MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Unwinding in Hayward

For guests, the comforts of this northwoods town belie its reputation.

Eating ice cream at West Dairy in Hayward.

Beth Gauper

Tourists and locals alike gravitate to West's Dairy for ice cream.

From the beginning, Hayward has been a rough town.

It sprang up in Wisconsin's north woods along with the logging camps, and its saloons and brothels gave it a reputation that was reflected in a rail conductor's call: "All aboard for Hayward, Hurley and Hell!"

After resorts replaced logging camps, muskie wranglers joined lumberjacks as mythic figures.

The fishing feats are enshrined at the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, home of a 143-foot fiberglass muskie, but the lumberjacks — many of them graduates of the Hayward Log Rolling School — still are chopping, sawing and birling for tourists at the Lumberjack Bowl.

Whether they're wrestling a 60-pound muskie out of the water or twirling a 12-inch log under their feet, these are tough folks.

Add the anglers and birlers to the skiers who pour in to race in the  51-kilometer American Birkebeiner and the mountain bikers who race 40 miles in the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, and you see Hayward is a hub for the robust.

These robust types, however, are not rubes. These days, it's easier to find French roast and Wi-Fi around downtown Hayward than football and Miller Lite.

"It's changing; it's gone from being a blue-collar resort town to a really sophisticated place," says Molly Otis, a musician and artist who also is the mother of a champion lumberjack.

Today, visitors to Hayward can hang out on the lakes and forests, as always. But now they also can stay in one of the region's most luxurious inns, browse in an impressive collection of shops, go to wine tastings and sample locally made microbrews.

For them, Hayward has gone from hell to heaven, in just one century.

Comforts of home

Otis is one of the people who have been spiffing up Hayward's downtown.

In 2000, after the breakup of her alt-country band, Molly and the Heymakers, she renovated a century-old brick building just off Main Street's covered boardwalk and opened a chic shop called the Pavilion.

Then she renovated the basement and opened the Wine Cave. We found her there one Saturday, wearing pearls and a long brocade coat, handing out samples of Belgian beer and desserts left over from a "club night" that had drawn 100 people.

"That a wine cave is making it here in Hayward, that means a lot, and we've hardly advertised," she said. "There are a bunch of people making their own way here and doing it in their own style."

Hayward's Moccasin Bar.

Beth Gauper

The Moccasin Bar is Hayward's de facto museum for taxidermy treasures.

The many local painters, photographers, sculptors and potters sell their work at Art Beat, and Pottery at Best carries Jerry and Donna Best's distinctive glazed trays with branch-and-leaf handles. There's fine leather for sale at Forest Cow Leatherworks and jewelry at Hi-Ho Silver.

Artists tend to gravitate to Hayward, but so do people from all walks of life. Ray Bartlett was operating an RV park in Arizona when he first came to Hayward to visit some of his favorite customers.

"I wanted to get out of Arizona, and I thought, 'Wow, this is a neat area,' " he said.

Now, he sells prints of old Hayward out of a turn-of-the-century building on Main Street that has its original stamped-tin ceiling.

There are framed newspaper clippings of muskie hunter Louis Spray, souvenir photos of Lindahl's Talking Indian and ads for cook-shanty meals at Historyland. But it's his vintage photographs of logging and hunting camps that sell like hot cakes, especially to the out-of-towners who are replacing Hayward's mom-and-pop resorts with million-dollar vacation homes.

"There are no mansions here, there are 'cabins,' " Bartlett says dryly. "They're mansion cabins."

Many of the old-timers who drop by, Bartlett says, bemoan the disappearance of old Hayward. But it's newcomers who have rescued and revitalized two of the town's oldest and best-known landmarks.

At West's Dairy, Minnesota-raised Jeff Miller has kept the ice cream and added smoothies and espresso drinks to the menu and leather chairs in which customers can sit while reading the New York Times or working on laptops.

Miller's got a swell place to play cribbage now — his customers introduced him to the game — but he still make sure that the milk gets delivered.

He's one milkman who used to practice international law at Citigroup in London.

"A week before we announced we were leaving, he was offered a managing directorship, which is fiercely competitive," says his English partner, Dean Cooper. "But his boss, who was from the Midwest, said, 'You're definitely doing the right thing. I envy you.' ''

Expert hospitality

Cooper's business is the 1887 grand manor that was the Lumberman's Mansion B&B but had been vacant for four years and, says Cooper, was three months away from becoming a parking lot.

A former corporate account manager with a passion for interior design, Cooper renovated the house and filled it with European portraits, silk draperies, heated marble floors and lacquer armoires specially ordered on a side trip from Hong Kong, where the pair once lived.

He's opened it as the McCormick House, named for the lumber baron who built it before moving on to the Pacific Northwest. The house looks great, but it's the hospitality that's spectacular.

Cooper dotes on his guests, offering to upload the house iPods with their favorite music; providing ice cream and popcorn for DVD screenings on each room's flat-panel, high-definition TVs; and offering evening truffles and hot chocolate imported from London's Bond Street.

The giant muskie at the Hayward Fishing Museum.

Beth Gauper

Everyone wants to see Hayward's giant muskie, whose toothy mouth is a favorite spot for weddings.

In the morning, he prepares a made-to-order English breakfast, with selections that include rashers of Danish back bacon, grilled tomatoes and toasted crumpets.

"It's phenomenal what they've done with this place," says Cindy York of Falcon Heights, a skier who often stayed at the old Lumberman's Mansion with her husband, Kent. "It's so beautiful and comfortable it's like a spa, except for the big breakfast you have to work off."

Before she and her husband left after spending the weekend at the McCormick House, York made sure to get the name of Cooper's upholsterer and fabric vendor, then scolded him for working so hard.

"We're thinking you guys are going to burn out unless you pace yourself right up front," she said. "It's in our best interests that you do." The McCormick House, she said, was going to be "our new summer home."

It was only a few years ago that Cooper and Miller first saw Hayward, while visiting one of Miller's childhood friends who has a cabin there. Things happened fast.

"We've probably met more people here and have more friends than we did in London, a city of 10 million people," Miller says. "It seems as if everyone knows who we are before we've met them."

Miller has turned West's Dairy into a sunny gathering spot and upgraded the ice cream. Cooper has been boning up on town history; in one of his packages, guests get to dine at Robert McCormick's 1889 office building, now occupied by the Angry Minnow restaurant and brew pub.

"Hayward becomes a more livable place every year because of people like Dean and Jeff moving here," says Molly Otis.

The two don't fish or golf, but try to make time to cross-country ski. For now, they're making sure it's their guests and customers who have a good time.

In Hayward, that's an invitation that's hard to pass up.

Trip Tips: Hayward

Getting there: It's 2 hours northeast of the Twin Cities.

2014 events: Feb. 20-23, American Birkebeiner weekend. June 19-22, Musky Festival.  July 18-20, Honor the Earth Traditional Powwow. Sept. 12-14, Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. Sept. 20, Fall Festival.

For more about the Lumberjack Championships and logging era, see Hayward's lumberjacks.

Accommodations: The McCormick House, a block from downtown, is very handsome and offers an extremely high level of hospitality. It has six lovely rooms, and the rates include an excellent breakfast made to order.

The McCormick House in Hayward.

Beth Gauper

The McCormick House, built by a lumber baron, now is a luxurious bed-and-breakfast inn.

Rooms include Internet access, high-definition televisions and DVD players and digital direct-dial telephones. There's a gas fireplace in the library, a comfortable gathering spot, and a large hot tub on the back deck, overlooking an English garden. Check for special deals and packages. Call 715-934-3339.

Also in town, the Hollyberry Inn B&B has three rooms, one with whirlpool and gas fireplace. The Pavilion Guesthouse has three suites, all with kitchenettes. Two sleep four people.

The handsomely restored 1923 Spider Lake Lodge, half an hour east of town, has seven rooms, and rates include breakfast. It's very popular; reserve at 800-653-9472.

Well located for Birkie skiers, Forest Moon B&B on County Road 00 has four rooms.

North of town in Seeley, the Lenroot Lodge has 10 attractive rooms and is next to Mooselips Java Joint, 715-634-7007.

Dining: The pleasant Angry Minnow on Florida Avenue serves its own beers as well as many sandwiches and such dishes as cedar plank mango salmon, grilled duck, pork tenderloin with black-bean salsa and rib-eye. 715-934-3055.

The Old Hayward Eatery & Brew Pub, east of town on Round Lake, serves steaks, pasta, pizza and ribs, 715-934-2337.

Backroads Coffee & Tea serves sandwiches, and Coop's Pizza is a longtime favorite.

In summer, Angler's Bar & Grill has a beer garden on Main Street downtown.

Shopping: In winter, most shops are closed Sunday. Book World, which has a very good selection of regional books, stays open, as does Outdoor Ventures, an excellent ski and outdoor apparel shop, and Antiques on 2nd, which has a very nice selection of north-woods pieces.

Sightseeing: The Moccasin Bar downtown is a hoot, and now that Wisconsin has a smoking ban, you can breathe there. See  Cal Johnson's record muskie — it's about the size of a skinny sixth-grader — and dozens of stuffed bear cubs, beavers and posed chipmunks playing poker, drinking beer and singing barbershop ditties in glass cases along the walls.

Mountain biking: The forests between Hayward and Cable may be the best place in the Upper Midwest to ride singletrack. For more about the CAMBA mountain-biking trails, see On a roll in Hayward and Cable.

Golfing: Hayward has a lot of great courses — Hayward Golf Club, Big Fish, Hayward National and Teal Wing. For details, see Swinging through northern Wisconsin: Hayward.

Nightlife: There's often live entertainment at the Pavilion, which has a tapas bar and monthly sushi nights; in summer, there's belly dancing.

Backroads Coffee & Tea sometimes has entertainment. In Seeley, Mooselips Java Joint sometimes has music, and Friday is martini night, 4-9 p.m., 715-634-5660.

Skiing: There are many kilometers of cross-country ski trails.

Sports rentals: New Moon, on U.S. 63 just north of town, rents and sells skis.

Information: Hayward Lakes tourism, 800-724-2992.

Last updated on December 26, 2013
sign up for our free newsletter

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Get our weekly stories, tips and updates delivered a day early — directly to your Inbox. Wondering what you'll get? Take a look at our newsletter archive.