As part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, we’re going on a virtual tour with Neil Howk, a man who has spent decades exploring the islands and teaching people about what makes them special. He knows the islands like the back of his hand.
At the tenth stop on our digital tour, Neil is on Basswood Island. The island is at 46.8568° N, 90.7379° W.
The era of quarrying Lake Superior Sandstone in the Apostle Islands began when the Smithsonian Institution tested stone from Basswood Island and found it to be strong and durable in 1869. This led to its selection for building the second Milwaukee County Courthouse, which has since been demolished.
Stone from the Basswood Island quarry was also used to build the Bayfield County Courthouse in Bayfield in 1883. This building now houses the headquarters of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The quarry, now filled with water, is about 200 feet long and about 25 feet deep. Large dimension blocks roughly 2′ x 4’x 8′ were cut from the quarry in the early years by men with sledgehammers and wedges, and later using steam powered equipment. The blocks were lifted by derricks on to ships at the nearby dock and carried throughout the Great Lakes.
The quarry was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.
From 1865 to 1923, the island was also home to a farm run by Richard McCloud and Elisha Brigham.
You can hike a 5 1/2 mile loop trail that begins and ends in a clearing up the hill from the Basswood Island dock. The trail takes you to the McCloud-Brigham farm site, follows an old logging road to the east side of the island to the quarry.
You can see several large blocks of cut brownstone as well as rusted parts of old equipment. From the quarry, the loop trail returns through the forest to the dock clearing.
Four individual campsites are located near a rock landing at the south end of the island about a quarter mile from the quarry. Two more individual campsites and a group site are on a bluff near the dock on the west side of Basswood Island. Click here to learn about the sites and availability.
Basswood Island is very close to the mainland, directly offshore from Red Cliff and there’s lots more to explore! Look for another digital adventure next week. To play along, simply like the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Facebook page and check back next Wednesday for the clue to next week’s location. Make a guess in the comments and we’ll post the answer on Thursday. Click here to learn about Neil.