I ran a similar article several years ago and a gentleman asked me to do it again. It is a good way to help new people to the area understand the geography of our county and lakes.
Connie and I have been researching bridges in the Iowa Great Lakes. Bridges are something we all take for granted but without them, many areas and places here in the lakes would be impossible to reach and without the Okoboji Bridge our county would be cut in half. Travel from north to south would be impossible.
The United States consists of 50 states. Each state is then divided into counties except Louisiana, which has parishes (64). The counties are then subdivided into townships. In most cases, the township is 36 square miles or 6-by-6 miles.
Several of the counties in Iowa are irregular due to being bordered on either the Mississippi River or the Missouri River and Kossuth County is like two counties such as Clay and Dickinson together. Several counties on the northern tier of Iowa are short townships. The plan laid out had each county with 16 townships but several, including Dickinson County, have only 12 townships. Not only are we short townships but the northern tier of townships in Dickinson County are not 6-by-6 sections but only 5-by-6 mile sections. For many years Dickinson County was penalized for not having farmland, as that was the tax base. The area had lakes or bodies of water in its place.
I recall several years ago a friend of mine was disgusted with Dickinson County having all these lakes when we could have had just land for farming. Probably true, but today our tax base far exceeds many counties that do have farmland and not water. Needless to say, the two school districts that benefit most are the Spirit Lake and Okoboji schools.
Unfortunately, a lot of the taxes we collect go to the state. It doesn't stay locally. If we could keep it all, I'll bet we would have a better Highway 71 through Okoboji and Arnolds Park. Every time I drive those heavy traffic roads, it is a pain. This summer the vehicles using Highway 71 through the lakes have been exceedingly heavy. If you don’t believe me, try entering the highway from the Dam Road on a weekend.
The vehicles are backed up clear south of Oak Hill Marina or back to the Okoboji Summer Theatre on the north end. The Lakes attract many people and thank heavens we at least expanded Highway 71 to three lanes through Arnolds Park. I am surprised there isn't more residential settlement on some of the lesser-known lakes in Dickinson County.
A sharp-eyed crook put the above information to work and sold some imaginary homesteads to early pioneers. He extended Dickinson County northern townships another row of sections and sold them to unsuspecting pioneers. When they got to their "homesteads" they found they were in Minnesota and not in Iowa. We have all kind of scams today but history informs us they have been around a long time. P.T. Barnum had said, "There is a sucker born every minute." Has your identity been stolen?
R.A. Smith in "History of Dickinson County" gives us great insight into the beginnings of our county. Smith informs us that among the first acts of the settlers was naming the different lakes or to familiarize themselves with the existing name.
"Spirit Lake had been known by the Indians as Minnie Waukon and by the French as Lac d'Esprit. Sometimes attempting to apply English orthography to French words could be amusing. The French wrote that the Ceuoux River passed through Lake Despree. If this had not been corrected Spirit Lake would have gone on to the maps as Lake Depree. Some of the early pioneers attempted to call it Green Lake but were not successful. East Okoboji was called by the Dacotahs 'Okoboozhy’ and West Okoboji 'Minnetonka' signifying Big Water but it was recognized there was a lake in Minnesota by that name so it was called West Okoboji. One pioneer wanted to call it Lake Harriott in honor of Doctor Harriott and East Okoboji Rice Lake in honor of Senator Henry M. Rice, then-senator from Minnesota, but early settlers finally settled on the names West and East Okoboji," Smith wrote.
The translation of Okoboji is "reed or rushes." East Okoboji was named first and then West Okoboji followed and we all have fun with people when we tell them we are from Okoboji. It is a tongue twister but fun like the University of Okoboji. Unique at best!
Mr. Smith informs us of other lakes and names. Center Lake was called by the first settlers Snyder's Lake after Bert Snyder who had a claim on the east shore; but it was dropped and became Center Lake. Gar Lake was at first designated as Carl Lake in honor of Carl Granger. The outlet was known by the name of Gar Outlet so it became the name of Upper, Middle and Lower Gar. Middle Gar was renamed Minnie Washta in Dacotah; the synonym for good or nice.
It sure would have fun and interesting to be on the committee to name the townships in Dickinson County. They are Silver Lake, Richland, Okoboji, Milford, Diamond Lake, Excelsior, Lakeville, Lloyd, Westport, Superior, Spirit Lake, and Center Grove. The lakes encompass some of the townships. Thirty-four percent of Spirit Lake Township is water, 13.42% of Lakeville is water and Center Grove Township is 13.19% water. Lloyd and Westport are zero to .03%.
It is a big surprise to tourists to learn that Dickinson County has over 20 lakes.
Our Minnesota friends say we are only an extension of their 10,000 lakes, which we are if you know anything about the early glaciers. They soon learn about West and East Okoboji and Spirit Lake but that is only the beginning. The names of the lakes in Dickinson County are: Spirit Lake, West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Minnewashta, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, Center Lake, Sunken Lake, East Hottes Lake, Little Spirit Lake, Marble Lake, Diamond Lake, Silver Lake, Stony Lake, Sylvan Lake, Pratt Lake, Pillsbury Lake, Swan Lake, Welch Lake, Prairie Lake, Pleasant Lake, Lilly Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Grover’s Lake and Mill Lake. And you thought West, East Okoboji and Spirit Lake was all there was? Many of the smaller lakes in Dickinson County are jewels yet to be cleaned up and brought to their brilliance. How many of those lakes do you know about? Make it a team effort and go visit some of them.