It all began in November of 1927.
The founding members of the Naniboujou Holding Company formed an
exclusive club on the northwestern banks of Lake Superior. The club was
surrounded by magnificent, densely-forested land providing endless
hunting possibilities. The area was filled with bountiful, clear lakes,
truly a fisherman's dream. The founders had the right idea. It was
their dream, "To live and learn . . . why the raspberry follows the
fireweed: ... the ways of the kingbird . . . and the home life of the
The Naniboujou Holding Company
obtained a 99-year lease for 3,330 acres of land 125 miles northeast of
Duluth, Minnesota, along the shores of Lake Superior. The first
drawings of the development were shown to the public in March of 1928.
This private enterprise had a grand scope. It was to include a large
clubhouse with 150 sleeping rooms, a golf course, tennis courts, and a
bathing house. Charles F. Kelly, a well known Duluth merchant and
President of the company, led the membership drive for 3,300 members.
No stock was for sale in this $350,000 to $500,000 development. There
would be no promotional advertising. This was to be a private,
exclusive club. The 99 year memberships were sold for $200 or more to
friends and the friends of friends. The desire was for a broad national
base of membership. For that reason, and to prevent overcrowding of the
facilities, Minnesota residents were limited to 25% of the membership.
Just two negative votes by the 24 member board of governors could
blackball any prospective member. The prestigious Naniboujou charter
members included Babe Ruth, the famous New York Yankee, Jack Dempsey,
the former world heavyweight champion, and Ring Lardner, a New York
The original clubhouse included
twenty-four guest rooms with a main lodge containing fourteen sets of
French doors leading to the outdoors. These doors are still intact, including some of the original canopies. Even some of the lighting in
the dining room is original. The largest stone fireplace in the state
of Minnesota dominates the west end of the dining room. It was built by
a local Swedish stonemason named Carlson out of 200 tons of native
rock. Standing some twenty feet high, the fireplace continues to be a
showpiece, warming and welcoming the guests of Naniboujou.
the most memorable aspect of the lodge is the wondrously painted 30 x
80 foot dining room. Antoine Goufee, a French artist, painted Cree
Indian designs over the walls and the twenty-foot-high domed ceiling
(resembling the shape of a canoe). Guests marvel at its originality.
"It's straight from an Agatha Christie mystery novel," wrote Tom
Clifford in 1972. "The almost psychedelic Cree Indian designs covering
the walls and ceiling are like a North Woods answer to the Sistine
Chapel." This work of art continually amazes and intrigues, echoing the
elegance and style of another era.
marked the opening of the new lodge operated by the newly formed
holding company. There was a celebration, with Governor Theodore
Christianson christening the lodge on July 7, 1929. This exciting event
was followed by abrupt disappointment on October 29 of that same year.
The stock market crash spelled disaster for the
Naniboujou Holding Company. Even with the help of such distinguished leaders as
Honorable George Lead, Mayor of Minneapolis, the Honorable W.I. Nolan,
Lt Governor of St. Paul, and L. H. Hill, a capitalist of Albany, Texas,
the financial difficulties brought on by the great depression could not
be surmounted. By the summer of 1930, everything was turned around.
Members quit paying dues and stopped patronizing this northern mecca.
participation was needed to keep this large recreational endeavor
afloat. In 1932, George Cormack of General Mills in Minneapolis was
elected president of the company, but again success was elusive. Credit
was eventually shut off following a succession of re-organizations and
new management. By 1934, the club was in financial shambles. 1935
brought foreclosures. The only answer seemed to be for a large resort
chain to take control.
In 1939, the Arthur
Roberts Hotel Chain took over Naniboujou, hiring Mr. Robert MacNab to
operate the facility as a hotel. Restoration and some landscaping took
place. A great number of recreational activities were added, including
archery, croquet, badminton, lawn tennis, trap and skeet shooting,
swimming (brr!), and canoeing, as well as indoor Ping-Pong and
shuffleboard games. They invested in kitchen equipment and new
furnishings for the lodge.
After the death of
Arthur Roberts in 1953, the lodge entered another era. Mr. and Mrs.
Francis C. Hussey, a local couple, bought the facility. It was now run
as a family business-a summer resort and motel for travelers.
years passed, and another change of ownership occurred. Luther and
Suzie Wallaceleft Denver, Colorado, and moved to the north shore of
Lake Superior to begin a new life. Their young family, including
Martha, age 15, Billy, age 14, and Luke, age 9, would prove to be
active participants in the business. Luther, a former chemist and
Lieutenant Commander in World War II, with his energetic wife, Suzie,
transformed Naniboujou into a family environment founded on Christian
principles. Luther welcomed guests at the door with, "Come as you
are-glad to have you." Suzie became well known for her wonderful home
cooking. Tom Gifford wrote in a 1974 Minneapolis newspaper, "The bread
for the sandwiches was homemade and warm, and the tuna salad was made
with Russian dressing, and the breeze from the lake rustled in the
trees, and the sun shone like a new gold coin hung behind a curtain of
As the Wallace boys grew, they
handled more of the management of the lodge. But tragedy struck the
Wallace family. On September 26, 1977, the young Wallace men, Luke, 23,
and Bill, 28, lost their lives when their canoe capsized into Lake
Superior at the mouth of the Brule River during a major autumn storm.
Suzie and Luther continued to run the lodge for three more years, but
in 1980 they sold the business to the Campus Church, a
non-denominational Christian church located on the University of
This acquisition brought
Tim and Nancy Ramey to the North Shore. The Ramey's had been working for
six years with Fish Enterprises, a Christian project that trained young
people in religious fields of work and placed them in vocations around
the world. The Ramey's accepted a new mission, the management of
Naniboujou Lodge. In the autumn of 1980, the Ramey's began remodeling
the knotty pine wing. The solarium was added in 1983, replacing the
outdoor shuffleboard courts. However, within five years the lodge was
once again for sale. Tim and Nancy prayed for guidance. With little
more than their strong faith and a commitment to serving in whatever
direction the Lord provided, Tim and Nancy managed to purchase the
lodge with the help of committed friends. Thus began many years of
labor, preserving and sensitively renovating the lodge for the pleasure
of all who found their way to its open doors.
the lodge was entered on the National Register of Historical Places.
Tim and Nancy hired Minneapolis artist Susan Christopherson to begin
spreading the Cree Indian designs to the rest of the lodge, including
its 80 foot solarium. Both Susan and her husband John took pains to
reproduce the original colors from the dining room, as they carefully
mixed the modern acrylic latex paints to decorate the rest of the lodge.
Streeter joined the Ramey's as a major staff member in 1985. As head
chef for eleven years, it was through Kevin's leadership and creativity
that the Naniboujou Lodge developed its strong reputation for fine
dining. During the off season, with the lodge closed, Kevin worked
side-by-side with Tim on repair work and renovation. Also, as a man of
many talents, he coordinated the new furnishings and designs throughout
the lodge rooms and solarium. Kevin's contributions to the lodge were
considerable. Although he resigned in 1996, he continues to serve the
Ramey's in a supportive capacity.
the Ramey's tenure, they have been fortunate to have a number of devoted
staff returning year after year. As anyone in business recognizes, this
is a great measure of success. I truly believe our guests, both
knowingly and unknowingly, enjoy the support of a well seasoned staff.
Guests lounge in
the comfortable lodge or hike the beautiful Brule River trail in search
of the Devils Kettle (a stream of water that mysteriously disappears)
high up within a rocky cauldron in the river. They fish the Brule for
trout or roam the Lake Superior beach in search of agates. They sit on
the Lake's wide shore to glimpse the eagle that perches in his favorite
tree, or to watch the Canadian geese trimming the grass. Or like Peter
Ramey, a camera buff, many guests love to run outdoors with camera in
hand to capture a gloriously full, pink sunset.
dream the founders had for their guests continues in some respects.
"Live and learn. Learn why the raspberry follows the fireweed; learn
how the fern seed clings to its fronds; learn the ways of the kingbird,
the haunts of the wood thrush; learn the pasturage of moose and deer and
the home life of the beaver. Swim in the swimming pool, go round 18
holes of golf, or take on a tennis set, come for dinner. Stroll up the
trail as far as high falls; walk the beach for agates. Sit and do
Guests of today do not come for
golf or for a dive into a swimming pool; they return seeking a quiet,
peaceful, and natural environment. They come to gather their senses and
to replenish both body and spirit in a place called Naniboujou.
is open daily to the public from the third week in May until the third
week in October. After closing in the autumn and before opening in the
spring, we host Elderhostel classes.
College in Ely, Minnesota, provides two five-day elderhostel sessions
at Naniboujou. The programs are designed to take advantage of the local
environment. Studies and activities revolve around topics like local
wildflowers, birds, animals, native American culture, artists, dog
sledding, etc. Major cleaning and repairs fill November and December.
1985, the lodge has opened its doors for two special evenings of dining
and entertainment after Christmas. A 20-foot Christmas tree is
decorated to greet the 120 guests each evening. Poinsettias decorate
the hall. The massive fireplace glows and warms guests as they enter
the hall, leaving behind them a stark, white, winter wonderland. The
Ramey family and staff enjoy this event almost as much as the guests,
guiding them into the solarium for hot cider to await the arrival of
the carolers and an elegant dinner. For many years the Muus family of
Grand Marais, with their exceptional musical talent and background,
have filled our dining hall with the traditional European carols. The
guests dine leisurely and each course gives pause for a song or two.
This popular event has become an annual ritual for many of our guests.
Naniboujou Lodge remains open through the week following Christmas.
Many guests bring in the New Year surrounded by the beauty of our
north woods retreat. Skiers and winter enthusiasts are welcomed to the
Lodge each Friday and Saturday for both meals and lodging from January
until mid March. The lodge closes for a short breather in the spring to
allow staff time to prepare for our busy summer season, which begins
with a Mothers Day Sunday Brunch. The official summer lodging season
begins on the Saturday following Mother's Day.
autumn of 1998 brought a profound change to the Ramey family, as well
as to all of their staff and friends. Tim Ramey, while fighting to save
the home of his Hovland neighbors as a volunteer firefighter, suffered
severe injuries when a tall fireplace collapsed on him. Crediting God
and thousands of prayers for his life, Tim miraculously survived his
severe injuries. He suffered neck and back injuries that have kept him
paralyzed from the chest down. After weeks in critical condition, major
neck and back operations, months of physical therapy, and the loving
help and devotion of his wife Nancy and the children, Tim has taken on
the task of redefining life with limitations. As staff members and
guests offer prayers of thanks and continued hope for Tim's improvement
and recovery, we all recognize how we are affected by one another. We
feel greatly blessed to still be a part of the loving presence of Tim
and Nancy at Naniboujou. The spirit of Naniboujou lives on.
The (extended) Ramey Family in 2012 (click to enlarge)
The Ramey Family in 2012 (click to enlarge)