Lake Vermilion derived its name from the translation of "Onamuni", the Ojibway name, meaning the "Lake of the Sunset Glows", which the French translated to "Vermilion" a Latin word for a color ranging from yellow to red. Fortunately for us, the sunsets are still beautiful.
Well known for great fishing and panoramic views, Vermilion is a lake also rich in history. In fact Lake Vermilion has had more to do with the development of our north woods area than any other factor.
In the mid-1600s, even before the original colonies were fully settled, French explorers and fur traders became the first Europeans to view the shores of Vermilion. They quickly built a friendly and lucrative trading relationship with the Sioux Indians and several decades later, with the Chippewa who still reside in the area today. This fur trade flourished and led to the French establishing the first port on Lake Vermilion in 1670.
Vermilion was an important link in the chain of rivers and lakes that connected Lake Superior to Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods and Hudson Bay. So important was the Duluth-Rainy Lake travel route, it was used as the definition of the international border under the Treaty of Paris in 1763 in which France ceded Canada to Great Britain. The northeast shore of Vermilion, and the area that is now Tower, were considered part of Canada, while the southwest shore, and what is now the Cook area, were considered part of the American territory. With this, the British made economic claim to all of Lake Vermilion and built their own trading posts on the lake. All furs from the region were sent north to the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. In 1842, American officials convinced Great Britain that the Grand Portage travel route located to the north was the proper border described by the Treaty of Paris and thus both Lake Vermilion and the Arrowhead region were brought into the United States.
In 1865, deposits of gold along Vermilion were reported by a geological survey team and a gold rush was on. An expedition was sent to cut and clear a crude road from Duluth to the gold fields along a centuries-old travel route used by the Native Americans. The road they built became known as the Vermilion Trail and is roughly followed by County Road 4 and State Hwy. 135. Mining began in 1866, but after several years of effort, no appreciable amount of gold was found. What was found however, were rich veins of iron ore and by 1882, the town site of Tower was laid out in anticipation of the iron mining industry.
Lumber camps, homesteads and businesses developed quickly across the lake. To maintain water levels, Tower logging interests erected a dam in 1890 at the head of the Vermilion River. The site was also the location of a lumber camp and sawmill. In 1907, the camp was converted to a moose hunting camp named Hunters Lodge, making it one of the first resorts on the lake. The lodge site is still used today as a resort and is now called Vermilion Dam Lodge. Other early destinations included Fabian's Resort on Birch Point, Peterson's Landing on Wak-em-up Bay, Goodwill's Landing on Frazer Bay and Fernlund's Landing which is now the site of the Landing Supper Club.
Maintaining the growth of the mining industry demanded food and lumber. The lumber producing town of Ashawa began to develop near the west end of Vermilion in 1902. The town was renamed Cook (after a local lumberman) because Ashawa was similar to the name of another town in Minnesota. Today, Cook remains closely tied to the same forest products industry that helped shape the town one hundred years ago.