Establilshing the Boundary
In 1823, members of the International Joint Boundary Commission arrived on the lake. They had been appointed to establish the border between Canada and the U.S., as it had been designated in the treaty which ended the Revolutionary War. One of the difficult points of contention was the establishment of the most northwesterly point on the Lake of the Woods as called for in the treaty. The dispute over the exact location of this point continued for the next century and a final agreement was not signed until in the 1920s. The end result was that the U.S. retained possession of the Northwest Angle, that odd projection of land which juts out above the border and is completely disconnected from the rest of the nation.
The First Settlements
Following the end of the fur trade, most of the activity along the Rainy River and the lake was limited to movements of people going to Lord Selkirk’s Red River Settlement in what would become Manitoba. In 1857 an overland route called the Dawson Trail was established. Though nearly all Canadian, this route cut across a corner of the Northwest Angle at the mouth of Harrison Creek on Angle Inlet. A small town grew up at this location where travelers left the steamboats from Fort Frances to board stage coaches for Winnipeg. This town at Harrison’s Creek, known as Northwest Angle, became the first settlement within the borders of what would become Lake of the Woods County. A few years later, however, when the railroad reached Kenora and Winnipeg, the trail was abandoned and the village all but disappeared.
The coming of the Canadian Railroad brought the next residents of the county. They were Canadian loggers who came to pirate American timber for the lumber mills at Kenora which were busy sawing ties for the railroad. But, in 1885 the county got its first permanent settlers when Alonzo Wheeler and Wilhelm Zippel squatted on the shores of Rainy River and Lake of the Woods. Both engaged in commercial fishing enterprises.
In the 1890s more settlers followed Zippel and Wheeler. Most of the earliest arrivals chose likewise to make their homes on the shores of the lake and fish for a living. Barney Arnesen settled at Rocky Point, the Asmus family lived first at Long Point. Ole Johnson ran a fishery on Pine Island where Morris Point Gap has since been forced through by current.
LeClaire, a small community, grew around two fisheries at Oak Point on the east end of Curry’s Island on Four Mile Bay. This was the first truly American settlement in the county and the site of the first post office and customs house.