A bike ride to Bearskin in 1933

A few weeks ago the Bearskin Blog asked guests to share their “Bearskin Story.”  The memories and anecdotes  that people contributed are fascinating.  We need to find a way to let others enjoy the stories and view the memorabilia that our guests have passed along.  

Today, though, we received an account of a Bearskin trip that is just too good to keep for later.  The tale dates back to 1933, right around the time this historic Bearskin map was painted.

Bearskin was owned at that time by the Allens, who were the featured family in Nell Stolp Smock’s popular 1938 children’s book, “White Tail, King of the Forest.” The resort was known as “Allen’s Camp Bearskin.”

We’ll let Mr. Chellis French take it from here:

 “In June of 1933, when we graduated from high school, Eddie Webb and I rode bicycles from Rockford, Illinois to Grand Marais.  Our goal was East Bearskin Lake where both of our families had spent vacation time in previous years.  We had permission from our parents and from Mr. Allen, who was the owner of the Bearskin Lodge and cabins.

It took us about a week to get to Grand Marais.  We were lucky to run into some CCC fellows who offered to take us up to Bearskin.  We stored our bikes at a local gas station and rode in a CCC truck up to their camp.  They invited us to stay for supper which we were glad to do.  Then they drove us to Bearskin.

Mr. Allen had a cabin under construction but not completed and said we could stay there and sleep on the floor.  Because it was early in June and before he was busy with paying customers, Mr. Allen let us have a canoe for a few days.  We made a pencil tracing on to brown wrapping paper from an old map of a close by chain of lakes.  It was early in the season so the portages had not been cleared or clearly marked but we did manage to find all of them.  We never did see any other people.  One night Eddie said there was a bear snuffing around near us but I was asleep.  I don’t know whether sleeping bags had been invented yet but all we had were a couple of blankets.  I think our favorite meal was oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins.

We stayed there for another week or two during which time we became acquainted with a University of Minnesota professor, his wife and a daughter who had also just graduated from high school.  When that family left to go home they kindly let us ride with them back to Grand Marais. 

About twenty-five years ago, I was in the area and made a quick visit to Bearskin.  It was late winter.  There were only a few people around and my memory is that the facilities were few and old.  When I got the idea of going back there this summer, we got on the computer and were certainly impressed with Bearskin Lodge as it exist today.  I am now ninety-six, in pretty good shape, and looking forward to coming again to Bearskin with my wife of thirteen years, and my son and his wife and my 7 year old grandson.”

 We can’t wait to meet Mr. French!

2 thoughts on “A bike ride to Bearskin in 1933

  1. Catherine Woods

    How lovely to have you post this from Mr. French. That was quite some journey! Plus, it’s so good to have Nell Stolp Smock’s name at last and see that map she painted all those years ago! As a little girl, I used to sit in my father’s lap while he read aloud her story, White Tail, King of the Forest. Her illustrations always activated my senses, triggering memories of the sights, sounds, and smells of Bearskin.

  2. Marby Rufsvold

    What a lovely story, indeed, Mr. French! This is the kind of “living History” I love sharing with my students, and I look forward to having them read this! Your presence on a return visit to Bearskin would be an added incentive to get me back there as well! Perhaps you might agree to spending a couple of evenings around the campfire respinning this yard and others of your adventures on that trip, for the enjoyment of all who would come to hear you!

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