Another IAGenWeb Project





IT WAS early predicted that the lake region would some day become famous as a summer resort. Indeed, that was one of the factors that entered largely into all of the plans and schemes of the early pioneers and explorers. While the adjoining states of Minnesota and Wisconsin are studded with beautiful lakes in all their parts, the state of Iowa contains but few and that few for the most part of an inferior and insignificant character, the principal exception being Spirit and Okoboji Lakes. Clear Lake and Storm Lake have each acquired a local celebrity and popularity though much inferior to the lakes of Dickinson County.


The early hunting and fishing have been noticed at some length. After the building of the Milwaukee roads through Clay and Jackson Counties it came to be a steady thing for a few enthusiastic sportsmen of this and adjoining states to spend a few weeks each year at the various points about the lakes in fishing and bird shooting. Some of the more prominent of these early sportsmen were John Rollins, G. M. Hippee, Senator J. H. Gear (then Governor), G. S. Pray, Ralph Bell, J. G. Berryhill and several others. At that time there were no places fitted up especially for the entertainment of summer tourists, but they stopped at the primitive hotels and farm houses, and in fact wherever they could.


The old Crandall House was a favorite stopping place with many of these old timers. Another favorite point was at M. J. Smith's near the Okoboji Bridge, and still another at W. B. Arnold's. This was back in the early seventies when Algona, Storm Lake and Sibley were the nearest railroad points, and it took lots of endurance, energy and time to make the trip.


After the Milwaukee road was built to Spencer in 1878 there was a visible increase in the number of summer visitors, and the need for more and better accommodations at once became apparent. Up to this time about the only improvements that had been made with the special object in view of accommodating the summer tourists were Hunters' Lodge, at the north end of Spirit Lake, built in 1871, and Lillywhite's Lodge, built about the same time on the southwest shore. As has been before noticed, Hunter's Lodge was at or near the point made historic by being the place where Nicollet and Fremont took the famous astronomical observation which has since passed into history as the first recorded account of the Spirit Lake region. Hunter's Lodge of the early days was a different thing from what Crandall's Lodge is at present. But then a description is unnecessary. It answered well the purpose for which it was erected. The enthusiastic sportsman here found ideal conditions. Good beds, perfect shelter and tables always groaning under the loads of well cooked food are among the pleasant recollections of Hunter's Lodge of the early days. And then the freedom from restraint, the absence of conventionalities and the sense of absolute relief from care and responsibility were perfectly delicious. And then too the immense strings of fish they used to get! Not once in a while, but all of the time. Indeed, it has been remarked that the ease and readiness with which fish were taken in the early days robbed the sport of its greatest charm.







The north and northeast shore of Spirit Lake, together with Little Spirit Lake, have always been among the most popular of the fishing grounds. The demands of the public soon outgrew the primitive accommodations of the early days and larger and better buildings were erected in their places. A small booklet put out by the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway Company has the following:


"Spirit Lake has many summer cottages along the shores with a few resorts where visitors are entertained. The most noted of these is Crandall's Lodge on the northwest shore. This famous place has been identified with Spirit Lake for more than thirty years and has sheltered many hunters and anglers who came here year after year to enjoy the superb hunting and fishing. There are none of the restraints of a fashionable summer resort at Crandall's Lodge, but visitors here come to have a good time unhampered by anything that will prevent the fullest enjoyment.


"From time to time additions have been made to the lodge which at present, with the eight cottages surrounding it, has accommodations for seventy-five or eighty people. The beach facing the lodge is the finest oil Spirit Lake. It is quite wide, floored with clean, white sands dipping so gently into the water that bathers can go out a great distance before getting beyond their depth. This is the most popular pastime at this resort and the merry shouts of children at play upon the sand or sporting in the water are heard from morn till night. Bathing accidents so common at many resorts would seers to be impossible here. Boating, sailing, shooting and fishing are also prominent among the outdoor pleasures here. The rooms are large, well furnished and comfortable. The table is supplied with an abundance of well cooked and well served food."


Crandall's Lodge is a new building erected on the site of what was formerly known as Hunter's Lodge.


Another of the well remembered early day resorts on Spirit Lake is Lillywhite's Lodge at the southwest shore, where now is located the Westside Hotel. Billy Lillywhite was a great favorite with the early sportsmen. He was an Englishman and a bachelor. He bought the place as early as 1872 and soon thereafter erected, what at that time was considered, spacious quarters for the entertainment of itinerant sportsmen. Of course, in the building and arranging of his place he gave expression to his own peculiar ideas and any one could easily understand that no woman had any part in shaping his plans. He did his own work, was scrupulously neat, and soon his lodge came to be immensely popular. But Billy was of a roving disposition, and after a time this kind of life became irksome and monotonous and in 1875 he sold the place which afterwards came into the possession of C. A. Arnold, Esq. Mr. Arnold erected additional buildings, and for several years conducted the place as the "Westside Hotel." The original Lillywhite building was destroyed by fire but larger and better ones were erected in its place.







Another place on Spirit Lake which was very popular with those, who in an early day were fortunate enough to obtain accommodations there, was Mr. A. Kingman's. Mr. Kingman did not plan his improvements with an idea of accommodating the summer resort business at all, but simply with the view of building a pleasant home. A large number of the better class of people were clamorous for just the kind of entertainment he was in position to give, and so at length he yielded to their importunities and for a few weeks each summer opened his house to summer visitors, having for his patrons some of the best people of the state. After the death of his wife he sold the place to B. F. Stevens.


Samson's Lodge was another of the old time resorts. This was located on the north shore of Spirit Lake across the bay something less than a mile east of Crandall's place. For several years this was quite a noted place, but later it lost its prestige and gradually dropped out of notice.







The Orleans Hotel comes later in point of time but may as well be noticed here as anywhere. As has been stated the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad was completed to Spirit Lake in June, 1882. It was a part of their original plan to build a large summer hotel in the lake region, and the point selected was on the isthmus between East Okoboji and Spirit Lake, right where the old red mill was built twenty-five years before. Their plan was an elaborate one, far too much so to succeed as it afterwards proved. The hotel was completed and thrown open to the public June 16, 1883, with elaborate ceremonies, which were written up for the Beacon in a full and enthusiastic manner. In giving a description of the building at the time it says:


"The fine engraving accompanying the sketch gives a fair idea of the outlines and location of the hotel, but it takes figures to show how complete are the accommodations. The dimensions of the main building are three hundred and twenty-four by forty feet, two stories on the east side and a basement on the west end eighty-four feet, making it three stories with an addition sixty by one hundred and twenty feet from the center of the house to the railroad track. It contains a spacious dining room fifty by sixty feet. The building is surmounted by nine handsome towers, one on each corner and one over the commodious office. The veranda affords a grand promenade three thousand feet long and sixteen feet wide. There are two hundred guest rooms all furnished in first-class style with annunciators, gas, baths and all modern conveniences. Every room has two doors, one leading to the corridor and the other direct to the veranda.


"There is a regular postoffice named 'Minnie' close to the hotel. The American Express and Western Union Companies have offices in the house, and there is telephone connection with the town of Spirit Lake. Of course, there is a laundry, a billiard hall, bowling alley, fishing tackle, boats and all minor accommodations in connection with the hotel."


The opening was a great affair. There was a large company there from Atlanta, Georgia, prominent among whom was Col. E. P. Howell of the Atlanta Constitution. Speeches, toasts and responses were a feature of the occasion. Among the guests were Capt. C. B. Richards of Fort Dodge, who was captain of Company A of 'Major Williams' command that visited the lakes at the time of the massacre. Mr. Richards was called out for a speech and in the course of his remarks said:


"To me it seems like a dream—as though some Aladin had again found his lamp. Where I had known the trackless prairie, the almost impassable sloughs and rivers, I now find one of the best built railroads on the continent and a hotel which for comfort, convenience and beauty of location has but few equals and no superior east or west, north or south. It seems but a short time since I left Fort Dodge, then the frontier town of the Northwest, with two hundred men, volunteers raised on two hours' notice, to march one hundred miles across an almost treeless and trackless prairie in the inclement month of March with the ground covered with several feet of snow, to rescue from the merciless Sioux the few pioneers who had pushed on beyond the outskirts of civilization. We found here, where are so many happy homes and well cultivated farms, only a few scattered log cabins and the mutilated bodies of everyman, woman and child of this then far off and isolated settlement. The country we came over yesterday in a palace car in four hours then required ten days of weary marching without roads or bridges, and instead of a palatial hotel with every modern comfort and convenience the grove on the lake shore was our only shelter, and the slice of bacon cooked by a camp fire our only subsistence." * * *


Colonel Howell, Governor Boynton, Hon. L. S. Coffin and several others were called out for speeches. Hon. S. L. Dows of Cedar Rapids acted as presiding officer. So much for the opening of the Orleans Hotel. J. W. Hutchinson, manager of the Lake Park Hotel, at Minnetonka, leased it for a term of years and placed the management in the hands of J. B. Bryant, Esq.


At the time the hotel was built there were several factors that were not sufficiently canvassed. One important one was the variation of the level of the water in the lake. The summer of 1882 is remembered as being the summer of the highest water ever known in the lakes, and that was the summer in which the plans for the hotel were completed. The largest steamers on the lakes had no difficulty in making their trips through the straits and through the narrows, while those on Spirit Lake could approach the shore and make a landing almost anywhere. There was at this time a difference in the level of the two lakes of nearly six feet.


The projectors of the hotel scheme seem to have labored under the same delusion that Peters did when he built the old mill, viz., that because there was a difference in the level of the two lakes there must be a water power, and acting on this theory they cleaned out the old race and put in an improved water-wheel and water works for the hotel in addition supplying the tank for the use of the railroad. But as the water was drawn down in Spirit Lake it didn't fill up again, and a few dry seasons so reduced the supply that the railroad people were forced to put in steam power to run their water works. In addition to this the water fell away so that the navigation of East Okoboji had to be abandoned almost entirely.


Now one of the most enjoyable steamboat trips from the Orleans was one down through the narrows and through East Okoboji Lake to the several points on West Okoboji. These trips were popular with the patrons of the hotel and profitable to the steamboat men as well. The entire abandonment of these trips had a visible effect on the hotel patronage. It is an open question whether the hotel would for years have made any great money for the company had the navigation remained as when the hotel was built, and with the failure of it the case was hopeless.


Again, the shore of Spirit Lake was very shelving and the water at an almost uniform depth for, a long distance out, thus furnishing an ideal bathing place at the proper stage of water. A substantial dock had been built opposite the hotel, and as the water receded this dock was left high and dry, and long trestles had to be built out into the lake to effect a landing.


It has already been noticed that the lakes reached their highest level in 1882, and their lowest in 1898. The difference at these two dates approximates eight feet. It was in 1882 that the project for building the hotel was decided on, and it was in 1898 that it was decided to tear it down. Had the level of the lakes been in 1882 where it was in 1898 it is not probable the hotel would have been built. Had it been in 1898 where it was in 1882 in all probability it would not have been torn down. The mistake made by the railroad people was in not investigating these conditions more carefully. When .they made their plans they seem to have gone on the theory that the level of the lakes would remain permanent, where it then was, and when in 1898 it reached its lowest level they seem to have; accepted the theory that the lakes were drying up and would soon he a thing of the past.


Doubtless minor considerations had something to do with the decision to abandon the hotel. In the first place their plans were too elaborate and expensive for the conditions existing at that time. There was no demand for anything of the kind. The accommodations, and the service contemplated, were on a scale that required a rich and aristocratic patronage, and the prices were of the same high order. Possibly the money panic through which the country had so recently passed may have had something to do in checking the existing extravagance and enforcing a more rigid economy as well among summer tourists as others. At any rate the hotel didn't pay and as a consequence was ordered torn down.


The idea seems to, have been promulgated by a certain class of papers, both in this and adjoining states, that the Orleans Hotel was closed up and forced out of business by the radical prohibition sentiment existing among the people at that time. A brief consideration of the subject will show how silly and senseless that claim is. In the first place the railroad people knew what the law was as well when they built the hotel as when they tore it down, and in the meantime the law had been greatly modified to meet just such cases. They also knew the prohibition sentiment of the people of the county, inasmuch as the proposed prohibition amendment to the constitution had just received in this county a vote of more than two to one in its favor. It is no secret that the Orleans Hotel was one of the places had in mind by the committee that decided on the provisions of the so-called mulct law.


There was a popular demand that the law be so modified that places of this character be allowed to supply the legitimate demands of their patrons and customers in a legal way and without laying themselves liable to criminal prosecution. Many who had no use for the open saloon so far waived their prejudices as to sign a consent petition that never would have dope so under any other circumstances, and it is idle to claim that the radical views of the people on the prohibition question drove the Orleans Hotel out of business. It would be just as sensible to claim that the "witches" that used to ride Old Peters' water-wheel were still haunting the place and casting their baleful spells over every enterprise inaugurated in that locality. The improvements at Templar 'Park are noticed elsewhere. With the exception of Templar Park the holdings of J. S. Polk, of Des Moines, and B. F. Stevens, of St. Louis, monopolize the entire west shore of Spirit Lake from the isthmus to the state line.