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Vilas County, Wisconsin facts for kids

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Vilas County
Vilas County Courthouse
Vilas County Courthouse
Map of Wisconsin highlighting Vilas County
Location within the U.S. state of Wisconsin
Map of the United States highlighting Wisconsin
Wisconsin's location within the U.S.
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Country  United States
State  Wisconsin
Founded April 12, 1893
Named for William Freeman Vilas
Seat Eagle River
Largest city Eagle River
 • Total 1,018 sq mi (2,640 km2)
 • Land 857 sq mi (2,220 km2)
 • Water 161 sq mi (420 km2)  16%%
 • Total 21,430
 • Estimate 
 • Density 21.051/sq mi (8.128/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
Congressional district 7th

Vilas County is a county in the state of Wisconsin, United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 21,430. Its county seat is Eagle River.



The earliest inhabitants of Vilas County were members of the Chippewa band of Native Americans; the first recorded white settler was a man named Ashman who established a trading post in Lac du Flambeau in 1818.

In the 1850s migrants from New England, primarily from Vermont and Connecticut, constructed wagon roads and trails through Vilas County including the Ontonogan Mail Trail and a military road from Fort Howard to Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor, Michigan.

Vilas County was set off from Oneida County on April 12, 1893 and named for William Freeman Vilas. Originally from Vermont, Vilas represented Wisconsin in the United States Senate from 1891 to 1897.

Logging era

Logging began in the late 1850s. Loggers came from Cortland County, New York, Carroll County, New Hampshire, Orange County, Vermont and Down East Maine in what is now Washington County, Maine and Hancock County, Maine. Many dams were built throughout the county to assist loggers as they sent their timber downstream to the lumber and paper mills in the Wisconsin River valley. After the county was founded in 1893 and logging ceased to be the primary industry in the area, migrants seeking other forms of employment settled in the county. These later immigrants primarily came from Germany, Ireland and Poland though some came from other parts of the United States.


Vilas County Wisconsin Sign North US 45
Sign for Vilas County on U.S. Route 45

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,018 square miles (2,640 km2), of which 857 square miles (2,220 km2) is land and 161 square miles (420 km2) (16%) is water. There are 1,318 lakes in the county. Much of Vilas County is covered by the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest as well as extensive county forest lands. Vilas County waters drain to Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and the Mississippi River. The Wisconsin, Flambeau, and Presque Isle Rivers all find their headwaters in Vilas County.

Adjacent counties

Major highways

  • US 45.svg U.S. Highway 45
  • US 51.svg U.S. Highway 51
  • WIS 17.svg Highway 17 (Wisconsin)
  • WIS 32.svg Highway 32 (Wisconsin)
  • WIS 47.svg Highway 47 (Wisconsin)
  • WIS 70.svg Highway 70 (Wisconsin)
  • WIS 155.svg Highway 155 (Wisconsin)


  • KARV - Lakeland Airport / Noble F. Lee Memorial Field
  • KEGV - Eagle River Union Airport
  • KLNL - Kings Land O' Lakes Airport
  • D25 - Manitowish Waters Airport

National protected areas

Although these two forests have been administratively combined into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, it is important to note that the county contains portions of both original forests.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1900 4,929
1910 6,019 22.1%
1920 5,649 −6.1%
1930 7,294 29.1%
1940 8,894 21.9%
1950 9,363 5.3%
1960 9,332 −0.3%
1970 10,958 17.4%
1980 16,535 50.9%
1990 17,707 7.1%
2000 21,033 18.8%
2010 21,430 1.9%
2020 (est.) 22,356 4.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010–2020
USA Vilas County, Wisconsin age pyramid
2000 Census Age Pyramid for Vilas County

As of the census of 2000, there were 21,033 people, 9,066 households, and 6,300 families residing in the county. The population density was 24 people per square mile (9/km2). There were 22,397 housing units at an average density of 26 per square mile (10/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 89.69% White, 0.20% Black or African American, 9.08% Native American, 0.18% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.19% from other races, and 0.65% from two or more races. 0.86% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 37.8% were of German, 7.9% Polish, 6.6% Irish and 5.3% English ancestry. 95.9% spoke English, 1.3% Spanish and 1.2% German as their first language.

There were 9,066 households, out of which 23.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.40% were married couples living together, 7.50% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.50% were non-families. 26.00% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.73.

In the county, the population was spread out, with 20.70% under the age of 18, 5.00% from 18 to 24, 23.10% from 25 to 44, 28.50% from 45 to 64, and 22.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 99.10 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.80 males.




Census-designated places

Other unincorporated communities


The economy in Vilas County is based on tourism centered on its high concentration of lakes and forests. Hunting and sport fishing are the backbones of the fall economy, and ice fishing and especially snowmobiling makes up the bulk of the economy in the wintertime. Logging, forestry, construction and government also account for important parts of the local economy.

Notable people

  • Herman Finger was the Treasurer of Vilas County in the 1890s while also co-owning and operating Gerry Lumber Company in the county
  • Screenwriter Winifred Dunn was born in Vilas County.

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