Gully Day Celebrates The Jefferson Highway

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“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.”

Posted in All blog entries, Jefferson Highway, Minnesota Tourism | Leave a comment

You Can’t go Straight to Crooked Lake

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

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.

Seaplane base, Shagawa Lake, Ely

(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)

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.

More information on other early Ely area resorts that were closed when the BWCAW was created can be found in my book, The Early Resorts of Minnesota.

Posted in All blog entries, Minnesota Resorts, Minnesota Tourism, Readers' Stories | 1 Comment

Jefferson Highway Centennial Programs Well Attended

Jefferson sign

The Jefferson Highway slogan and road identification symbol (click to enlarge)

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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)

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:

Highways Without Numbers

Hunting for the Old Jefferson Highway

The Jefferson Highway

You can also click here to learn more about the Jefferson Highway Association.

Posted in All blog entries, Jefferson Highway, Minnesota Tourism | 1 Comment

Will we hear your tree when it falls?

Limmer's north side, ca 1940s

Limmer’s north side, ca 1940s

“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.

~Ren Holland

 

Gathering History on Limmer’s Resort:
Email excerpts from Pam Cates

Postcard courtesy of Rick Wolfe (click to enlarge)

Postcard courtesy of Rick Wolfe (click to enlarge)

Ren,
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.

~Pam Cates
———————
Ren,
I have been reading your book…The Early Resorts of Minnesota, and it was neat to see ours listed, of course.

~Pam Cates
———————
Ren,
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.

~Pam Cates
———————
Ren,
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.

~Pam Cates
——————
Ren,
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.

~Pam Cates
——————
Ren,
….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.

~Pam Cates
————————
Ren,
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.

~Pam Cates
———————
Ren,
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…

~Pam Cates
———————
Ren,
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.

~Pam Cates
—————-
(The following is a letter Pam received from Laurie Limmer Torgerson.)

Hello Pam,

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)

—————-

Ren,
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.

~Pam Cates

(click on any photo below to enlarge)

—————-
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.

~Ren Holland

Posted in All blog entries, Minnesota Resorts, Readers' Stories | 2 Comments

Austin Page Turners Author Series

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo by Ida Mae Holland (Click to enlarge)

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.

Posted in All blog entries, Minnesota Resorts | Leave a comment

A Cold Welcome

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.

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.

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.

Posted in All blog entries, EDGE OF ITASCA stories | 1 Comment

Inconsistencies in old maps

Brainerd Map Cover-croppedIf you’re interested in resort history, maps can be a valuable resource for finding information. Early tourists relied on them not only to show how to reach a resort, but to know what amenities were offered. The maps were usually the large folding kind, not easily collected in a book, even one as big as The Early Resorts of Minnesota. That’s why readers are referred to this website, which contains over forty resort maps (and over 1,400 resort and tourism photos).

In researching old maps, I have found that the dates and information printed on them can sometimes be misleading. Below are some of the problems that might be encountered when reading early resort maps:

Missing Dates
It is common to find dates missing on early resort maps, both in the art work, and in the directories. When adding information to the same map year after year, eventually someone would erase the copyright date because it looked too old. (This can be one of the reasons that you find “ca” written before dates; it is to tell the reader that the date is not exact; it is only an approximate date.)

Date and Name Inconsistencies
The copyright date on the map may be inconsistent with the information and photos printed with the map. The printed background may show older roads and highways, while a directory may have newer photos. Or, a resort may be starred on a map, but not described in the directory. The inconsistencies are again due to year after year changes in information, with no changes to the basic map. (Early postcard photos have a similar dating problem when old overstocked cards were postmarked and mailed years later.)

Changes by unskilled artists
An original map may have information added or removed by someone unskilled in drawing maps or lettering, possibly because the original cartographer was unavailable.

Inconsistent Boundaries
Various factors affected the boundaries of resort maps, including competition from other civic organizations. As resort numbers increased, the larger map areas were broken into smaller ones as other groups claimed new boundaries and customers. Some resorts advertised in two regions, or in a distant one with a larger number of resorts. In my book, I used the boundaries of the five resort regions defined by Explore Minnesota. This kept resort numbers accurate by not listing resorts or lakes in more than one area.

An Early Map
I have included links below to a large early Brainerd Chamber of Commerce map and resort directory for Crow Wing County and parts of Cass County. Over 260 resorts are advertised on it. It was created by Benn A. Wagner and G. H. Berkholder, and is labeled “Vacationland–Minnesota’s Land of Hiawatha.” The copyright date was probably removed in a reprinting. The map may have been originally drawn around 1925, since U.S.highway numbers are labeled for Iowa, but not for Minnesota. (U. S. highway numbers started in 1926.) However, the “Summer Resort Directory,” printed with the map, suggests a more recent date. For example, we know that Arthur Roberts, whose name is in the directory, assumed full ownership of the Pine Beach Hotel on Gull Lake in 1929; and that Heath’s Resort on Whitefish Lake, also in the directory, was established in 1938, according to the resort’s website. We might therefore conclude that resorts were added to the original 1925 map for over 12 years without it being updated.

(NOTE: When the Brainerd maps are downloaded, you can use your “rotate” and “zoom” features to read the fine print.)

Click on these links to view the front and back of the Brainerd Lakes map.

Brainerd Lakes Area Map and Directory-front, ca 1930s

Brainerd Lakes Area Information-back, ca 1930s

More resort maps can be found on this website’s tab “Photos and Maps” (or click here). The maps are invaluable snapshots of history. Despite occasional inconsistencies because of yearly tweaks, most are quite accurate. If you can’t find the resort you are looking for, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t operating when the map was printed, or that it didn’t exist. In some cases owners chose not to join a lake association or closed temporarily, such as my parents’ resort did during World War II.

I hope this blog post helps you better enjoy the hand-drawn cartography skills that are becoming a lost craft in the technological age of MapQuest, GPS, and Google Maps.

Posted in All blog entries, Minnesota Resorts, Minnesota Tourism | Leave a comment

Postcard Images Donated by Lyell Henry

Brainerd, Lyonais Cabins, ca 1940sI want to thank Lyell Henry for his recent donation of postcard photos viewed in the “Share your History” of this website.

Lyell shares a varied background and a common interest in early tourism, especially as it relates to motels, cabin camps, tourist courts, and highways. He has generously donated digital images from his collection and has been an appreciated promoter of my book, The Early Resorts of Minnesota.

Lyell is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He has written two books and numerous articles on various topics of American popular culture, early highways, and roadside commercial architecture. He is an active member of the Lincoln Highway Association, the Jefferson Highway Association, and the Society for Commercial Archeology. He is the editor of the quarterly Jefferson Highway Declaration and is currently writing a book on the Jefferson Highway through Iowa.

Lyell has two published history books, Was This Heaven? A Self-Portrait of Iowa on Early Postcards and Zig-Zag-and-Swirl: Alfred W. Lawson’s Quest for Greatness.

Below you can view a video slide show of Lyell’s 70+ postcards (which can be paused, etc.), or click here to search the “Shared Photos” section for the complete alphabetical list of these early roadside motels, etc., including some still operating.

Posted in All blog entries, Minnesota Resorts, Minnesota Tourism, Readers' Stories | Leave a comment

Douglas Lodge: Classic Blue Ribbon Resort #5

Douglas Lodge, Itasca State Park, ca. 1914 (click to enlarge)

Douglas Lodge, Itasca State Park, ca. 1914 (click to enlarge)

One of my all-time favorite places to visit is the historic Douglas Lodge, located on Lake Itasca at Itasca State Park in north central Minnesota. (Lake Itasca is the official source of the Mississippi River.) While few log structures built near the turn of the twentieth century still exist, Douglas Lodge stands strong after 109 years of exposure to wind, rain, snow, threats of fire, and the constant summer traffic by tourists. While its original 40 foot by 80 foot length is small by today’s standards, it is one of the state’s busiest and most respected historic buildings.

Blue-ribbon image-whiteMy first appreciation of Douglas Lodge came when I was seven years old. World War II was raging and my father was working in military construction in Canada. Our resort and store were closed. A job in the lodge’s kitchen opened during the peak of the tourist season. Mother applied and was hired, but she didn’t drive a car, and the lodge was five miles away. She taught herself to drive with our 1930 Model A Ford. Hugo Zaiser, the lodge manager, allowed her to bring my sister and me with her, where we could “help” around the lodge. Getting to the lodge with the Model A over the narrow, curved Itasca Park Drive was a harrowing experience, to say the least. My sister was nine, old enough to help Mother in the kitchen. I was too young to be a significant helper. Most of the time I just wandered around the grounds, enjoying the towering old growth red pines and checking out the dock and trails nearby.

I would later realize what a great experience it was to absorb, firsthand, some of the life history of Douglas Lodge.

Douglas Lodge was designed by a state architect, Clarence H. Johnston. It was constructed in 1905 by local contractors Thomas C. and Samuel I. Myers. Its Rustic Style of architecture, the first in the park, was influenced by European mountain architecture, New York’s Adirondack architecture, and ultimately by the early log National Park structures created by the Northern Pacific railroad to encourage tourism. Douglas Lodge is one of the first major attempts by our state to recognize tourism as an important part of northern Minnesota’s economic development. Its design would serve as the model for other log structures in the park, including the outstanding Depression-era log buildings associated with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC) in the 1930s. In addition, many independent lodges and resort structures throughout the state were influenced by the style of Douglas Lodge. (Click here to read an earlier blog post on Rustic Style architecture.)

Lunch at Douglas Lodge, 2014 (click to enlarge)

Lunch at Douglas Lodge, 2014 (click to enlarge)

Each year Itasca Park’s half-million visitors will likely experience Douglas Lodge in some memorable way. This might include a hilltop view of the lake, the CCC stone stairway, the rustic lounge and fieldstone fireplace, wild rice at the restaurant, or guest rooms with night sounds of whispering pines and the call of the loon.

Douglas Lodge’s history, aesthetics, and sustained popularity make it a “Classic Blue Ribbon Resort.”

Posted in All blog entries, Classic Blue Ribbon Resorts, Minnesota Resorts, Minnesota Tourism | Leave a comment

Highways Without Numbers

Minnesota’s International, Transcontinental, and Interstate Auto Trails

190B  10,000 Lakes poster

(click on image to enlarge it)

190B  Ten Thousand Lakes map cover, 1925 .tiffThe beginning of the twentieth century brought dramatic changes to tourism in Minnesota. The reasons? The emergence of continuous highways with uniform signage. This, coupled with the rapid development of the automobile industry, allowed the middle class traveler to escape the limitations and dependency on railroads. With improved highways and affordable automobiles, the average citizen could now visit distant places at their own pace, in their own space.

Early highways (“auto trails”) had names, rather than numbers. The name identification had evolved informally, and routes were difficult to find and follow on a map. After the Minnesota Department of Highways was established in 1917, trails, were required to be registered. Just about any highway or auto organization could apply for registration by describing the route and giving it a special name. A requirement was that a symbol or lettering be painted on signs and posts to keep travelers on track. Some of the trail routes started and ended within Minnesota, while others crossed Minnesota as well as other states. Some became important; others faded before the ink of registration had dried.

By 1920 there were over twenty auto trails officially approved by the state. I have divided them into four types: international, transcontinental, interstate, and intrastate. The first three will be covered in this post; the last, intrastate, will be covered in a later post.

International Auto Trails

King of Trails
This auto trail was officially registered in Minnesota in January of 1917. It started at Galveston, Texas. Entering Minnesota in Rock County, it followed the western edge of the state, eventually reaching Winnipeg, Manitoba. In Minnesota this route would later become State Highway 6, then US 75. Today, the Minnesota section of US 75 is officially recognized as the “Historic King of Trails” and is designated a “Minnesota Scenic Byway.”

Jefferson Highway
The Jefferson Highway is considered by many as the United State’s first international highway. It started at New Orleans, Louisiana and ended at Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was officially registered in Minnesota on August 9,1917 by the Jefferson Highway Association. This route was already in use in 1916. It incorporated about 500 miles of the Inter-State Trail to Kansas City, Missouri. A short stretch of it is included in the Lake Country Scenic Byway.

Transcontinental Trails

Daniel Boone Trail
The trail went across the United States from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border through Grand Marais. It entered Minnesota near Elmore, then went north to Blue Earth, Mankato, Shakopee, and the Twin Cities. Parts of this trail later became US 169. It was approved in Iowa in January of 1917, but no official document was found for Minnesota.

The Theodore Roosevelt International Highway
This highway, over 4000 miles long, was organized in February 1919 to connect Portland, Maine with Portland, Oregon. It was proposed in Minnesota on March 11, 1919 and recorded on March 17, 1919. It entered Minnesota at Duluth and exited at East Grand Forks. In 1920 it became Minnesota Highway 8 and in 1926 US Highway 2 when the United States began the US numbering system.

Yellow Stone Trail
This trail went from Seattle, Washington to Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was registered in Minnesota on July 26, 1917 by the Yellow Stone Trail Association. From the east line of Washington County, near Lakeland, it exited the state at the west line of Big Stone County, near Ortonville. Most of the route between St. Paul and Yellowstone Park became part of US 212 in 1926.

Interstate Trails

Black and Yellow Trail
This trail application was submitted by the Chicago-Black Hills and Yellow Stone Park Association. It was registered on August 10,1917 and connected Chicago, Illinois with Yellowstone National Park. It entered Minnesota at La Crescent, then went north to Winona, west to Rochester, Mankato, Tracy, and Lake Benton, reaching the west line of Lincoln County. This route became US Highway 14 in 1926.

Red Ball Route
Registered on August 2, 1917, this route was sponsored by the Red Ball Route Association. Starting at St. Paul, it went through Rosemount, Farmington, Northfield, Dundas, Faribault, Medford Owatonna, Blooming Prairie, Austin, and Lyle to its termination at St. Louis, Missouri.

Glacier Trail
This route was registered on April 24, 1918. It started at St. Paul, then went through the counties of Ramsey, Hennepin, Wright, Meeker, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Swift, Pope, Stevens, Grant, Traverse, and Wilkin, exiting at Breckenridge, Minnesota, and ending at Glacier National Park.

Itasca Park Trail
This route may have originated in Missouri. It went through Iowa, and entered Minnesota north of Spirit Lake, Iowa, at Jackson. It went to Windom, Olivia, Willmar, New London, Belgrade, Sauk Centre, Long Prairie, Wadena, Park Rapids, Itasca Park and Bemidji. A large part of it later became US 71. The registration date was not found, however, it is shown on a 1923 Minnesota highway map.

Although auto trail names were registered into the 1930s, they began to lose their importance, and soon disappeared under layers of route numbers. Today however, a revived interest in auto trails has led to creative adventures and activities in communities along the original routes.

In future blog posts I hope to add more information about auto trails, as well as the colorful identifying signs associated with them.

 

Posted in All blog entries, Jefferson Highway, Minnesota Tourism | Leave a comment