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The Birchmont Beach Hotel at the north end of Lake Bemidji offered luxury accommodations. This photo was taken about 1940. Beltrami County Historical Society

Ruttger's started as Birchmont Beach Hotel

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Bemidji,Minnesota 56619 http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/0806/20090619birchmont-beach-hotel-old.jpg?itok=-cCUc2FO
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Ruttger's started as Birchmont Beach Hotel
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Along the northwest shore of Lake Bemidji, one resort has been a destination for tourists and locals for nearly a century.

It started as Birchmont Beach Hotel and became Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge more than two decades later.

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"The resort's been here since 1915," said Randy Ruttger, who owns the resort with his wife, Tina.

That year, George Cochran, a lumberjack who owned 500 acres on the north end of Lake Bemidji, built Birchmont Beach Hotel on the lakeshore property, Randy said. He built several cabins there, including some that are still there today.

"It was a successful resort," Randy said.

However, fire struck during Labor Day weekend in 1920. It started in the kitchen and burned the main lodge, dining building and screened pavilion.

Randy said Cochran went out of business after the fire.

However, Bemidji merchants wanted a resort there because it was good for business, he said. They formed the Birchmont Beach Hotel Corporation to rebuild the resort.

"They issued stock," Randy said. "They issued enough of them apparently to raise $200,000."

They built what is the current main lodge at Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge in the spring of 1921. The three-story building had 50 hotel rooms, a dining room, a kitchen and a lobby.

"They built this whole building in 60 days," Randy said.

With the Birchmont Beach Hotel name remaining, the building opened July 3, 1921.

During the Great Depression, Birchmont Beach Hotel went bankrupt in 1934.

A bank operated it in bankruptcy for two years and auctioned it off in the fall of 1936.

Randy's grandfather, Max Ruttger, and his brother, Alex Ruttger, bid on it and acquired the property for $39,000.

"And they sent my dad up here from Brainerd to operate it," Randy said.

At the time, Max and his three brothers each had a resort in the Brainerd area. Randy's father, Don Ruttger, was the oldest of the next generation. He came to Bemidji in 1937 and opened the resort that spring under the name Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge.

"And he was 21 years old," Randy said.

In those days, Randy said, businessmen would come to the resort to do business and didn't realize the red-headed young man who greeted them was the owner. They would ask him where his father was.

"He would say, 'I am Mr. Ruttger. I am the owner,'" Randy said.

Starting in 1951, the resort's auditorium housed the Paul Bunyan Playhouse until it moved in 1992 to the Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji. Prior to that, the building served as a convention hall and a dance hall. Now, the building is a video arcade.

Throughout the years, Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge has expanded while embracing its history.

"Almost everything is from the teens and the '20s," he said.

In 1976, Ruttgter's Birchmont Lodge built Cedar Lodge next to the main lodge. Cedar Lodge has eight motel units. In the early 1980s, the resort built an indoor pool complex.

Today, the resort offers 67 units, including 29 cottages. Its restaurant and cocktail lounge, open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, is open to the public.The resort is building an outdoor patio in front of its dining room. The swimming pool that was previously there was torn out last fall.

"It will be a terraced patio with outdoor dining," Randy said.

He added that it will have a "rather nice view of the lake."

news@bemidjipioneer.com

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Pioneer staff reports
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