Ten thousand years ago, when the glaciers receded from northern Wisconsin, the surface of earth was left with kettle depressions and ridges. The rolling low-rounded hills displayed end and ground moraines with some pitted outwash and bedrock-controlled areas. The retreating glaciers gouged out clear lakes, and the melting ice formed fast-moving rivers. A thick mantle of sandy loam soil (Kennan soil) was deposited over a layer of existing bedrock. Somewhat poor in nutrients and prone to drought, this soil was the perfect environment for the growth of the mighty pine.
Many years later, prior to the great westward migration, the northern mesic forests covered a massive area. Richard Louis Griffin reminisced in 1930 about his first view of the forests of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota in 1890. Griffin spoke of what he saw from atop a hill and the impact that it had upon him: “One of the grandest sights I ever looked upon was in view, a veritable ocean of pine. One could see for miles and miles in nearly every direction over the tops of the tall waving forests of virgin pine and a variety of other trees. I will never forget that sight or the impression it left upon my mind as I stood there, gazing upon this wonderful forest. Inexhaustible, enough to last for ages as I thought at that time, yet within the course of a very few years, this great forest was laid bare.”
The Northern Forest contained large white pine, red pine, hemlock, and hardwoods in a high-density, closed forests. Malcolm Rosholt spoke in his 1982 book, Lumbermen on the Chippewa, of historic photos showing pine trees standing one up against the other, so thick that no daylight could penetrate between them.