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 third and last installment of his story.
In the fifties some of the summer regulars began retiring, taking up permanent residence in their former summer homes on Lake George. Transportation, both roads and automobiles, had improved greatly from the thirties and forties and property taxes had increased significantly, especially the non-homesteaded variety. Therefore, there was no point in owning two residences and commuting the ever-shortening distance to the lake, so the summer shacks of Lake George began to give way to permanent year-round houses. The last of the old Lake George cottages, Seldom Inn, was torn down when Will Ridge’s daughter and son-in-law built their home on the property.
Will Ridge, the oldest-timer on the lake as he referred to himself, retired in 1980 and built his home next to the site of his boyhood retreat, Seldom Inn, on a road called “Indian Ridge.” His front yard is a lush expanse of lawn meeting lakeshore. Down by the cattails growing in the shallows, a multihued garden of impatiens encircles a weeping willow. Nearby, a clump of pampas grass hides an old tree stump, and a well-tended vegetable garden basks in the sun.
Will’s back-side yard abuts a mound of earth guarded by a three-foot tall cement Indian. “Entombed within this mound,” explained Will, “are the bones of Ojibwa Indians killed on this spot in the 1840s by their rivals, the Sioux.” Will went on to explain that it all came about because of a woman.
“Since earliest times the Rum River has been an Indian highway connecting first the Sioux, then the Ojibwa of Mille Lacs with the Mississippi waterway. Lake George, just a stone’s throw from the Rum, could be easily reached via a creek connecting the two. The lake was an important part of the travel route; a place where the Indians could camp and fish and rest before continuing on their journey.”
Will Ridge related one disastrous stopover on Lake George. “It was the mid-1840s after the Ojibwa and Sioux had attended a peaceful meeting at Fort Snelling. Story is one of the Sioux women went home with the Ojibwa and her kin folk were mighty mad about this. So they followed the Ojibwa who were paddling to Mille Lacs by way of the Mississippi and the Rum. They caught up with them at their encampment on Lake George and a fierce battle followed.” Eighty Ojibwa, victims of that fight, are buried in the mound bordering Will Ridge’s property. “There are at least a hundred more individual Indian burials around the lake,” said Will, “and a lot of arrowheads. Farmers used to plow them up all the time.”
What about Lake George of the Nineties? Good fishing? “You bet. Lots of crappies and sunfish,” says Will, “but serious fishermen prefer to travel the extra distance to Mille Lacs for the walleyes.” Ice fishing? “Not as much as there used to be. Same reason. Mille Lacs.” Water quality? “The best in the state.” A good place to live? “For sure. Much quieter and more peaceful that Lake Minnetonka and the other popular lakes.”
Looking across the clear blue waters of Lake George from Will Ridge’s front yard on that beautiful summer day in 1996, I couldn’t help but think that the paradise of Roe Chase’s day was still very much intact.
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.