It all began in November of 1927. The founding members of the Naniboujou Holding Company formed an exclusive club on the northwestern banks of Lake Superior. The club was surrounded by magnificent, densely-forested land providing endless hunting possibilities. The area was filled with bountiful, clear lakes, truly a fisherman’s dream. The founders had the right idea. It was their dream, “To live and learn . . . why the raspberry follows the fireweed: … the ways of the kingbird . . . and the home life of the beaver”.
The Naniboujou Holding Company obtained a 99-year lease for 3,330 acres of land 125 miles northeast of Duluth, Minnesota, along the shores of Lake Superior. The first drawings of the development were shown to the public in March of 1928. This private enterprise had a grand scope. It was to include a large clubhouse with 150 sleeping rooms, a golf course, tennis courts, and a bathing house. Charles F. Kelly, a well known Duluth merchant and President of the company, led the membership drive for 3,300 members. No stock was for sale in this $350,000 to $500,000 development. There would be no promotional advertising. This was to be a private, exclusive club. The 99 year memberships were sold for $200 or more to friends and the friends of friends. The desire was for a broad national base of membership. For that reason, and to prevent overcrowding of the facilities, Minnesota residents were limited to 25% of the membership. Just two negative votes by the 24 member board of governors could blackball any prospective member. The prestigious Naniboujou charter members included Babe Ruth, the famous New York Yankee, Jack Dempsey, the former world heavyweight champion, and Ring Lardner, a New York newspaperman.
The original clubhouse included twenty-four guest rooms with a main lodge containing fourteen sets of French doors leading to the outdoors. These doors are still intact, including some of the original canopies. Even some of the lighting in the dining room is original. The largest stone fireplace in the state of Minnesota dominates the west end of the dining room. It was built by a local Swedish stonemason named Carlson out of 200 tons of native rock. Standing some twenty feet high, the fireplace continues to be a showpiece, warming and welcoming the guests of Naniboujou.
Probably the most memorable aspect of the lodge is the wondrously painted 30 x 80 foot dining room. Antoine Goufee, a French artist, painted Cree Indian designs over the walls and the twenty-foot-high domed ceiling (resembling the shape of a canoe). Guests marvel at its originality. “It’s straight from an Agatha Christie mystery novel,” wrote Tom Clifford in 1972. “The almost psychedelic Cree Indian designs covering the walls and ceiling are like a North Woods answer to the Sistine Chapel.” This work of art continually amazes and intrigues, echoing the elegance and style of another era.
1929 marked the opening of the new lodge operated by the newly formed holding company. There was a celebration, with Governor Theodore Christianson christening the lodge on July 7, 1929. This exciting event was followed by abrupt disappointment on October 29 of that same year. The stock market crash spelled disaster for the Naniboujou Holding Company. Even with the help of such distinguished leaders as Honorable George Lead, Mayor of Minneapolis, the Honorable W.I. Nolan, Lt Governor of St. Paul, and L. H. Hill, a capitalist of Albany, Texas, the financial difficulties brought on by the great depression could not be surmounted. By the summer of 1930, everything was turned around. Members quit paying dues and stopped patronizing this northern mecca.
Public participation was needed to keep this large recreational endeavor afloat. In 1932, George Cormack of General Mills in Minneapolis was elected president of the company, but again success was elusive. Credit was eventually shut off following a succession of re-organizations and new management. By 1934, the club was in financial shambles. 1935 brought foreclosures. The only answer seemed to be for a large resort chain to take control.
In 1939, the Arthur Roberts Hotel Chain took over Naniboujou, hiring Mr. Robert MacNab to operate the facility as a hotel. Restoration and some landscaping took place. A great number of recreational activities were added, including archery, croquet, badminton, lawn tennis, trap and skeet shooting, swimming (brr!), and canoeing, as well as indoor Ping-Pong and shuffleboard games. They invested in kitchen equipment and new furnishings for the lodge.
After the death of Arthur Roberts in 1953, the lodge entered another era. Mr. and Mrs. Francis C. Hussey, a local couple, bought the facility. It was now run as a family business-a summer resort and motel for travelers.
Ten years passed, and another change of ownership occurred. Luther and Suzie Wallace left Denver, Colorado, and moved to the north shore of Lake Superior to begin a new life. Their young family, including Martha, age 15, Billy, age 14, and Luke, age 9, would prove to be active participants in the business. Luther, a former chemist and Lieutenant Commander in World War II, with his energetic wife, Suzie, transformed Naniboujou into a family environment founded on Christian principles. Luther welcomed guests at the door with, “Come as you are-glad to have you.” Suzie became well known for her wonderful home cooking. Tom Gifford wrote in a 1974 Minneapolis newspaper, “The bread for the sandwiches was homemade and warm, and the tuna salad was made with Russian dressing, and the breeze from the lake rustled in the trees, and the sun shone like a new gold coin hung behind a curtain of faint mist.”
As the Wallace boys grew, they handled more of the management of the lodge. But tragedy struck the Wallace family. On September 26, 1977, the young Wallace men, Luke, 23, and Bill, 28, lost their lives when their canoe capsized into Lake Superior at the mouth of the Brule River during a major autumn storm. Suzie and Luther continued to run the lodge for three more years, but in 1980 they sold the business to the Campus Church, a non-denominational Christian church located on the University of Minnesota campus.
This acquisition brought Tim and Nancy Ramey to the North Shore. The Ramey’s had been working for six years with Fish Enterprises, a Christian project that trained young people in religious fields of work and placed them in vocations around the world. The Ramey’s accepted a new mission, the management of Naniboujou Lodge. In the autumn of 1980, the Ramey’s began remodeling the knotty pine wing. The solarium was added in 1983, replacing the outdoor shuffleboard courts. However, within five years the lodge was once again for sale. Tim and Nancy prayed for guidance. With little more than their strong faith and a commitment to serving in whatever direction the Lord provided, Tim and Nancy managed to purchase the lodge with the help of committed friends. Thus began many years of labor, preserving and sensitively renovating the lodge for the pleasure of all who found their way to its open doors.
Soon the lodge was entered on the National Register of Historical Places. Tim and Nancy hired Minneapolis artist Susan Christopherson to begin spreading the Cree Indian designs to the rest of the lodge, including its 80 foot solarium. Both Susan and her husband John took pains to reproduce the original colors from the dining room, as they carefully mixed the modern acrylic latex paints to decorate the rest of the lodge.
Kevin Streeter joined the Ramey’s as a major staff member in 1985. As head chef for eleven years, it was through Kevin’s leadership and creativity that the Naniboujou Lodge developed its strong reputation for fine dining. During the off season, with the lodge closed, Kevin worked side-by-side with Tim on repair work and renovation. Also, as a man of many talents, he coordinated the new furnishings and designs throughout the lodge rooms and solarium. Kevin’s contributions to the lodge were considerable. Although he resigned in 1996, he continues to serve the Ramey’s in a supportive capacity.
Throughout the Ramey’s tenure, they have been fortunate to have a number of devoted staff returning year after year. As anyone in business recognizes, this is a great measure of success. I truly believe our guests, both knowingly and unknowingly, enjoy the support of a well seasoned staff.
Guests lounge in the comfortable lodge or hike the beautiful Brule River trail in search of the Devils Kettle (a stream of water that mysteriously disappears) high up within a rocky cauldron in the river. They fish the Brule for trout or roam the Lake Superior beach in search of agates. They sit on the Lake’s wide shore to glimpse the eagle that perches in his favorite tree, or to watch the Canadian geese trimming the grass. Or like Peter Ramey, a camera buff, many guests love to run outdoors with camera in hand to capture a gloriously full, pink sunset.
The dream the founders had for their guests continues in some respects. “Live and learn. Learn why the raspberry follows the fireweed; learn how the fern seed clings to its fronds; learn the ways of the kingbird, the haunts of the wood thrush; learn the pasturage of moose and deer and the home life of the beaver. Swim in the swimming pool, go round 18 holes of golf, or take on a tennis set, come for dinner. Stroll up the trail as far as high falls; walk the beach for agates. Sit and do nothing.”
Guests of today do not come for golf or for a dive into a swimming pool; they return seeking a quiet, peaceful, and natural environment. They come to gather their senses and to replenish both body and spirit in a place called Naniboujou.
Naniboujou is open daily to the public from the third week in May until the third week in October. During our off-season, they host special groups and retreats. The lodge closes for a short breather in December and January to allow staff time to prepare for the upcoming year.
Winter enthusiasts are welcomed to the Lodge every weekend in February and the first two weekends in March for Winter Weekend Getaway Packages, which includes your lodging and food for an unforgettable weekend up north.
The autumn of 1998 brought a profound change to the Ramey family, as well as to all of their staff and friends. Tim Ramey, while fighting to save the home of his Hovland neighbors as a volunteer firefighter, suffered severe injuries when a tall fireplace collapsed on him. Crediting God and thousands of prayers for his life, Tim miraculously survived his severe injuries. He suffered neck and back injuries that have kept him paralyzed from the chest down. After weeks in critical condition, major neck and back operations, months of physical therapy, and the loving help and devotion of his wife Nancy and the children, Tim has taken on the task of redefining life with limitations. As staff members and guests offer prayers of thanks and continued hope for Tim’s improvement and recovery, we all recognize how we are affected by one another. We feel greatly blessed to still be a part of the loving presence of Tim and Nancy at Naniboujou. The spirit of Naniboujou lives on.