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River Rats

The River Rats

In this neck of the woods, many folks spend their summer months “at the lake.” No one that I know personally, mind you; it’s far too up-scale a thing for the likes of me. Considering the huge number of people who have property there, it must be a whopping big lake.

Actually, I misstate my case: we did own lake property about thirty years ago, but could never afford to build on it and ultimately sold the land when the market was down. So this idea of The Lake is bittersweet.

Agincourt’s place for summering is Sturm und Drang, though I don’t think it may have ever had the panache of a Sallie, Lizzie, Lida or certainly not Pelican. I’ve written about the resorts along its shores but not very much about the private lake homes to be found there—or the people who own them. There was an early alternative to The Lake, however, which deserves as much historical notice: the River Rats, an enclave of squatters on the west bank of the Mighty Muskrat, as a kind of common law colony serving an other audience.

Legally, the long narrow strip of land probably belongs to the Fennimore County Agricultural and Mechanical Exhibition Association, though that is disputed. Deed records conflict on whether the property extends to the mid-point of the river’s course or to the high water mark of its flood stage. The difference between the two is the contested strip, no more than about fifty feet wide, steep and covered with scrub and brush. Early settlers went there to fish and hunt, though the opportunity for fishing is offered these days more as an excuse than a reason. Besides being free, however, it has the real advantage of being a twenty-minute walk, at most, from anywhere in town, rather than a forty-five minute drive on roads that can be congested on peak weekends. There is not only a history here that I’d love to write, but also some imagery worth recording. Take, for example, this remarkable cabin that we’re borrowing from rural Michigan—delightfully identified as “Rough and Ready.”

rough&ready

I can’t look at this and not think “Ah, so this is what Mies was after!”


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