The Trailblazer - - - The Unexpected

By Colonel Gilbert A. Robertson
Gretna, Nebraska

Early in 2009 I was surfing the net and on a whim I typed in “Ten Mile Lake, Minnesota.” Wow! What a lot of hits! I clicked on “Ten Mile Lake Association.” There was the “History” section and “Klose to Nature Kamp” which had been my Grandma Anna May Robertson's resort on Angel Island. I read the section with great interest and amazement. I knew about Grandma's resort and had spent quite a bit of time there as a small child. I looked up the officers of the Ten Mile Lake Association and called board member Sue Eikenberry and we talked about the article. In January of 2010 I discussed with Sue the possibility of a trip to Ten Mile and a tour of the island with my close friend, Lorraine Teslow, while visiting her in Eden Prairie, MN. She said she would arrange that and maybe I could meet the Bowmans. I was astonished and said, “Who are the Bowmans?” I told her I didn't know that George Bowman, who eventually married my grandmother, had any children. Here is what I HAD known:

The summer of 1914 my Grandmother Robertson decided to take my Dad up to Northern Minnesota for a “vacation.” So far as I know, she never returned to Lake Park, Iowa. Grandma started a resort on an island in Ten Mile called “Klose to Nature Kamp.” Dad told me the first indication that something was going on was when she wrote a check on Grandpa Robertson's bank for $5,000 to buy lumber and build cabins on the island. The resort had five or six cabins and there was no modern plumbing. I don't know if there was more than one outhouse, but there must have been one for guests. Somehow Dad acquired a school bell and mounted it on the roof of this outhouse. Most bathrooms at this time had a toilet with a “flush box” mounted above the toilet with a chain with a wooden handle on it to flush the toilet. Dad got one of the chains and ran it to the bell through a hole in the roof. He said you could always tell when there was a new guest in camp, but they only rang the bell once!

There was a lodge that had a dining room that was decorated with all sorts of stuffed animals and birds. It would seem that Grandma would import exotic birds into the sub-arctic climate of Northern Minnesota and when they succumbed to the bitter winter weather she would have them stuffed. According to the photos of the dining room, the local taxidermist could have retired from the work that she brought him.

In the late 20's Dad became engaged to a girl by the name of Ann whose dad was the local banker that held the mortgage on the lodge at Klose to Nature Kamp. That engagement ended, and about this time Grandma was a bit behind on the mortgage payments. The banker had been sympathetic to her payment tardiness while Ann was engaged to Dad, but now he became eager to get the payments current. When Grandma dragged her feet on making the payments and was threatened with foreclosure the lodge mysteriously burned. However, and somehow, a lot of the contents were saved!

Grandma had a pair of diamond earrings about 1 carat each. She had them set in rings and gave one to George and the other to Dad. Dad lost his and one night while she was upset with George and he was asleep, she removed it from his finger. The diamond that was in George's ring ended up in Mother's engagement ring.

Grandpa Robertson died in Iowa in 1944, thirty years after she went up north. The marital status block on his death certificate was marked: married. She never divorced Grandpa because she didn't believe in divorce. After Grandpa died, she and her long-time companion George Bowman got married.

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Meanwhile, Sue had talked to Jim and Janet Bowman on the lake about the possibility of our meeting. So, a few weeks later I had a call from Jim Bowman. I asked him if he was any relation to George Bowman and he said he was George Bowman's grandson! Come to find out, Jim's dad was a child from George's first of three marriages. I was never told about the prior marriages and I have no idea if my father knew or not. So, Jim and I were both grandsons of these early residents and nearly the same age. We had a very cordial conversation and I told him I was planning a trip to Ten Mile in July of 2010 and I would certainly like to meet him. He said that would be great and that he would take me on a tour of the island.

On July 27 Lorraine and I arrived in Hackensack and located Sue Eikenberry. She had everything set up with Jim and Janet Bowman and we all met at the Bowman's residence to take photos and notes. We all had a delightful visit. I had brought some photos that belonged to my father's sister, Ruth, that were taken over the years at “Klose to Nature Kamp” before the lodge burned to the ground, possibly in 1932. Some of the photos were more that just a trip down memory lane! Jim spotted a concrete birdbath in one of the photos that had been in one of Grandma's gardens on the island. The same birdbath was now in the Bowman's flower garden. Also, Jim and Janet saw a “garden ball” in another photo that was now in the yard across the road from them where Grandma Robertson and George had later lived.

Jim drove my friend and me over to the island. We wandered around just looking and trying to find anything about the past. Where the cabins were lined up in a row I spotted some large plinth blocks. Plinth blocks are a pyramid with the top half removed. There were four of them in a pile and what looked like a concrete porch stoop. I told Lorraine that those four plinth blocks were more than likely the piers that held up the four corners of the cabin. About thirty feet from that pile there were three more plinth blocks and a similar concrete stoop.

One of my photos showed a view of the lodge with a grape arbor in front, possibly 30 to 40 feet from the front entrance. That arbor was still standing and there were a few grape vines on it. Not too far from the arbor towards the lake we saw the mostly complete remains of the rock stairs going down to the lake. Of course, the fireplace and chimney, the remaining remnants of the once gorgeous lodge are still standing and may be for many years to come.

The Bowmans took us to the cemetery in Akeley where my Grandmother is buried. A very pleasant and memorable visit was had by all.

(Note from History Chairman, Sue Eikenberry: This has been a very interesting two-year series of phone calls and e-mails leading up to the visit. It just goes to show: History Matters!)

(Editor’s note: Since 1951 Angel Island, aka Brandts’ Island, the site of the Klose to Nature Kamp, has been in the ownership of the George C. Brandt family. Those wishing to visit the island should follow the protocols that are normal when visiting any privately owned property without an invitation.

Those interested in the history of the island will find comprehensive accounts in Ten Mile Lake History: 200 Years, available through the TMLA History Committee. Ten Mile history buffs can also find a link to George Brandt’s history of the island within George’s 2002 obituary.

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