Summer Resort Life Back Then

©copyright 2016 Glyn (Bud) Roberts

There was much to be learned in a short time as to what running a summer resort entailed for novice owners with all of the eight cottages fully occupied.

Getting the ice out for ten ice boxes every other day required climbing a ladder to enter the upper level of the icehouse to uncover the sawdust and loosen the large blocks of ice with a pry bar.

Scoring suitable size cakes was done with multiple straight line jabs with an ice pick.  Once separated, the cakes were moved with ice tongs to the door opening and dropped to the ground outside.  When placed upon a wood rack each cake was rinsed with pails of lake water to remove the sawdust.

After a few times of delivering ice to the scattered cottages sites with a steel-wheeled wheelbarrow over sandy pathways, we brought the 1930 Model “A” Ford station wagon out of storage from a barn across the lake.

The trusty old vehicle proved invaluable for not only ice delivery but for garbage can pick up and for hauling firewood for each cottage woodstove.

The resort’s fleet of a dozen boats had been sadly neglected and in need of paint removal, recaulking and other repairs.  The several layers of paint that had been applied over the years had cracked or alligatored revealing several colors below.

Two were flat bottom types, one was of smooth cedar strip planking and the remainder were the clinker-built or lap-strake construction over bent oak ribs.  Two of the clinker-built boats had two pointed ends making them only suited for rowing.  Two others had a wine glass shaped transom.  They were not well suited for outboard motor use, but did work.  That design reduced the forward thrust of a motor due to excessive bubbling or cavitation.

Few outboard motors were brought to the resort and they ranged in horsepower from 1 ½ hp Evinrudes to 6hp Mercurys.  During the next few seasons much time was spent removing old paint with a blowtorch followed by sanding, applying cotton wicking, caulking compound and repainting.  Before the fishermen arrived all boats were anchored out in the bay filled with water to swell the planking joints and ensure leak-free boats would be ready.

Each spring small groups of men would arrive without their families to fish for walleyes and musky.  Their efforts were usually well rewarded with good catches to both eat and take home.  Many of these same men would return for a week or two in summer after school was out.  Again, in the fall many returned for more fishing.

One couple from Milwaukee rented the Home cottage for the entire summer in 1944.  Mr. Klug, the husband, fished for walleyes twice daily.  Each morning and late afternoon he would row out to the prominent log in the middle of the bay.

He had retired from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Pullman Railroad Shop.  His fellow employees enhanced his fishing vacation with a new tackle box, fishing lures, a landing net and a new casting rod and reel.  In addition, they made him a pair of shop-built boat cushions.

Mr. Klug used two bamboo cane poles and Junebug spinners trailing night crawlers or worms.  When I was privileged to fish with him he stressed the importance of rowing slowly allowing the bobbers to lean slightly as we made circles around the old log.

At the close of his vacation stay, Mr. Klug had handed 115 walleyes and one musky.

Rental rates for cottages and boats were reasonable if not a bit low for even then.  At the south end of Blue Island Road where it merged with CTH-“J” a resort sign pointed northward with wording indicating house-keeping cottages and boats. The price was $15 and up.

A two bedroom cottage rented for twenty dollars and a three bedroom went for twenty five dollars.  A boat was included with each cottage.  An extra boat was priced at five dollars per week.  By the second season my parents reluctantly raised the cottage rents by five dollars per week.

Blue Island Bay as it appears even today, has had an abundance of aquatic growth including a variety of weeds.  That condition has varied yearly partially, at least, by the density of the lake ice and snow shielding the sunlight penetration which promotes and sustains early plant growth.

At one time in the past, according to the previous resort owner, and attempt was made to create a beach at the lakefront.  One winter with a horse drawn slusher, a two handled scoop bucket, was employed to scrape and deposit a large quantity of sand upon the frozen surface.  The source of the sand was a hillside next to the boathouse.

When the ice melted the following spring, the sand provided little change as it settled to the bottom and the lighter mud like material rose.

The same slusher remained as evidence of the abandoned project as it leaned against the rear wall of the boathouse when my parents acquired the resort.  Unfortunately, it disappeared the first winter when we returned to Kenosha.

Out in Blue Island Bay there were numerous partially submerged pine saw logs projecting from the lake bottom.  Although, waterlogged from years of being submerged they would work free and with the aid of an ice tongs and rope they could be towed behind a boat and piled at the shore.

The Model “A” Ford station wagon became very useful in towing the logs on to a pile.

Some of the log ends still carried the markings identifying the lumber company ownership.  The logs from the bay were imprinted with a series of C’s and O’s made with a stamping hammer and were still visible.

After we had gathered a truckload, we hauled them to a saw mill where they became dimensional lumber that was used about the resort.  They had been originally cut from trees around 1900.

A large old saw log protruded from the surface in Blue Island Bay for many years and posed a serious hazard to night time boaters.

It was almost in line with the resort pier and the narrows and was rigidly anchored to the bottom.  It needed some form of marker so I painted a two sided white signboard and lettered “Musky Crossing” on it in bold letters.  After adding reflectors to each side I drove its steel support rod into the large log.

Some years later a picture of that sign appeared in a Sunday sports page column of the Milwaukee Journal.

Mrs. Dertz left us with an early photo of the bay looking westward toward the narrows and taken from the lakefront.  It showed the bay to be totally covered with dense wild rice growth.  The one exception was the narrow swath of open water extending from the pier to the main lake.  She explained that she and her husband hired local young people each spring to pull enough rice plants to provide boat access to the lake.

That photo remained on the lodge wall at the time my parents sold the resort in 1964.  Changing water levels may have contributed to the demise of wild rice in the bay.

In the 1950s an elderly lady drove in to our driveway and asked if she may walk around our property.  She said her father had owned the property in the past and she remembered as a little girl how a group of Indians would camp where our home stands, each fall to harvest wild rice from the bay.  Her story seemed to add credibility to the presence of wild rice in Blue Island Bay at one time.

There is not much history known about the land on which Blue Island Resort was developed.  By way of letters exchanged and conversations between my parents and Mrs. Dertz we did learn that it was purchased from the estate settlement in 1924.  Two veterans of WWI acquired the property which included several other descriptions with the intention of starting a sheep farm.

Area lands at that time were recovering from the logging industry that had ceased operations about twenty years earlier.  The regrowth of brush and saplings may have been an attraction for someone considering sheep farming.  That venture did not materialize.  No evidence of fencing posts or wire were ever found.

Upon arriving to take ownership, Mr. and Mrs. Dertz found that all of the wood siding had been removed from the lone two story frame house on the property.  The previous owners had used it for crating when moving on.  It became known as the Lake View and was rented as cottage.  It was razed by Mr. Leon Butler, a later owner.

The development of the resort by the Dertzs could be recognized quite easily by noticing the changes in the building materials and techniques used over the years.

For an example, the availability of large diameter pine logs close to the building site made it feasible to construct the Home cottage first.  Those large logs both in diameter and length could be used horizontally and were probably skidded and positioned in place with the aid of horses.

Only one other resort cottage was built of horizontally placed logs.  It was the Hilltop.  As the availability of large diameter logs diminished, shorter length logs were placed vertically to form walls of the original lodge which occupied the location of the current lodge.

As the supply of large diameter logs faded the construction techniques changed to using much smaller diameter pine trees vertically.  Examples of that technique could be seen in the Honeymoon, View Point, Sunset and Roadside cottages.  It was also used in the dining room attached to the original lodge.

The same construction employing small diameter posts placed vertically was used in the cabin located at the corner of Blue Island Road and the Winat Road.  In an early postcard photo it was identified as a number six cabin.  Long time resort guests remembered that it was built by a carpenter who had built cottages at the resort.  The carpenter was provided the materials to build number six and given the use of it for a time in lieu of wages.

In later years it was sold to the Semsh family of Bensenville, Illinois who spent summers there for many summers.

With the availability of machined dimensional lumber at area lumber yards the construction materials changed to frame construction.  The Sunrise cottage was probably the first one to be built entirely of milled lumber although additions to the Roadside and Hilltop cottages were also of that type.

Another variation of earlier construction types was the tongue and groove half logs that were used to add two bedrooms to the north side of the original lodge.

Mr. Al Dertz was known to be a skilled cook and he provided noteworthy meals to his guests.  From the lodge kitchen the food he prepared was passed through a sliding door in the wall.  All meals were cooked on a wood range in the lodge kitchen and a hand pump at the sink supplied the water used in cooking.

The icebox kept those foods requiring cool temperatures cold.  Local girls were hired as waitresses to serve guests in a neatly furnished dining hall pictured on early postcard photos.

Seating was provided on bentwood padded chairs.

Sometime after the passing of Mr. Dertz the dining hall was discontinued and was converted to a two bedroom apartment with cooking facilities.