Anoka County history: Reminiscing about life on the lake

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 in the Courier 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.

This is the second installment of his story.

Guests at one resort on Lake George weren’t much for mingling with the other vacationers.

They were the infamous St. Paul mobsters, among them Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Ma Barker and sons and Kid Cann Blumenthal.

When the law was getting too close they holed-up in their hideout, “Fleet’s Inn,” a shadowy resort on the swampy north end of the lake, located about where the entrance shack to the park is now.

“We stayed away from that part of the lake,” Will recounts.

“They had guard dogs and security all over the place. But they kept to themselves and didn’t bother anybody.”

“There were a lot of what we considered to be big farms on the lake,” recalls Will.

“Stewarts, Greens, Gallaghers, Romanchucks, Reimans, Tillburgs — they all had farms.”

Although Will’s parents and grandparents were residents of Anoka, they had homesteaded about 1400 acres on and around Lake George since 1888.

His grandfather, William Greenwald, and great-uncle, Louis (L.J.) Greenwald, owned about one-third of the Lake George shoreline and the 2000 feet of land stretching from the southwest side of the lake to the Rum River.

To comply with the conditions of homesteading, the Greenwalds first ran sheep, unprofitably; then switched to milking shorthorn cattle, relying on the services of six to eight hired hands.

Will recalls the drought of 1934.

In those Depression era days, feed was expensive and hard to come by.

It was his job to take the cows to the river bottom in the morning where they could munch on the moist hay growing there.

Then in the afternoon he would herd them back to Lake George for their four o’clock milking, and then put them in their lakeshore night-pasture where they would nibble on meager rations of cattails and bulrushes until morning.

Like Seldom Inn, most of the lake places Roe Chase had written about so eloquently in his 1906 “little booklet” were still standing and being used into the forties.

“They were strictly for relaxing and enjoying the out-of-doors,” said Will Ridge.

“Nobody spent much time modernizing them or fixing them up.”

Will remembered the Pancake Inn, Roe Chase’s pride and job.

“It never was properly designed,” Will said, “It just kind of grew.”

Made of clapboard, additions and screened porches were built randomly to suit Roe’s whims and fancies.

Floor levels and ceiling heights were all different.

Roe Chase died childless in the thirties, leaving the Pancake Inn and his newspaper, the Anoka Herald, to his wife Crystobel.

She managed the paper for a while, then sold it to Arch Pease, owner of the Anoka Union, in the forties.

The Pancake Inn disappeared from the lakeshore about that time also.

More about Will Ridge’s 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 is [email protected]

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