In the late nineteenth century, intrepid travelers were lured to northern Minnesota to enjoy the natural beauty of the region and participate in traditional outdoor sports of fishing, hunting, and canoeing. Burntside Lake, located three miles northwest of Ely in the Arrowhead Region, became accessible by road in the early 1900s. The picturesque, 7,313-acre lake is scattered with more than 125 islands and features pine and cedar-lined shores with exposed glaciated bedrock. Located on a portage between the Burntside River and Burntside Lake's south shore is Burntside Lodge, the earliest and largest full-scale commercial resort in northeastern Minnesota. The property contains the most intact collection of log resort buildings in the region, all built by local craftsmen using indigenous materials.
In 1911, Ely merchants established a hunting camp, the Ely-Burntside Outing Company, which served the growing numbers of recreational tourists who flocked to the area after the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad reached the region and a road link and bridge were completed across the Burntside River. To accommodate the visitors to the site, Ely contractors Meitunen and Peterson built the 10,000-square-foot rectangular main lodge in 1914. The lodge has a fieldstone foundation that supports walls built of round pine logs that were cut on site and joined at the corners with saddle notches. Inside, an enormous two-sided fieldstone fireplace divides the space into a dining room, with windows facing Burntside Lake on one side and a bar and former sleeping rooms on the other side. The open log rafter construction is visible in the lobby and bar area. During its first season, Burntside Lodge provided garages, made of poured concrete, for motorists to store their vehicles.
In the 1920s, brothers William and Lyman Alden purchased Burntside Lodge and expanded the resort. By 1922 there were 16 log cabins available for rent, and in the 1930s that number had grown to 28. Guests who stayed at the resort on the American plan paid about $5 per day including meals “that will always be remembered with a relish.” By its heyday in the 1940s, Burntside Lodge had 44 cabins as well as 14 sleeping rooms in the main lodge. Over time, some cabins burned or deteriorated and had to be replaced, and today there are 16 cabins that represent the earlier development from the 1920s and 1930s.
Twelve of the 16 cabins are made of horizontal logs with saddle notched corners, three are built of vertical logs, one (called Knotty Pine) is framed with 2 x 4-inch boards sheathed with half logs, and one (Cabin 16) is made of native fieldstone. Because the cabins were built by different craftsmen over a period of years, no two are exactly alike. Among the craftsmen were excellent stone masons, whose handiwork can be seen in the fieldstone fireplaces and foundations of numerous cabins. The primary wood used for the log cabins is poplar mixed with spruce, red pine, white pine, and jack pine. Logs are painted with a yellow primer that is used to simulate the color of a sanded, unfinished log, and then finished with either a natural or red cedar varnish. The result is a striking burnt orange color.
William Alden sold Burntside Lodge in 1941 to Ray and Nancy LaMontagne, who had ties to the resort since the 1930s. They brought indoor plumbing into the cabins and made numerous other improvements during the 42 years that they operated the resort. Today, Burntside Lodge is managed by the LaMontagne’s son and his children. Through their efforts, the property retains its integrity and represents a remarkable architectural achievement in an outstanding state of preservation.
Roberts, Joe and Norene. “Burntside Lodge Historic District,” St. Louis County, Minnesota. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1987. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Stenlund, Milt. Burntside Lake-The Early Days.Ely, MN: Ely-Winton Historical Society, 1986.