In 1928 I was a young boy summering with my family on the southeast shore of Ten Mile Lake when I first set foot on the Island. My father drove the family across the causeway, wheels partially below the water surface, to a Sunday dinner at Klose to Nature Kamp. A parrot named 'Polly' entertained guests in a birch-decorated lodge warmed by a massive stone fireplace. Little did I realize then how special the Island would become to our family for so many years!
But the Island was also a special place for the three families that preceded us.
Chauncey G. Hasbrouck was about 40 years old when he and his second wife Cora moved from Akeley to the west shore of Ten Mile Lake after his first wife died, leaving him with six young children. To homestead government land at that time one had to apply, improve and live on the site for at least seven years after which the U.S. Department of Interior would issue a "land patent." On August 2, 1915 Chauncey received title to the Island's 19 acres.
Around 1908 Chauncey built a very primitive cabin near the center of the Island, perhaps to satisfy homestead requirements. The remains of a small log cabin and the foundation of what might have been a barn can still be seen today. It is unlikely that he lived in this tiny cabin, for Chauncey eventually had 17 children and most of them lived on the Island from about 1908 to 1916. Visits to the Island from Chauncey's descendants have helped to complete an understanding of the Hasbrouck years. In the late 1970's while walking through the brush behind the Old Fireplace, Chauncey's daughter Minnie identified the foundation of the house she lived in as a child. She recalled some very brutal winters when she and her siblings had to sleep together to stay warm. With no indoor plumbing, someone had to chop a hole in the ice every day to draw drinking water from the lake. She also remembered riding in a sleigh to the one-room schoolhouse just south of the Island where she attended school with Al Woock who later became a prominent builder of cabins and fireplaces around TML.
Chauncey and Cora moved to Hackensack around 1916 after their house burned down. Chauncey and his predecessors may have benefited from logging on the Island, for only two huge White Pines remain from those years. They are about 300 years old. One, with a circumference of more than ten feet, is recorded as the largest tree on Ten Mile Lake.
Sometime around World War I Chauncey sold the Island to A. C. and Anna May "Robin" Robertson who came from Spirit Lake, Iowa.
The Robertsons developed a resort and named it Klose to Nature Kamp. The resort had about ten seasonal cabins for fishing and hunting. Most were one-room cabins that stood in a row along the Island's east bank. Cabin 9 has been preserved and is used today. The resort had a lodge with a public dining room and living quarters above. A second building contained a livery/carriage house, cannery, large sawdust pit for storing chunks of lake ice, and saloon on the second floor. The dining hall, saloon and nightlife at Klose to Nature Kamp attracted both vacationers and local residents.
A. C. Robertson sold his half-interest to Robin in 1921 in a divorce settlement for $1,843. At that time Robin was already the sole builder and proprietor of the resort. Her caring presence adds charm to the Island to this day. She was an avid gardener, planting wild grapes, lilies, and ferns that continue to grow throughout the Island. Her garden on the south side of the lodge provided fresh vegetables for the dining room. Without the benefit of powered cement mixers, she built a large decorative cement pond for fresh game fish and cement/stone steps bordered with decorative rocks and shells leading from the dining hall to the beach.
The resort must have been a lively place. Al Woock remembered attending lawn dances in front of the lodge. There were rumors of nudism on the Island during the Roaring 20's and bootleg liquor during Prohibition.
Robin later married George Bowman who was a butcher and later a cattle buyer in Pine River when the resort was flourishing in the 20's and 30's. He may have met Robin while delivering meats to the resort. With the Great Depression, Klose to Nature Kamp went into decline and was dealt a fatal blow when the lodge burned down in 1932. Only the foundation and majestic stone fireplace survived. The Bowmans soon abandoned the Island and moved to a farmhouse on what is now Lorraine Stromquist's property.
Owen Heusmann and Leonard Mersch, brothers-in-law, returned to St. Paul in the fall of 1945 after service in the Navy during WW II. They attended a career opportunities symposium at the Brown and Bigelow calendar company and were impressed by the "Own a Resort" presentation. Leonard, a policeman in St. Paul, joined Owen in an extensive tour of northern Minnesota in search of a resort. After visiting many sites, they stumbled onto the Island and the remnants of Klose to Nature Kamp. By the end of 1945 they had a contract-for-deed with the Bowmans. They started Wild Acres Resort the next spring. Leonard remained a policeman and Owen and Delores (Mersch) Heusmann attempted to put the new resort into profitable operation. It was a tremendous physical and financial strain. Leonard, who married in 1948, chose to get out of his investment. He sold his half interest to me in 1950 and Owen and Delores followed six months later.
BRANDT FAMILY YEARS
The opportunity to buy the Island was a dream come true. As a young boy summering at TML, I had often visited the abandoned Island, getting there in a homemade sailboat or 10 h.p. motor boat. My musings during those visits included prospective cabin sites and awe of the old fireplace and other relics of previous lives and loves there. In the summer of 1940 I was a sailing and swimming instructor at Camp Hillaway. At that time I tried without success to get the owners of Hillaway to visit the Island with me, establish a boys' camp there, and to hire me forever to be the waterfront director.
My wife Joan and I built a cabin in 1952. Joan and our five children summered on the Island, while I commuted from St. Paul every weekend. In 1953, I invited my brother Chris "Heidi" Brandt to build a cabin on the northwest point of the Island. Our cabins, built by Al Woock, grace the Island today. Heidi and his wife Janie brought their six children from Kansas City, Kansas to TML every summer.
The Island soon became the gathering place for the more than 30 Brandts who were scattered around TML in the 1950's and 1960's. Over the last 50 years many friends from around TML have also enjoyed the Island corn roasts, pig roasts and sing-a-longs at the Old Fireplace on the site of the burned-down lodge. Jazz festivals were annual events for many years. Another summer highlight for decades was the Fourth of July picnic when fireworks displays were launched from the Island to the delight of many friends and family from around the lake. The tradition was actually established by my father in the 1920's on the southeast shore of TML but continued from the Island beginning in the 1950's.
Six generations of Brandts have now enjoyed the Island. Joan and Heidi both died in 1997. Janie, with her grown children and their families, continues the tradition. In 1992, I transferred ownership of the Island to a partnership that includes my children, Marty, Christine, Jon, and Rebecca.
Note: Pictures of the Island from 1925 and other historical images of Ten Mile Lake and Hackensack can be found on the website of the Minnesota Historical Society: www.MNHS.org.