Preserving the Magic of Boat Houses




It wasn't long ago in Wisconsin, about 15 years or so, you couldn't maintain your boat house to a level that would preserve it for decades. That's because the state Department of Natural Resources didn't want you to preserve it. They wanted it deteriorated, destroyed, and removed. That is because boat houses usually are built along the shoreline, and some are actually built over the water.


In Norway they are called naust and are often built out of stone and timber. In Northern Wisconsin you will see quite a few boat houses in this style of architecture because of the Scandinavian heritaBoat house ge there. In Philedelphia, Boathouse Row is on the National Register of Historic Places, and on the great and mighty Mississippi River, you can see boathouses scattering the shoreline, tracing back to the days of Mark Twain. Boathouses are an important part of American history and culture.


They serve a purpose and tell a story of days gone by and days to come. Nevertheless, these magnificent, historic structures were threatened by the laws of the land in Wisconsin, so to say. Instead of working to promote the maintenance of these gems, there were vast limitations on what the owner could do, including painting. Repairs and maintenance to the wet boat houses were limited to just 50 percent of the equalized value being repaired. A wet boat house is a boat storage structure that was built below the ordinary high water mark. No common sense laws were promoted and applied to these structures. Fortunately, times have changed, and so have the laws, thanks to legislators who do use some common sense and respect the significance of these structures. 


Today, these boat houses, and the ones built on the shore, can be maintained without limits if the house was built before 1980 and if the maintenance doesn't change the size, shape, or location. Also, the structure cannot be remodeled into living space. Not a perfect law by any stretch of the imagination, but a moral victory for lake home owners and people who care about and appreciate the history. If the boat house is destroyed by fire or weather, the owner can rebuild it. But, it must be the same size. One thing to always remember, though, county or municipal ordinances may impose greater restrictions than the state.


I swear, there's always a battle to be fought for your rights as a lake home owner. Be aware of what regulations are out there or being talked about at all levels of government.  And, when you see a boat house, stare deep into it's past and think about the forefathers who built it and what it stands for. The relics hopefully will be maintained and admired for years to come.