This beautiful book offers you a virtual tour of Black River to enable you to decide for yourself whether this area of less than three square miles deserves to be called “Gem of Sheboygan County”. With a history going back over a thousand years, its unique combination of forests, wetlands, and dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan continue to attract people, including families spanning several generations.
Though there are no formal boundaries, we refer to Black River as the area most of which is in the Town of Wilson south of the Alliant Energy power plant between South 12th Street and Lake Michigan, extending to the south to include Kohler-Andrae State Park. We also included the Star Dusk Outdoor Theater, just north of Weeden Creek Road, as it complements the story of Black River.
Black River is an area of contrasts. Rare ancient Indian Mounds and cozy untouched 80-year-old cottages contrast with cottages transformed into impressive updated homes and newly-constructed homes, scattered throughout the area among the tall trees. Much of the area remains relatively untouched with little development or commercialism. Unlike most of Sheboygan County, settled predominantly by German and Dutch immigrants who transformed the countryside from extensive forests to farms, Black River has had a different flavor from the beginning. Fishermen of English, Irish, Norwegian, and Swedish descent were among the first to come, followed by German and Dutch immigrants who farmed parts of the area, leaving much of the forest intact.
Black River has resisted change and commercialism to become a permanent home for many, a summer retreat for many more, and a recreational area for still others. No more farms remain. The only commercial venture is Majerle’s Black River Grill, which morphed from an ice cream stand and still retains much of its historic charm. The area’s unique natural features have made it a haven for art, photography, and scouting. It influenced the careers of biologist Martin Kjelson III and husband-and-wife artist and microbiologist, John and Dorothy Clemmer and others. When Dorothy was asked by a friend while traveling through Greece visiting fishing villages along the coast of Crete and islands in the Aegean, where she’d choose to stay after all the beautiful places they had seen, her reply was, “That’s an easy question. Black River.” When a business executive, John Kohl, was offered a huge promotion to relocate, he turned it down, saying “he and his wife Shirley wanted to continue living in the woods along Lake Michigan, and no amount of money could change that.” Elsbeth Andrae, donor of the land for Terry Andrae State Park, said “A few days at Pine Dunes had more zest and benefit for [her husband Terry] than weeks of holiday at a resort could have been.”
The tour spans Black River’s past, present, and future. It includes rare Native American burial grounds, a noted collection of artifacts, five ship captains and a seafarer, Wisconsin’s first scout troop, folk and contemporary artists, a number one hit on America’s record charts, three nature preserves, a pair of popular state parks, and a proposal to replace a pristine forest with a world-class golf course. All this just a two-hour drive from America’s third largest city.