Rhinelander was born in the boom days of logging. Settled in 1880, it was first called Pelican Rapids. It was granted a charter two years later and named after F.W. Rhinelander of New York. Rhinelander was president of the Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western Railroad. Grateful residents renamed their community in his honor after the railroad agreed to come to town.
The Rhinelander Area is famous for its connection with the logging industry and the lumber boom of the 19th century. Located in the belt of 700 million feet of pine and 300 million feet of hemlock and other timber, Rhinelander was one of the most important logging centers in the Northwoods. The community has evolved to embrace a number of thriving business sectors, including medical, paper-making, packaging, defense contractors and national research facilities.
Currently, Rhinelander is home to approximately 8,000 residents. The community possesses a strong commercial and industrial base and serves as the economic hub for northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, servicing a regional population of approximately 200,000. During the peak summer vacation months that regional population increases to nearly 750,000.
About the Rhinelander Area
The Rhinelander Area is in the “Heart of Hodag Country,” a landscape rich in forests, lakes and trails. The Hodag is a legendary woodland creature. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the Hodag as you hike, bike, fish, paddle, shop, dine and relax in the Rhinelander Area.
The Rhinelander Area is a year-round outdoor playground with 232 lakes within 15 minutes of Downtown Rhinelander so you are sure to enjoy the perfect balance between nature and creature comforts. Rhinelander Area residents enjoy solitude, spectacular fall colors, exceptional winter trails and lush summers.
Rhinelander Area lakes offer some of Wisconsin’s best fishing. You’ll find lakes right in the heart of Rhinelander, such as Boom Lake, a large flowage on the Wisconsin River. There are hundreds more lakes within a short drive, including the popular Lake George, Lake Thompson, Lake Julia and the Moen Lake Chain.
Mountain bikers and road cyclists alike will enjoy bicycling in and around the Rhinelander Area. The quiet roadways that stretch out from Rhinelander are great for touring cyclists looking to enjoy the beauty of the Northwoods.
What is a Hodag?
Some say the Hodag is the fiercest, strangest, most terrifying monster ever to set razor-sharp claws on this Earth. Others describe the Hodag as a reclusive woodland creature, misunderstood by many and only wanting to be left alone in the woodland paradise that is the Rhinelander Area. No one really knows for certain, but for the people of Hodag Country, he’s as real as the towering pines and the crystal clear lakes that encompass the area.
History of the Hodag
While it’s hard to put a finger on the exact nature of the actual Hodag, we do have a very accurate history of the legends surrounding the fabled beast. In 1896, Rhinelander pioneer and timber cruiser Eugene “Gene” Shepard claimed to have snapped a picture of a ferocious monster just before the beast sprang on him from a white pine log. The camera caught the most horrible sight: a hairy animal seven feet long and thirty inches tall, with white horns, menacing tusks, vise-like jaws and sharp claws.
Not surprisingly, Shepard later admitted that the Hodag was something of a hoax, and that the beast in the photograph was really just made of wood and ox hides, bull horns and steel. But for Rhinelander residents, the Hodag is no hoax.
The Hodag has become a local legend and the symbol of the City. Parks, plaques, schools and businesses bear the Hodag name and image. And rumors of Hodag pranks, sightings and other close encounters circulate to this day. When something out of the ordinary occurs in Hodag Country, you’ll hear people say, “I think it was a Hodag.”
A larger-than-life representation of the fierce beast can be found outside the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce office at 450 W. Kemp Street.
Painted Hodag Statues
Hodags come in many sizes and they like to try to camouflage themselves by wearing various disguises. Thanks to Downtown Rhinelander Inc.’s Hodags on Parade initiative there are many hand painted statues located at different businesses and locations around Rhinelander.
If you would like to go Hodag hunting – check out the list of known statue locations.