Ashland Harbor is the seat of Ashland County in far-north Wisconsin. Located on Chequamegon Bay off Lake Superior, Ashland Harbor is about 126 nautical miles (96 kilometers or 60 miles) southeast of the Port of Duluth. Ashland Harbor is also about 145 nautical miles (237 kilometers or 148 miles) southwest of the Port of Thunder Bay across Lake Superior. The 2010 US Census reported a population of 8216 in Ashland Harbor.
Due to the cold water of Chequamegon Bay, near perfectly preserved and highly valuable sunken logs have been recovered in Ashland Harbor. The logs are the remains of wood that was logged from the old-growth forests in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Wood products and paper-making machinery are major manufactured products coming from Ashland Harbor. The largest manufacturers in Ashland Harbor are equipment maker Bretting Manufacturing and Larson-Juhl, a Berskhire Hathaway subsidiary that produces picture frames. Outdoor-lovers come to Ashland Harbor to visit Chequamegon National Forest, Copper Falls State Park, and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Just to the east of Ashland Harbor is an Ojibwa reservation that operates a casino.
Eight indigenous tribes occupied the Ashland Harbor and Chequamegon Bay area before Europeans arrived. When the New World was discovered, the Ojibwe people inhabited Ashland Harbor. They continued to live there at Chequamegon Point for one hundred years and left to settle Madeline Island and later the Sault region.
The Ojibwe (also called Chippewa) Nation is one of the biggest groups in North America. An Anishinaabe-speaking people, over 56 thousand Ojibwe live in the United State today. Coming to the Wisconsin area from the east coast, the Ojibwe were skilled traders that had canoe routes to the west coast. Their first European contacts were with traders from France that provided guns with which they fought their Fox and Lakota enemies. At the end of the 18th Century, the Ojibwe controlled northern Wisconsin and most of today's Minnesota and Michigan.
The Objiwe fought with the French during the French and Indian War. After that, they sided with the British during the War of 1812 in hopes of stopping the flood of settlers coming to their homelands. They fought many battles with the United States trying to prevent being moved west of the Mississippi River. Eventually, many Ojibwe were allowed to return to reservations located in their homelands.
Ashland Harbor has flown four flags over its history: Spanish, French, English, and United States. Part of the old Northwest Territory, Ashland Harbor became part of four US territories: Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and, finally, Wisconsin.
In 1854, Asaph Whittlesey and George Kilborn arrived in the Ashland Harbor area. Whittlesey built a cabin there, and more settlers soon followed. The Whittlesey cabin was the site of early community dances, church meetings, and the first post office.
In 1870, the first brownstone was quarried and shipped from Ashland Harbor. The first sawmill began operating in 1872. In 1877, the Wisconsin Central Railroad connected Ashland Harbor to the City of Chicago. The City of Ashland was officially incorporated in 1887. Northern Wisconsin Academy, which is now Northland College, opened in Ashland Harbor in 1892. Ashland Harbor's much-used ore dock was scheduled for demolition in 2009 over the protests of community members who wanted to save the historic structure.
For many years, the Wisconsin Central Railway's ore dock dominated Ashland Harbor. The dock was built in 1916 to carry iron ore mined in the region to freighters bound for the United States' Rust Belt. In 1965, the dock was last used for shipping ore. Recognized in 2007 as one of the State's ten most endangered historic buildings, the dock and trestle deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and environmental degradation. In 2009, the Ashland Harbor Planning Commission approved the demolition of the site by Canadian National.