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Manitowish Waters Historic Pub Crawl
Item 5 of 10
This is a contributing entry for Manitowish Waters Historic Pub Crawl and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

In 1931, local inventor Harry Barr created a new kind of fish "ladder" to help preserve Northwoods' fisheries. Barr called his device the Barr Fish Lock, or Fishway. Barr received permission from the Public Service Commission to install one of his inventions directly below the Rest Lake Dam. The next spring fish were lifted from the fast waters on Vance Lake below the dam, through the fishway, and into Rest Lake. In 1931-1932, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission did daily counts of spring fish that moved through the fish lock. Soon after, the data was tabulated. The Wisconsin Conservation Commission declared Barr's invention a success, and the Barr Lock operated into the late 1940s before closing.

Rest Lake Dam and Barr Fish Lock or Fishway on right

Sky, Plant, Wood, Bridge

Counting fish to determine Barr Fish Lock effectiveness above Rest Lake Dam

Water, Water resources, Vehicle, Lake

Barr Fish Lock or Fishway viewed from below Rest Lake Dam

Vehicle, Rectangle, Naval architecture, House

View of Barr Fishway or Fish Lock and Hatchery vied from top of Rest Lake Dam

Water, Sky, Window, Building

Barr Fish Lock or Fishway filling with water to lift fish into the passage to Rest Lake

Art, Rectangle, Tree, Trunk

Water pressure timing device that operated the gate that opened and closed the Vance Lake entrance to the lock

Art, Motor vehicle, Machine, Stock photography

Inventor Harry Barr, from Ironwood, Michigan, developed Wisconsin's first working fish lock, or fishway, to move spawning fish past dams further upstream. The Rest Lake Dam in Manitowish Waters proved to be the perfect location for Barr to test his new invention. Local residents were skeptical of Barr's invention but were quickly impressed on how well the fish lock attracted fish and transported them up stream. In fact, the Barr Fish Lock was so effective that the entire system had to be secured to stop illegal gathering of fish. Chain link and barbed wire fencing were added to protect the fish from poachers.

Barr created timing devices that operated by water pressure to open and close the lock's gates, causing the fish to follow the current into the lock. When the downstream entrance door shut, a column of cement blocks filled with several feet of lake water, connecting to a spillway that led to Rest Lake. The process seemed to work reasonably well, and the Barr Fish Lock was placed at other Wisconsin dams.

Data from the Wisconsin Conservation Commission fishery research was gathered by putting a fyke net in the fish lock outlet into Rest Lake. Fyke nets have large hoops that catch fish without harming them, a bit like a huge minnow trap. Each day, fishery employees and locals safely counted fish in the net by species. Interestingly, data revealed the fish most frequently transported from Vance Lake into Rest Lake via Barr's invention were rough fish (carp and red horse suckers).

The concentration of fishery projects below Rest Lake Dam illustrates how very serious Manitowish Waters was committed to promoting excellent fishing. Benefactors have recently donated a Barr Fish Lock to the Manitowish Waters Historical Society. Looking forward, presentations or displays from local fisheries will have access to this massive artifact from the community's past.

Be sure to stop at the Pea Patch Saloon, grab a drink, and checkout the Rest Lake Dam where the Bar Fish Lock operated. The lock was located on the right side of the dam.

Barr, Harry. “The Barr Fishway” Manitowish Waters Historical Society PastPerfect Online. Manitowish Waters Historical Society . Accessed June 2, 2022. 

Opinions and Decisions of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, Volume 1, June 1931 to March 1932.Google Books. Page 742.

Biennial Report of the State Conservation Commission of Wisconsin. Manitowish Waters Historical Society PastPerfect Online. Manitowish Waters Historical Society . Accessed June 2, 2022. Pages, 33, 78,146,147.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

MWHS archives

MWHS archives

MWHS archives

MWHS archives

MWHS archives

MWHS archives