algonquins called the Wisconsin River “WeeKonsan” meaning “gathering of the water.”

History of St. Germain

The first white man to set foot on Wisconsin soil was Jean Nicolet, who was sent here by Samuel Champlain, Governor of New France, Canada. The idea at the time was to find a short route westward to India and China. In July, 1634, furnished with a few imperfect maps, Nicolet set out in a canoe to make peace with the Indians and open new territory. Many priests followed and Father Claude Allouez built the first chapel in Wisconsin in 1665, near Ashland and Washburn.

Following the priests and missionaries were the fur traders who heard of the vast amount of furs in this area. Notable among the fur traders was Nicholas Perrot, who in 1665 began a career of exploration and discovery in Wisconsin, which lasted more that 30 years…to about 1695. The king of France staged a pageant on the far shores of Sault St. Marie, at which the representatives, Simon Francois Daumont and Sieur de St. Luson, took possession of all the Western country for the French sovereignty. Nicholas Perrot was notified in advance to have all Wisconsin tribesmen send their chiefs for this great occasion, and there they persuaded the Indians to let them annex this country to France. Later Nicholas Perrot became governor general of the new French territory west of Lake Michigan. He built a number of French posts. As long as he ruled in the West, the French trade and influence was supreme. Many Frenchmen came to this territory and manned these posts. The traders were licensed by the French government and were under strict regulations. Unlicensed traders went farther into the wilderness, traded his wares with the Indians and sold his furs to the Hudson Bay Co. This caused so much trouble that the French governor revoked all licenses and in 1696 ordered all posts evacuated and all traders and soldiers to return to Ottawa, New France. Some of the soldiers, among them Jean Francois St. Germaine who had married an Indian maiden, rather than return to New France and face charges, deserted the garrison and settled with the tribe of which his wife was a member.

Many years passed of which there seems to be no record of the St. Germaine family. Later we find many members of the St. Germaine family with the Lac du Flambeau band of Indians, whose chief was Keesh-ke-mum, or Sharpened Stone, who was one of the greatest Chippewa Chiefs. The Chippewa sold all their lands by treaty in 1842 but continued living in the area. Later they moved to the Lac du Flambeau reservation as the white man moved into the territory. One of the first white men to settle in this area was James Lynch, a Canadian, who came here in 1842 to trap. He married an Indian maiden named Ramona. Nine children were born to the couple; the oldest was Biddie who later married a St. Germaine from Lac du Flambeau.

In 1857, the U.S. government sent surveyors into the area. Their records show that Big St. Germain Lake was named St. Germain Lake by the Indians. Records also show an Indian burial ground on the south shore of the lake.

In August of 1857, John Curran and Dutch Pete came up the Wisconsin River by canoe from Merrill to Eagle River, with many portages over the rapids. They mention passing St. Germain Creek (now Rhinelander) and Otter Rapids (near Eagle River). According to Mr. Curran, the St. Germain Lake was named for a beautiful Indian princess whose tribe camped on their shores.