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The History of Cragun’s Resort: The First Summer | Part 3
The History of Cragun’s Resort: The First Summer | Part 3

75 Years of Minnesota Memories: The First Summer of Business at Cragun’s Resort

Cragun’s Resort’s First Summer of Business in MN

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 third article in the History of Cragun’s Resort series and details the first summer of business.

The First Summer of Business

As everyone learns, costs soon exceed estimates. We had decided that the Lodge should be built at the narrowest point of our property and we could see guests as they came and left. We had to have a small store and office. We were going to place a foundation under the ground floor and then step down to another level. When I (Dutch’s father) came up for a Saturday pay day, I found that Dad (Dutch’s grandfather) had run into trouble with the “sugar sand” in the hill. It caved in faster than a crew could dig. All week they had been digging and cribbing with logs driven into the bank so they could pour a wall of concrete. That’s how the old “playroom” and now the Dutch Room came into existence.

Cragun’s Resort Playroom in 1941 Grandpa Cragun in front of Lodge in 1940s

I know you ran into some of the logs when you remodeled and had many problems. But try to envision a foundation sitting on a hill of sugar sand, and you’re running out of money. I had borrowed on my life insurance and as much as I could from my bank in St. Paul. I also tapped two of my personal friends for loans. Louise had loaned me her meager savings and borrowed from her credit union.

By the Fourth of July, we had completed the first six cabins, the ice house and enclosed the Lodge first floor. There was a gaping hole in the Lodge floor where the present fireplace was to be but I had run out of money to pay for labor, and besides, when we swept the floor we could just sweep into the hole.

The fireplaces in the main lobby and below that in the Dining Room were built later that summer by Mr. Eckstein of Motley. He built all 4 floors of the fireplace for $125. He brought all of the stones used for the fireplaces from the Motley area and cut each stone by hand – rolling the stone until he found the exact right place and then whacking it with a hammer. Eckstein was of German origin and in German his name means “cornerstone”. He brought his teen-age son with him to work every day and the son was responsible for playing German music and running errands while dad worked. He would only build 2 layers at a time so the cement would cure properly. Note the fireplace in the lobby – each stone is exactly matched one side vs. the other. Eckstein also built the fireplaces in the first 7 cabins.

In the summer of 1941, we were open for business. At age 9, Dutch proclaimed himself as the “assistant manager”. He welcomed guests, and maintained his work in the bait division in charge of worms, minnows and frogs. He glossed over any adverse situation. I recall him carrying a mouse down the hill, hanging onto the tail. Meeting a guest he exclaimed, “This really isn’t a mouse”. His enthusiasm was present many of the years except for early adolescence when one guest advised me that he was “the laziest kid they had ever seen”. (from Dutch’s mother Louise).

At $28 a week ($2.00 per day additional per person, $1.00 for children) on the smallest cabins (1, 2, 5, 6) had a minimum of two persons. Cabins 3 and 4 had a minimum of 3 person and Cabins 7 and 8, after they were completed had a 4 person minimum.

As of October 15, 1941, our first financial statement:

Cabin Rentals                          $2557.80
Store Sales                               $ 567.95
Boat Rentals                            $     3.50
Electricity                                 $ 106.59 (from meter readings)

Total Sales                               $3235.84

Cost of Sales                            $1218.44 (including $131.80 for labor and $270 for
employee meals)

Gross Profit on Sales             $2017.40
Expenses                                  $1623.05 (including $300 to Dad)

Net Gain                                   $394.35

Since we were still making monthly payments on our home mortgage and to the credit union and payments on other loans and accounts in the Twin Cities and Brainerd, it was obvious we couldn’t make it without refinancing the resort mortgages. We were approved for a new mortgage and signed the paperwork on December 6, 1941 – feeling much relieved. The next day was Sunday, December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day.

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.