Community Profile: Northwestern Wisconsin

By Stephen Manuszak

Several communities in Northwestern Wisconsin have banded together to host the 2013–2015 season of Arts Midwest World Fest, including Rice Lake, Cumberland, Shell Lake, and Barron. These cities feature an array of unique arts and cultural activities as well as a scenic environment and burgeoning industries.

With approximately 8,400 residents, the city of Rice Lake is the largest community in Barron County and serves as a center for commerce, manufacturing, health, and educational services. Located in the beautiful Red Cedar River valley, Rice Lake boasts an abundance of lakes and trails. The city arose as a lumber town in the late 1800s and later developed significant agricultural and dairy industries, as well as tourism. The local newspaper, The Chronotype, has been in publication since 1874, and many of the early articles are available through the Rice Lake Public Libary.

Cumberland was incorporated in 1885 and today has a population of more than 2,100. Cumberland is often called the “Island City” because the main part of the city is surrounded by Beaver Dam Lake. As with Rice Lake, early industry involved lumber and sawmills, and the city expanded quickly after a railroad expansion through the area began operations in the 1880s. Today, the area hosts a variety of businesses including 3M, which has been operating in Cumberland since 1950. The area is also renowned for excellent fishing lakes and local public forests that support grouse, turkey, and deer hunting.

The city of Shell Lake is a friendly, rural community of about 1,300 residents. In addition to its beautiful, clear lake, the city is home to a unique Museum of Woodcarving and the Shell Lake Arts Center, which has provided creative arts education since 1968 ranging from jazz bands, painting and drawing, filmmaking, and beyond. The area also hosts a community theater program, Theater in the Woods, which produces everything from lively comedies to serious dramas to musicals.

Officially established in 1860, Barron is set amid hundreds of lakes and lush forests. Its lumber industry grew quickly, and by the late 1800s, Barron also featured flour mills, woolen mills, and several saw and stave mills that continued to expand with the city’s connection by rail to St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Agriculture and dairy industries followed soon after, and Barron’s largest industry today, Jennie-O Turkey Store, was founded in 1922 when 13-year-old Wallace Jerome placed 14 turkey eggs under two of his parent’s chicken hens. In addition to a variety of outdoor activities, the city is also home to the Barron Spotlighters Community Theatre and the Barron Community Center, which features sports activities as well as a vibrant theater and arts series.

Fun Fact

Uecke’s Opera House was built in 1903 in Cumberland, Wisconsin, and it still stands today—as an apartment complex. In 1905, a $10,000 donation to Cumberland from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie established a library, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 and continues to operate today.

Community Partner

University of Wisconsin-Barron County

The University of Wisconsin-Barron County (UW-BC) is one of 13 freshman/sophomore campuses of the University of Wisconsin Colleges. UW-BC awards an Associate of Arts & Science degree with 23 areas of emphasis available as well as a Bachelor of Applied Arts & Sciences degree. The University of Wisconsin Colleges provide a quality, affordable liberal arts education that prepares students for success, and promotes lifelong learning, leadership, and responsible citizenship.

UW Barron County. Photo by Ray Cross, CC-BY-NC 2.0.

Residency Dates

October 20 – 26, 2013: Le Vent du Nord
February 23 – March 01, 2014: Baladino
October 26 – November 01, 2014: Paulo Padilha and Group
Spring 2015: Shanren


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