Arbor Vitae, WI

As one of the older towns in Vilas County, Arbor Vitae was established in the 1890s, shortly after Vilas became a county in 1893.

Today Arbor Vitae is the center of a flourishing tourist industry and is home to a wide variety of accommodations – resorts, cottages, private homes, hotel/motels, bed and breakfasts and campgrounds.

lakeArea attractions include wildlife parks, live theater, antique shops and events. Unique shopping, many fine area restaurants, golf courses and endless outdoor recreational opportunities also offer four-season fun in the Northwoods.

Abandoned railroad right-of-ways and many logging roads provide an extensive trail system now used for recreational purposes such as snowmobiling in the winter and hiking and biking during the spring, summer and fall.

Vilas County Sheriff's Department
330 Court Street
Eagle River, WI 54521
(715) 479-4441
(800) 472-7290

Town of Arbor Vitae
10675 Big Arbor Vitae Drive
Arbor Vitae, WI 54568
(715) 356-3120

Population and Geography

Lake at sunriseArbor Vitae has approximately 3,153 year-round residents, which jumps to many more during the summer months. Consisting of approximately 61.5 square miles, Arbor Vitae is part of the Lakeland area, which is considered to have one of the largest concentrations of fresh water bodies in the world.

Approximately 82 percent of Arbor Vitae is owned by federal, state and county interests and is not available for private sale, ensuring an enviable recreational environment for all future generations. The natural resources of the area are managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for the benefit of public and private enterprise.


fishingArbor Vitae town board meetings are held every first and third Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the community room of the town hall. The Town of Arbor Vitae is governed by a town chairman and a four-person board of supervisors.

The Arbor Vitae Town Hall is located at 10675 Big Arbor Vitae Drive in Arbor Vitae. The town hall houses the town offices and meeting rooms. The fire department is located across the street at 10672 Big Arbor Vitae Drive. Arbor Vitae is serviced by the Vilas County Sheriff’s Department.

The History of Arbor Vitae - Woodruff

sunsetThe towns of Arbor Vitae and Woodruff are considered the “Crossroads of the North,” where Highways 51, 47 and 70 join.

Both towns boast a rich logging history. Primitive, roughly constructed dams were built in the mid 1800s to back up water levels on area chains of lakes to form waterways for the conveyance of timber.

The lumberjack era provided colorful history! Late fall brought the “jacks” to the lumber camps ready for hard work and the constant companionship of fellow lumberjacks. During the fall and cold winter, the jacks had little or no other social interaction.

The lumberjack’s day began at daybreak when he heard the call “daylight in the swamp,” and knew it was time to rise. The gabriel (dinner horn) blared at 6 a.m. announcing breakfast. The jacks raced to the cook shack where they took the same place at the same table every day. As it was considered a waste of time to talk during meals, every meal was quietly devoured. Chewing food was also discouraged, another time consuming activity, so lumberjacks learned to bolt their food rather than chew it.

fall leavesThe lumberjacks put in thirteen hour days and earned from $18 to $30 per month. During spring when the rivers thawed and the logs were harvested, the lumberjacks left the camps and headed for town. These were truly “party animals.” Singing and dancing were other well-loved pastimes of the men, and little could stop them from pursuing their fun. When the bar halls lacked enough women for partners, the lumberjacks simply danced with each other.

In 1953, sixteen children in a mathematics class were responsible for the monumental biggest penny in the world. This replica of a 1953 Lincoln penny (made of concrete) is ten feet in diameter, eighteen inches thick and weighs in at 17,452 pounds. It stands on the grounds of the former Arbor Vitae-Woodruff School and symbolizes one million, seven hundred thousand pennies.

Seventeen thousand dollars wasn’t kids stuff in 1953. That is the net contribution collected by the first Million Penny Parade for the building fund of the Lakeland Memorial Hospital. The hospital, located in Woodruff, near the junction with Hwys. 47 and 51, was named “Doctor Kate’s Hospital.”

Dr. Kate Newcomb was available summer or winter, sunshine or storm, by auto or on snowshoes. Dr. Kate served everyone, alike. Her pay might have been a check from a city bank or a beaded buckskin garment, a load of cord wood or a sack of potatoes. As more and more people frequented the Northwoods, Dr. Kate’s expanding practice demanded more and more use of hospital care. It was this need that demanded the new hospital.