The Importance of a Lake Place: In the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes

Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota in the 1950’s I was certain of three things: most people had blond hair, I was the only person that couldn’t skate, and every family had a cabin on a lake somewhere.

As to the first; northern Minnesota, Wisconsin & Michigan attracted Scandinavian emigrants because of the similarity to their home country with the spring fed lakes, the birch trees and the long winters. As an adult I attended a Duluth wedding between a Johnson and a Johanson. I was teased in grade school because I was different, I had red hair.

As to the second; my grade school flooded the playground in the winter and we were expected to skate during recess. It was humiliating and I still can’t skate. The high schools all had hockey teams and the cheerleaders had to learn to do their cheers on ice.

As to the third; every family I knew had a lake place. My Uncle Jack and Aunt Ginny Williams had a very nice cabin on Gunflint Lake with Canada on the other side of the lake, my cousin John and his wife Jane Bradley had a cabin on Onion River. Aunt Ruth and her husband Milford Humphrey had a cabin on the border with the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area). I visited my great Aunt Lucile Bradley at her cabin in Minnesota.  There was also the summer place established by Henry Martin Bradley at Deerwood, Minnesota. It certainly seemed like all my parents friends had cabins and we would visit theirs or they would visit ours.

We used to visit our grandparents, Edward Cook and Kathryn Burris Bradley at their cabin in Spread Eagle, Wisconsin until we built our own cabin on Hart Lake on the Pike Lake Chain of lakes near Iron River, Wisconsin. The Spread Eagle cabin had a fire and then was sold after my grandparents moved to California.

The season was short, however, really just July and August for swimming in the lake. It took forever for the ice to go out. In Duluth one year there was snow in my backyard on May 12th when the trees finally began to bud. Some people had winterized cabins but we did not.

In the summer we lived at the cabin, my dad would drive an hour into Duluth to work and drive back for dinner. He always took a swim in the morning before work and another after work and before dinner. There was the startling sound of a big splash when he dove off the dock, more of a belly flop than a surface dive. We all had friends on the lakes and would spend our days waterskiing, canoeing and taking the boat to the grocery store two lakes over. It was a good life.

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Jean Bradley Hart Lake Painting
My sister Jean Bradley’s 1980 watercolor painting
of the boathouse and dock at Hart Lake, Wisconsin
click on picture to enlarge.

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