Our route today took us across the headwaters area of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota to the shores of Lake Superior along US 2 in Wisconsin. It was a treasure trove of Roadside America attractions. Starting in Bemidji where Paul Bunyan Park held a cluster of Indian related statues as well as the Park’s name sake Paul Bunyan with his trusty Blue Ox, Babe. Also along the route were a Muskellunge-shaped restaurant, The Big Fish, a giant Northern Pike, a huge Adirondack chair, and a big catfish in the “Catfish Capital of the World – Floodwood, MN. I have a connection to Floodwood that goes back to 1977-78 when we were living in Minnesota. The company I worked for, NUS, got a job to do a fisheries study of the St. Louis River in the area of Floodwood for a proposed power plant. We traveled to Floodwood periodically over the spring and summer to collect fish and water samples. When in Floodwood we stayed at the Stardust Motel that is still there today (see picture). My most vivid memory is trying to sleep at night with unit trains filled with taconite rumbling by the motel which was directly across the highway from the railroad. The Stardust looks a lot better now than it did 35 years ago.
One of the other Roadside America attractions was the Big Winnie General Store and RV Park. It is one of the most famous sites in Northern Minnesota. It is a federally recognized historic landmark that has been serving Minnesotans since 1932. The Big Winnie is an example of 1930's Bavarian-style architecture. The building was apparently designed by Frank Lloyd Wright when he was staying at Lake Winnibigoshish, the third largest lake in Minnesota, hence the name Big Winnie for the resort. The Big Winnie is currently owned and operated by Matthew Woolley and Arnold Dahl, the fifth generation of the Dahl Family to operate the establishment. We met Mr. Woolley when we stopped for some pictures of Winnie with Big Winnie. The property used to have 80 acres with more than 30 cabins, and at one time, a mess hall where loggers and trappers could eat a meal. The mess hall is now part of the store. The store and resort has had a varied clientele years ago. Chicago gangsters would visit the area and stay in the cabins. Those living at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp, behind the resort were also frequent visitors to the store. During World War II, German POWs were housed at the CCC camp and were known to have visited the store.
When the current owners took over in 2004, only one restroom was operational. The four remaining cabins were boarded up and rotted; two were in such tough shape they had to be torn down. They spent more than $80,000 to renovate and restore the two cabins at the front of the property, gutting them and replacing floors, but saving what they could, to bring them back to what they were in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
As we approached Duluth, we stopped on Thompson Hill which overlooks the Duluth-Superior area including the harbor and Lake Superior. From the hill you could see that the lake is still frozen. It doesn’t look like the ice pack will go away until at least June which will make for a very cold summer in Duluth.
We ended the day in Iron River, WI at the Top ‘O the Morning RV Park on Iron Lake. It a real nice family oriented RV Park run by a young couple who bought it about a year or so ago. We spent some time tonight talking with them at the café/bar they have on the property. We had planned on going to Apostle Islands National Shoreline tomorrow, but it is pouring right now and the forecast for tomorrow is more of the same. We’ll have to wait and see. Stay tuned.