Pinehurst Maple Sugar Camp – The Sugar Bush

Harvey and David Nourse Sugar Bush Operation Cover Wisconsin Tails and Trails spring 1961

Harvey and David Nourse Sugar Bush Operation
Photo: Cover Wisconsin Tails and Trails spring 1961

The Sugar Bush

By Charles “Chick” Sheridan

Excerpt Wisconsin Tails and Trail – Spring of 1961

Three miles southwest, Township of Bayfield, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Superior is Pikes Bay. Four miles west of Pikes Bay on Section 28, near Salmo is the northern most Sugarbush in Wisconsin. 

This 80 acre tract of beautiful sugar maples is owned by the Nourse brothers -Harvey and David – of Salmo. They are the grandsons of Joseph Harvey and Isabel Rittenhouse Nourse who settled that Bayfield over 100 years ago. The brothers purchased the tract in 1927 from Henry Wachsmuth, a Bayfield lumberman who logged the hemlock off the area in 1922 and 1923.

Long before the arrival of white man the Ojibway Indians tapped the sap of the “sweet trees” at Pike’s Bay and concentrated it by boiling over the open campfires. Basically, the method hasn’t changed with the centuries, but modern scientific and mechanized equipment has increased the yield and the quality and lightened the workload.

The Nourse brothers tap 1000 trees, using 1900 pails. Most of the trees have two taps, but some are big enough for three. The Nourse’s tap 3 inches deep, rather than just inside the bark, and drain 25% more sap from the deeper channels.

Sap is gathered daily and 200-gallon collection tanks are pulled through the bush by a tractor. The collection tanks are emptied into three storage tanks of 1000 gallons capacity each. From the storage tanks, the sap feeds by gravity into the boiling shanty farther down the slope of the hill.

[“A more recent addition is where David’s wife of 30 years, keeps the coffee hot on an old Monarch wood range. It’s a cozy room furnished with a large picnic table and two huge chairs that David carved out of hemlock logs. Duluth News Tribune, Sunday, April 9, 1978. Reported by Don Albrecht]

The eight stainless steel compartments of the boiler are stoked by huge quantities of hard wood fuel, gathered in advance of the season. The syrup gets thicker and thicker as it progresses through the compartments but is no longer tested by taste and appearance. Today’s Sugarbush operators use a hygrometer. When the syrup in the eighth compartment test 32 on the Beaum scale, boiled down to 11 pounds to the gallon, it strained off and cooled for use, after it has been strained to remove the lime or nitre.  Some nitre accumulates on the bottom of the boiler, but cold sap puts it back into solution. That’s why the flow is reversed each state to keep the boiler clean.

The boiler handles about 125 gallons of sap per hour and sends most of it up in steam, producing only about 3 gallons of syrup. The average is 1 gallon of syrup for 45 gallons of sap, but this varies from 33 gallons at the beginning of the season when the sap is rich to 50 gallons toward the end, when the sap weakens.

In the North Country, the season usually runs from March 20 to about April 20. The Nourse’s produce about 300 gallons of syrup a year. All is marketed locally, most of it at the Harvey Nourse home on Wisconsin Highway 13. It sells for seven dollar per gallon or two dollars per quart.


“Outdoor enthusiasts would greatly enjoy a hike to the “Pinehurst Sugar Camp” which is located about 3 1/2 miles from Nourse’s Pinehurst farm. Because of the excellent flavor of Nourse’s syrup it ranks with that from eastern markets and always finds a ready market with local and tourist trade. After leaving the main highway you traverse a side road, which has been cut through thick forest and on either side are tall tree specimens rarely seen since completion of the lumbering era. Upon reaching the camp itself you note hundreds of pails attached to the tapped trees and discover that 850 trees yield about 1000 gallons of sap per day when the season is at its height”. Excerpt Visit to the Pinehurst Maple Sugar Camp, Bayfield County Press, May 3, 1934

Click or tap photos for full-size view.

Holly Nourse in the kitchen BHA 2010.06.30

Holly Nourse in the kitchen
BHA 2010.06.30

Harvey Nourse stoking the boiler fire BHA 2013.7.7

Harvey Nourse stoking the boiler fire.
BHA 2013.7.7

This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.