The fabled gales of November couldn’t stop reconstruction of the historic Hokenson Brothers Fishery dock at Little Sand Bay in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Battered by storms for decades, the dock and related buildings are listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and are the focus of a $1.4 million preservation and restoration effort by the National Park Service.
This summer, construction crews from Pearl Beach Construction Company of Michigan used heavy equipment and a barge to rebuild the dock as historically accurately as possible, using wooden pilings and log cribs filled with boulders as well as more modern corrugated sheet steel piles in places. The herring shed, which was removed from the original L-shaped dock after a major storm of 2015 to prevent further damage, was moved back onto the rebuilt dock in mid-November. The expectation is that the new reinforced dock and separate breakwater will be able to withstand whatever Lake Superior can throw at it, for many years to come.
The restored Hokenson Brothers Fishery dock and herring shed on December 3, 2022 – Click to enlarge – Jeff Rennicke photos
Advocates applying in 1976 to list the Hokenson Brothers Fishery on the National Register of Historic Places wrote, “These buildings are of exceptional importance because they are part of the only intact fishing and packing operation within the boundaries of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This type of local enterprise played a significant role in the commercial fishing industry of the region.” The fishing dock was added to the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places in 1989.
Leo, Roy, and Eskel Hokenson started their family-owned fishing business at Little Sand Bay in 1927. They fished the big lake for lake trout, whitefish, and herring for more than 30 years. The Hokensons also liked to ice fish in the winter, for personal use.
Every fall, the fishermen used gill nets to harvest tons of lake herring. They worked 20-hour days during the herring run, delivering the fish to the dock aboard the fishing boat Twilite. At the dock, wives, children, and hired hands worked assembly-line-style in the herring shed, cleaning and processing the fish. The herring was preserved by salting it when it was packed in the barrels.
In winter, the Hokensons filled their ice house with blocks of ice they cut from Little Sand Bay. This ice was used throughout the summer to keep the lake trout and whitefish fresh on its way to market. The ice house was generally empty by the time herring season began. The Hokensons sold their fish to brokers in Cornucopia or Bayfield, whereever the price was best.
The Hokensons worked hard at being self-sufficient. To avoid having to take their boat to town for mechanical repairs during the herring run, they set up a workshop on the ground floor of their net storage building, known as the twine shed. The also installed a forge where they could make their own spare parts. During the winter months, they spent time repairing nets and preparing their equipment for the next fishing season.
They decided to retire in 1962 when the state closed commercial lake trout fishing on Lake Superior.
The historic Hokenson Brothers Fishery dock, herring shed and ice house are currently closed to the public due to construction. The Park Service has provided limited access to the Hokenson twine shed, ice house, and herring shed in the past and is working toward making those buildings and their historical artifacts more available to the public in the years to come. For now, you can visit the Little Sand Bay Visitor Center in person, There you will find the renovated Twilite fishing tug as well as interactive audio-visual displays about the Hokenson fishery around the perimeter of the outdoor display.
You can also learn more about the rich Hokenson family history and their fishing operation online, on the National Park Service website. We also encourage you to Discover the Park by visiting our page devoted to Little Sand Bay and exploring stories about that part of the park.