Roxanne Frizzell is used to seeing lots of tourists’ faces coming into her little gift shop on Rittenhouse Avenue in Bayfield.
As do most businesses in Bayfield, she relies upon visitors — and she’s about to get a big boost in that foot traffic.
The Viking Octantis, a 30,150-ton, 672-foot-long expedition cruise ship operated by Viking Expedition Cruises, is scheduled to make its first stop in Bayfield at the end of the month as it begins regular visits to the port city.
Fresh off a maiden voyage to the Antarctic in January, the Octantis will set sail May 28 from Thunder Bay, Canada with a day stop in Bayfield on May 31 before continuing its journey to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and on to Milwaukee June 4.
The ship could bring as many as 378 passengers to town during each of its seven stops in Bayfield this season.
“It’s kind of exciting,” said Frizzell. “It will be fun to see people from all over who will be on the boat. I think we don’t know what it will do in the downtown. I was just at the Chamber of Commerce this morning and they explained that they would be taking tours and things, so whether there will be a lot of people downtown, we will just have to wait and see. I guess we don’t really know at this point what to anticipate.”
Bayfield Area Chamber of Commerce Marketing Director Kati Anderson anticipates that the visits will be a boon for the economy.
“I think this is an opportunity for Bayfield to really show off what we have to offer,” she said.
Visitors will have a selection of attractions to choose from, including visits to the apple orchards and trips that go as far as Ashland, excursions among the Apostle Islands and kayak outings.
They will also have a chance just to hang around downtown Bayfield.
“We really hope that they do that. We have a lot of really unique opportunities that you are not going to find on any of their other stops,” Anderson said. “I think this is an opportunity to show Bayfield off to a new set of visitors we have never had before and hopefully they will write home about it or even come back at a different time when they have more than a day.”
Planning for the ship’s arrival has been going on for several years. Bayfield residents should expect an older, more sedate crowd than the party-hearty cruises offered by other operators.
“These cruises as known as the thinking cruise, not the drinking cruise,” Anderson said.
Visitors will be shuttled from the ship to the city dock from just outside the harbor entrance. Once there, passengers will go through a security check similar to that found at airports before they start sightseeing.
The logistics of getting cruise passengers through the security process is something that has had to be worked out between city officials and Viking, said Bayfield Harbor Commission Chairman Ted Dougherty.
“It’s been a community effort. There are an awful lot of moving parts to this,” he said.
Bayfield is not a commercial shipping port, so the city had to create infrastructure and procedures needed to satisfy federal regulations.
“The intent is to protect both the city and the ship and of course, the guests,” said Dougherty, who initially found the security requirements pretty daunting.
“They were talking about an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire,” he said. “That would not be that warm, fuzzy. ‘Welcome to Bayfield’ feeling, and we didn’t really see the need for that level of security.”
What finally came about was a portable security point that can be put in place and removed as needed. A security firm has been hired to staff the checkpoint and local ambassadors will welcome visitors.
“Viking approached the city in 2018 talking about making a visit. Of course, COVID put a hard stop to that, and then, maybe a bit over a year ago they started selling the new cruise,” Dougherty said.
The trip doesn’t come cheap, with tickets running between $6,995 and $17,995 per person.
“But the ship is akin to being in the Four Seasons. It’s pretty nice,” Dougherty said.
In addition to bringing deep-pocket passengers across the Great Lakes, the ship also operates environmental research labs for the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and even runs a pair of its own excursion submarines, named Paul and George.
Dougherty said Viking selected Bayfield as a stopping place because of its charm.
“So the concern has been, are we going to become the Key West of the north? Well, I don’t think so,” he said. The Apostle Island Cruise Service handles 40,000 to 60,000 guests on their boat every summer while Viking will have seven visits spread over a five-month period in the summer, with just under 400 passengers each trip.
“I think other than seeing a big ship that looks completely out of place, Bayfield won’t be impacted that much,” Dougherty said.
Security are being covered by Viking, which has agreed to pay the city $25,000 as well as a $10,000 flat fee per trip. After expenses, the city should net about $40,000, Dougherty said.
“There is a lot more to it than you would think, but in the long run, a new revenue stream, if it is low-impact, a neutral or positive thing for the city and the businesses in town, we can do an awful lot with $40,000,” Dougherty said.
Demaris Brinton, co-owner of Apostle Islands Booksellers on Rittenhouse Avenue, is counting on visitors to bring a lot more than $40,000 — including, she hopes, their manners.
“I think if, like every other visitor and resident of the area, they are thoughtful and respectful of our regulations for taking care of our environment and our community, that we welcome them and we are glad to have them come,” she said.
Brinton said her business could from the cruisers, who could well have time to read a book while traversing the Great Lakes.
“It is a very good time to read a book. I’ve done that myself on a boat,” she said.
When Barb Anderson was a little girl growing up in Iron River, her mother often would send her to pick up groceries at the Pomish store in the Mitchell Building on Main Street.
At the time, the Mitchell was one of Iron River’s most important commercial centers, housing not only the grocery but also a men’s and women’s clothing store. The Hessey-Hatten Lumber Company built the structure in 1892 during Iron River’s logging heyday.
“I can remember in the summertime seeing the old men gather out there and do their talking for the day, having their cigarettes, for about an hour every day, you could count on it,” Anderson said.
Over the years, Mitchell building housed a bar, a thrift shop and a natural food store with apartments above. But for the past several years, it has fallen on hard times, sitting vacant and becoming a target for vandals who have broken in and spray-painted vulgar graffiti on the walls and caused damage to the interior.
But Iron River contractor Nate Johnson isn’t willing to surrender the historic property to vandals or the wrecking ball. With the help of town officials, he won a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. grant of $250,000 to help rebuild the Mitchell to house businesses and apartments.
“Growing up here, the Mitchell has always been there, but it’s been quite an eyesore for many years, and for many years I’ve been told that the building needed to be torn down, and the community fought that,” Johnson said.
At a town meeting he heard how some possible investors had an inspection done, and to everyone’s surprise, the building passed. That piqued his interest and he decided to have a look for himself.
“I walked in there and the foundation was really good. I was really shocked by that,” Johnson said. “The bones of the building were really good. I went on the roof, and the roof was in immaculate condition. That’s when I decided to see if I could pursue it and see if I could make something happen.
Key to the project was getting the WEDC money to rehabilitate the structure.
“Once I figured out that the building itself was structurally sound, it just became a building remodel job, something I have done almost every day for the last 25 years,” he said. “But without that grant, it probably would have taken five years to get up and going.”
Johnson plans to rip out the old walls, install new wiring and plumbing and redesign the interior along modern lines. He will strive to keep the building’s original look, with work on the façade to repair decorative exterior brick that has been damaged by weather over the years.
“Hopefully, it won’t be an eyesore anymore. It will be an attraction for the town,” he said.
Johnson said the additional residential rental space was particularly important to the community because the town has such a housing shortage. He anticipates doing exterior work on the building beginning in June, and having it completed by the Fourth of July.
“Then we will go onto the inside, finish gutting it out, redoing all the wiring, the plumbing, get it updated for safety and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he said. “We will keep on going through the winter, and by spring have it ready to go.”
One issue will be building materials, which remain in short supply and increasingly expensive because of COVID-induced disruptions.
Despite the obstacles, Johnson said he is going all-in on the project. He will sell the building he owns that houses a coffee shop so he can concentrate on the Mitchell project.
Iron river residents like Harvey and Barb Anderson said they look forward to life returning to one of Iron River’s key buildings.
“It has a lot of history in it,” Harvey Anderson said. “It would be a godsend for the community.”
“I was so hoping that someone wouldn’t step in and tear it down,” Barb added. “It would be a wonderful thing if it could be rebuilt. Iron River needs it.”
Michelle Drougas, who owns the Iron River Pizza Parlor on Main Street just across Highway 2 from the Mitchell building, said the project will help all of downtown.
“Go Nate Johnson, way to go!” she said. “It is super exciting the way he has taken on the project and is trying to make something happen. We need that beautiful building on the corner.”
Iron River Area Chamber of Commerce Director Geri Dresen said the project will enhance the entire town.
“It will help as people enter our community to see something that is new and fresh and appealing,” she said. “It will also provide places to rent, which we are desperately in need of in this area. This is huge for Iron River.”
It’s just a little town on the big lake, but it’s home, sweet home, to me… — Warren Nelson “First, Last and All the Time”
With a single heartfelt emotion in the final song, the cast of “Souvenir Views” brought the house down in the first showing of Washburn’s pictorial centennial musical, performed at Washburn High School in 1983.
In the nearly 40 years that have followed, the creative efforts of the Warren Nelson/Betty Ferris Concert Co. have inspired thousands of people, locals and visitors, with subsequent shows that led to the creation of Big Top Chautauqua.
“Souvenir Views” tells the story of Washburn’ first 100 years and is told in original songs written by Nelson and illustrated in historical photographs projected by Ferris. It also features the music of the band that includes Nelson, Jack Gunderson, Tom Mitchell, Rowan Nelson-Ferris, Ed Willett, Randy Sabien and Phillip Anich.
The collection of Nelson-Ferris shows became staples of Big Top, but Souvenir Views is where it all began. On Saturday, May 14 and Sunday May 15, it’s coming back to Washburn with selections from the original performance to be performed at the Harbor View Event Center.
“The wonderful part about it is that the show is being done with a grant from the Washburn Community Education Foundation and it allows us to present it with free admission,” Nelson said.
Foundation Treasurer Mike Jackson said the concert fit perfectly with the organization’s purpose.
“Our mission is to support educational ventures in the Washburn community, not just in school, but educational opportunities wherever they happen to be,” he said. “We give out grants that are related to education, and this is a perfect example of that. If we can provide an opportunity for this to take place, and to take place free for the community, it serves a good purpose.”
Jackson said most of the board has seen “Souvenir Views” at one time or another, so when the proposal came before the board it wasn’t a hard sell.
Nelson said the show is a return to the days before Big Top.
“Betty and I were commissioned to do the show by the Washburn Centennial Committee. They had gotten the album for a show I did seven years earlier about my hometown, Fairmont, Minn., and they said ‘We want one of these.’”
The show set the standard for performances to come: original songs and historical readings backed up by beautiful historic photographs.
“Washburn had no idea what was coming,” Nelson said. “’What are those hippies doing in our gym?’ they must have asked, but they were just blown away.”
Backed up by members of the Washburn City Band and singers from the Sentimentalists, the show was a hit, drawing large crowds for its entire four-day run.
“Then Bayfield got word of it and said, ‘We want one of those, Warren.’ They were having an all-school reunion, and so they hired us to do a show that became ‘Riding the Wind,’ and that resulted in Mary Rice telling me that her parents wanted to build me a theater,” Nelson said.
Instead of a theater, Nelson asked for a tent — a tent that became the Big Top.
“Souvenir Views” as had a couple of revivals, once at Washburn’s homecoming in 2015 and again in 2016.
“The show is an antique now,” he said. “But one that is a favorite for people, especially the end song that I wrote, called ‘First, Last and All The Time.’ Sad to say, I have sung that at so many funerals — ‘Here’s where I want to be; it’s just a little town on the big lake, but it’s home sweet home to me.’ People start crying, people start singing it. A lot of people know it by now. It has been an honor to me to have it become a song of the community. This is a little town on the big lake, and it’s a very special place, you know.”