Early Beltrami County summer resorts drew locals and visitors alike

Early on, Bemidji area residents recognized the qualities of the area which drew both city residents and visitors to its lakes. With the beautiful landscape, excellent fishing and hunting, and healthy air, tourism was a popular investment and a draw for people from Grand Forks, Minneapolis, and other cities and states.

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Jack Jacobi wrote about clearing the land along Grand Forks Bay on Lake Bemidji and building the first cabin at Birchmont Beach in 1904.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society
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It’s that time of year when summer residents close up their cabins and others make reservations for next year’s visit to a resort. It’s a ritual that’s been going on for decades in the north country.

Early on, Bemidji area residents recognized the qualities of the area which drew both city residents and visitors to its lakes. With the beautiful landscape, excellent fishing and hunting, and healthy air, tourism was a popular investment and a draw for people from Grand Forks, Minneapolis, and other cities and states.

Grand Forks Bay on Lake Bemidji

Although never platted as a development, one area of the lake became known as Grand Forks Bay because of the number of residents of Grand Forks who came each summer to their cottages. This area on the west side of the lake had 25 summer cottages. Grand Forks Bay was named in the land description regarding the location of the new normal school in Bemidji in 1915.

The site for the future college “comprised 40 acres and ran from Doud Avenue to the lakeshore and extended from Fourteenth Street to Grand Forks Bay.” In other words, Grand Forks Bay extended from the north side of the college toward the boundary with Northern Township.


Jack Jacobi wrote an extensive article in North Country about clearing the land and building the first cabin at Birchmont Beach in 1904. Roads were not yet developed, and the family depended on transportation by boat across Lake Bemidji to haul the workers, construction materials, supplies and family to and from the downtown dock.

Lake Plantagenet

Jake Remore and his son Guy Remore built the first hotel in downtown Bemidji in 1895. They sold the Remore Hotel to Bert McTaggart and Earl Geil in 1898. Jake died in 1899, but Guy was not done with the hostelry business and built an exquisite home on Lake Plantagenet.

Whether he built a second building or opened his home in the summer, the place became known as Plantagenet Hall and it became a summer destination for visitors from Minneapolis and elsewhere.

The editor of the Pioneer wrote, “Guy Remore expects Congressman Fletcher and wife up from Minneapolis next week to spend a few idle hours in Plantagenet Hall. Our summer resort suburb is justly becoming famous.” This was in 1900.

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Cabins at Lake Plantagenet Resort are pictured in this undated photo.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

Another mention of it was in July 1900: “Miss Margaret Siddel, a schoolteacher of Minneapolis who is spending the summer at Plantagenet Hall, fell off the dam into the chute at the mouth of the Schoolcraft River, Sunday. She would have been drowned had not a brave lumberjack come to her rescue.”

Later that summer, a party of six from St. Louis came up to spend the rest of the season at Lake Plantagenet. This is likely the nugget of the property which Al Jester purchased and expanded into a much larger farm/resort.

By 1904, Al Jester had developed Jester’s Farm Resort on Lake Plantagenet which became exceedingly popular with Bemidji people as well as other visitors. He continued to add acreage and construct more buildings so that by 1907 he had a large hotel building, three log cottages, three frame cottages, and other outbuildings.

His property included an extensive lakeshore on both Lake Plantagenet and Lake Marquette, and a dam over the Schoolcraft River was on his private property.


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Al Jester developed Jester’s Farm Resort on Lake Plantagenet, which was popular with Bemidji residents and other visitors to the area.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

Al Jester was an active member of the Elks organization. A lively account of a 1907 visit to the farm was written up in a small publication and ended with this commentary: “The Bemidji Elks' quartet was over at Al's place this month. This famous musical organization, consisting of Bro. Chas. Decker, Al Jester, Fred Jordon and Bill Wilson, got into a boat in the moonlight, and the beautiful strains of melody floated over the waters until the very frogs hushed their croaking and bent their emerald heads in rapt attention.”

In the wee hours after midnight on Sept 3, 1909, someone destroyed the combined dam and bridge which spanned the Schoolcraft River at the outlet of that stream from Lake Plantagenet.

Neither Jester nor any of his guests heard the dynamite explosion. Some wondered if it could have been related to logging, but Jester got along well with the logging interests and that seemed unlikely. The dam was put in about 1898, by the Brainerd Lumber Company, and had been used nearly every spring since then for sluicing logs from Lake Plantagenet into the Schoolcraft River.

Possibly the damage was carried out because Jester tightly controlled the taking of bass minnows from the area which he stocked each year with fry furnished by the Game and Fish commission.

After the Great War, Jester decided to sell everything and get out of the resort business. His many regulars bemoaned the fact that he would not be there as guide and host during their summer weeks in the Bemidji area. An auction was held, and everything was sold.

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Cabins at Lake Plantagenet Resort are pictured in this undated photo.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

In 1924, the beautiful site was purchased by a group headed by Dr. Cortland Rockwell Sanborn. Dr. Sanborn had been a doctor in Bemidji since 1907. He married Leila Stanton, the daughter of Judge Stanton in Bemidji in 1909, and they settled into a comfortable home on Lake Boulevard.

The group formed a company with the intent of developing a health spa resort as well as catering to sportsmen and other guests. They planned to name the extensive property Sanborntown, and the resort itself would be called Jesterville. The first summer they used the buildings still standing from the Jester farm and could accommodate about 50 guests at any time.

Their plans were grandiose and included a golf course, a huge three-story lodge for year-round use, and a hospital section that included hydrotherapeutic equipment, sun lamps and surgical equipment for use by their president Dr. C. R. Sanborn. Whether these plans ever matured or not during the roaring twenties is unknown at this point.


By 1930, Dr. Sanborn had settled in Oakland, California, and postcards and ads show the Lake Plantagenet Resort with the name of Guy W. Sanborn, who was Dr. Sanborn’s younger brother. Later yet, ads for the Lake Plantaganet Resort list W. J. Wisniewski as the proprietor. Although the correct spelling of the lake is Plantagenet, the word when connected with Remore’s home or the resort, is often spelled as Plantaganet. If researching, one needs to hunt for both.

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An undated advertisment for the Lake Plantagenet Resort details the cost and location of the resort near Bemidji.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

Big Turtle Lake

Further afield, people were taking notice and building what might be best described as summer colonies. Cyprian Fournier moved onto an island in Big Turtle Lake in 1905 and made proof on the island in November 1906. The newspaper noted that the island that Mr. Fournier had claimed was admirably located as a summer resort, being in the center of Big Turtle Lake, where there was excellent fishing and hunting.

Cyprian lived in Turtle Lake Township until his death in 1941. His family drew much attention in the news when his son Frank Fournier was convicted of killing N.O. Dahl near Quiring, and later was found “not guilty” by a jury at a new trial. Frank Fournier was later shot and killed at Quiring by his cousin, George Cyr, after he threatened the Cyr family with a knife.

In the spring of 1906, Reverend J. P. Johnson, rector of Gethsemane Episcopal church in Minneapolis, and W. G. King, general manager of the Swift Packing company, had control of the north island in Big Turtle Lake and began building a log council hall, measuring 28 feet by 48 feet.

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The Turtle Lake Hotel was built about 1895 in Buena Vista. Pictured are Gilbert Peterson, Lottie Peterson and Eva Wells (McKnight).
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

Fifteen families from Minneapolis, Chicago, Omaha, and other cities were planning to build their cottages and spend the summer on the island. Rev. Johnson and the group announced that they had every intention of transforming the island into a splendid summer resort. Besides enjoying boating and fishing in the summer, they enjoyed hunting in the fall.

By 1915, the newspaper was referring to the Mackinac Island colony on Big Turtle Lake. J. P. Lahr, who was the undertaker in Bemidji but prominent in many ways in Bemidji, built a summer home on the shores of Big Turtle Lake. E. Y. Wilson, owner of the Fair Store in Bemidji, also built a summer cottage at Pine Lodge on Big Turtle Lake and drove to and from the resort each day to manage his business.

The social column in the newspaper noted the summer-long visits of relatives from Minneapolis at the Wilson Cottage on Turtle Lake.

Similar resorts and colonies were developed on most of the Bemidji area lakes, setting up a tradition that was written about admirably in Ron Holland’s book, "The Early Resorts of Minnesota," published in 2012.

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