10.3.2021

Resorts with a History ~ Bowen Lodge

Resorts with a History ~ Bowen Lodge

In 1925, the Commercial Club in Deer River took out a full-page advertisement in the June 4th issue of the Deer River News.  It included a listing of twenty-four resorts as well as the name and address of the proprietors. Remarkably, nine of those resorts are still in operation today, so last summer I began to highlight them in this special series, Resorts with a HistoryThis article is the last one in the series.  The lodge wasn’t in that 1925 advertisement, but since Herb and Jessie Bowen were instrumental in starting several resorts, it seemed appropriate to finish the series with an article about the resort they established in 1931.   

Property History

The first recorded owners on the abstract were John and Jane Jackson.  John’s 1926 obituary states “he has lived on the farm 16 miles west of Deer River, on the road through the National Forest. Mr. Jackson’s home has probably been the stopping place for more settlers than any other in the county.  Emigrants traveling into the territory northwest of here stopped at Jackson’s for food and shelter. The sturdy pioneer was most hospitable.  He welcomed the traveler to his home and cheered him on his way.  For many years Mr. Jackson has been known as a substantial citizen of this section. About forty-one years ago, Mr. Jackson was married to Jane Fairbanks, who, with three children, Mrs. Henry [Hattie] Peters of Minneapolis, Mrs. George [Catherine] Tibbetts of Deer River, and William Jackson of Deer River, survives him.” [Itasca News 5-6-1926]

After John’s death, Jane sold the property to the Thorpe Bros., a land company from Minneapolis.  Thorpe Bros. had bought up lake property in Itasca County in the early 1920s, parceled it off, and sold it to those wanting to build lake homes at a considerable profit.  One of their most successful ventures was the land around Deer and Moose Lake just north of Deer River.  

1928-1946

Cut Foot Sioux Lodge

Howard Vincent Shull, a resort owner from the Marcell area, bought the property from Thorpe Bros in 1928.  He built the lodge, several cabins and named it Cut Foot Sioux Lodge. Mr. Shull and his family lived in St. Louis County, so he hired Fred Tibbetts to manage the resort. Fred was also a fishing guide, and it is possible the Shull and Tibbetts families were both there during the busy summer season.  Cut Foot Sioux Lodge was prominently marked on a1931 Itasca County map showing fishing resorts.

Bowen Lodge

Jessie Bowen had sold Eagle Nest Resort after Herb died in 1931.  Her son-in-law and daughter, Al and Stella Christie sold the Cut Foot Sioux Inn about the same time. (This resort with such as similar name, was also clearly marked on the 1931 map!)  Al was interested in buying a service station, with a large home behind it, for his family and his mother-in-law.  They spent the summer looking, and in the end, decided to purchase Cutfoot Sioux Lodge.

The transaction was finalized by deer hunting season.  After about a year of running the resort, they decided to rename it, Bowen Lodge.  Jessie, called “Ma” as long as anyone can remember, Al, and Stella had the resort until 1946.  Jessie was 64 years old and had been running a boarding house or resort for about 47 years when it was sold to George and Rose Goodwin.  Imagine the amount of fish she fried (as that was her specialty) in the 25 years of feeding guest all the fish they could eat!

1946-1982

George and Rose Goodwin bought Bowen Lodge in 1946.  They, and later their son Bob and his wife Shirley owned the resort until 1974.  The Goodwin family lived in the same cabin that the Christie’s did.  In the previous Reminisce article, Joy (Christie) Tervo shared that her parents and siblings lived in their own cabin, away from the main lodge and cabins, because her grandmother, Ma Bowen, didn’t want children around the resort guests.

At the time the Goodwin’s bought the resort, only a few of the cabins had cooking facilities.  They changed over the rest of the cabins to include kitchens, and meals were no longer served in the main lodge.  This was a fairly common modification during the 1940s and 1950s.  It made the cost of staying at a resort more feasible for a family.

Sven and Joan Olin owned the resort from 1974-1979.  It was then purchased by Larry and Althea Miller.  Robert Heig, Sr. bought it from the Millers in late 1982.

1982-2018…

In his retirement, Robert Heig, a businessman from Minneapolis, decided to invest in a resort.  He and his family had spent annual vacations at resorts on Pelican Lake near Brainerd, and those memories fueled this decision.  He and his oldest son, Robert Jr. began looking at property in northern Minnesota in early 1982.

By the end of the year, they bought Bowen Lodge, and the father-son duo welcomed their first guests at the 1983 fishing opener.

After a couple of years, there was a shift in who was managing the resort. Bob Jr. decided to dedicate more time to his career, and Bill, the other son of Robert, joined his father.  Funding for Bill’s position in wildlife management in Washington state was no longer available.  Gail had known Bill for years, and when the resort opened in 1986, she was part of the team. 

It was a good fit, so Bill and Gail married at Bowen Lodge in 1987, 46 years after Joy Christie (granddaughter of Ma Bowen) and Hjalmer Tervo held their wedding ceremony at the resort.  Bob Sr., Bill, and Gail Heig shared the responsibilities of managing the resort for twenty years. “We got along really good, and we made good decisions,” Gail explained. “Bob was here until he was 90, and we worked really well together. He was always involved in the major decision making but gave us the freedom to make other decisions on our own.  Then he passed the torch.”

Some of those decisions included changing the accommodations. “When started,” Gail said, “there were 21 rental units. Some did not have running water, some only cold water, and only one had a toilet. So, we tore them down. There was also tent camping, and RV camping.”  Now they have 12 cabins, the largest with five bedrooms, 26 seasonal RV and six short-term RV.  

The original lodge built in 1928, has undergone some transformation with probably every owner.  When the Heig’s remodeled, they found that linoleum used in the lodge was the same print used at Cut Foot Sioux Inn.  The oldest part of the lodge is identified by the original timbers and rock foundation. And the front door is still in the same place.  In 1992 a gorgeous 30×36 great room was added overlooking the lake.  It is timber-framed and entirely pegged together by Bill.

Bowen started as a fishing resort, as most of the resorts in Itasca County. “But it is so much more than fishing,” Gail said.  “It’s about the whole experience.  It’s about being on this beautiful lake. A lot of people enjoying sitting and just looking at the lake.  It’s a part of it, but not a major part of it.  So, we put the emphasis not so much on fishing, it’s about being on vacation with your family.  It’s about reconnecting.  Watching the eagles.

“We’ve had people coming to this resort for 60+ years, many years before us. Same cabin, same time, same place, because they grow up with the people of that week as well.  So, their kids grow up together.  We have families here right now that are three generations.”

Gail shared a delightful story that occurred in their early days as resort owners, and before they had a computer. 

“Quite a few years ago we had first timers arrive who were staying in the cabin which was then called cabin 14.  We showed them the cabin, and they settled in.  About 11 p.m. that night, we get a knock on the door. It was people here for cabin 14. We said, your party has already checked in, and they said, no it’s just us.

“So, we had to go over and ask the other people, what their name again, and we discovered they were to be staying in cabin 14 at William’s Narrows! Those poor people had to pack up and go to William’s Narrows. Bill and I had to clean the cabin, change bedding, etc., and the folks had to wait while we did all that. Those guests have become fantastic customers of ours and in fact, had five cabins this year now because their family has grown.” 

Incidentally, cabin 14, is now called Ma Bowen “after the matriarch of Bowen Lodge, Jessie Bowen was a lively woman who once ran the resort with a capable hand.”  The descendants of George and Rose Goodwin, who grew up in the cabin when they owned it, stay in that cabin on their annual vacations. In the thirty-six years, the Heig’s have owned the resort, they have raised two sons, Jens and Dane helped to sponsor a Make-A-Wish dream come true for a nine-year-old boy with leukemia from Iowa, and hosted a group of International Tree Climbers.  Gail and Bill are described as gracious hosts with a vast knowledge of the wildlife and history of the area. They go out of their way to make each guest’s stay special and have many who are now lifelong friends.  The Heig’s love the resort life and plan on continuing for years to come.

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