In 1932, my great-aunt and great-uncle, Gert and Leon Wilber, bought 30 acres of lakefront property on Spruce Lake (later renamed Kane Lake), located 20 miles north of Two Harbors, Minn. In 1933, they built a cabin of vertical cedar logs with the help of Finnish loggers. I have found no information as to how much they paid for this property, but I did find a tax receipt for the first half of 1932 from the treasurer’s office of Lake County — for $1.51!
Gert and Leon lived at the cabin during the Depression. The only other lake dwelling was an old trapper’s shack. They earned a living by staffing a fire tower on a nearby lake for the National Forest Service. Leon also earned money as a hunting and fishing guide. I remember Gert talking about the 5 -mile trap line she did in the winter on snowshoes. She grew and canned vegetables, and picked and canned berries in the summer.
The original cabin was 24 feet square with no running water, electricity or road access. One had to come across the lake in a rowboat to get to the cabin. In 1937, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was built across the lake. It’s there that Gert and Leon would get their mail.
The two lived in the cabin until 1941. Then the cabin became a family retreat and North-Woods haven. Electricity was installed in 1959. Phone service followed. Road access came in the early 1990s. Gert willed the cabin to her niece, Elaine Melby-Moen, who later gave it to me, her daughter.
In 2002, the original cabin had to be torn down. In 2004, a new log cabin based on the floor plan of the original (only larger!) and utilizing some salvaged cedar half-logs, was completed for the enjoyment of current family (who own it as a trust). Several pieces of the original furnishings continue to get use. The memories and atmosphere of the old have been infused into the new. The rest of the lake now has been developed, too. However, everyone comes to our side of the lake because the fishing is the best there. We have left the natural shoreline. It is truly a “cabin in the woods,” as always.
We close the cabin in winter but take occasional snowshoe trips in for fun. We all wait anxiously for spring and the frost to heave out of the road, so we can open the cabin up again. Now that I am retired, I try to spend as much time as possible there. So far, there is a legacy of five generations to love and care for this special, private place.
Merrie Healy, St. Paul