This article was originally published in the 1999 Ely Summer Times. It served as a follow up to Crooked Lake, July 1950, which was originally published in the 1997 Ely Summer Times.
It was a rainy afternoon early in September, a quiet time on Crooked Lake. But for one woman staring out from the pines on Friday Bay, there were visions of a busy resort on a hot summer day — blueberry pies cooling in the kitchen, guests returning to the dock with stringers of walleyes, and a float plane bringing her father and more visitors from Ely.
More than 25 years had passed since Helen Koski had visited her childhood home — the site of Crooked Lake Fishing Camp, a busy place in the 50’s. Two summers ago we printed Helen’s memories of that time. Last summer, Helen decided it was time to go back. So along with her daughter Nancy and three of Nancy’s friends, Helen paddled down the Horse River, portaged around Lower Basswood Falls, and continued down Crooked Lake to Friday Bay. She surprised herself and her daughter by never needing to consult a map. “I don’t know how, but I just remembered where to go. It all looked so familiar.”
Table Rock had always been a stopping place for Helen’s family, whether they were out picking berries, fishing, or just picnicking. She found it unchanged, except for the water level being exceptionally low. The Old Buick, left on the shore of Crooked Lake one winter and used as a landmark for decades, was more obscure, but Helen had no trouble finding it. “I remember we used to give directions about where to fish using the Buick as a point of reference,” she says. “It stood out more then, but maybe they moved it back farther into the woods to make the shore look wild. Or maybe the woods just grew up around it.”
The woods had definitely grown up around the site of the lodge. Helen recognized the pines as the same ones she’d played among as a child, but now there is a birch and aspen understory. “I’m sure my dad kept the underbrush cleaned out, and everything else is so much the same. Really, very little has changed. The skyline looks exactly like it did when I was a child, staring at it over the lake. The sunset, the clouds, the points and the big pines on the horizon — it’s al just as I remember.”
Helen found the old fireplace stone foundation, about all that’s left of the many resort buildings. Nancy, the kind of daughter who takes an interest in her family history, was delighted to be on the spot that had played such a big role in her mother’s youth. For many years after the resort was gone, the family had maintained a cabin on the site. Nancy had visited there as a young child, but had only faint memories of it. Now having an adult perspective, she was amazed at the work involved in building and running a resort so far from civilization. Her friends shared her curiosity about it.
“How did they get all the windows for the cabins up here? How did they cut and store all the ice for refrigeration? How did they haul in the gas for the generators? And the food for all the guests?” Helen recalled the hard work that her father and his friends and done in the winters, hauling materials and supplies up the Spring Creek Draw in big sleds with horses at first, and later with a kind of winter tractor.
Helen spent one day at the beach of her childhood, where she had bathed, learned to swim, and engage in long conversations with her imaginary pal “Buddy.” “He wasn’t there anymore, but I remember him well,” she says. As an only child with few guests her age at the resort, she had to be inventive with her playtime.
Helen still has a sense of adventure, and thoroughly enjoyed the canoe trip. “After Labor Day is a wonderful time to be out. We saw very few other people, and there were no bugs. It was calm, and we only had a half day of rain.”
Will she go back again? You bet! Next time she hopes to make the trip through Chippewa and Papoose Lake, a route she remembers from years ago. Drawn both by childhood memories and an appreciation of canoe country, Helen seems like a woman who will enjoy Crooked Lake in years to come at least as much as she did in years past.