The year was 1890. A fisherman had just dropped anchor near an island nestled in the wilderness of Bay Lake. From the island, he heard the lyrics of an old German love song beautifully chorded on a piano.
It was the music of Mrs. Joseph Ruttger who along with her husband lived on a small farm on the island where they raised garden produce, berries and had a few apple trees.
The 40-acre tract she and Joseph were to cultivate on the mainland in 1894 would evolve into one of Minnesota's best-known resorts, and was the start of the Ruttgers resort empire.)
The fisherman must have been astounded to hear music like grandmother played, said Max "Buzz" Ruttger, now with Ruttger and Ruttger real estate in Brainerd and owner of Ruttgers Pine Beach on Gull Lake. (Pine Beach was leased in 1969 to Madden Brothers.)
The story was one of many told by his uncle Alex, one of the four sons of Joseph and Mrs. Ruttger, and owner of Ruttgers Bay Lake.
The couple met while visiting the Knieff home on Bay Lake. They were married shortly after and she had her piano shipped from her home in illinois.
Joseph, an immigrant who left his native Germany to avoid the draft, was a trained machinist, After getting out of Germany by boat through Holland, he settled in St. Paul where he worked at the St. Paul Milwaukee Shop.
During the noon hours, a man named Ranken promoted northland living and "father joined a colony of men at the Millers Sawmill, on Bay Lake," said Alex.
He said his father didn't make any money at the mill where he served as steamboat en-gineer, but the crew were given stamps which they traded in at the company store for food and other necessities, and provided bunk space.
Joseph, however, contacted a lung ailment from working long hours in the St. Paul machine shop and from breathing saw dust at the mill. A doctor gave him three months to live.
In 1886, he homesteaded on the island in Bay Lake where he figured the air was about as pure as air can be, said Max. (The island is now owned by Lester Malkerson, University of Minn. Board of Regents.)
Times were tough on the island and getting to and from the farm was a chore in a row boat, especially during storms.
There were three months out of the year when the Ruttger family could not get off the island due to ice conditions.
In 1892, he moved his family which had grown to include two sons, to the mainland and took over the Bay Lake post office.
The family farmed about 40 acres and raised all sorts of garden commodities, hogs, cattle, horses, chickens, and all else needed to carry them through the winter months. During the fall, Alex went to North Dakota where he worked the thrashing machines for local farmers to make some extra money to carry the famiIy through.
In the winter, the Ruttger farm became a neighborhood gathering point for Sunday song tests. Neighbors rode in on horse-drawn sleighs for about two hours of singing around the piano.
It was from this modest beginning, that the Ruttger's resorts began.
"Walleye fishing was marvelous," said Alex. Fishermen came each day by horse team from the Deerwood railroad station. After a day's fishing, they be tired and hungry so they'd persuade Mrs. Ruttger to fix them dinner.
She'd go to the smoke house and come back with arm loads of fresh smoked meats and cook up-a fine meal.
Then, "they'd look around for a place to sleep and father would hand them a horse blanket and point to the hay mow," said Alex. In the morning they'd slide down the hay mow shoot, and Mother fixed breakfast for the men before they headed back on the 1 1/2 mile trip to Deerwood.
"The fishermen forced their way in," said Alex. The hay barn was then turned into a dormitory and Joseph started charging $5 a week for room, board and a boat.
Life was never dull running a resort-farm in the 1800's said Aiex. He said the four sons cleaned fish, seined for minnows, cleaned and repaired the boats and worked the farm.
From the Deerwood station, Joseph brought patrons out by horse and buggy. Since there was a direct line from Duluth to Deerwood, many of the visitors were from Duluth.
It was Alex who was mainly responsible for building the resort after World War I in 1918 into what it is today. After he returned from the war he borrowed $3,500 to build new house-keeping cabins and more general enlarging.
"No one said I'd succeed said Alex, a spry, quiet spoken gentleman of 77.
Rooms with a private bath rented for $35 per week and the price included meals, tennis, golf and "what have you," said Alex. His father had earlier built a large lodge. During the early days of the resort, the porch was used by campers where they set up their tents.
"Grandfather figured it was more comfortable than sleeping on the ground," said Max.
In 1925, a family friend came back from the west coast and told about "a wonderful game called golf" and persuaded Alex to put a course in at Ruttger Bay Lake.
It seemed like a waste of pastureland, so he combined it into a golfcourse - pasture. Oil and sand greens were enclosed by a smooth wire single-strand fence to keep the horses and cattle off the greens. The fareways were for pasturing as well as golfers.
Today, the main lodge and 42 cottages at the 59-acre Ruttger's Bay Lake accommodate about 150 guests. Alex Ruttger also owns Ruttger's Keys Motor Lodge in Florida with his son, Jack.
Other Ruttger enterprises in Florida are Lauderdale Ruttger and Rutter's-by-the-Sea.
The four sons of Joseph and Josephine Ruttger all went into the resort business. Max Ruttger ran a country general store at Bay Lake where vacationers and local residents could buy everything from soup to nuts, bolts, harnesses and salt.
He ran the store from 1914 through 1930, when he built Ruttger's Pine Beach on Gull Lake. After his death, the resort was owned by Max, Jr., better known as Buzz Ruttger. Max, Jr., leased the resort to the Madden Brothers in 1969 and it is now called Maddens Pine Portage.
From 1930 through 1936, the Bay Lake Country Store was operated by Max, Sr.'s brother, Bill, who went on to build Shady Point Ruttger on Whitefish Lake that same year.
Ruttger's Birchmont at Bemidji was owned by Buzz Ruttger's brother, Donald who bought the resort in 1937. Sherwood Forest, between Gull and Margaret lakes, was purchased by Ed Ruttger in 1934. It was sold in 1946 when Ed went into the real estate business. The Ruttger and Ruttger real estate office is in Brainerd.
Knieft's Shore Acres Resort
Knieff's Shore Acres Resort on Bay Lake started as a large campground next to the home of Hugo Knieff, who homesteaded the property in 1882.
Some of the first guests were college students from Manhattan, Kansas, who came in August to camp.
According to Hattie Knieff, 84, the cabins that were built later, some 40 years ago, were the first housekeeping cabins on the lake. "The Ruttgers had a lodge and served meals, but we had the first housekeeping accommodations," said Hattie.
"Sisiabagamma," owned by A. A. Miller, and the Archibald family served meals on Bay Lake and took in boarders at about the same time, said Hattie. Other famous pioneering resorters on Bay Lake were Elijah Soule and his wife.
Hattie Knieff's husband, Hugo died in 1967 at 86 years of age. He was the youngest of four sans of the Knieff family who homesteaded the land in 1882.
Hugo's father operated a summer boarding house for several years, then added sleeping tents outdoors and it was not until 1924 that the first cabin was built. Gradually more comfortable cottages were added.
People from Kansas City, the first patrons of the Kneiff resort, came by train to Deerwood, then by wagon to the lake. Later as roads were cut through the dense forest, which at one time covered the entire northern half of Minnesota, ancient Fords, Overlands, Stars, Oldsmobiles, Maxwells, Hupmobiles, Reos, and Buicks, made the trip through the scenic woodlands to this resort area from almost every state in the union.
There were no limits on fish in the early days of resorting. Consequently, fishermen used to wager who could catch the greatest number of a given specie in a morning's trip.
Boats came to the dock at Shore Acres with from 75 to 100 largemouth bass flopping on the floorboards. The largest catch of this fish were almost made in early May when the fish were on the spawning runs.
In the early days at Bay Lake $5 a week would cover room, board, boat, guide and wagon fare from the train to the resort and back to the depot.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).