“An Accidental Jewel” by Michael Hittle takes a historical look at the creation and evolution of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. The peaceful, quiet waters of this Northwoods jewel were once embroiled in controversy as the area struggled to become a state and to regulate its waterways. While many visitors to the area may believe the flowage to be as old as time itself, that is not the case, as with most flowages in the area. 

Logging played a vital role in the creation of the state of Wisconsin and was a large impetus behind settlers coming here to work and live. Indeed, it was a large part of the economy as large tracts of forested land was cleared and sent down rivers and streams to mills to be used to lumber and other wood products.

The book chronicles the formation of the flowage and details a history many may not expect. It is a sharp look at the life and times of those involved in the creation of the flowage, to be sure. The reader is jettisoned back in time to long before highways crossed the land and towns and cities sprawled across the Northwoods. 

The book also dedicates a section to the resort era as it came from meager beginnings on and around the flowage to a bustling industry as more and more anglers began to come to the area. From early beginnings and questionable travel opportunities to the heyday of the World War II era and the 1950s, the book shows a vivid picture of the rise of resorts in the area, and most specifically on the Turtle-Flambeau itself. 

The flowage’s history did not stay rosy and bright, of course, as conflicts emerged here, and in other places in the state, with Native American treaty rights at issue in the courts and across the landscape. The issues of the time are treated factually and succinctly in the book as well.

From there the book turns to issues of a master plan for the reservoir and how it would be managed going forward. Included in the remainder of the book is a chapter entitled, “From Storage Reservoir to ‘Crown Jewel’.” This chapter enlightens readers on the state’s acquisition of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage and how all of the pieces, political and otherwise, of the puzzle fell into place to make the acquisition a reality.

Hittle’s book take the reader from Ice Age to present-day and through all of the trials, tribulations and victories of this pristine flowage. Hittle grew up in Indianapolis, Ind., with a love of fishing. That love found him on small Hoosier streams and Wisconsin lakes as well as from High Arctic waters to Bahamian saltwater flats. In 1972, he and his wife, Marcia, purchased property on the Turtle-Flambeau, camping there for many years before building the shell of a cabin he and his family would finish decades later. He dedicated his work life to history, joining the faculty of Lawrence University in 1966, serving as Dean of Faculty from 1980-1988. 

His principal interest was the history of Russia, but when an opportunity came along to research the history of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, spurred on by his peers, he took to the task with fervor. Since retirement, Hittle has become an increasingly active sportsman and conservationist, and the project was a perfect fit. He served on the board of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage and Trude Lake Property Owners’ Association and was a member of the editorial board of Driftwood, the association’s newsletter. His passion for the flowage and its deep history is evident throughout the book and is sure to be eye-opening to many who have come to know and love the flowage as it is today.