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 www.HighwayWalkers.com 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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Kurt Brown’s Leech Lake Postcards

Sunset View Resort

Sunset View Resort

Kurt Brown’s family has been going to Leech Lake, Minnesota since the 1930s when Kurt’s grandparents started staying at Sunset View Resort, near Brevik. His grandfather eventually built a cabin near Sunset View. Later that cabin became part of Carlson’s Resort, and the family continued to rent it for many years.

As a young boy in the 1960s, Kurt remembers many resorts near Brevik. These included Jensen’s Cabins, Pikedale, Twin Port Resort, Bear Island View, Lein’s, Sunset View Resort (Kurt states that this one may have had the best beach on the lake), Carlson’s Resort (this one was near his grandfather’s cabin), Safe Harbor, and Chippewa Lodge. Today four of these are still operating—Carlson’s, Chippewa, Huddle’s, and Pikedale.

Carlson's Resort

Carlson’s Resort

Over the years, Kurt has been collecting old maps and postcards of the early resorts near Brevik. My sincere thanks goes to him for contributing 32 of these images to my website’s “Shared Photos” section (click here to view the 32 images, and/or view a slideshow of these images below). Of note, in the photo of Carlson’s Resort, the cabin built by his grandfather is the one on the right.

To read more about Kurt’s interest in early Leech Lake resorts, visit his blog “Old Leech Lake Resorts.”

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Early Clearwater Lake at Annandale, Minnesota

Sweeney Resort, ca 1950

Sweeney Resort, ca 1950

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.

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A Mini-Minnesota Tour of Northern Minnesota

Split Rock Lighthouse courtesy of Pixabay and Creative Commons license

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 and Creative Commons license

Duluth skyline, courtesy of Randen Pederson CC license

Gooseberry Falls 1 Gooseberry Falls 3 Gooseberry Falls 2 Lake Superior rocks

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.

Burntside LodgeThe 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.

Mississippi HeadwatersOn 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.

Black & White Restaurant

Myself, Ida Mae, Ann, and Ray at the Black and White Restaurant

We were running out of time, so we stopped briefly at the Chase on the Lake Hotel on Leech Lake at Walker. Then we returned home in time to enjoy a delicious dinner at the Black and White Restaurant in downtown Little Falls.

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 hope to follow up with more details on these great resorts under “Classic Blue Ribbon Resorts,” on this website.

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Tracing the Jefferson Highway in a ’54 Dodge

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

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.

Jefferson signFollow Josiah and Darrell and their cameras online as they travel the old Jefferson Highway to New Orleans at www.highwaywalkers.com.

You can also read more about their Park Rapids visit in Nicole Vik’s newspaper article (click here), and learn more about the highway from the Jefferson Highway Association.

1916 Ford Model T

1916 Model T Ford, similar to one that might have been new when the Jefferson Highway opened.

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The Jefferson Highway: From Palms to Pines? Or Palms to Prairies?

Old Jefferson Highway map

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.

To learn more, visit The Jefferson Highway Association.

A slab from a white pine cut in 1975. Frank Mitchell and I have used it to advertise Jefferson Highway presentations. The grove that contained this tree would have been visible to the sociability caravan of 1916 as it exited Little Falls, MN (click to enlarge)

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).

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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Jefferson Highway Centennial Programs Well Attended

Jefferson Highway slogan and road symbol

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.

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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.

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