Little Winnie Resort ~ Itasca County Resorts with a History


Little Winnibigoshish Lake is home to only one resort. “When you are out on the water, it’s like you are going into Canada.” This is the sentiment of Shannon Graupmann whose family has owned the resort for more than twenty years. I agree. Other than the resort dock, there is not a structure anywhere to mar the beautifully wooded lakeshore.  The resort is, and always has been, situated on higher land above the lake and near a road that was created in the very early years.

Charlie Pogue 1925-1930

In the following article, both Charlie Pogue and Ed Clinite are mentioned, though I found no further reference to Clinite. By the mid-1920s there were numerous resorts on Big Winnibigoshish. The Mississippi River flows between Big Winnie (at the dam) and Little Winnie.  From Little Winnie it continues into Big Ball Club Lake and then White Oak Lake.

Build New Resort on Road to Lake ~ Grand Rapids Herald Review 5-13-1925

“Another resort will open its doors to the tourists and to the people who take to fishing, even though they live in the district where there are many fish.  Chas. Pogue of Grand Rapids and Ed Clinite of Warba are the men who are building this new resort and they have selected as their location the Jack Tuttle farm, a mile east of Winnibigoshish Dam, and on the main road to the dam.

“The site selected is about two blocks from the shore of Little Winnie Lake, and the land extends in a gentle slope to the sandy beach of the lake, where there are unexcelled bathing facilities.  A number of boats will be provided, and a space cleared for a tourist camp for the traveler. A building, 20×32 feet in size, is being constructed, where lunches, soft drinks, hot coffee, bait, and other needed supplies will be sold.  The proprietors expect to be ready for the opening of the pike fishing season on May 15, and to have a rapidly increasing trade through the season.

“Three places where fishermen may secure minnows have been arranged by Pogue and Clinite.  One is at the Pogue Corner in Grand Rapids, one at the place where the main highway west crosses the brook at the foot of Little Ball Club Lake, and the other at the new resort on Little Winnie.  Attendants will be on duty night and day to supply bait to the eager pike fishermen.”

It is probable that the building referred to above was built near the shore as that is where the tourist camp would have been. A tourist camp was a place where you could park your car and set up a tent.  It came into being about the same time automobile owners were encouraged to take road trips.

I was not able to find a name for this resort, nor any advertising, but I think this is probably because it was actually more of a tourist camp than a resort under Pogue’s ownership. I found that in 1927, the Minnesota Arrowhead Association had attempted to compile a complete list of tourist camp sites in the Arrowhead region, but the returns were not sufficiently adequate to justify a publication. “We can say, however, that every city and village has one or more camps, while many of the resorts offered campsites either free or at a very nominal charge.”

Olson Family 1930-1969

Melvin “Mel” Olson was born in Polk County, Minnesota in 1897. By the 1920 United States Census he was employed by the Cleveland Cliff Iron Mining Company in Greenway as a fireman.  He met Vera MacAdams at the Shady Rest resort and dance pavilion on Little Ball Club Lake. Vera’s mother had been married to Curly Bendwell, the owner, at the time. Mel and Vera were married in November 1923.

In an interview conducted in 1975, Mel explained how he and Vera came to be resort owners through a man he had worked with in the mines. “In 1930, I knew a guy who owned this place, Charlie Pogue. I always wanted to get into the resort business, and I thought it would be a good place to start. Bought it outright from Charlie Pogue.  This was an Indian allotment.  He had it recorded so he was paying taxes on it, and I was eligible to buy it.  There were two shacks on it when I came and two flat bottom boats.”  [Stan Johnson conducted they oral history interview with Melvin Olson for the Chippewa National Forest 12-30-1975]

According to Winnie (Nesvig) Olson, daughter-in-law of Mel and Vera, one of those original shacks, named Trailing Arbutus, the one that Vera had, had been used by Charlie Pogue for the distillation of moonshine during Prohibition. It is likely the other was rented out to deer hunters.

Mel and Vera worked hard the first year to build and furnish a couple cabins and the main lodge.  The lodge had a lobby, small store, and dining room to accommodate guests. There were also rooms where the Olson family lived and a large kitchen where Vera prepared meals for all. A 1931 Resort Directory for the Grand Rapids Area lists Little Winnie as having housekeeping cabins, a dining room and campground.  Within a few years, Mel and Vera were catering to guests in the thirteen cabins named for flowers.  Winnie, who had cleaned those cabins for ten years, could easily recite them all – Bluebell, Columbine, Daisy, Forget-me-not, Honeysuckle, Iris, Ivy, Lilac, Morning Glory, Shamrock, Trailing Arbutus, Violet, and Wild Rose.

In 1936 Mel had a custom launch built and christened Vera. “It was 36 feet long, was 10’6” wide at the beam and had a set up over the water about 11 feet. Built by Arnold Larson in Cass Lake, built all my fishing boats too.” The Vera left daily from the Olson’s dock on Big Winnibigoshish for $2.50 per person including live bait and sandwiches prepared by Vera.

Mel also enjoyed guiding fishermen. “When I guided, I had a 12 horse [motor], that was the biggest they had for a while. I had a pet place to fish over to Third River. Back then the limit was 20 northerns, and there was no trouble getting 20 if you wanted. Of course, we always fished for walleye.  If I had somebody out fishing and we caught the walleyes in a hurry and they wanted to go fishing northerns, I says I’m not fishing northerns for you – I’m telling you I’m getting you walleyes and when we get them, if I’m lucky enough to get you the walleyes, I’m not going to start running after the northerns.

Vera was a good cook, and most well known for her blueberry pies and doughnuts.  Her secret to the doughnuts soft texture was mashed potatoes! She worked as hard as Mel to make the resort a viable business for their family.  Vera took great pride in her dining room and served family style.  The tablecloth was always snowy white, with cloth napkins, china plates and glasses. Their children, Maurice and Myron helped as soon as they were old enough to carry bait to the fisherman and food to the table.

When Myron and Winnie got married in 1958, they lived in the original lodge.  Mel and Vera moved into the Lilac cabin, which at one time had been the boathouse.  In 1959, the year Sonja was born, Myron and Winnie took over the resort. In the early 1960s, after Sandy was born, a new lodge was built on the same side of the road where the cabins were, and the old lodge was torn down. Meals were no longer being served (except to a group of loyal deer hunters from Alexandria and Brainerd), so instead of a dining room, there was a game room and lounge for guests. Sonja who lived at the resort until she was eight remembered what fun it was to play with the children who came with their parents.

During the school year, Winnie taught at King School and Myron drove bus. After ten years, they sold the resort.  At that time there were thirteen white cabins with dark green trim and nine sites for trailer houses. Mel and Vera continued to live in the home they had made for themselves across the road. 

Various Owners ~ 1969-1999

During the next thirty years, there were five owners. In 1969, Myron and Winnie sold the thirty-five acres on the south side of the road, where most all of the resort cabins and lodge were, to Russell “Pete” and Inez Kopp.

Bob and Bea Theide, along with daughter and son-in-law Linda and Dale Peterson, bought and managed the resort from 1973-1978. Dale recalled that the major improvements they did during that time were replacing the oil furnaces with propane and putting showers in some of the cabins.  Even after they sold it, he and Linda continued to come up to the resort. When they retired, bought the house that Vera and Mel had lived in.

A brochure from the time Jack and Marlene Zigas were owners’ states: “we have 13 cabins, an apartment and 9 campsites with full hook-ups which are separate from the cabin area…We are on a blacktop highway and are open all year around.” It was then sold to Jim and Ellie Billington, who managed it with the help of Ellie’s parents, Bill and Bonnie Miller. In about 1993, Bruce and Kris Santolin, from Chicago took over the resort until Kris’ health prevented them from fully managing it.

Graupmann Family ~ 2000-present

Shannon Graupmann knew it was time to seriously think about her husband Doug’s desire to sell their electrical contracting business and buy a resort.  One day she came home and found him and their four kids lying on their backs on the ground and flying a kite from a fishing pole.  After looking at Little Winnie, Doug and Shannon brought their two sons and daughters, ages 7-12 in on the family meeting and each had a vote on whether to move north or remain in southern Minnesota.  Little Winnie won them all with its potential and, in early 2000, they relocated to the resort.

“We put a lot of money, blood, sweat and tears in it.” Shannon said.  “It was mostly a fishing resort and really wasn’t up to most people’s standards anymore.  The thirteen cabins were old, quaint, and charming, but they didn’t have TV or air conditioning. We took two without adequate plumbing down (Iris and Ivy) and remodeled the others as quickly as we could and had our doors open for fishing opener in May 2000.”

All of the cabins were built using tree trunks as the foundation so that was replaced with block.  When they were working on the Trailing Arbutus cabin (now named Wolf Den) Shannon said they found many old liquor bottles under it. Even though Charlie Pogue seemed to be a well-known bootlegger in this area, his name never came up in the research I did for the Prohibition in Itasca County series I wrote in 2020. Perhaps he was under law enforcement radar or knew officials who liked to imbibe!

After the cabins were remodeled, the focus was on the lodge and the adjacent living quarters for the Graupmann family. Then they added a swimming pool and developed Winnie Estates, on the north side of the road.  Currently there are 133 generous seasonal sites in that location. The guests take great pride in their summer homes, and many have elaborate gardens and creative fire pits. Guests are from all over the United States as well as Grand Rapids, Hibbing and Duluth. There are family clusters and mini communities. “Some are not even fisher people, but they enjoy the peace and quiet in the north woods. We are always full and have a waiting list.”

“Our kids got to grow up here. They all learned to work hard, make a dollar, make friends with resort guests. Each has had a chance to manage the resort, and it is now in the hands of our youngest, Cody.” Cody and his fiancée Cassandra Holmbeck will be married on August 28th.  They and their dog Winnie have been the resort hosts for the past two years and look forward to meeting the needs of the nearly 700 annual guests who make Little Winnie Resort part of their outdoor getaway for many, many years to come.

1 Comment

  1. youngv2015 says:

    These histories are interesting. I think about all the hard work it takes to run a resort, and how all that hard work creates many wonderful memories for so many people who stay at the resorts.


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