Anoka County History: A hotel on the shores of Lake George

One of the joys of writing this column for the Anoka County UnionHerald on behalf of the Anoka County Historical Society are the occasional calls I get from readers telling me they have a story of historical interest to share. One such call came from an Anoka resident, Ardy Hoogestraat, whose family had owned and lived in the Sandy Beach Hotel on Lake George. Before meeting with Ardy I consulted Roe Giddings Chase’s “little booklet” written in 1906 describing the cabins and resorts on that lake in Oak Grove.  According to Chase:

“R.S. Hopper is the proprietor of this well-known summer resort (Sandy Beach.) He may at all times be reached via the Northwestern Telephone through Anoka or by mail to St. Francis, Minn. R.F.D. No. 3. Good table board is provided at $5.00 a week to campers who prefer to make the most of their outing. A new barn has been erected that will afford ample room for horses, carriages and automobiles. Fine well water, plenty of ice, and a daily mail delivery are always at the command of campers. The grounds are illuminated at night. Mr. Hopper is an enthusiastic hunter and takes great pleasure in guiding parties of sportsmen to the best duck pass or most promising crappie bed.”

In addition to the hotel, Chase described the six cottages, four of them named “Sandy Beach,” the other two “Red Cottage,” and “Lakeside” that made up the resort, as well as “The Pavillion” for the use of campers and their friends.

I met with Ardy in her home on a crisp January afternoon. The story she told me was not only about the Sandy Beach Hotel in the 1940s and 50s, but of her father, Heinrich Volbert Yahn, a German immigrant who became part of the “Greatest Generation” living out the American dream.

Heinrich Volbert Yahn was born in Germany in 1903 into a family of nine sisters and three brothers. An older brother, Hans, had immigrated to the United States in 1924 to find work. By 1928 Hitler’s rise to power was becoming ominous, and Heinrich saw the handwriting on the wall. He thought it best to leave the country while he could. Four years after brother Han’s arrival in the USA, Heinrich joined him in Horicon, Wisconsin.

Soon after coming to the US, Heinrich met another German immigrant, Hildegard Schumacher, who as a 10-year-old had arrived in the states with her parents in 1922.  Heinrich and Hildegard married on the Fourth of July, 1930. She was 18. He was 25. They had three children: Liann, born in 1933, Ardy born in 1934, and Heinz born in 1935.

Heinrich moved his family to Beloit, Wisconsin where, as a master machinist, he found work in a machine shop. Anti-German feeling was strong and because of his obvious “German-ness,” he was fired, an irony since Heinrich had come to the US to escape the Nazi movement.  Heinrich’s next move was to St. Louis Park where he found work at Northern Pump — in the defense industry making weapons to use against the German war machine.

After the war in 1948 Heinrich bought Sandy Beach Resort on Lake George from Alice, the widow of its original owner, Robert S. Hopper, and moved his family into the spacious 13-room Sandy Beach Hotel where they took up residence on the first floor. Ardy recalls exploring the eight upper bedrooms. Although no longer used, they were furnished with iron bedsteads. Each room had a commode sporting a water pitcher and basin on top for washing and a chamber pot in the compartment below for another purpose.

Ardy’s mother, Hildegard, with the help of Liann, Ardy, and Heinz, ran the resort. It was hard work for all. They cleaned all the cabins once a week. Since there was no water or indoor plumbing, they had to haul water by the bucketful for drinking and bathing, and everyone, residents and guests alike, had to use one of the two outhouses located on the property. On an excursion to the privy, a family member, or maybe even a guest might just come face-to-face with the family cow, Lillybelle, who, Ardy says, would walk right up to you and gently help herself to an apple you might have clenched between your teeth.

The family’s quarters in the hotel were heated by a coal stove and kerosene heater. Ardy said that one night the heater quit working and they woke up to find themselves all in black face, most likely from the fine soot that covered everything. The resulting mess created a lot of work for their mother, but even so, they thought it was pretty funny.

While his wife and kids were working hard running the resort, Heinrich wasn’t exactly lying around in a hammock. He had been laid off at Northern Pump after the war but had found new employment.  In his after-work spare time he rebuilt Robert Hopper’s rustic cabins, putting in electric heat for the comfort of his guests to whom he rented the cabins on a weekly basis. He also developed picnic grounds on the property and maintained the boats, scraping and re-tarring them.

The cabins of Lake George were a popular place to vacation during the summer. To make a reservation or use the picnic grounds at Sandy Beach Resort, you could either phone Bethel 18-J-I or send a letter addressed to H.V. Yahn, Proprieter, Route 2, Anoka, Minn.

Ardy graduated from St. Francis High School in 1952 and went to work at the 1st National Bank. She found the job extremely boring and soon quit. Meanwhile, her father, Heinrich, had returned to Northern Pump to work in another capacity and Ardy was able to secure a job there as well. She also found the love of her life working there; Red Hoogestraat, tall, good-looking, charming, and a first generation American like herself.  Red hit it off, not only with Ardy but with her family as well, especially Heinrich. Although Red was not a German speaker when he met Ardy, he and her father whiled away many hours engaged in conversation, mostly about the old country — in German — which Heinrich taught him as they conversed.  (In fact, Ardy consulted Red frequently about information for this article.)

The year of Ardy’s graduation Heinrich tore down the old Sandy Beach Hotel and built his family a fine house with a walkout on County Road 9. Upon marriage his three children each took possession of one of the original cabins. Although the Sandy Beach Hotel is no longer standing, and the cabins have been passed on to his children, Heinrich’s legacy lives on in the Lake George Conservation Club which he was instrumental in founding – an organization that is still very much in evidence today.

In 1963 Heinrich Yahn died of a heart attack. He was only 60 years of age, but during those 60 years Heinrich had found the American dream on the shores of Lake George.

June Anderson is a member of and volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society. She is also a member of the Coon Rapids Writers Group.  If you have a story you would like to share with the readers of this newspapers please contact her through the History Center 763-421-0600.

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