Resorts with a History ~ Dixon Lake
This is the fourth summer I have written about resorts that were started early in Itasca County’s tourist industry and are still in business today. Two of them, Anchor Inn on Sand Lake, and Hide-Away on Deer Lake northeast of Effie, are celebrating 100 years this summer!
The resorts showcased in 2021 were established in the early 1930s. Over the next several months I will be highlighting Sunset Point, Little Bass, Little Winnie, Big Timber (formerly Pine Crest Camp), and several owned by the Christie family on Bowstring Lake. If you have any memories of these resorts, please contact me 218-244-2127, firstname.lastname@example.org or at my blog chrismarcottewrites.com
The Beginning of Dixon Lake Resort
Dixon Lake Resort may be the oldest resort in Itasca County that is still in operation. It is rumored that in 1912, Henry Greene’s guests were Mr. and Mrs. William “Schmitty” Schmitz, prosperous grocers from Chicago. Though it is unclear how they knew Greene, Schmitty and Helen came for a couple weeks, spent their days on the lake fishing, and their nights in a chicken coop that Greene had converted into a cabin!
Greene, a farmer from Granite Falls, Minnesota, filed on a homestead on 160 acres in Alvwood Township in about 1899. Sometime before 1902, Greene acquired the Dixon Lake property from Frank Reardon and had decided to build a stopping place for newly arriving immigrants and settlers. Like many of the other stopping places in northern Itasca County, word of mouth was all the advertising that was needed.
The Arnt Jamtaas family moved from Minneapolis to their homestead property in 1902, and their son Oliver recalls where they went after they got off the train in Bena. “The third day brought us to our destination for the winter, the Henry Green[e] place that is now [was until 1969] the Weisert Resort on Dixon Lake. Henry was a bachelor and had a large log house in the side of a hill with both the first and second floor on ground level. He lived on the first floor and our family consisting of Mother, Father and us twins on the second floor. Henry was an expert at making baking powder biscuits, a standby in the homestead days to stir up quickly when unexpected company dropped in for dinner.” [Oliver Jamtaas (1897-1983) wrote, The Memories of a Pioneer, a history of his family when he was in his seventies.]
There is nothing documented about when Greene made the transition from a stopping place to a lodge for fishermen and hunters, but resort folklore does give the year 1912, as the time he had guests who were there to fish. Others with large lodge type structures began catering to outdoor enthusiasts about this same time. It is not known how many people Greene could accommodate in the lodge or how often the chicken coop was used as a cabin. It wasn’t long before Greene built a few one room cabins for guests coming from as far away as Indiana and Nebraska. He supplied a kerosene light in the middle of the room, a wood stove, and a bucket for water.
Weisert Family ~ 1919-1969
In 1919, when Greene was 76 years old, he sold the Dixon Lake property to Charles Weisert for $3000. Weisert and Greene were both born in New York, so there is a possibility that they knew each other. I did not find an advertisement that it was for sale, and the Weiserts had resided in North Dakota until at least September 12, 1918, when Charles registered for the draft. At any rate, Weisert, his wife Margaret, and their ten children were living in a home they owned, but is mortgaged, (at Dixon Lake) on the 1920 United States Census.
It is believed that the Weiserts arrived early enough in 1919 to get a vegetable garden planted and construct a two-story framed house with a large porch for their family. After building the house Weisert and his sons began constructing additional cabins.
According to Ginger Gabrelcik (she and husband Dick were the third owners), the Greene Lodge had burned down before the Weiserts bought the property. Ginger explained that cabin number 1, had been the old Dixon Schoolhouse. The records of the school district indicate that Dixon School was in operation from 1906-1922. School buildings that were no longer needed were often sold to the highest bidder. Dixon School was hauled across the lake to the Weisert property in the winter as it was much easier to move buildings on ice and snow than by the crude roads through the woods.
In 1960, when he was in his eighties, Charlie Weisert sold the property to his son William and his wife Myrtle for $3800. Nine years later, they sold the resort.
Gabrelcik Family ~ 1969-1980
Dick and Ginger Gabrelcik had been coming up to Lake Winnibigoshish to camp since the early 1960s. “We loved the area and decided on a whim let’s make a change,” said Ginger. “Buy a small resort and raise our boys, Rick, Todd and Troy in the northland. Give ourselves a couple years and if we found it wasn’t for us just go back home to Delano.” Dixon Resort had seven cabins and an old house with a few issues (one of them being bats!), but the Gabrelcik family were excited about their decision.
Ginger provided an overview of their resort experiences. “We made part of the old house into a lodge when we built our earth home into the hill where Greene’s place once stood.” The fireplace in their home was constructed by local stone mason Robert Goltz. The rock was all handpicked from a nearby pit and it was chipped by hand.
“There was no water to the cabins, only the bathhouse had water for showers and toilets and there were outhouses of course. I guess you could say we had real hardy folks for guests. Our first 3-4 years were spent in improvements. We renovated and upgraded one cabin at a time and built a fish cleaning house. The lodge was the first project. We sold beer, lots of it over the bar, plus pizzas, sandwiches, and soup.” Everyone enjoyed potluck meals, so they facilitated those in the lodge on a regular basis.
“Our time at the resort was a great adventure. Our guests over the years, mostly farmers from southern Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana, became good friends and close like family. We learned so much from them. Life on Dixon Lake in a smaller resort business of the 1970s was a simpler time. No comparison to the Dixon Lake resort of the 2000s. Yet some things never change – good fellowship, making new friends and happy times, along with lots of hard work.”
Many Owners ~ 1980-2007
As is often the case, when a resort doesn’t remain in a family, there are multiple owners. Many folks dream of owning a resort but don’t have a clear understanding of how much work it can be. After the Gabrelciks, there was a succession of owners, Tom and Bonnie Hendricks, Steve and Connie Vesey, Ron Crapser, and Lyle and Kathryn Wallentine.
The Wallentines bought the Dixon Lake property in 1995, with the goal of taking the old fishing resort, which had catered to men for eighty years and creating a family destination. Thus, they made significant changes – starting with the main house and lodge. They re-sided the cabins with cedar siding, built two new cabins, and brought in some mobile homes for rentals. More bedrooms, a playground, and improved beach became a focal point for families, and Kathryn started up a variety of children’s activities. The Wallentines were successful in their goal to include families and had Dixon Resort for twelve years.
Christensen Family ~ 2007-present
For Roger and Sharon, and their son Todd and his wife Karen, it was the ten miles of forest-lined gravel road that convinced them this was the resort.
The two couples had successfully started and owned a punch press business affiliated with poured wall construction for more than 10 years. “We always said running a resort would be our next adventure,” Karen explained. When an opportunity to sell presented itself, the Christensens started looking at resorts. They explored twelve in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but “it was the towering pine trees that sealed the deal,” Karen said. “We wanted a resort with the real up north feeling and an emphasis on families. In early 2007 we found Dixon Lake Resort. Both families, along with our young daughters, Samantha and Emily, moved from the sticks to the boonies.”
When the Christensen’s bought the resort, there were nine cabins and 39 seasonal campsites. They made plans for improvements and worked together to accomplish them. They winterized a few of the cabins, put the power lines underground, and added cable TV. They refinished the lodge floor, built a roof over the front deck, and put steel roofing on the lodge. They also put a steel roof on the oldest building still standing – a storage shed which probably goes back to the early 1920s since part of it was used as the icehouse. Now there are 12 cabins and 47 seasonal RV spots.
“We had heard that there had been a still in the basement of the Weisert house, and that some guests appreciated this. One of the guests liked to go up to the barn to see the horses, but really so he could drink,” Karen shared with a laugh. “We found evidence of the still when we were putting in new water lines. Part of the basement foundation and the pipes from the still laying against the concrete.”
The Christensens are now into their 14th year and are as happy as the day they moved in. “Guests have become family and we look forward to seeing them. It’s been a wonderful place for our daughters to grow up. They have helped us since they were young and are an important part of our family business. Sammy and Emily grew up cleaning cabins, serving meals, launching boats, running craft time and being one of the attractions as all their little friends showed up on Friday.”
Most folks come for the same week each year, some go right to their cabin and stop to visit later. There are family reunions with one group now needing most of the cabins. A handful of guests and campers have been coming to the area for over fifty years.
A recent 74-year-old guest requested his old cabin – number 3. He shared that he had first come to the resort at least seventy years ago, when he was still in diapers during the Weisert ownership. He recalled that when he was about ten, he and his dad would go out fishing every day and catch lots of sunfish. They would fry them for supper and for dessert they’d have fresh berry pies his mom loved to make. That was their vacation.
The Christensens have added a few more family activities, one of the favorites with young and old is arts and crafts. “I always have to make sure I have enough supplies for the moms or grandmothers who join their kids, as they don’t just come to help, but to make their own!” The projects are unique and always use elements in nature. Projects through the years adorn the walls of the lodge. Karen is very artistic as evidenced throughout the lodge, including the elaborate murals on the walls and in the bait room.
The 4th of July is always a big event at the resort. “We roast a pig and have a potluck which includes our neighbors around the lake. There are games and races, a bocce ball competition and of course a boat parade on the water, and a bicycle and 4-wheeler parade on land.”
As far as the future, Karen says, “We always planned on at least 20 years as we would like to travel, but who knows, we could be here until we are 82!”