When summer hits Minnesota, it’s like a switch flips in our brains. All of a sudden, all we can think about is fishing, boating, swimming, and camping on the ten thousand+ lakes our state is famous for. With more “coastline” than California, Florida, & Hawaii combined, Minnesota’s lakes make up a huge part of our culture.
Growing up, my family summered at Rush Lake, near Ely, but that ended after my grandfather gave his share of the hunting club property up. My great grandma Loney ran a resort on the shore of Lake Superior but that was also sold off before I was ever born. No, this lake story is my husband’s.
The legacy of the summer lake resort in Minnesota begins in the late 1800’s on the lake communities that border the Twin Cities, like White Bear Lake and Minnetonka. These areas were close enough to travel to from the Twin Cities by horse or train and resorts began popping up there to attract city-dwellers trying to beat the heat or anglers eager for a bigger catch. The turn-of-the-century resorts also attracted the wealthy from the South and East, eager to get away from the hot and humid Southern summers or to find a respite from the thick, polluted air in the industrial Northeast. Those who suffered from allergies, infirmities, and physical disabilities (and had the means) would travel to Minnesota to take in its “cold, dry, invigorating air.” Yes, air was key to health.
In the 1920’s, as access to automobiles became commonplace, people began venturing farther north. More people were able to afford more than single day-trips to the lake. Enterprising farmers with lakefront property rented boats to eager anglers and built small cabins as getaways for visitors eager to enjoy the serenity of the lake. The resort my husband’s family began visiting at least 70 years and 5 generations ago was one such a place.
It was my husband’s great grandfather, Joe Haider, who began the tradition of spending one week every summer at Farm Island Lake near Aitkin. He knew a farmer named Jim Ham who had a huge plot on the lake – 70 acres or so – and an entire bay of lake shore. Jim and his wife, Helen, wanted to start a lake resort so Jim recruited the help of GG Haider to build cabins on his lakefront property. In exchange, he promised GG Haider and his family one week every summer for the rest of his life at Breezy Bay Resort.
And so it was that the Knight family began their tradition. My husband’s paternal grandmother spent her childhood summering on the shores of Farm Island Lake. When she was grown, she brought her own family there. For one week every summer, the Knights would fish and swim and grill and do all the things Minnesotans love to do lakeside. As the families of Lorraine and her sisters grew, the family began renting other cabins from the Hams as well, filling the place with aunties, uncles, and cousins. My father-in-law grew up there, looking forward to that one week each summer filled with fishing and swimming and whatever you wanted to do. After all, it is your vacation.
Breezy Bay Resort is a bit difficult to find in terms of historical documentation. It doesn’t appear that Jim Ham did much in the way of advertising. Because of this, it is difficult to date exactly when the resort was in operation. The resort appears in the 1947 edition of Minnesota Resort and Travel Guide and again in the 1949 Minnesota Vacation and Resort Guide. It is described as follows:
Breezy Bay Resort – Farm Island Lake. 5 hskpg. (housekeeping – it means you do the cooking and cleaning yourself) cabins, $18-25 wk., with boat, ice, fuel. Fishing, swimming, good beach.
Minnesota Resort and Travel Guide, 1947. Minnesota Historical Society Collections.
According to a University of Minnesota study on the Minnesota Lodgings Industry in 1970, out of the 2,527 resorts surveyed, 46% had been built between 1945 and 1959. After 1960, a decline is seen in resorts as the short season and high overhead drive resort owners to sell their cabins to individual families, parceling off their lakefront holdings as private property. As of 2013, there were only 810 resorts in operation in Minnesota.
This is what happened to Breezy Bay Resort, sometime in the 1980’s. The farm was sold and the lakefront cabins divided between Jim Ham’s children and maintained as private property. The Breezy Bay resort was at its end. Years went by with no Knight family week on Farm Island Lake. My husband’s father began looking for other places to bring his new family but no place stuck. Finally, he found a resort on the other side of Farm Island Lake that would suit his purposes.
Bill’s Resort, called Farm Island Resort now, wasn’t much different in 1990 than it is today. It was featured in the 1984 edition of Explore Minnesota Resorts and described as follows:
Bill’s Resort & Campground
Housekeeping cabins, 2 lakes to fish walleye, northern, bass, crappie, sunfish. Safe sand beach. Rec hall. 41 water and electric campsites. Central bath bldg. 16 docks, 22 boats, motors, gas, oil, boat launching. Cabin for 4 – $210, for 6 – $240 per week. Open all year.
Explore Minnesota Resorts, 1984. Minnesota Historical Society Collections.
It has four tiny cabins with hard beds encased in plastic and wonderful little notes on the walls providing tips and instructions on how to maintain the cabins during your stay. (Housekeeping cabins is not a term as readily understood today as it was 40-60 years ago.) Online reviews for the Farm Island Resort are mixed. The present owners are characters unto themselves, like the overly-strict camp advisers in a summer movie. People complain about the rules but it wouldn’t be as much fun without them.
My husband’s family has been going to Farm Island Resort every year since he was 10 months old. Last year, my father-in-law and his wife bought a camper on the property. The week (which has become a season for Pat) is steeped in tradition I’m not sure the family even realizes it has. Here’s the customs, as far as I can tell:
It’s your vacation so do whatever you feel like doing. That said, please consider doing the following:
- Go fishing. Often. Always have your fishing license ready. Catch and release – the fun is in the catching, not the cleaning and the eating.
- Play bocce ball. Lose to Patrick. (Don’t worry; everyone does.)
- Sing songs around the campfire (or listen to Kyle play his guitar – singing not required).
- Enjoy fresh baked chocolate chip cookies brought from home.
- Play board games. Lose to Patrick. (Don’t worry; everyone does.)
- Listen to the Power Loon on the radio. Name the artist before the singer comes in.
- Drive 5 miles per hour through the resort or face the wrath of Babs!
- Wake everyone up when you roll over on the crinkly plastic-covered mattress. (Expert tip: BYO pillow.)
- Don’t let the door slam.
- Rum River!!!
Without a doubt, the connection the Knight family has with Farm Island Lake is going to prevail for generations to come.