75 Years of Minnesota Memories: Cragun’s Resort Builds the First Cabins
For more than 75 years, Cragun’s Resort has been a premier Minnesota resort where couples, families and friends spend time making memories together.
Cragun’s is fortunate in that Merrill Cragun, Sr. recorded some of the early history of resorting in the Pine Beach Area of Brainerd, MN for his son Merrill, Jr. (Dutch). This is the second article in the History of Cragun’s Resort series and details the building of the first cabins.
The First Cabins Are Built at Cragun’s Resort
So in September of 1940, I brought Dad (Dutch’s Grandpa) up to Gull Lake. He lived in Jack’s (Jack Madden) original home, which later burned down when Jack was in Brainerd at confession.
I (Dutch’s father) came up as many weekends as possible bringing supplies in a two wheel trailer behind my car. I hauled shingles; paint, etc. because I could charge them in Minneapolis where I had credit. The merchants in Brainerd didn’t know us yet. Dad spread the word we were looking for laborers, stone masons and carpenters.
We had to brush and clear the land before starting building and that was quite a job. I remember helping Dad. We worked like Trojans when I came up weekends to pay off the workmen and consult with Dad. It was a nice fall, good weather for working outdoors. Cabin One was roofed, enclosed and the fireplace built. Cabin Two was framed and the fireplace half-way up when the famous Armistice Day Blizzard, November 11, 1940, came unexpectedly. The driving rain starting during the night – wonderful weather for hunting ducks which is the reason so many hunters were caught unprepared, and died. None of the workmen showed up at our place because it was so miserable. Dad stayed in Jack’s cabin because it was quite a walk and there was no reason to venture out.
By noon it was snowing so heavily all over the Dakotas and Minnesota. The winds were howling and the temperature was dropping fast. Dad said the bay in front of the cabin was alive with ducks and geese seeking shelter from the storm. The wind was blowing from the west-northwest, against the west side of the cabin so hard that snow came in around the windows and door. He nailed blankets around them to keep the snow from blowing across the floor. Dad had ample food and wood for the fireplace which he kept feeding all night and the next day or two.
The blizzard lasted another day and we were worried because telephone lines were down and we couldn’t contact him. Finally, on the third day I was able to contact the Frampton’s (Island View Resort) and learned that the county was plowing the Pine Beach Road, and by the next day would be into the Pine Beach Peninsula (part of the road had to be shoveled by a crew). There is a small valley in the road by St. Thomas of the Pines church. The wind had blown the snow level with the surrounding area at that spot.
I asked a friend to go with me to pick up Dad. We took blankets, a thermos of coffee, shovels and tire chains. We wore out one set of chains before we got to St. Cloud but made it to Pine Beach and picked up Dad and his belongings. Typically, he said “I don’t know why you worried so. Everything is fine.” There were two more blizzards that winter so we didn’t return to Pine Beach until the middle of April.
Dad expanded the work crew and hired laborers for 35 cents an hour and carpenters for 50-75 cents per hour. Some were good and many not so good. Poor Dad had to try to supervise and lay out work to keep the men busy and an eye on those who tried to “goof off”. We were trying to get some cabins completed by summer so we could have a cash flow to complete work on the Lodge. Does that sound familiar?
In the meantime, Louise (Dutch’s mother) and I were trying to secure money and credit for furnishings and equipment. The workmen had to be paid every Saturday afternoon. Dad soon had our first septic tank built and a sewer line installed. Lawrence Hines hand drove our first well, under the old Lodge and struck good water at 22 feet. Our first main water line was then completed down to Cabin 8. Soon we slept and ate in Cabin 1.
Since all of our cabins originally had barn sash windows which opened in, curtains were made for each double and triple window. Louise and mother sewed these curtains out of gunny sack material with rick rack trim.
Our resort was “ultra-modern”. Inside toilets, inner spring mattresses, ice boxes, cabinet showers, hot and cold water and electric stoves for cooking. I bought used electric meters from the co-op Electric Company and the procedure was to read the meter as the guest arrived and read it again as they left and charge per kilowatt hour. I think we discontinued this after the first year.
I bought the ice boxes in two sizes from Cedar Lake Ice Co. From Boutells we bought beds, dressers, dishes and other cabin furnishings. The sturdy cedar boats came from Alexandria Boat Works at $60 each. The electric stoves came from Montgomery Wards and I bought electrical fixtures from Spiegel’s in Chicago. Our credit was established so we could get long term installment payments from most of them.
Today, Cragun’s Resort boasts more than 55 cabins, as well as 200 hotel rooms, with both lodging options coming in a variety of sizes. To see how our cabins have transformed from the initial years, click here to view our current resort map showing our cabins as they are today.
We’ll be posting several more articles about the history of Cragun’s Resort on this blog so be sure to subscribe and read about all the memories and fun that’s happened at Cragun’s over the last 75 years. Next will be Part 3, which details the first summer of business at our Minnesota resort.