My thanks to Wayne Ostlie, who has donated the following photos related to early logging around Minnesota’s Lake Itasca. These historic photos (ca 1910) reflect the hardships early loggers faced in cutting the timber that was floated on the Mississippi River to downstream sawmills.
Wayne, along with Odell Bjerkness and Paul Ostlie, have published Montevideo: 1860 to 1930 Through Their Eyes and In Their Words. This photo-packed book presents the visual history of early Montevideo, with narratives of this prairie village and the citizens who fueled its early growth. For a summary of the book’s chapters go to:
Last year I entered my book The Early Resorts of Minnesota in a writing contest sponsored by Writer’s Digest Magazine. Over 2,300 books were entered in “The 26th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.” My book was published in 2012, just making the timeline for entries. While it was not selected as a prize winner, I was pleased with the high ratings and a judges’ positive commentary.
Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding.” My book’s scores were as follows:
Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5
Production Quality and Cover Design: 5
Voice and Writing Style: 5
Plot and Story and Character Appeal and Development were not applicable in the Nonfiction category for judging my book.
The Judge’s Commentary:
The Early Resorts of Minnesota
by Ren Holland
Congratulations on writing and publishing your book! The packaging is extremely professional, and I appreciate the care and expense you have taken to make this a hardcover keepsake and reference with so many historical photographs that are so clearly reproduced. The cover design is eye-catching and does a great job of highlighting the book’s purpose and potential audience. This book will have a wide potential audience, from Minnesotans in general to those in the tourist industry, historians, and others looking for a reference guide to find specific information. You have clearly done a great deal of research and you have presented the information in a reader friendly manner. Your writing style is conversational and enjoyable without taking focus away from the historical details. The book is well organized and easy to navigate. I appreciate the inclusion of your detailed Index as well. The many photographs you included help to bring these places to life. Good job with grammar and proofreading. The formatting of the text and layout of the pages are quite effective. You have an excellent web site to market your book, speaking engagements, etc.
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).
Douglas Lodge, Itasca State Park, ca. 1914 (click to enlarge)
Old Timer’s Cabin (2018)
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.
ca 1930s, Mississippi Headwaters
ca 1930s, Mississippi Headwaters marker
ca 1940s, Mississippi Headwaters
ca 1940s, Native American Pageant, Chief Odawa Littlecreek at Mississippi Headwaters
2016 My wife Ida Mae (right) and sister-in-law Ann (left) at Mississippi Headwaters
Mississippi Headwaters in winter, courtesy of Itasca State Park
For more history on Itasca State Park’s historic buildings and sites, click here to visit the Minnesota Historical Society.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.