Written by: Beth Dippel, For USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Published 9:56 a.m. CT May 18, 2018
The Black River is one of Sheboygan County’s most beautiful and historic areas. Running most of the length of the town of Wilson adjacent to Lake Michigan, Evergreen Drive is the backbone of the community. Prior to European settlement, the largest Native American gathering in the county, a continuous line that stretched for ten miles along the sandy shoreline, was the eastern edge of Black River.
Though the last Indians camped at the mouth of the Black River as long ago as 1877, their influence remains. An 1862 Town of Wilson plat map shows the area settled by farmers with pieces of land from 40 to 160 acres in size, typical of early settlement patterns. By 1902, the size of land allotments was much the same, yet we see the Jervings, one of the first Black River families, owning the land at the mouth of the river.
A 1916 map shows the first small subdivisions for summer homes and cottages. By 1930, the Black River had become a summer haven for those looking to get away from the hot temperatures of city life. Evergreen Drive began to take shape. On Oct. 12, 1931, a Sheboygan Press article described the Black River.
It began, “Picturesque Road of the Pines running from a point for over a mile south, connecting cottages and permanent residences with a twenty-four-foot graveled road will be completed in a short time by the county highway department at the expense of the town of Wilson. Black River is one of the most attractive sections to be found along the shores of Lake Michigan.
(Below: A view of the newly renovated Boy Scout cabin, home to the Black River Museum and Education Center located on Evergreen Drive between Pioneer Road and Indian Mound Road.)
Running southward from the mouth of the Black River is an extensive area of virgin timber. Large, stately pines predominate, but there are other trees, shrubs and vegetation in the area, which makes the section one that inspires the nature-lover.
In the Black River area are about sixty cottages, many built by people from the city and many others that are owned by people from other cities who come here to spend their summers, preferring the shores of Lake Michigan to those of smaller lakes in the state.
There are also six permanent residences in the area thus far.With the completion of the new road, providing easy access to the Black River, it is certain that many more will be inspired to build cottages and permanent homes there in the near future.”There was actually a contest to name the new road. It seems Evergreen Drive was the winner. Wonder who made the suggestion?
Black River is bursting with items of interest. It is filled with beauty, wildlife and history.
Recently a group of citizens established the new Black River Museum and Education Center to showcase those very things that is set to open Memorial Day weekend, Sunday, May 27; it will be open every Sunday during the summer from 1-3 p.m. at Evergreen Drive on Pioneer Road, Wilson.
The former Alfred Jung Boy Scout House houses the new venture.Jung was one of Black River’s oldest pioneer summer residents and had a deep love for the area. The patriarch of a philanthropic family, he died in 1965 at the age of 92. He’d spent years running the Jung Co. retail stores.
Black River Troop #66 started with seven boys in early 1953. Jack Smalter and Harold Lindeman were the scoutmasters.Within months, the troop grew to eighteen boys and was granted a troop charter by May of that same year. They originally met in a shed which was on Jung’s property, but soon found they wanted a more substantial building for their activities. Construction on the new Boy Scout House was a do-it-yourself project.Salvaged lumber and stones were hauled from farmers’ fields, and windows, doors and furniture were made by the troop members and neighbors were used to build the Boy Scout House. The rustic log cabin was dedicated in May of 1962.
This project is spearheaded by John Siminow.
An interior view of the new facility showing the relief map of the area and photo of Alfred Jung over the fireplace.
It boasts wildlife photography exhibits by Reggie Gauger and Lisa Lehmann, naturalist exhibits including a great one on invasive species by Reggie Gauger and Bill Hartmann, and historical exhibits by Jim Schultz and John Siminow. A work in progress, the venture is supported by the Black River Advancement Association and the Jung family. The crew wants everyone to know additional contributions to the Black River are welcome. Inside the lightly-renovated Boy Scout House, you will see a geographic relief map of the Black River initiated by historian and man of many talents, Alan Pape, and completed by Pape, Siminow and Gauger. Made to scale, it gives a great overview of the area. Prominently displayed on the south wall of the main room is the Honor Roll of WWII Vets from the Town of Wilson.Boy Scout artifacts fill the corners. Photos and newspaper articles are available for discussion and study. But, best of all, area residents will be in attendance to talk about the area and reminisce. It is a project that has something for everyone. If you haven’t been to the Black River, it is an area with a feeling of no other in the county. A cathedral of pines shelters the abundance of wildlife and nature.
The Black River's somewhat unusual history creates interest at every turn. A place of beauty, make sure you take the time to visit the new Black River Museum and Education Center this summer. Watch for additional articles featuring some of Black River's rich history.
For more information, please visit the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center’s website at schrc.org. Beth Dippel is executive director of the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center.