The Bear Lake Village Master Plan was adopted on July 16, 2014.
Now, a sneak peek from the Introduction to the Lakes to Land Community Master Plan…
First settler Russell F. Smith had chosen his land with the idea of a future village, and to that end, he offered 12 acres to anyone who would come in and start one. His offer was accepted by a firm comprised of John S. Carpenter and Eliphlate Harrington. These men built a small store, a boarding house, and a steam saw, and grist mill on the site of the present village. Their enterprise was apparently none too successful, for in the spring of 1873 they sold out to George W. and David H. Hopkins. Starting with just three to four buildings from Carpenter and Harrington, the Hopkins Brothers soon developed the Village of Bear Lake into the major service center for rural population. Hopkins immediately built an improved saw and grist mill, and the following year the firm platted 88 acres for the Village.
On June 1, 1876, the Bear Lake Tram Railway began using horse-drawn freight cars to connect the growing village with the docks at Pierport. In 1881 a new grist mill was built, reportedly the first roller mill in the state. In 1882, the Hopkins brothers built the Bear Lake and Eastern Railroad to replace the horse drawn cars with a team of locomotives, steel rails, and suitable equipment.
With the construction of the large sawmill in 1873, the Hopkins brothers immediately commenced buying logs from nearby farmers. Finally, with the construction of the Tram Railway in 1876, cordwood was shipped to Pierport for consumption in Chicago and Milwaukee. At a very minimum this market for forest products would have doubled the income of homesteaders; for the ambitious, income probably increased five-fold. Throughout this period, new businesses opened almost monthly on Lake Street in the village.
After the turn of the century, most of the forest products in the area had been harvested. This led to the closure of the large mills, and the railroad was dismantled. By the 1920s and 30s, the area experienced a decline in population as the quality of the soil changed due to the harvesting of the hardwoods and many farmers found it difficult to farm. However, many turned to growing fruit crops while tourism and a summer cottage industry flourished.