Ben Knehel, who carried mail by boat on the Whitefish chain of lakes for 39 years without missing a day, knows the resorts of the area as well as he knew his mail run.
He made his final run September 15, 1969, the same day he sold his own resort, Camp Bertha, which he operated since 1923. Although he sold the five cabins he built himself at the resort, he kept his own home, large barn and workshop.
When he started making his run, he made 37 stops along the three hour, 30-mile route. When he retired, his stops totalled over 90.
Ben who was 81 years old, November 1, 1970, has lived in Crow Wing County since he was nine. During his 72 years on Lake Bertha, he watched resorts and private cottages spring up throughout the lake chain -- Upper and Lower Whitefish, Trout Lake, Bertha Lake Clam Shell and Hay Lake.
The first resort on Upper Whitefish was the Shady Rest Resort, on land homesteaded by Matt Kemp in 1896 or 1897, said Ben. It started first as a hunting and fishing camp, then cabins were built and the camp became a resort The resort has now been subdivided into private homesites. In 1936, said Ben, the lakeshore property at Shady Rest sold for $10 a foot, now it's worth about $85. "I don't know of any property left on Whitefish that isn't privately owned," said Ben.
BOLD SWAINS--These two gay blades, Seven Sorensen and Harold Peterson, were visiting the Brainerd lake area in 1920 when they did a bit of advertising for companions.
In those days, people depended on horse teams to get them to Jenkins and Pequot for supplies. Before the government dam was built at Cross Lake in 1912, the lake levels were much lower and people would drive horse teams along the beaches.
"It was much easier than getting over the old roads and cart-ways," said Ben. These were narrow roads built for horse teams. "When two teams would meet, one would have to go back home. There wasn't enough room to pass,' said Ben.
But travel along the beaches, or across shallow channels and bars could be dangerous. To Joe Meyer who once owned Camp Foley for Boys on Bertha Lake, and his hunting partner, it was disastrous.
Meyer met his deer hunting partner at the Jenkins railroad station and the two stopped at Shady Rest Resort for lunch. From here they started across "the thoroughfare" a shallow bar across the channel connecting Upper and Lower Whitefish.
As they approached the channel, a northwest wind caused them to lose their bearings. Joe Meyer, his hunting partner and the horse team were all drowned.
After the dam was built, the water level of the Whitefish lake chain was raised to full capacity and early resorters and residents could no longer ride along the beaches.
Another early resort on Upper Whitefish was Piney Ridge Lodge started by a Pequot druggist, Dr. J. H. Sandberg, in 1902 or 1903, said Ben. It is now known as the Driftwood Resort.
A year or so later, Dave Harty built the Red Cedar Lodge.
On Lake Bertha where Ben's Camp Bertha is located, the Birchdale Villa Resort was started at about the same time (1921) by Goodman and Everhardt. It is now owned by Orville Ellingboe.
Also on Lake Bertha, the Birch Lawn Resort started in 1921 or 1922 by William Parker. It's now owned by Frank Cihak.
Sunset Knoll was started by Erick Krombert in 1925; Peoria Resort, started about the same time by Wheelander and Walker, is now known as the Greenwood Resort; Bay View Resort was built by John Parker in 1930 or 1931 and Echo Bay Resort was built by Emil Erickson in 1931 or 1932.
On Trout Lake, a girls' camp, called Camp Wabagonise, was in business for 25 years starting in 1931. "Mail delivery in the summer was always heavy to youth camps such as Camp Wabagonise," said Ben.
Long Beach Resort, on the west side of Trout Lake, was started by Henry Johnstone in 1920 and is still operating. Camp Knutson, a camp for underprivileged children, was another stop-off for Ben. This camp started in 1955.
There was also a Big Trout Lake Bible Camp, a Baptist camp on the west side of the lake, once known as the Big Trout Lake Lodge, started in 1920. Camp Foley for Boys was built on Trout Lake by Father Foley in 1920.
Another resort on Trout Lake, Seaquist Resort, was started in 1935.
On Clam Shell Lake, connecting with Lake Bertha, the Sunset Bay Resort, originally owned by Charles Kocke in 1932, has changed hands several times.
The Clam Shell Beach Resort was built in 1932 by Henry Ecklund. The Camp Fire Lodge was started in 1925 by Frank Allars. It is now the Towering Pines Resort owned by Elmer Decker.
On Lower Whitefish, there's the Tip Top Resort built by Fred Sharp in 1931 or 1932; Ruttger's Shady Point Resort, built by William Ruttger in 1931 (now it's known as Whitefish Ruttger; Big Whitefish Bay Resort built by Lew Johnson in 1923 (now in homesites), and But ternut Point Resort, started by John Bakken in 1930, now owned by a family named Nelson.
Others on Lower Whitefish include the Sunset Bay Resort started in 1933 or 1934, now called the North View Harbor; the Hollywood Resort started by Norman Dabis and operated now by Vernon Dowty and the Silver Peak Lodge, started in 1912 by J. A. McEwen.
McEwen,' brought the first Ford to the Whitefish area in 1914 and traveled the old cart-ways to get to Pequot or Brainerd. His "highways" were a tote road from Brainerd to Walker following the route of the Minnesota and International Railroad, or from Jenkins to Pequot, and cartways winding around the lakes to Cross Lake.
On Hay Lake, there's the Silver Sands Resort, built in 1932 or 1933, now called the Rustic Point Resort, Vi-Lu Resort built in 1925 and Sandy Beach Resort started by Henry Ecklund in 1925.
Ben Knebel was born in Paynesville, Minn., and came to Brainerd when he was nine years. He and his parents moved to Ideal Township in 1898 where his father made his living cutting timber and hauling logs.
From the money Ben and his father made during the logging era, they started the Camp Bertha Resort in 1923.
Ben's mail route is now served by a land route. He still has the six cylinder, 140 horsepower-motor he used to deliver the mail.
The water mail route was one of the few left in the state. There's one at Walker which serves Leech Lake and two or three others.
Ben is staying on as clerk of Ideal Township, a post he has held for 45 years.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).