Itasca County Resorts with a History ~ Eagle Nest Lodge

8.28.2022 [archived ~ originally posted 8.30.2018]

Eagle Nest was the dream of a family with a vision. Herb and Jessie Bowen, proprietors of the Cut Foot Sioux Inn, realized that they could no longer accommodate the growing number of fishing and hunting guests, and decided to build another place.

By the end of July 1924, two large main buildings were being constructed on the north side of Cutfoot Lake, about two miles from the Inn. The lodge and sleeping quarters were ready for hunters in the fall, and the plans progressed as scheduled into the following year. 

The Bowens sold the Cut Foot Sioux Inn to daughter and son-in-law Stella and Al Christie in March and had their cabins at Eagle Nest ready for the fishing opener of 1925. Seventy seasons later, after searching for the right resort to own and raise their family, Bryan and Sue Harris bought Eagle Nest, and have no plans of being anywhere else!

Bowen 1924-1931

Bowen Resort One of the Largest ~ Grand Rapids-Herald Review 6-10-1925

“H.H. Bowen is now finishing on Cutfoot lake what is to be one of the most complete summer resorts in northeastern Minnesota.  The ‘Eagle Nest’ as the place is known, was started last year after Mr. Bowen had sold out his interests in the Cut Foot Sioux Inn at the bridge.  The new place is on the north shore of Cutfoot lake about two miles off from the main highway, the present road to the lodge winding through beautiful timber and bringing the visitor to a full view of the Cutfoot with Winnibigoshish in the distance.

A half dozen commodious log cabins have been built, and the main lodge is a very well-constructed building with its large lounging room and dining room.  The place has its own electrical generating plant.  The most important construction now is a large building which will be divided into three housekeeping apartments. The visitor may later get to Bowen’s any type of accommodations which he may wish.  When the present work is done, Mr. Bowen says that he is through for a while, and he will devote his attention to beautifying the premises and to the entertainment of his guests who are coming in larger numbers every week.  The Eagle Nest has access to all the fishing and hunting of the Cutfoot Sioux-Winnibigoshish district.”

A lot of supplies were needed to take care of resort guests. Some of which could be harvested from the land and others procured in bulk from merchants in Minneapolis and Chicago. In January 1927, the Bowens and Christies were heading south on a buying trip and passed through Deer River. Herb proudly proclaimed they were getting ready for a busy summer. “We have 6,541 cakes of ice, 19-inch square, stowed away for the summer season and also 250 cords of wood in the woodshed.” [Deer River News 1-21-1927]

And based on newspaper coverage, it was a busy summer, starting with 75 Shriners from Duluth, Superior, and Hibbing. Later there was high praise from the editor of the St. Cloud Daily Journal Press, who came fishing, and also from auspicious executives of a large publishing company from Dayton, Ohio.

The following years were prosperous too, but when Herb Bowen died in February 1931, Jessie sold the resort to George and Rhonda Van Wagenen.

Van Wagenen and Others 1931-1994

During the next sixty years, the resort was owned by many individuals.  Those parties staying the longest, were the Van Wagenens and Walter and Alice Rickert, along with Al Schultz, both groups of owners for fifteen years.  Other proprietors include Isaac Fleener, Bill and Genie Lauterbach, John and Louise DeLoge, Bill and Valma Boller, Lee and Harriet Bondhus, Jim, Ginger and Kris Tomlinson, and Jack and Marion Zwicky.

George Van Wagenen’s brother, John and wife Harriet, were hired as managers.  They lacked the culinary skill of Ma Bowens and Stella Christie, so a chef was hired.  “For this position, they have secured Mr. E.J. Fisher, formerly chef at the Spaulding hotel in Duluth.  Mr. Fisher comes here strongly recommended and with an enviable reputation, and there is every assurance that patrons of Eagle Nest will continue to be well fed.”  [Deer River News 4-2-1931]

One of the very first groups the Van Wagenen’s entertained was somewhat famous. “Bert Baston of Minnesota football fame and All-American end a few years ago will head a party of eighteen who have made reservations at Eagle Nest Lodge over the coming weekend.  All members of the party are from the Chevrolet branch of General Motors.”  [Deer River News6-18-1931]

A brochure from the Van Wagenen ownership about 1935 was found in the late 1980s when Zwicky’s were remodeling.  It states they can accommodate 55 guests in either sleeping cabins, with meals provided in the dining room, or in housekeeping cabins, where they can prepare their own meals. “Sleeping Cabins, Meals and Boat, per person $4.50 per day.  Children under 12 half price. Housekeeping cabins including linens, bedding, dishes, fuel, ice, etc. and one boat per cabin, $25 to $35 per week.”

Meals were still prepared by Chef Fisher, and for those visiting for the day, breakfast or luncheon was 75 cents, $1.00 for dinner, and $1.25 for the Sunday Specialty dinner.

A newspaper clipping from about 1940 was sent to the Harris’ in 2002 came from longtime guests of the resort.  It had been found in his mother’s scrapbook – “Attorney William B. Schroder is telling friends about his good fortune on a trip the last two weeks to Eagle Nest Lodge at Cut Foot Sioux, Minn., on Lake Winnibigoshish in Chippewa national forest.  Mr. and Mrs. Schroder and their

sons, William B. Jr., and Robert C. made the fishing excursion.  Mr. Schroder caught the limit of wall-eyed pike in an hour one morning.  His party landed 40 wall-eyes in that time, he reports.  Describing the adventure, he says, ‘That was the best sport I ever had.  It was all we could do to keep the hooks baited and land the fish, they bit so hard.”’ [Rock Island Argus]

Eagle Nest was really a fishing camp before 1988 when Jack and Marion Zwicky became owners.  Their goal was to complement the excellent fishing the area was known for, with activities for all ages.  One of the unique family-oriented events was the creation of a twenty-foot high totem pole erected overlooking the beach in 1992. 

Harris Traditions 1995

Working in a resort was not new to Bryan or Sue Harris. They both worked at Fair Hills Resort near Detroit Lakes, Minnesota summers during college and for a while after graduating.  Soon after they married, Sue and Bryan left their real jobs to pursue a career in resorting. 

“We stopped looking after our first visit to Eagle Nest,” Sue explained, “We wanted a resort on the north shore of a lake, it was the size we wanted, and we saw the potential to attract families.”

Bryan and Sue, along with their children Gunnar and Anneka (now at college when not at the resort) have instilled many traditions that bring families back year after year. Snapshots taken during the Sunday evening ice cream socials are proudly displayed in hand adorned frames before the week is out. Throughout the week the staff coordinate activities for young and young-at-heart such as treasure hunts, hikes, bingo, and fish painting t-shirts.  These are just a few of the events that have become traditions. 

Sue said, “I have boxes of the framed photos of my kids – every week they had a new set of friends and loved doing the rec activities with them – other resort families had the pictures for every year, I have them for every week!” Chances are Gunnar and Anneka had plenty of decorated t-shirts by the end of each summer as well. Oh, and the hands-down favorite tradition is waterslide down the resort hill into the lake.

It has been 24 seasons since Harris’ greeted their first guests, and they have seen many of those same faces every year.  “We have some guests that have been coming to Eagle Nest for forty or more years,” Sue said. “Those that come the same week every summer and joke about being cousins even though they are not related!”

The family that has been staying at the resort for the most significant number of consecutive years is the Ieuter’s. Earlier this month they were here for their 70th annual vacation. The first Ieuters, William and Ruth, came from Chicago with their three sons.  Ten years ago, 40 relatives came to Eagle Nest the same week.  This year they occupied five of the resort’s fifteen cabins with four generations. The Ieuter’s like many other Eagle Nest families have a few of their own traditions. This year as always, they had a fishing contest, wore themed t-shirts and enjoyed gourmet dinners prepared by Bill, the eldest of the crew.

Fishing will always be a very popular resort activity.  And with fishing, comes the occasional fish hook misadventure.  Sue says, “Bryan is really good at taking fishing hooks out.” 

“Not really good,” Bryan clarified, “just good enough!”

The Harris Family is as much a part of Eagle Nest as Eagle Nest is a part of them.  They have owned the resort the longest and anticipate many more years of greeting familiar faces.  “For us, the resort is a great place to raise a family. Our kids work hard and play hard, pretty much the same as we do, and we’re glad they are still spending their summers working with us.”

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