8.1.2021 [archived ~ originally published 9.22.2019]
There are nine lakes in Itasca County named Bass Lake. The smallest is less than 20 acres and the largest, where Wildwood Resort is located is nearly 3000 acres! According to the 1930 Itasca County Booster Fishing Contest the following fishermen from Wildwood Lodge had winning entries:
2nd Prize for Black Bass ~ Harland Wells 4 lb, 10 oz
1st Prize for Blue Gill ~ Allen Heddle 1lb, 9 oz
2nd Prize for Blue Gill ~ O.A. Johnson 1lb, 8 oz
1st Prize for the best string of three Blue Gill ~ O.A. Johnson
Based on historical research, Wildwood Lodge, owned by the Jesse Jellison family, was one of the first resorts on Bass Lake in Cohasset. Another early resort, across from Wildwood called Baker’s Shady Nook, was owned by Christopher and Mabel (Jellison) Baker. At one time Jesse Jellison owned considerable acreage around the lake.
In the Beginning
Jesse Jellison, a Civil War veteran and his wife Ell Dora homesteaded 160 acres on the west side of Bass Lake in 1894. Clyde Jellison was only three years old when he and the rest of the family took the train from Duluth not long after the birth of the youngest child, Melvin.
In the early1980s, Clyde’s daughters Shirley and Ruth compiled his memories into a family history entitled This is Where I Belong. One of his first memories at the homestead was ‘the well incident.’ The well was up off the ground about two feet and partially covered with wood. “I was laying on that deck, on my stomach sailing a toy boat in the water. All the sudden I fell in! I started yelling and hollering. My sister Mabel and brother Clarence came and pulled me out!”
Jesse was always looking at land as he hunted and fished to feed the family. After ‘proving up’ on his homestead, he bought acreage further north on a point of land (now called Shoemaker Point). He built a second home and moved the family. In the fall of 1903, the entire household was very sick with typhoid fever and the oldest son Bryon died. Jesse and Ell Dora decided to move closer to Cohasset so they could see a doctor if needed. In the spring Jesse purchased 450 acres from T.B. Walker on the south end of the lake.
The Jellison belongings were moved on an 8’ x 20’ flatboat barge that Jesse devised and ‘sailed’ down the lake. He built their third home on Bass Lake from timbers that had been replaced on the government dam on the Mississippi River.
In 1908, at the age of 63, Jesse died of cancer. His two oldest sons, Clarence 19, and Clyde 17 did what their father had hoped to do with them – they set up a steam engine sawmill and named the enterprise Wildwood. “We would ask questions from fellows who knew, and they would give us information on how to do this and that until we got it running. After a year or so, we bought a planer. We never had any trouble selling the lumber.”
Tragedy struck the family again in the winter of 1914 when the Jellison house was destroyed by a fire. Ell Dora and Clarence were the only ones home at the time, and very little was saved. With plenty of lumber from the sawmill, Clarence and Clyde constructed a new two-story home. This structure has remained the residence for all the owners of Wildwood Lodge and a gathering place for resort guests.
Ruth (Jellison) Dickie is a granddaughter of Jesse and Ell Dora. Her father is Clyde. Ruth was born years after Wildwood Lodge had been sold but offered her thoughts on the beginnings of that family resort. “My Dad and uncle Clarence would have built the original few cabins at Wildwood. I remember dad telling that he and his brother were guides for people for hunting and fishing. I don’t think they had many cabins at that time and Uncle Clarence ran the place when dad went into WWI, 1918-1919.”
A lengthy article in the 6-13-1925 issue of the Itasca Independent newspaper focused on the advancement of resorts in the Grand Rapids area, specifically referencing Bass Lake. “…Baker’s Shady Nook, operated by C.W. Baker adjoining his farm home there. Mr. Baker has several cottages and they hope to have several cabins soon. They have quite a fleet of good boats, camping grounds and other accommodations.
Farther up the lake Jellison Bros. have a number of cottages at the Jellison home place, and they have boats, bait, camping grounds, etc., and take care of good crowds. Aside from being a good fishing lake, Bass Lake is the haunt of ducks and in season these resorts take care of hunting parties as well as fishing parties.”
In the late 1920s, Wildwood Lodge was sold to Albert and Ella Nusbaum. The Nusbaums had been guests at the resort and moved up from Waterville, Minnesota. Clarence and Clyde continued in construction and resorting.
On September 21, 1927 Clyde married Dorothy Jones and they started the Little Bass Camp on Little Bass Lake. A month later Clarence married Dorothy’s sister, Orva and they established the Jellison Log Cabin Camp on Bass Lake.
In Between Years 1929-1999
So often the details of the owners between a resort’s initial development and the current owners is hard to come by. I believe this list includes but is not limited to the owners from about 1929-1999: Albert and Ella Nusbaum, Charley and Peg Keller, Harold and Eleanora ‘Jan’ Bemis, Martin and Shirley Van Hout, Steve and Jane Mueske, and Mike and Marilyn Whiteis.
A postcard from September 1950, during the Nusbaum ownership reads, “Our good friends, greetings from land of lakes and pines. This is a picture of lodge where we are, have had wonderful summer and we are real well. Quite cool nights, but lovely. Lots of fish and vegetables having fresh strawberries to use. Had wild blueberries too.”
Ruth shared a bear story from the Bemis ownership. “Mr. and Mrs. Bemis came up early each spring to get the resort ready. One morning, before we left for school in about 1955, Harold called our place and asked if my brother Wayne could come help him hang and skin the bear he had just shot. My mom also went and filmed the whole thing. Then Mrs. Bemis baked a couple big bear roasts and fed a meal to everyone in the area that evening.”
Doug Van Arkel is a guest who stayed during this span of years. He came to Wildwood from Iowa every summer from the age of one to sixteen. He treasured the one-on-one time with his dad, especially in the fishing boat, and being with his cousins. He and his wife, Linda brought their own children up in the 1970s thru the 1990s. And because Bass Lake holds so many positive memories for them, the Van Arkels built a home on the lake in 2000. “One thing that hasn’t changed,” Doug says, “is the narrows. This channel that connects the north and south basin is the same as when my dad and I traveled it in a wooden boat with a 3 or 4 hp motor. There are no homes or cabins. It’s thick with wild rice and other vegetation. Navigating the narrows is challenging but that’s the beauty of it – you are forced to slow down, look around and enjoy undisturbed nature.”
Jay and Kim Jamtgaard 1999
“Jay and I spent our honeymoon on Lake Vermillion and that’s when we got the bug,” Kim Jamtgaard said. She and Jay had business degrees and enjoyed managing a restaurant but still yearned for the woods. They started looking in earnest in late 1998. “We came up on our days off, talked to realtors and looked at resorts. There was a purchase agreement already on the table, but we liked what was written about Wildwood and we went to see it anyway. We knew we wanted it the minute we drove down the driveway.” It truly was meant for Jay and Kim. The deal fell through for the other purchaser and everything came together for the Jamtgaards.
The summer of 1999 was their first year as resort owners. “It was literally trial by fire,” Kim explained. “We had a good business background and people skills, but we hadn’t even owned a home – the guys at Burgraf’s Ace hardware taught us a lot! And thank goodness Wildwood had been well maintained for decades before us.”
One of the things that appealed to Jay and Kim was that the resort had a strong family vacation emphasis. Bass Lake is known for its fishing, but the sandy beach provides swimming and other water activities for all ages. Jay and Kim are grateful they have raised their two daughters in such a beautiful environment.
“We have generations of families that come together and have their own traditions.” Kim said. “There are many guests who have had the same cabin and same week for as far back as they can remember. One of our earliest guests our first season is still the oldest to return to Wildwood. John McCaw is 102 years wise and grew up on a farm in Cohasset. He and his wife, Maxine, raised their family in Des Moines, IA. When we met them John and Maxine, had been coming to Bass Lake resorts for decades. He is full of stories and would often tear up while telling them. My favorite story was about a time during the polio scare that they were staying at Baker’s resort.
“John tells of being out fishing one afternoon and was dozing in the boat. He had a dream about Maxine standing on shore and calling to him to come back to the resort. He immediately returned to the resort to find out that their youngest child had spiked a fever. Maxine had been praying for him to return from fishing. John and Maxine stopped coming to the resort in early 2000s because the trip had become too difficult at their age. A few years ago, we were surprised by a call from John who booked a cabin for a week in September. He told us his kids didn’t want him to come up but he was coming up with or without them! He was 99 that year. He just left last week after another week with us. He (and now his children) is a gift to us.
“Our relationship with our guests is the real blessing of this life. Each week brings back longtime guests who we look forward to seeing. Most weeks also bring new guests who bring the fun of new acquaintance. Every week is a bit of a neighborhood reunion since most guests haven’t seen their ‘neighbors’ since their visit at Wildwood the year before.”
The potluck is popular among many of the resorts which focus on family. At Wildwood, the tradition included a recipe. “I was given the goulash recipe and was told it was an expected as part of the weekly potluck,” Kim said. “So, I have been making goulash about ten times a summer for twenty years!”
In 2004 the Jamtgaards made the decision to begin taking down cabins and rebuilding them with more modern and energy efficient structures. They wanted to operate the resort year around. By 2014 all of the cabins had been replaced. “We saved the old windows and a lot of the furnishings,” Kim said, “and if a guest requested something that was meaningful to them, we let them have it.”
The windows were an inspiration for Carol and Dale Niska. Their family at one time took up nearly the entire resort with their eleven adult children and families. Carol painted some of the original cabins, and Dale framed them using the window as a frame. “They are really lovely and are hanging in cabins by their original number,” Kim said. “I still have more windows and will find a way to use them. Carol passed away in 2009 so the windows are precious to us.”
The Jamtgaards are very happy with the decision they made twenty years ago and plan to continue at Wildwood. Kim enthusiastically says, “We love our life. The relationships we have with guests are priceless. We get second degree joy by seeing families happy and having fun.”