9.12.2021

Resorts with a History ~ Little Bass Camp/Resort

It is probable that when Jesse and Ell Dora Jellison brought their family from Minneapolis to Bass Lake on the train in 1894, they had no idea that within thirty years, four of their children would be engaged in the blossoming resort business within Itasca County.  It was in 1917, that Clyde and Clarence built several cabins on the family property on Bass Lake as a way to bring in money to support their widowed mother. This later became Wildwood Resort.

Mabel Jellison married Christopher Baker, and in 1925, after their children were grown, they welcomed fishermen and their families to Baker’s Shady Nook on Bass Lake. Clarence Jellison married Orva Jones in the spring of 1927 and within a couple years they had established Jellison’s Log Cabin Campon Big Bass. 

Clyde Jellison had inherited land just across the road, on Little Bass Lake, and when he married Dorothy Jones, the younger sister of Orva in the fall of 1927, it was with the intent that they too could run a resort if she wanted. She did, and they named it Little Bass Lake Camp.

This is the first time in my Resorts with a History series that I had the opportunity to interview all of the owners of one resort. Little Bass Lake Camp has had only four owners, and I had the privilege to visit with the last three and also the original owner’s daughter, Ruth (Jellison) Dickie. Ruth has become a resource to me on several Reminisce articles.

Clyde & Dorothy Jellison 1930-1970

Clyde built three modern housekeeping cabins and Dorothy ran the resort. “My mother was a very good businesswoman,” Ruth Dickie explained. “She kept careful records, was known for her hospitality, and was a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.” These were all important attributes of a successful resort owner. 

It is rare that guest registration survives the years of long-standing resorts, but Dorothy’s have. Pages from the well-worn 1938 volume of a Guest Register for Cabin Camp and Resorts produced by the Blackbourn Company show that the resort was filled from the fishing opener until the end of summer.  Guests came from Chicago, IL, Des Moines, IA, Omaha NE, Fort Wayne IN, Kansas City, KS as well as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Milaca, MN.

“Mother’s goal was to make $2000-$2500 in a summer.  She made extra money by selling dairy products, garden veggies and chickens to resort guests. She used some of the money to get us kids what we needed for school.”  Dorothy took great pride in the cabins, and even though they were always spotless for the new arrivals, she would say, “oh, so and so is coming, we’ve got to have their cabin super nice.” That might mean the patchwork quilts were swapped for the new ones Dorothy had made over the winter.  In addition to the homemade quilts and curtains, the Little Bass Camp cabins were all adorned with handmade rugs. Ruth recalls, “I used Mother’s treadle sewing machine to sew strips of old sheets, curtains and clothing together for the rag rugs. I’d roll them in balls and then Mom took them to a woman who lived on Horseshoe Lake Road, who wove them into rectangle rugs with fringe on the ends.  Mom would have me sort out some of the brighter colors and roll them separately so they could be used for a stripe of color on some of them.”

Clyde’s primary employment was building bridges and houses in Itasca County. He expected his four children to help their mother with the resort as much as they could, often until 9:30 at night. “Dad taught us how to use the old-fashioned rotary style push mower and sharpen the blades. And it seems like we were mowing and raking all the time.  His philosophy was ’keep the kids busy and they’ll stay out of trouble.’ It seemed to work!  We never used propane on the property, all the cabins used wood stoves. It was Wayne’s job to bring in wood.  On Saturdays it was my job to take clean sheets and rugs to the cabins for guests who were here for more than a week. As soon as the younger kids were old enough to push a wheelbarrow, they collected the trash cans from the cabins.”

But it wasn’t all work, there was time for fun.  “The lake was my playground. It was a great place to grow up.

I’m still friends with a family that came from Missouri.” Ruth also remembers a nearby resort, Catch n Fish, that is no longer operating.  “We’d ride our bikes down there because they had a nice swing, and we could get a popsicle for a nickel!”

Clyde and Dorothy owned the Little Bass Lake Camp for forty years and never regretted their decision to build it. Ruth and her family have continued to spend part of their summers on one of the lakes in the area, sometimes staying at Little Bass and other times at Wildwood. As often as they can, they enjoy sharing the family and local history of Bass Lake with a boat tour and explaining of how things used to be.

John & Ginger Anderson 1970-1992

When John Anderson bought the resort there were three cabins and the house that the Jellison’s had lived in.  His plan was to remodel the cabins, build a couple more that were wheelchair accessible, and install sidewalk trails from cabins to the dock and other communal sites on the resort.  John was able to do most of the work himself as he was a contractor. With a total of six housekeeping cabins, he changed the name from Little Bass Lake Camp to Little Bass Lake Resort.

John attracted guests from the Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis and explained, “We received an award from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of MN because we were handicapped accessible before it was required.” Although John never saw the article, he was told that their resort was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal for their initiative. It was important to the Anderson family that everyone had an opportunity to experience the wonders of a northern Minnesota resort. 

“It was good for us.  My five kids had a chance to interact with people they would have never seen otherwise. They helped the handicapped guests with things so many others took for granted. They would run the motorboats so guests could fish out on the lake, assist with cleaning fish, and help those who requested it to roast hotdogs or marshmallows at the fire pit.”

One of the celebrities to stay at Little Bass was the musical band, Asleep at the Wheel. “They were playing at the Itasca County Fair back when hardly anyone had heard of them. They gave us a T-shirt and an album. I think it was their first one.”

A brief overview of Asleep at the Wheel ~ The band started in 1969, made their debut album, Comin’ Right at Ya, in 1973, and has accrued 10 Grammy Awards. “The long running and influential western swing band will mark fifty years together with a new album, Half a Hundred Years, to be released in October 2021.

The best memory John has of the resort is the people.  “The friendships we made were very special. We’ve had people from Alaska, Russia, Australia, and France.”

The Andersons had the resort for twenty-two years. In 1992, Jerry Angst came to Little Bass Lake and explained that he was looking to buy a resort in the area. “We hadn’t talked about selling,” John said, “but it was to be the first summer Ginger would have had to run it on her own as the kids were gone.  We thought it over and decided to accept his offer.”

Jerry Angst 1992-2017

When Jerry had a chance to leave the corporate world of IBM, he decided to buy a resort even though his experience was minimal. But, he craved the solitude that two of his friends who owned resorts had in the winter. Learning that John Anderson might be interested in selling, Jerry knocked on his door.  “The first thing John said to me was, ‘Are you in it for the money or are you in it for the lifestyle?’ I replied, the lifestyle and he said, okay, we’ll talk.”

Jerry quickly learned the ropes of running a six cabin resort thanks to his friends at Back O’ the Moon and his kids helping out when they could. Once he had the day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year responsibilities figured out, he started the Little Bass Lake Resort Chronicles.  Inspired by a guest, he kept in touch by having a countdown until fishing opener and sharing snippets and photographs during the off season. 

By the late 1990s he was recording something nearly every day which was always accessible to guests via his webpage. Some guests began writing their own snippets, and as an offshoot, Northland Stories, Poems and Anecdotes, was launched on his webpage. I have had many resort owners tell me they wish they had recorded what happened at their resort. However, this was the first time I have known anyone to follow through – recording for over 20 years. If it was printed and bound, I’m sure it would be a hefty book!

“The guests have been the most rewarding part of being a resort owner,” Jerry said. “And one I didn’t even anticipate because I had never spent time at a resort. I have watched young children grow up and bring their families. That’s what I found memorable.”  

Tim & Monica Bluhm 2017-current

The first time Tim came to Little Bass Lake Resort was in 1978.  He was seventeen years old and came up from Iowa to go fishing with friends who had a cabin at the resort. After he married Monica, and their children were old enough to fish, Tim brought them to his favorite northern Minnesota lake.  The Bluhms kept coming back until there were also grandchildren in tow. Eventually, Tim and Monica told Jerry they were interested in the resort when he was ready to retire.

In late 2017, the Bluhms purchased the resort, and 2018 was their first season. “We are so glad to have this place,” Tim said. “We have always loved the fishing and the beauty of this lake. It’s small enough where we don’t get the big boats and jet skis, and we can still hear the loons.” The couple lives in Iowa for part of the year, but plan to be at the resort year-around before too long.

Jerry had shared that when he sold the property to Bluhms, the cabins were in worse shape than when he bought it from John Anderson. Tim and Monica knew this and started repairs right away.  They gutted several cabins, replaced a couple roofs, and updated the water/septic system. “This last winter we did a lot of work inside cabin 3 and built a large deck onto the house, where we will soon have our office.”

During the remodeling of cabin 3, one of the original Jellison cabins, two matchbook covers were found in the wall. One, from the Terrace Motor Court in Nashville, TN, had the date August 30, 1947, written in pencil.  The other, from Nate’s Open Pit in Aurora, CO, was dated July 30, 1948. Knowing how fond guests are of a particular cabin, it can be assumed the same individual tucked the matchbook covers away to mark their vacation.

Little Bass Lake Resort has most of the amenities of the larger resorts but maintains its rustic charm. Three of the cabins are within twenty-five feet of the lake. The main dock is a magnet for morning coffee drinkers, and the sidewalks allow for easy wheelchair and stroller use.  The bookings are going well. They have had room for some new guests, many which are now repeat customers. “Currently we are summer only, however, we do plan to be open in the winter before long.  The house and several cabins are winterized, and we are amazed at what Itasca County has to offer guests in the winter.”

Tim and Monica may be new resort owners, but they have spent most of the previous thirty summers as guests and know just how special Little Bass Lake Resort is.  They have plans to be here for a very long time.

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