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A look back on the heartbeat of Alexandria summers

Some of the earliest resorts added special flair to stand out among the booming resort area. Hotel Blake built its main dining room around a tree. (Photos contributed by Douglas County Historical Society)1 / 5
Some resorts have survived the passing years and are still operational today, such as Linwood Resort of Osakis and Tip Top Cove on Lake Miltona.2 / 5
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Resorts continued to grow throughout the 20th century, having to build additional cottages and cabins similar to Three Havens on Lake Carlos.4 / 5
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The name “Minnesota” comes from the Ojibwe language meaning “many waters.” Many years ago, a writer wrote about the many waters in the Alexandria area.

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“The first settlers who pushed their way thus far beyond the confines of civilization found a land of great beauty; a land selected as a home by the Sioux and the Chippewa, with love for the beautiful which nature has made an instinct to salvage.”

It was this natural beauty that prompted the first settlements in this area and it was the same beauty that spawned the now-famed resort business in the area.

According to a June 6, 1950 story in the Park Region Echo, Alexandria was the starting point for the great Ten Thousand Lakes resort movement in the early 20th century.

Regardless of the claim, the area has a resort history second to none in the state. What may have once seemed an odd location for resorting, being devoid of forests, scenic mountains, dramatic valleys or wild rivers, Alexandria is blessed with an abundance of  lakes within five or 10 miles of town, all surrounded by rich groves.

In the early days, pre-air-conditioning, vacationers flocked to the area to escape the summer heat, to fish and relax. Back then, bass catches of 150 fish a day were reported. It is said that one party brought in 400 pounds of fish in one day.

The tourist business in the area got its big boost when the railroad was completed from St. Cloud and the Twin Cities to Alexandria in 1878. This made Alexandria accessible to tourists from Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis and beyond.

The tourists were mostly upper middle class to wealthy and often stayed for most of the summer, leaving around Labor Day. Domestic help often accompanied them to help care for the children and maintain the laundry.

Local guides were often used for fishing, something still in common practice today for many visitors. Most returned year after year, developing friendships with other vacationing families, a culture now seen among private lake home owners.

The guests were mostly from the larger cities that came to escape the oppressive summer heat. It became a place where Minnesotans came to enjoy Minnesota.

Though it is hard to pinpoint the exact thing that launched Alexandria’s highly-regarded resorting reputation, there have been a few key players in the history of the resort industry.

On Lake Geneva, James H. Letson erected the resort Hotel Alexandria in 1883. Lee Crandon began the operation of Lake Geneva Lodge in 1926, the same year that the North Central District Council of Assemblies of God purchased 13 acres on Lake Geneva to start the Lake Geneva Bible Camp that brought in more than 5,000 attendees a season by 1933.

Lake Victoria resorts included the Plantz Cottages opening in 1946, the Hazel Hill Resort located on the south side of the lake, and the still up and operating Broken Arrow Resort and Lilac Lodge.

Alexandria’s resort scene has evolved and adapted to the changing times. The days of the small “ma and pa” owned resorts are fading, just as they are across the state. With private lake homes becoming more popular, only about a fourth of the 3,600 Minnesota resorts operating in the early 1970s survive today.

While Alexandria may never return to its original peak of resort stardom, the Alexandria Post said it best in 1871, that the area as a whole “seems intended for one grand pleasure garden” and cannot be surpassed for its beauty and loveliness.

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
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