The History of Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake
The Pine Beach area of Gull Lake was spotted early in the 1930s as a recreational development site and has since become one of Minnesota’s primary vacation areas.
Merrill K. Cragun Sr and his wife Louise began their involvement in 1934 with their ownership in registering the name of Paul Bunyan Inc. The objective was to develop and promote tourism in central Minnesota, primarily in the greater Brainerd Lakes area. They had success in this venture until the European Conflict in 1939 affected their lives.
The Paul Bunyan involvement did stimulate the interest of resort development for Merrill and Louise, and they began their adventure in 1940 by the building of a few cabins on this site. The original Lodge was built in 1945. The war years made it very difficult, but their perseverance carried them through, and by the end of 1947, they had a lodge and 12 cabins-one of the first Gull Lake resorts. Louise Cragun led the operational management of the property with help of her father-in-law, Virgil Cragun, while Merrill Sr. maintained a full time job in the Twin Cities and became the weekend visitor. The “season” ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day and Merrill Jr., known as “Dutch”, had a full-time summer job at the age of nine…his first position…in charge of worms and minnows!
Gradual growth continued, both in services and accommodations. Cragun’s first food service with a dining room that seated twenty was begun in 1948. The first six motel-type units were built in 1949. In 1957, Merrill K. Jr. “Dutch” took over as manager and the building continued incrementally every year. The outdoor swimming pool was opened in 1963. In 1965, Dutch acquired a partner, his wife, Irma. Together, they committed to making a living at “resorting” by continually re-investing in order to develop a year-round operation.
By 1977, the pool area had become enclosed and the operating season started to expand. They began to hire full-time personnel for their Gull Lake resort. The acquisition of the neighboring property, Cronoble’s occurred in 1983. The winterizing and building of more units continued and the second property, Island View Lodge was incorporated in 1988.
The property now covers 4500 feet of shoreline, has over 300 employees, hosts many conferences and continues to make “friends and memories” for many vacationers, just as it did in 1940. The growth continues as we see the completion of the 45 hole Robert Trent Jones Jr Golf Course, The Legacy Courses at Cragun’s.