Steve Briggs, from Eagan, Minnesota, is a postcard collector with a special interest in Clearwater Lake in Minnesota. He has generously contributed fifty cards to the “Shared Photos” section of this website. Most are associated with early resorts, and many are over 100 years old. Click here to view these postcards, or play the video slide show below.
In 1953, Steve’s maternal grandparents, Art & Maude Hoese, bought a cabin on Clearwater Lake. They, their children, and their families would meet at the lake each summer for almost twenty years. Steve and his three brothers “couldn’t have wanted a better vacation—pure fishing!” A log book was kept detailing their vacation adventures each year, until the last entry on July 21, 1972. It read: “Stopped in Annandale to close the sale of the cabin….Moved out our clothes, food, and other things that did not go with the cabin…it was a sad day….The last chapter—Dad.”
Most resorts on Clearwater Lake have vanished. Two of the brothers and their families have been taking annual fishing trips to Clearwater Lake for the past 6 years. They have rented from the Maple Hill Resort and from private cabin owners.
My thanks to Steve for sharing his collection for all of us to enjoy.
Split Rock Lighthouse, courtesy of Pixabay CC license
It is amazing how much of Minnesota’s resort country can be packed into four days of travel. My wife’s sister Ann, and her husband Ray, from Michigan, have been around the world twice on National Geographic Tours, but had never seen Duluth or the North Shore. My wife, Ida Mae, and I enjoy viewing the North Shore, so we designed a Mini-Minnesota Tour that included it and Northern Minnesota when they visited us over the Memorial Day weekend. (Ann had worked two summers at Pehrson’s Lodge on Lake Vermilion when she was a college student, so that was another priority on the list of places to visit.)
On Saturday, after a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis and a 100 mile drive, Ray and Ann joined us at Little Falls for the first leg of our journey. We drove to Duluth and Fitger’s Inn, overlooking Lake Superior, where we enjoyed a fine dinner and stayed the night.
Duluth skyline, courtesy of Randen Pederson CC license
The next day, we headed up the North Shore, stopping at Gooseberry Falls State Park, Lutsen Lodge, and Grand Marais. We ended our Sunday tour staying at Naniboujou Lodge, with beach walking, a dinner in front of their famous stone fireplace, and immaculate rooms with a beautiful view of Lake Superior.
The following morning (Memorial Day) we backtracked on Highway 61 to Highway 1 and traveled north to Ely and the historic Burntside Lodge. We congratulated the LaMontagne’s on their resort’s 75 years of family ownership (click here to read my previous blog on this Blue Ribbon Resort).
We then left for Pehrson’s Lodge on beautiful Lake Vermilion, near Cook. We walked a path along the shoreline, while Ann told us how she spent her summers working in the restaurant (which no longer operates).
After traveling southwest on Highways 53 and 169 through the Iron Range and rain, we arrived at Sugar Lake Lodge, near Grand Rapids. There, we enjoyed dinner and a good night’s sleep, followed by a great breakfast of waffles, strawberries, and whipped cream.
On Tuesday, our last day, we drove west and south on Highway 2 and 71 to Itasca State Park’s Douglas Lodge in time for the wild rice hot dish lunch. Of course, we visited the Source of the Mississippi, and traveled along the 1916 route of the Jefferson Highway through the park.
Myself, Ida Mae, Ann, and Ray at the Black and White Restaurant
On Wednesday we said our goodbyes, and Ray and Ann returned to Michigan.
We of course could not visit all of the great resorts we passed, nor could we stay overnight at all the ones we visited. However, we were impressed by the uniqueness of each one, especially where we had more time, such as our overnight stays at Fitger’s Inn, Naniboujou Lodge, and Sugar Lake Lodge.
Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel along Hwy 61, courtesy of Doug Kerr CC license
Our four day Mini-Minnesota Tour of about 800 miles was a rush, but such a pleasure that we plan to design another for next summer. We plan to add more classic Minnesota hotels, resorts, and parks to our list of favorites.
I had the recent pleasure of meeting two young travelers/filmmakers who are following the route of the old Jefferson Highway to promote its 100th anniversary. Many of you know of this highway— the first international highway— connecting Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans , Louisiana. (Click here to read my other Jefferson Highway blog entries.)
Josiah Laubenstein and Darrell Johnston, started their road trip to New Orleans at Winnipeg on May 7, 2016. Originally they had planned to drive a Model T Ford (photo below), but found that it would be impractical on today’s highways. Instead, they are driving a classic red and white 1954 Dodge Royal. By May 10 Josiah and Darrell had followed the “Pine to Palm” route to Itasca State Park at the Source of the Mississippi River. Connie Cox, Itasca Park’s lead naturalist, and I, along with Nicole Vik, of the Park Rapids Enterprise, met the travelers at the Brower Visitor Center in the park. There, Connie presented a compact history of the Jefferson Highway’s route inside Itasca Park and its role in early tourism. After stopping to see parts of the original 1916 roadbed, we ended the happy excursion in the rain on the slippery rocks at the Source of the Mississippi River.
The trip will take Josiah and Darrell to a new town each day, where they will have proclamations signed by mayors encouraging residents to become aware of the highway. One example would be to promote a “Drive the Jefferson Highway Day,” where residents could follow on, or near, the original Jefferson Highway roadbed between small towns.
On July 19, I will be presenting a program on the Jefferson Highway at the Brower Visitor Center as part of the 125 year birthday celebration of Itasca State Park. Maybe you might drive to the Center over the original Jefferson route! Driving from the south, it runs underneath most of the present roadway, from just inside the South Entrance to near the Douglas Lodge entrance below the Brower Visitor Center. From the north, much of the Jefferson roadway inside the park lies under the present route, after being rerouted to Bagley.
Follow Josiah and Darrell and their cameras online as they travel the old Jefferson Highway to New Orleans at www.highwaywalkers.com.
In 1916, at the dawn of the age of automobile tourism, the Jefferson Highway became the first transnational highway in the United States. It connected existing roads between Winnipeg, Manitoba and New Orleans, Louisiana, and was advertised as the “Pines to Palms” Highway. It entered the northwest corner of the state, angled southeast to Minneapolis-St. Paul, then went south, exiting near Albert Lea, Minnesota.
The highway’s opening was marked with a sociability tour that traveled from St. Joseph, Missouri to Winnipeg. Citizens from cities along the route welcomed the tour with celebrations and parades. When the enthusiasts reached the Minnesota border, many probably expected to see their first pine trees, since Minnesota had gained fame for early logging and pine lumber. However, they saw nothing but deciduous trees covering the rolling hills and farmland. It would be more than 200 miles of dusty or muddy roads before they likely saw even one pine tree.
So where did the pines begin on the Jefferson Highway? Would Winnipeg have pine trees?
Those familiar with Minnesota’s geography knew that the pines were primarily in the northeastern part of the state. They probably knew that Winnipeg was part of the flat, treeless Red River Valley and had been labeled “The Gateway to the West” when the railroad first reached it. And of course, they knew “The West” meant the Great Plains, and in Canada, wheat fields stretching to the Rockies.
It wasn’t until the travelers were nearly 300 miles north of the Minnesota-Iowa border that they found an abundance of pine trees. This was at Menahga, Minnesota. While most of Minnesota’s original forest had already been sawed into lumber, the smaller, second growth pines were no doubt a welcomed sight, especially for those who had come all the way from New Orleans, including Louisiana’s Governor Ruffin G. Pleasant. In a welcoming speech he is credited with labeling Menahga “The Gateway to the Pines.”
Primeval Pine Grove Park in Little Falls, MN
While the caravan had found pine trees (and a lake) at Menahga, another question might be asked: Were these pines the first ones that the tour group saw along the Jefferson? The answer would be: “No.” We could find at least one city that might have competed as a “Gateway to the Pines.” That was Little Falls, about 80 miles south of Menahga. It was likely that the first significant stand of pines was a 57 acre tract of land called Primeval Pine Grove Park at the west edge of Little Falls. The grove of white pines was purchased in 1907 by local citizens to preserve a sample of the original trees that once covered the central and northeastern part of the state. It is one of the few stands of old growth white pine remaining in Minnesota.
Traveling north of Little Falls, the Jefferson Highway travelers would have noticed over the next 20 miles, pines in small groves near Darling, Randall, Cushing and Lincoln. However, the hilly terrain quickly receded into flat farmland. Had the highway used the original draft that followed the railroad to Thief River Falls, the caravan would have possibly not seen a large pine tree beyond Little Falls. Fortunately, a route was chosen that turned northward at Wadena.Twenty miles north of Wadena, second growth trees, most likely jack pines, would appear along the highway. After another 30 miles, the travelers’ eyes would widen, as they experienced the huge old growth red and white pines in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park. Traveling north beyond the park’s boundary, they would see second growth pine for another 50 miles until reaching Bemidji. Then, as they headed northwest to Winnipeg, the pines would gradually change to aspen, then disappear into flat prairies as they passed the remnant beaches of ancient glacial Lake Agassiz.
Today if you followed the original route of the 1916 Jefferson Highway in Minnesota, you wouldn’t have to travel 300 miles to see numerous pine trees. Because of private and public tree planting and windbreaks, pine trees can be found lining highways throughout Minnesota, often in areas where pines weren’t seen in 1916. For today’s tourist however, roadside planting portrays an illusion of a Minnesota covered with pine trees.
The above photo shows a slab from a white pine cut in 1975. Frank Mitchell and I use it to advertise Jefferson Highway presentations. The grove that contained this tree would have been visible to the 1916 sociability caravan as it exited Little Falls, MN (click to enlarge).
In my presentations on Minnesota’s early resorts and tourism, I have often included comments on the Jefferson Highway. However, with the 2015 centennial celebration of the highway’s conception, I have been presenting separate programs focusing primarily on the Jefferson. This led my friend Frank Mitchell and me to “Gully Day” in the small town of Gully, Minnesota, in northwest Minnesota.
Gully is typical of the small towns that benefited when the Jefferson Highway meandered from New Orleans through the midsection of the nation and across Minnesota to Winnipeg. This first transcontinental highway was locally funded, and connected 235 small communities and several large cities, opening new communications, trade, and business—much different than the Interstate Highway System that emerged 50 years later and avoided small towns.
Gully, on the beach of the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz, was surrounded by small farms rather than small lakes like the towns in north central and north east Minnesota. While it served as a stopping point for tourists venturing to or from Winnipeg, the highway was probably valued more as an improved route for moving farm related products and services.
While the population of Gully was only 66 people according to the last census, the town was full of activity on July 18th. About 85 attended our Jefferson Highway presentation, which was at the Lund-Trail Lutheran Church. The church shared its facilities as a community center during Gully Day, and the Lund Ladies Aid prepared delicious salads, barbecues, and desserts.
“Gully Day” tee-shirts celebrating the Jefferson Highway
Frank and I enjoyed the festivities of Gully Day, and especially visiting with those interested in the Jefferson Highway and early transportation around Gully. A colorful Gully tee-shirt publicizing the Jefferson Highway was presented to each of us, and we even received a new identity: “The Jefferson Highwaymen.”
Our thanks, especially to Carol Torgerson and others who organized and assisted in the events at “Gully Day.”
I recently received some old photographs of the Crooked Lake Fishing Camp, located in the boundary waters area near Ely, Minnesota. The camp was dependent primarily on float planes to transport tourists and supplies from Lake Shagawa, at Ely. In looking up information on the camp, I found that it was once the epicenter of a controversy that still reverberates through parts of northeast Minnesota. Thanks to Jeff Limp, from Frankfort, Illinois, for donating the 1940s photos. Jeff and his family vacation in the Ely area.
(click to enlarge)
In the early 1940s, before the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was created, Ely was considered the float plane capital of the nation.The area contained resorts, hunting and fishing camps, and private cabins. Motors were allowed, and there were three mechanized portages. Trucks with trailers were used to haul motorboats and canoes between lakes. Boats could be stored on wilderness lakes. Twenty resorts were supplied by pontoon planes operating on Basswood, Knife, La Croix, Saganaga, Seagull, and Crooked lakes.
Shagawa Lake and Ely (click to enlarge)
The Crooked Lake Fishing Camp was built in the 1940s by the Joe Perko family. It took only twenty minutes to reach the camp by float plane on a direct route from Shagawa Lake, near downtown Ely.
However, in 1948-49, the federal government passed laws to prevent airplanes from flying below four thousand feet above sea level over the wilderness areas. Since the Crooked Lake Fishing Camp was primarily reached by seaplanes, it was one of the first to be affected by the legislation. Several fly-in camp owners, including Joe Perko, resisted the federal government’s takeover of the privately held land, even though compensation was assured. With no air access to their resorts, they tried other ways, including roads and water, which were met with arrests and court action.
In the 1950s an ad for the camp stated (click on any image below to enlarge it):
“In remote wilderness … reached only by boat—a 3 to 4 hour trip through Lac La Croix—one of the most beautiful lakes in the Superior-Quetico Country…. a scenic boat trip unequalled in America…a main lodge with dining rooms and lounge, ten individual sleeping cabins, and rooms in the lodge.”
In 1958, the area, which had been referred to as the Roadless Primitive Area, was renamed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
It wasn’t until 1965 that a final land exchange with the federal government officially ended the Crooked Lake Fishing Camp. An account of the struggle to keep the camp open can be found in the Ely Echo Archives by clicking here.
In 1978, after many years of opposition by many local residents, the area was designated an official wilderness. Motorized travel and logging ended on wilderness lakes when the U.S. Congress passed the BWCA Wilderness Act. This Act restricted logging, mining, and most motorized access on a 120 mile long, one-million acre wilderness. The BWCA was renamed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Today, more than fifteen hundred miles of canoe routes and two thousand campsites exist in the BWCAW. It is managed by the Superior National Forest and is the largest wilderness preserve east of the Rocky Mountains.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains a seaplane base on Shagawa Lake at Ely. It has the only airplanes authorized to fly in the wilderness areas. Three de Havilland Beaver float planes are used for emergencies, surveys, stocking fish, tree planting, and small fire suppression. Information on this unique floatplane base can be found by clicking here.
To hear a personal account of the early Crooked Lake Fishing Camp, click here to watch and listen to the YouTube presentation by Helen (Perko) Koski, who grew up at her father’s fly-in camp.
I recently presented Jefferson Highway programs for the Wadena County Historical Society’s Spring Lecture Series and for the Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning in conjunction with the Clearwater County Historical Society. I was surprised at the number of people who lived along the old Jefferson route and wanted to know more about it. The Jefferson Highway was a series of connecting local roadways that zig-zagged on township roads or wound around hills and marshes from New Orleans to Winnipeg.
Ren showing an early photo of Itasca State Park’s Douglas Lodge to the seventy-five who attended the presentation at Gonvick. While the lodge was built in 1905, few tourists saw it until the Jefferson Highway arrived in 1916. (click to enlarge)
While only a few might be around who might remember the first cars on the roadway 100 years ago, there are many who can remember casual references to the name “Jefferson Highway.” And while we can find plat maps and tourist brochures showing stretches of it, those documents do not provide enough details to tell us where the route might have actually existed locally. Short cuts and improvements–with layers of gravel, cement, or tar–altered the route as the state and national highway numbering system came into existence. Only a visual appraisal of the landscape can give us clues to find the surviving evidence of the original roadway. Local residents are often best at figuring out this puzzle in each community. Individuals at both presentations could describe remnants of the route on or near their property.
Frank Mitchell talks to David Wilander about the Jefferson Highway route through Becida, Minnesota. The route was abandoned when U. S. 71 was designated in 1926. David holds one of ten wooden blue,black, and white Jefferson Highway signs that Frank made and distributed as door prizes. Frank has lived along the Jefferson Highway all of his life and shares a unique family history that astonishes those who are fortunate to speak with him about it. (click to enlarge)
My thanks go to Lina Belar of the Wadena County Historical Society, and Tamara Edevold of the Clearwater County Historical Society for the invitation to present the programs. I would also like to thank those who sponsored the programs, those who assisted, and to Frank Mitchell for his important part.
For more information on the Jefferson Highway, click on any of my three previous blog post links below:
“The unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard.” –Barbara Tuchman, American historian and author
As we grow older we discover that the past becomes more important to us. We search for memories in letters, photos and old friends.
Pam Cates, whose parents owned Limmer’s Resort in the 1960s and 70s (on Rush Lake, near Perham), is writing her family history–now, while names and places are still accessible. Limmer’s Resort was an important part of her early life. She and Laurie Limmer Torgerson have kindly shared with me some of the photos and stories of the resort’s history. The following email excerpts show how ideas evolve into reality and how gathering family history can become an inspiring and rewarding experience.
Gathering History on Limmer’s Resort: Email excerpts from Pam Cates
Postcard courtesy of Rick Wolfe (click to enlarge)
Enjoyed your postcard of Limmer’s Resort in the 50’s. My family owned that resort from 1963-72. I have a few old photos of it myself if you are interested. I could scan them in someday.I am writing my own family resort memoirs, which is what led me to your image of Limmer’s Resort.
I talked to my uncle, who told me that he went with my dad, mom and me to stay on Osakis in 1963. He said that they talked to a man at a gas station by the name of Bud Peacock who said he would rent them a private cabin. I also found a clipping that we stayed at Rainbow Resort another time.That is when my parents went up to Limmer’s and bought the resort.
I have boxes of letters that my mom and my grandma wrote to each other during the resort years and some stories my mom wrote of their time there, as well as my memories and those of my brothers and sister. The letters are very interesting and so nice to have a written account.I feel like I have to get this story out while I am in a unique position to do it.
I am about thirty pages into my book. It gets to be a consuming project! I am fortunate to have over 300 letters, stories mom wrote, and people still alive who were there and who I can interview. I still have to get in contact with a few people who stayed at our resort all summer. One man still goes up, it was his fiftieth year this last summer….I have to scan pictures, which is time consuming, so it might be a little bit….Of course, now once started, I am becoming a little obsessed with the process.
….I have received some old photos [below], probably 40’s, from my friend in MN [Laurie Limmer Torgerson] with notes on back from her dad, Herb Limmer. Herb is still living and sound of mind at 99 years. Herb’s dad built the resort, and he and his brother Roy also owned it together I think. By the time we moved there in 1963, Herb had Herb’s Camp next door, which is currently Four Seasons. Herb was a woodworker and built the furniture in the lodge. I have one of the cupboards from the lodge he built in my den, and I didn’t know until I got her letter that her dad had built it. These stories are so cool.
I am getting some of my photos printed from negs (don’t know where the prints are) and will send copies of those from 60’s which you might like to see. I need to ask permission before sending the Limmer ones. As you can imagine, I poured over the old ones looking for things that were the same and things that were different and found many of both.
As far as I know, Roy and Herb sold to Harold Carpenter… I believe Harold bought Pleasure Park Resort on Ottertail, and sold that to Cliff and Neola Schroeder.(?). Carpenters sold to Mark and Phyllis Bierman (60-64), and they sold to my parents Jack and Maisie Bierwirth (64-72). We sold to John and Jeanine Ferris….On a side note… After our neighboring resort, Herb’s Camp, sold and became Four Seasons, it was owned for a while by my brother’s current next neighbor here in Missouri Valley. She goes to my church. Small world!…. I also remember at the end of what is now called Rush Lake Trail that there was a Johnston’s Resort…
I talked to my friend Laurie Limmer Torgerson and she said ok to use the photos she sent, so I will scan and pass them on to you. She gave me more history, which I need to compile. Her grandfather bought Limmer’s in the 30’s and her dad says it already had a gas pump and a lodge with one or two cabins then. They built the rest. By then all but two cabins had bathrooms added on. No showers though.
(The following is a letter Pam received from Laurie Limmer Torgerson.)
I talked to Dad last week and got some more info. He thinks they bought the resort in the spring of 1936. The man they bought it from was Rudy Krone. There was a small store and one cabin. He thought number 1 was the cabin. 2/3 was the store. They built the living quarters in the back of the store. The lodge was NOT there. They built it. And there was the one gas pump. Grandpa, Roy–Dad’s brother, and Dad ran it and built it. Mom and Dad were married in 1939. Not sure when Roy and Betty got married. Mom and Dad went to Mich. where Dad found work. When WWII started Roy went into the Navy. So Grandpa ran the resort with the help of Hans and Mabel Hanubeth. Dad started building Herbs Camp little by little like they did Limmer’s Resort. He said Limmer’s Resort was sold in 1957 and he thinks that was to Harold Carpenter.The land and houses in between were never part of the resorts. Melvin McGown bought the old lodge…actually he thought it was given to him for the moving. He thinks it now belongs to someone else….but not real sure.
So that’s a little info ….thought you would enjoy.
~Take Care, Laurie.
The picture of the boats lines up pretty much with the 1940’s shot in which there was no development in the background.
(click on any photo below to enlarge)
Limmer’s south side of lodge, ca 1940s
Limmer’s cabin 9 & 10, ca 1940s
Limmer’s Cabin 4, ca 1940s
Limmer’s Cabin 4 and 5, ca 1940s
Limmer’s boats, ca 1940s
Limmer’s boats and eagle, ca 1940s
Some of these photos were taken when my parents went there in the fall of 1963 to look at purchasing the resort. The one of the lodge with lettering on the side was a few years later, probably 1966. The one with my dad (Jack Bierwirth) and the northern was 1969. It weighed 11 lbs. This should be it. I am so glad that you have taken on this project and are saving the history.
(click on any photo below to enlarge)
Limmer’s Resort, ca mid 1960s
Limmer’s lodge 1963
Limmer’s Lodge 3, ca 1960s
Limmer’s Lodge 2, ca 1960s
Limmer’s Lodge 1, ca 1960s
Limmer’s fisherman, ca 1960s
Limmer’s Bierwirth kids fireplace, ca 1968
Limmer juke box in lodge, ca 1960s
Jack and Maisie in lodge, ca 1960s
Dad and Northern, ca 1960s
Thanks to Pam and Laurie for hearing the sounds of history from the early days of Limmer’s Resort!
For information on Limmers Resort today, click here.
I recently had the pleasure of presenting a program in the Ruby Rupner Auditorium at the Hormel Nature Center at Austin, Minnesota. It was sponsored by the Austin Page Turners as part of a vacations theme for their 2015 citywide author series. This is the fifteenth year of the event.
Minnesota author Sarah Stonich was chosen for her book Vacationland. Her novel uses an aged Minnesota resort as part of the plot, and my presentation on the Early Resorts of Minnesota was to add background for her appearance. The daylong series of events set for March 23 concludes with an evening presentation for the public at the Austin Public Library. My thanks go to the Page Turners and especially to Courtney Wyant for the invitation to be part of the annual event.
It’s January; the calendar has a new year, and my birthdate is printed on the front page. At this time of the year, when the weather can be dangerously cold, I think of my mother, telling about the year she arrived in Minnesota, and the events leading to my birth in midwinter.
The Holland family camping in 1936 while they waited for a cabin to open at Rice’s Landing on Little Mantrap Lake.
In the summer of 1936, my parents, Elmer and Betty Holland, decided to leave Chicago, Illinois to return to my father’s home state, Minnesota. A sales job with the Curtiss Candy Company (Baby Ruth and Butterfinger), had opened in the Park Rapids area. It was not an ideal time to move. The nation was inching its way out of the Great Depression and experiencing one of the most severe heat waves in modern history. Crops were burning and dust was rolling from the fields. Moorhead set a state record of 114° F.
My father had learned about 160 acres of woodland for sale near Park Rapids. It contained a house, some outbuildings, and a fenced pasture. The house “needed a little fixing,” but the price was right and it was located along U. S. Highway 71. So, with a telephone call and advice from a Park Rapids banker, my parents became owners of a farm, “sight unseen.” My father’s intentions were to raise sheep, while keeping his job with the candy company.
My mother’s faith in her husband must have been strong as the family said goodbye and left Chicago in their 1928 Model “A” Ford sedan. The car was definitely overloaded: A luggage rack clamped on a running board held several leather suitcases; strapped on a rear bumper rack was a spare tire, a small cedar chest, and a large camping tent. Inside, in the front, were my father, his pregnant wife, and 9 month old Betty Suzanne. In the back, fifteen year old Raymond, thirteen year old Elmer Jr., and eleven year old Grace were squeezed in with a Wire Haired Terrier named “Pal,” and a glass bowl containing one disoriented goldfish.
When the family turned off the hot U.S. Highway 71 and chugged up a hill into the yard of their new home, they immediately realized that the property was not quite what had been described. The farm house, which had been vacant, was in disrepair. There was no electric power, the telephone wasn’t connected, the roof leaked, and drinking water came from an old hand-dug well below the hill. My father decided to find another place to stay until repairs could be made. He found it a mile north at a small resort and store called “Rice’s Landing,” on Little Mantrap Lake. The family camped by the lake until a cabin opened.
Raymond and Elmer Jr. at the original house during the frigid winter of 1936-1937.
As house repairs were made, the hot summer breezes faded and cold weather arrived. My father learned that their cast iron stove was inefficient in below zero temperatures, and the wood he bought was of poor quality. A strong northwest wind pounded its way through small cracks and openings in the walls creating a new use for large cardboard advertising signs from the Curtiss Candy Company.
The bad weather continued into January. Elmer Jr. and Grace, who were temporarily staying with their grandmother near Crookston, were unable to return home because of snow and cold temperatures. However, in late January there was a break in the weather and my father decided to make the 200 mile round trip to bring the children home. Raymond remained with my mother and baby sister. Mother was expecting my birth in late January.
On the day of my father’s expected return, the temperature began to drop. Mother anxiously waited. The entire day came and went with no sign of her husband and two children. Questions raced through her mind: Did they have car trouble? Were they lost in a blizzard? Had they frozen to death?
The next morning, to add to her worry, she began having premature signs of my approaching birth. Her immediate thoughts were to go to the hospital in Park Rapids. However, with no transportation or telephone available, she was trapped. With the temperature already below minus 30º F, she asked Raymond to load the stove with wood, dress warmly, and walk to the neighbors for help.
Even in his warmest clothing, Raymond was not prepared for the frigid half-mile walk facing the bitter wind. He arrived at the neighbors shaking and numb, only to learn that their car wouldn’t start. After warming up, he retraced his route home, where he comforted Mother, then set out on his second half mile trek, this time south to the Pritchett Sawmill. There he learned “Swede” Pritchett had recently purchased a new logging truck (*). The truck started easily in the bitter cold, and Lawrence Weiss, a worker at the mill, agreed to drive Mother to Park Rapids. He first drove Raymond back to the house where my grateful Mother was helped into the truck and covered with blankets. Raymond stayed home, kept wood on the fire, and took care of my young sister.
Park Rapids was a long fifteen miles away. Even with a state of the art heater in the truck, the cab’s windows were covered with frost when the truck slowed, then stopped at a large dormered building on North Main Avenue. It was the hospital, where I was born early the next morning.
In checking the official weather records, it was evident that a six inch snowfall, with dropping temperatures, had kept my father from returning home. While the temperature was a mild 19° F at Crookston when he left home, it plummeted to minus 36° F. The weather station at Itasca Park registered a minus 41° F, while the unofficial outdoor house thermometer reached a low of minus 42° F. January of 1937 ties the record as the second coldest January in 114 years of record keeping at Park Rapids, with an average daily low of minus 18.8º F.
January is not a favorite month for most Minnesotans; most expectant mothers would probably not choose it as a time for giving birth. However, January is special because it introduces the new year. We can begin it with new resolutions and fresh ideas. January of 1937 was extra special to me because it introduced me to the world. While thermometers recorded a cold arrival, my mother welcomed me with a warm heart and open arms. A new baby boy! A new year! And I can’t help but think she was thankful a thousand times over, for Lawrence Weiss’s careful driving and “Swede” Pritchett’s new truck (*).
(*) Correction 8/20/17: A subsequent conversation with Gene Weiss indicated the logging truck wasn’t his father’s (as stated in my original blog post), but was actually owned by “Swede” Pritchett.