Book signing at Arts and Crafts Fair

The 46th annual Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair attracted its usual large crowd, estimated at around 100,000, including crafters, artisans, antique collectors, and classic car owners.

Seven authors and I were invited by Marge Krinke of The Good Book and Gift Store to display our books and talk to those who passed in front of the store on First Avenue. It was an opportunity to publicize The Early Resorts of Minnesota and The Edge of Itasca and to meet some of the many who passed in pursuit of special craft items.

I wish to thank Marge for the invitation, and also my daughter Renee, who assisted me. Included here are a few photos of the authors and crowd.


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And Then There Were None

Missississippi Headwaters in Itasca State Park

Recently I had two opportunities to take pleasant steps into the past. One was by visiting my favorite sites at Itasca State Park; the other was to look for the site of an early resort near Park Rapids. The occasion developed when my wife’s high school classmate and longtime friend Kay visited us for an annual get-together in Little Falls. Kay’s brother Dave acted as her chauffeur since health reasons prevented Kay from driving. With nothing specific to do, Dave had hoped to visit Itasca State Park, as well as to possibly find “Erve’s,” a former resort on Little Sand Lake, near Dorset. As a young boy, he had spent several summer vacations at the resort with his family.

Dave taught architecture at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, and is now retired. I had not met him before, but we got along immediately and shared similar interests. I knew he would be especially interested in the rustic and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) era architecture at Itasca State Park. I looked forward to showing him Itasca’s historical architectural showpieces, including Douglas Lodge, Forest Inn, and The Old Timer’s Cabin. And of course, he wanted to cross the Source of the Mississippi on the slippery rocks.

Douglas Lodge, built in 1905, has a rustic log style adapted from the buildings of the National Park Service (photo below). It is always exciting for me to visit it as well as to see the old growth red pines that I played under as a young boy. We followed a path from the lodge down to Lake Itasca, then along the shoreline over a walkway until we reached one of the most unique cabins you will ever find: The Old Timer’s Cabin. It was the first one constructed by the CCC in 1934, with logs so huge, only four were needed to reach the eaves (photo below).

Forest Inn, Itasca State Park

Forest Inn, across the road from Douglas Lodge, is probably one of the best examples of 1930’s Depression Era architecture (photo on left). It is worth your time to go inside to shop (my books are sold there) and to examine the beautiful and unique way wood, stone, and iron can be combined to blend with the natural environment. It was built between 1939 and 1941 by the Veterans Civilian Conservation Corps, who were highly skilled in working with logs and stone.

Dave crossing the Mississippi Headwaters, July 2018

The well-worn path winding from the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center down to the Source of Mississippi is always rewarding. Just watching those nearing the end of their quest of crossing the stream is fun. Someone is always getting wet trying to step from stone to stone to “walk across the Mississippi.” (This year, the stones and banks will be readjusted for the first time in 80 years to keep the river from expanding around the ends of the boulders and to help prevent injuries from slipping.) (Photo on right.)

After returning to Douglas Lodge for a delicious dinner of Red Lake Walleye, we made our way to Little Sand Lake in an attempt to find “Erve’s Resort.” By chance, we chose one of the many similar driveways leading down to the hidden lake. As we approached a steep grade, Dave began to recognize what had once been the site of his summer fun as a boy. Only one of the original log buildings remained. We parked the car, then trespassed a little to get to the shoreline. We visited with a young couple, one of several who vacationed in summer homes. Their school-age children and friends were at the dock, enjoying the water, said to be the cleanest and clearest in Minnesota. The scene, on the site that had once been Erve’s Resort, brought back many fond memories for Dave.

What about the other eight Little Sand resorts of the 1950s–Norton’s (Greendale Resort), Shoreham, Camp Mirimichi, Wingard’s, Anglers Wood, Northern Star, Paulette’s (now Zorbaz Restaurant), and Little Sand Lake Resort? Not a single resort is advertised for Little Sand Lake. None. Their demise is likely attributed to the spike in real estate values, fueled by demand for the lake’s high-quality water and sandy shoreline.

Those of us who would like to visit the family resort that we enjoyed as a child or as a new parent, might prepare for a disappointment: The resort may no longer exist. There are less than 800 remaining of the nearly four thousand resorts that existed in the peak years of the 1950s and 1960s. We would be lucky to find one of the few that has persisted, flourished, and perhaps even retained some of their characteristic historical structures.

Fortunately, our country has state and national parks, as well as historic and natural landmark recognition. They can provide stability and an enlightening step into the past by preserving natural features and architecture that will likely be there whenever we return.

For more history on Itasca State Park’s historic buildings and sites, click here to visit the Minnesota Historical Society.

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Shared photos: Big Whitefish Bay Resort and a Historic Mailboat

(P) Big Whitefish Bay Resort (1)

I want to thank Tim Donohue for sending photos taken at Big Whitefish Bay Resort during the summers of 1963-64, when he was a young boy. Tim’s sister, Jane, worked at the resort and they both share fond memories and images of the resort and the people they met. It was operated at that time by Audrey Ternus (1908-1991). Tim has also included a detailed description of the resort.

(H) The Mailboat

One of Tim’s memories describe a man in an old wooden inboard who delivered mail and gave free rides to kids along his route. Although Tim may not have known it at the time, this would have been the legendary mailman, Ben Knebel, who delivered mail to Whitefish Lake residents from 1930 to 1969. If you look at Figure H, you will see the mailboat docked at Big Whitefish Bay in 1963. In 1992, over twenty years after Ben died, his 1949 mahogany 22 foot Chris Craft Sportsman boat was discovered after a long search. It was extremely deteriorated, but with personal affection, it was meticulously restored by two Whitefish Lake Resorters, Joe Ruttger and Ron Schultz.

I have not seen this historic boat, but look forward to finding it next summer. Information may be available at the Crosslake Historical Society.

We can all appreciate that Tim and Jane donated these photos and information, which give us a historic glimpse of Big Whitefish Bay Resort and Ben Knebel’s cherished mailboat.

To read Tim’s writeup and view all of Tim and Jane’s donated photos, click here.

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Daughters of History

Photo by Ida Mae Holland

On March 10, 2018, I spoke to the Brainerd, Minnesota chapter of the Captain Robert Orr National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Before my slide presentation, I brushed up on the goals of the DAR on their website and found that the chapter is one of 3,000 nationally and internationally. Any woman 18 years or older, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background, who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution is eligible for membership in the DAR. Its broad goals include historical preservation, promotion of education, and encouragement of patriotic endeavor. Members participate in a variety of projects to help preserve our cultural heritage.

I was invited by member Kathy Brown, who, with her husband Russ, traveled from Park Rapids to attend the chapter’s luncheon meeting at the Sawmill Inn at Brainerd. My slide presentation was titled “Early Central Minnesota Resorts and Tourism.” I’ll touch on a few of the subjects covered, some of which are in my book, The Early Resorts of Minnesota.

Brainerd Area Lakes tourism blossomed with the advancement of automobiles and highways in the 1920s. However, the city of Brainerd owes its existence to a decision made back in 1870 by the Northern Pacific Railroad when it surveyed the first east-west transcontinental route across the northern states. At that time, just about everyone expected the tracks to cross the Mississippi River at the village of Crow Wing, a traditional crossing point and the largest village along the northern Mississippi. However, the decision was made to cross seven miles north of Crow Wing! This spelled doom to the village’s future, as everyone migrated to seek opportunities in the brand new village of Brainerd, named after Ann Eliza Brainerd’s family. She was an American author, Civil War patriot, and wife of the railroad’s president, former Vermont Governor, J. Gregory Smith.

Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, ca 1953

Travel and curiosity followed the newly constructed railroad tracks, which started near Duluth (completed in 1883). Fishing the new lakes along the route drew national travelers to Bay Lake, near Deerwood. The Ruttger family had settled there, and what began as a homestead, developed into a long history of resorts. As many as five resorts had the Ruttger name at one time. Ruttger’s at Bay Lake may be the earliest resort in northern Minnesota (1894), with the exception of Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior. Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge certainly must be the oldest resort operated by relatives of one family.

Names of resorts in Minnesota were not recorded until about 1915. Hotels were mixed in the count. Below are the first resorts in Crow Wing County (Hotels are not included.)

At Brainerd: Hough’s Resort on Gull (C. M. Hough), Hubert Cottages (C. M. Palek), Parkerville Cottages (F. S. Parker), South Long Lake Resort (Wm. McCall).

At Deerwood: Highland Resort, Miller’s (A. A. Miller), Ruttger’s Tourist’s Home at Bay Lake (Joseph Ruttger).

At Hubert: Heals Cottages (B. C. Heals), Minnewawa Lodge (B.C. Heald), Osborne Cottages (L. L.Osborne), Pukwana Lodge (W. D. Curtis), Wasena Camp (Sol Marquis & Son) on Pelican Lake.

At Jenkins: Hardy Camp on Whitefish (Dave Hardy), Lakeside Camp, Piney Ridge (F. W. Palmer), Shady Rest Camp.

At Merrifield: Velvet Beach on Big Pelican (Ike Miller).

Rocky Point Resort, Gull Lake, Brainerd, ca 1915

At Nisswa: Grand View on Gull (Baker-Seaton Co. of Mpls.), Ozonite Resort on Gull (S. V.Long), Rocky Point Resort on Gull.

At Pequot: Kamberling Resort (Chas. Kamberling) on Whitefish, Shady Nest Camp (O. L. Thomas), Silver Peak Lodge ( J. A. McEwen) on Whitefish.

Grand View Lodge, ca 1929

Of those mentioned above, only two have retained their original names—Ruttger’s on Bay Lake, and Grand View, on Gull (click here to read my “Blue Ribbon Resort” write-up on Grand View). These, and later resorts in the Brainerd Lakes Area, have become nationally and internationally known for their broad range of deluxe facilities for convention guests and tourists.

I want to thank the Brainerd DAR chapter for the opportunity to speak about early resort history in the Brainerd Lakes Area.

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Latest addition to “Shared Photos”

Hunter’s Bay Resort

We are pleased that Rick Wolfe has shared another 70+ postcards, his twelfth contribution. These photos are especially significant to Rick, since some of them show early life at Serpent Lake, located between Crosby and Deerwood, where Rick currently lives year-round. Many of these photos are over a hundred years old. The below video previews these latest 70+ photos  added to the “Shared Photos” section of this website, in the “Minnesota-wide Collection #1” and “Shakopee-area health spas.”

We sincerely thank Rick for his generous sharing of early lake and resort photos, which now total over 950+ images! For those who would like to purchase any of these postcards, or get unwatermarked digital copies, you can contact him at the Rick Wolfe Stamp and Coin Company, his ebay store, at:

YOUTUBE VIDEO INSTRUCTIONS: Click on the “play” triangle icon in the middle of the image. Pause the video at any time by clicking the vertical bars in the lower left corner, then resume playing by again clicking on the “play” triangle. Each photo in the video can also be viewed individually in the “Shared Photos” section. Enjoy!

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Arts & Crafts & Books & Gifts in Little Falls

The Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair has completed its 45th year! The two day September event is managed by the Little Falls Chamber of Commerce and is one of the largest in the Midwest, attracting an estimated 100,000 shoppers, artists, crafters, and concessionaires. It has been held the weekend after Labor Day since 1972. I recall when it began, when Dave and Carol Graf, who owned an arts and crafts store downtown on East Broadway, were two of the leaders instrumental in its formation.

This year, I was one of eight local and regional authors invited to display and sell books along the sidewalk at the Good Book & Gift Store, next to the Great River Arts Center on First Street. My daughter, Renee (in photo), joined me in meeting the authors and the many shoppers who ventured by, or stopped at the bookstore. My thanks to Renee, and to Marge at the Good Book & Gift Store for providing the sidewalk space for displaying The Early Resorts of Minnesota and The Edge of Itasca.

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Here’s Mud in your Eye: Photos of Minnesota’s Early Health Spas

Mudbaden mudroom (click to enlarge)

Our many thanks again go to Rick Wolfe, who is once again sharing images from his extensive postcard collection–this time 1910-1940 postcards of early Minnesota health spas.

Spas go back at least as far as the Greeks and Romans. Their baths incorporated natural hot springs and served as focal points for social and recreational activities. Later spas became associated with wellness resorts, emphasizing the health benefits of mineral springs and thermal water in relieving rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Today the International Spa Association defines spas as “places devoted to enhancing overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit.” This broad definition covers a great variety of nontraditional spas in the United States, including everything from hot stone massages to personal fitness, mixed with golf, tennis, swimming, and health foods.

Three of the earliest Minnesota mineral health spas were located near Jordan and Shakopee, and included Mudbaden, Jordan Sulphur Springs, and Mudcura. These sites incorporated mud from the Minnesota River in their treatments. Two of the facilities remain, although are no longer used as health spas.

You can view Rick’s spa postcards and learn more by playing the 3+ minute slide show below, or click here to view the individual spa images in Rick’s part of the “Shared Photos” section of this website (including his 800+ resort images).

To read my past blog posts, click here, or click on any of the “Blog categories” listed to the right. You can also share this blog post on social media by clicking any icon below.

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Radio interview

I was recently interviewed on Your Best with Kathy Weckwerth. On Kathy’s radio show we discussed her family’s purchase of a historic resort cabin, my books, and how Minnesota’s resorts are changing from the early era of smaller resorts with rustic cabins.

The interview can be listened to anytime on SoundCloud at the below podcast link–just click on the orange “play” circle in the upper left corner (much like a YouTube video). My portion of her show begins 5 minutes in, and ends near the 23 minute mark. You can replay or jump to any moment of the broadcast by clicking on the progress bar along the bottom, which shows the time in the lower left corner.


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Fuller’s Tackle Shops

On June 26, 2017, I spoke to members of the Hubbard County Historical Society at the Northwoods Bank in Park Rapids. The topic of the program was one that I could relate to quite well: Fuller’s Tackle Shop. The reasons? Jerry Fuller married my sister Betty, and my brother Royce and I both worked for the Fullers in our younger years.

(Left to Right) Royce Holland, Tom Stockwell, Betty (Holland) Fuller

Fuller’s Tackle Shop was not just a store; it was an institution! At it’s peak, before the rise of large sporting good chain stores, Fullers had three locations (Park Rapids, Grand Rapids, and Bemidji), plus a wholesale business that supplied hundreds of resorts and stores throughout northern Minnesota.

Fuller’s started in the 1880s as a hardware store, with Frank Fuller becoming an owner in 1891. His son, Earl took over in 1913 and the store evolved into something resembling a fifty mile wide, self-styled “Chamber of Commerce” in Park Rapids (In 1930, the Grand Rapids branch was added).

In 1916, Earl had started a fishing contest, and by the 1920s, the hardware store had become primarily known for sporting goods. About that time an organization known as “The Ten Thousand Lakes of Minnesota” began advertising Minnesota as a summer playground. Tourism increased, and so did business at Fuller’s Tackle Shop. Scattered resorts and country stores within a 25-mile radius, as well as the tackle shop, became weigh stations for Fuller’s Fishing Contest. Entrants’ fish were weighed and registered for a publication called the Fuller’s Golden Book.


Resorters and businesses contributed money for prizes and ads in the booklet. The larger fish were documented on a 9 X 11 inch card and placed in the store’s window. Each entry noted the type of fish, its official weight, where it was caught, bait used, who caught it, their home address, the resort where they were staying, the date caught, and any local guide’s name. The window display of fresh contest fish, spread over chipped blocks of ice, became a focal point for tourists and locals. After a few hours, the fish were removed from the window. The entry card was given to the entrant as a souvenir (click on any photo to enlarge it).

Fishing Contest flyer

Fuller’s Golden Book and the Booster Fishing Contest became hallmarks of publicity for early tourism. On September 3, 1922, Earl explained the contest to a reporter from the Minneapolis Journal: ”There is always a crowd around the window,” Fuller said. “Automobiles stop on the street while one person gets out to see if there are any good catches that day. If a fellow sees that someone caught bass in Round Lake with a certain kind of bait, away he goes to Round Lake. If he doesn’t have that bait, he comes into the store to buy it.”

Earl & Eugenie Fuller in the Park Rapids store

By 1949, 25,000 Golden Books were being printed annually, each containing up to 100 pages of resort information, product ads, a fold out area lake map, and hundreds of fish entries. People registered their fish just to get on the book’s mailing list, and planned their vacations around the best resorts or lakes.

By 1964, the number of books had grown to 40,000, with nearly 4,000 mailed to contest entrants in 42 states. Bundles of books were shipped to over 350 tourist centers throughout the country.

Earl & Eugenie Fuller

By the early 1960s, Earl and Eugenie Fuller turned the retail business over to their son, Jerry. Earl continued helping into his late 70s in the Fuller’s Wholesale warehouse. Jerry, who began working in the retail store as a young boy, continued the business for another 25 years after taking charge. In addition to a daily fishing report on KPRM Radio and participation in numerous local organizations, Jerry wrote a weekly outdoor column for The Park Rapids Enterprise called “Fishing with Fuller” and later “The End of the Line,” which ran for 36 years.

In the 1980s the retail sporting goods underwent major changes. Buying habits changed and sporting goods stores became larger and more concentrated; the Fuller stores were sold, with the Park Rapids store eventually being absorbed by Reeds.

Jerry “reinvented” himself, starting the first pawn shop in Park Rapids. After enjoying a successful second career as a pawnbroker, Jerry passed away on December 3, 2011, his birthday. As I was completing my book, The Early Resorts of Minnesota, I asked Jerry Fuller to write about some of his experiences growing up in the tourism business. The following was written shortly before he passed away:

Jerry E. Fuller ca 1950s

Memories of the Tourist Business

Our Store was right in the heart of the resort area and we were usually the first stop as we sold the bulk of the fishing licenses in the County. Friday tourists would start rolling in, both returnees and new customers. The returning customers got to be old friends and many of the new ones required maps to get to their destinations, which we gave out by the thousands.

We sold Evinrude motors from 1913 until 1951 (They were invented in 1909). My job as a youngster was to break them in as they required 6 hours of running at various speeds before rental. I spent many hours on the river with two and three motors on the boat. We rented them in the summer, then reduced the sale price by half the amount of the rental and kept the motors on stands out in front of the store. Full length cane poles were also stored out on the sidewalk in steel rings, no locks and no problems save for one incident when two fellows had a mock sword fight late at night and broke a few. They came into the store the next morning and paid for them. It was a different era. I doubt that we could do that now.

When fish locators (Lowrance) first came out no one knew if or how they worked so we rented them as well. Same story, knocked off half the rent for the sale. Many folks would keep them two or three days and then liked them so well they would buy them. That was a good time for a youngster to be in that business.

Jerry Fuller 2010

With 70 years of combined ownership of the tackle shop, and continuous publication of the Golden Book, Earl and Jerry Fuller, along with their spouses and employees, contributed more than a giant’s share in publicizing nationwide tourism in Minnesota, especially in the Park Rapids area, and through the branch stores in Grand Rapids and Bemidji.

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Less Traveled: A Journey from Pine to Palm

My film review that follows first appeared in the Jefferson Highway Declaration’s Winter edition, 2017.

Less Traveled: A Journey from Pine to Palm
A film by Darrell Johnston and Josiah Laubenstein

Reviewed by Ren Holland, Little Falls, MN


Last May, I met filmmakers and fellow JHA members Darrell Johnston, Leon, IA, and Josiah Laubenstein, Minneapolis, MN, in Itasca State Park at the “Source of the Mississippi River” in Minnesota. Park naturalist Connie Cox and I were impressed by their ambitions: they planned to travel the entire 2300 miles of the Jefferson Highway—Winnipeg to New Orleans—in a classic 1954 Dodge Royal. They would be stopping at selected communities to publicize the highway and to promote the issuing of proclamations by local officials in celebration of the centennial year of the first transnational highway through the Mississippi Valley. They planned to film their adventures and produce a documentary through their company, Highway Walkers Media—certainly an ambitious summer project.

I was pleased to hear this past fall that their adventure went smoothly and that the result was the documentary Less Traveled: A Journey from Pine to Palm.

The 130-minute film was not made to trace the exact route of the historic Jefferson Highway. Rather, it was an effort to visit the small towns that once were vibrant links in the important highway. They planned to interview and interact with individuals who today live and work along the route: farmers, small town business people, construction workers, historians, naturalists, professors, local officials, and, of course, members of the Jefferson Highway Association. Their broad goals were to help us all better understand our nation’s past and to contemplate some of the changes occurring today along the route of the old highway.

Along that route, these likable young men found a trove of mini-adventures to accent their story—from a visit to a historic Canadian fort, to crossing the slippery rocks at the source of the Mississippi River; from a ride in a hot air balloon at Indianola, IA, to a rodeo barrel race in Leon, IA. In Louisiana, they learned to eat crawfish—Louisiana style.

As the Jefferson Highway coursed from Winnipeg to New Orleans, it met up with (and even briefly overlapped) several famous east-west highways—from the beginning, the Lincoln Highway, and later, Route 66. The film gives ample coverage to Reed/Niland Corner at the Lincoln-Jefferson intersection in Colo, IA. As for Route 66, it intersected the Jefferson Highway north of Muskogee, OK, near where Glenn Smith, the current JHA president, lives. Glenn makes a cameo appearance in the film, not only to shed light on the Jefferson Highway but also to give the filmmakers some bare-knuckle advice on how to start their Dodge after running out of gasoline.

Because the slogans “Pine to Palm,” and “Palm to Pine” have both been used in connection with the old highway, the filmmakers made it a point to determine which was the correct description. Viewers can find out what evidence caused the duo to agree on which city—Winnipeg, or New Orleans—was the beginning (or ending) of the highway.

While the underlying light humor in the film is a treasure, there are some serious tones throughout as well, including comments from Dr. Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University at Bemidji, Minnesota. He politely advised the filmmakers not to just look at the surface of the Jefferson Highway, but to think also of the history preceding it reaching back 10,000 years to when the first North Americans traveled along the same route.

I found this documentary to be a carefree yet informative and thought provoking film. You will be not only entertained by it but left with a deeper understanding of our nation and a renewed interest in its customs and history.

A DVD of the film can be obtained for $15. To place an order, go to and hit the “merchandise” tab. Or, to order by phone, call 641-414-3286 and send check to 324 NW 13th Drive, Leon, IA 50144. Also available at $25 is a companion to the film, a photo book entitled Less Traveled: A Journey down the Jefferson Highway, which the filmmakers describe as a “coffee-table book that shows iconic landmarks, rarely seen gems, and behind-the-scenes shots from the film.” To order a copy or to obtain more information, follow the same procedures indicated above.

Click here to read my earlier blog post when I met with Darrell and Josiah during their journey through Park Rapids and Itasca State Park.

(all photos used with permission from Highway Walkers Media)

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