From April to August in 1996 I wrote a series of articles about the Bard of Lake George, Roe Giddings Chase, for the St. Francis Courier.
I shared these articles two years ago with the readers of this column.
Shortly after the articles appeared, I was contacted by Will Ridge, an old-timer on the lake, who also had a story to tell.
Will is considered to be the foremost authority and historian of Lake George.
I visited Will at his home on Lake George on a beautiful summer day in 1996.
Now in his 90s, Will Ridge has known Lake George all of his life. Will, his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have lived in the area for over 160 years.
All four of his great-grandfathers, Aaron Greenwald, Sam Ridge, David Gow, and Mr. Mitchell moved into Anoka County in 1858, 1860, 1880 and the late 1800s respectively.
They, and their offspring, figured prominently in the history of Anoka County, the state of Minnesota, and the United States.
According to Roe Chase, editor of the Anoka Herald writing at the turn of the century, Greenwald was the first of seven Anokans to volunteer his service as a Union soldier, April 19, 1861, the same day that President Lincoln called for volunteers to defend the Union.
Aaron Greenwald was killed in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg. He died on Sunday, the fifth of July. He left a widow and two sons.”
Aaron’s two sons were William, grandfather of Will Ridge, and Louis J., both of Anoka.
Together they homesteaded on Lake George.
Will’s paternal grandfather, Joseph Ridge of Linwood, enlisted in the First Minnesota the next month, May 20, 1861.
According to Goodrich’s “History of Anoka County,” he had an exemplary service record.
At Gettysburg he was detailed at division headquarters and so missed the deadly charge.
On his discharge, Joseph bought 160 acres in Bethel and married Grace Mitchell. Wayne Ridge, Will’s father, was the last of the seven children born to them.
In 1894 Will Ridge’s maternal grandfather, William Greenwald, died of consumption (tuberculosis) at age 35 leaving a wife, Gertrude, and two young daughters, Merry and Erma, who later married Wayne Ridge.
In 1905, William’s Greenwald’s widow, Gertrude, bought one of the most elaborate houses of Lake George’s growing colony, a two-room summer home dubbed “Seldom Inn.”
His grandmother’s lake home played an important part in Will Ridge’s growing-up years.
The last of the old-timers, Will Ridge, was a true child of Lake George.
The son of a surveyor, Wayne Ridge, and his wife, Erma Greenwald, Will’s family’s official residence was Anoka but he spent the long summers of his youth at the family lake home, “Seldom Inn,” on the west side of Lake George which was owned by his grandmother, Gertrude Greenwald.
“Those were the best of times,” says Will of his idyllic 1930s childhood.
“Friends from Anoka would come out to stay with me and we’d swim and fish and tramp the shores of Lake George.
“I’ll bet we knew every bird’s nest for miles around. We didn’t need organized recreational activities in those days.
“We made our own fun. We’d build tree houses, dig caves, and make pets out of the wild creatures.”
Camping and Scouting were high on Will’s list of things to do, and he attained the rank of Eagle Scout.
Will tells of catching frogs and keeping them in live boxes down by the lake.
“Sometimes there’d be a knock on the door about five o’clock in the morning,” he says.
“It would be a fisherman from one of the resorts wanting to buy some frogs for bait.”
“Besides fishing,” Will says “there were plenty of things to do at the lake.
“Hazelnuts and chokecherries and black currents to pick, croquet to play, horseshoes to pitch, boats to row and to sail, and dances at the pavilions to attend on weekends.”
More about Will Ridge and Lake George next week.
Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member/volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. Join her for a Ghosts of Anoka Tour this summer. Her e-mail address is [email protected].