ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Wambolts Resort returns

121-year-old camp has new owners

WamboltCampOldPhoto.jpg
Generations of families have enjoyed relaxing at Wambolts, the first resort on the Mantrap chain of lakes.
Contributed / Anne Dougherty
We are part of The Trust Project.

One of the oldest resorts in Minnesota has new owners who want to preserve it for generations of vacationers to come.

Wambolts Cabins is located on the Mantrap chain of lakes, about 16 miles from Park Rapids. It first opened as a fishing camp in 1901 and has only changed ownership four times in 121 years.

Anne and James Dougherty purchased the resort in late 2021, and this is their first season as owners.

From fishing camp to resort

Alexander Otto Wambolt, who went by his nickname Bud, filed a claim for 40 acres on Upper Bottle Lake. He built Fisherman’s Lodge in 1899, and the first guests arrived in 1901.

He used a team of horses to transport guests from the railroad depot in Dorset to the resort, later changing the name to Wambolts Resort to attract more families.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to an interview with his daughter, Louise, by former guest and Upper Bottle Lake representative Tim Dwight, the resort was the first on the Mantrap chain of Lakes.

WamboltCampOldEntrance.jpg
Wambolts has the distinction of being one of the first resorts in the state, opening in 1901 as a fishing camp and expanding to included generations of family vacationers who came north to enjoy relaxing at the lake and hiking in the woods.
Contributed / Anne Dougherty

In 1904, Bud married his cook, Amelia Hensel of Dorset. They raised dairy and beef cattle and had a large vegetable garden. Guests were served three meals a day, cooked on a wood-burning stove. Pies, cakes and bread were baked fresh daily.

Louise said fish caught at the resort were packed in boxes with ice blocks cut from the lake during the winter and stored in the ice house on the property. The fish was shipped back to the guest’s destination on the train with new ice added on stops along the way, as needed.

Louise and her husband, Leo Arnold, took over ownership of the resort when Bud died in 1942.

They operated Wambolts until 1968, when Dareld and Rosemary Mauer purchased the property. Dareld died in 2003 and Rosemary in 2006. The property was then sold to Blazing Star, which rented cabins to people who wanted to stay for the entire summer.

Generations of guests

Peg and Jim Raley of Brandon, S.D., came to Wambolts for the first time in the summer of 1965 when the Arnolds ran it.

“We thought it a perfect family vacation spot,” Peg said. “Leo was quite a salesman. He never went out in a boat and didn't fish, but catered to fishermen. He would meet your car as you drove in and have the fisherman in the car so fired up about how good the fishing was that he couldn't get unpacked fast enough.”

The Raleys said at that time Fuller's Tackle Shop in Park Rapids had a display case in the front window where the “best catches” were put on ice for everyone to see – and Wambolts Resort was well represented.

ADVERTISEMENT

She remembers one summer when the Mauers were the owners and a son of one of the regular guests who had become a priest and said his first public Mass on the porch of Cabin N (now Cabin 1).

She also recalls how their black Lab, Patchy, enjoyed swimming out to the raft with the Mauer kids.

Growing up on the resort

Karen Mauer is the daughter of Dareld and Rosemary Mauer. She was 7 when her parents started running the resort. The family lived in Atlantic, Iowa for the rest of the year, where Dareld worked at a beef processing plant and Rosemary worked at a grocery store.

“Mom and Dad would go up to open the resort in April,” she said. “When school was out, mom would come and bring the five of us kids up for the summer. That first summer Louise and Leo were still living in the house, so we stayed in what used to be called Cabin O, until they moved out in June.”

Cabin O was the biggest building and located in the center of camp, with a dining hall and kitchen where meals were prepared and served on site until the early 1960s.

“All of the old dishes and equipment were still back there, including old ice boxes used to keep food cold before the resort had electricity,” she said.

WamboltAuctionAd.jpg
An auction was held following the deaths of Dareld and Rosemary Mauer who owned Wambolts for many years.
Contributed / Karen Mauer

There were five docks and each cabin came with a wooden fishing boat. Eventually, they were replaced with aluminum boats.

The Mauer kids had jobs at the resort. “The boys would help dad clean up the shoreline, get rid of any dead fish, do the lawn care and outside work,” she said. “We girls helped mom clean cabins. There was a central shower house with bathrooms because some of the cabins didn’t have bathrooms yet.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The kids also took turns watching the office, in case a guest needed something. “Back in that day, there was only one phone and it was on a party line and shared a number with Whippoorwill Resort up the road,” she said. “When a phone call came in, one of us kids ran to get the person who the call was for. Mom limited phone calls to 10 minutes, so we didn't tie up the party line.”

The Mauer siblings had fun swimming, playing and riding bikes with kids staying at the resort.

Racoons and deer were frequent visitors to the resort, along with an occasional bear.

The resort had guests from fishing opener until the middle of October.

“When school started, mom would take us back to Iowa and dad would stay,” she said. “Then Mom would come back to help close up. It was always dad’s dream to run a resort, so Wambolts was his pride and joy.”

Mauer said, in those days, people at the resort didn’t venture far. They might spend a day at Itasca State Park or go to Park Rapids for a treat at the Dixie or a visit to Aqua Park or Deer Town.

If they wanted to go out at night, popular spots were Chateau Paulette and Val Chatel’s dinner theater.

Several Mauer family members will be making a trip to Wambolts later this month to reminisce about good times and create new memories.

“When I saw the resort had new owners, I got in contact with Anne,” she said. “We rented two cabins for our family to come up later this month.”

Mauer’s daughter, Sarah Doxon, has a six-month baby and her son, Matt Thomsen, has two children, ages 7 and 3.

“My kids spent a lot of time at Wambolts growing up, but my grandchildren have never been there,” she said. “My kids are looking forward to showing them what they did, going fishing, catching crawdads in the lake.”

Her brother, who lives in Minneapolis, is also hoping to drive up, and her sister is flying in from Arizona.

She also hopes to connect with friends in the area she has kept in touch with through Facebook over the years.

A new lease on life

New owners Anne and James Dougherty have five children: Seamus (18), Finn (16), Mary Jean (15), Thomas (10) and Paddy (7).

WamboltNewOwners2022.jpg
The Anne and James Dougherty family purchased Wambolts Resort in December 2021. Their five children will be helping at the resort during the summer months.
Contributed / Anne Dougherty

It was during the pandemic that Anne saw Wambolts listed for sale. “The pandemic gave us time to dream and do a business plan to go along with our dream,” she said. “As a family, we decided this is something we wanted to do.”

Anne is a high school teacher at St. Louis Park, and James has been working remotely since the pandemic began.

Their dream was to preserve as much of the resort’s history as they could and welcome families once again.

“A lot of these mom-and-pop resorts are being carved up,” she said. “This is a beautiful place. We wanted to save it from commercial development that would mar the pristine shoreline. So many people have deep memories of this special place.”

The log cabins are in the process of being rehabbed.

WamboltCabinDisrepair.jpg
So far, 11 of the original 15 cabins at Wambolts have been repaired and moved off their old cement block foundations. Logs are also going to be sandblasted, treated and stained.
Contributed / Anne Dougherty

Of the 15 cabins, 11 are remodeled and will be in use this summer. “The remaining four that got new foundations won’t be ready until next season,” she said. “Log restoration will preserve the cabins for another 100 years of use.”

WamboltNewFoundationCabin.jpg
Resort owner Anne Dougherty described watching the historic cabins being moved off the old cement block foundations, refinished and then put on their new foundation as magical.
Contributed / Anne Dougherty

The Doughertys recently applied for a conditional use permit to add six additional rental units.

More resort history

More information about the resort’s history, along with old photos, are available on the Wambolts Cabins website.

Don Bilek wrote a book about fishing on the Bottle Lakes, called “Heading North,” that includes several chapters about Wambolts.

Retired professor Ren Holland’s website also features photos and information about the historic Wambolts resort.

RELATED COVERAGE:

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
What to read next
Northwoods Bank donated $570 from their Blue Jean Friday initiative to Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area.
Citizen National Bank (CNB) employees chose to use some of their Blue Jean Friday dollars for a $500 donation to the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
Availability of labor is becoming tighter and more competitive. Officials of the Farmers Cooperative Elevator at Rosholt, South Dakota, describe how in the spring of 2022 they offered $30 an hour for truck “tender” drivers, moving fertilizer and inputs to farms, but got no applicants. They were grateful for local trucking firms stepping up during the vital period, but understandably at a higher cost for the farmer-owned company.
Gary Tharaldson, North Dakota’s successful hotel developer and owner of Tharaldson Ethanol in Casselton, North Dakota, describes how his company will move forward after the death of chief operating officer Ryan Thorpe. Tharaldson urges people to check in on others but said there was no warning at work that would have predicted the tragedy of Thorpe's death by suicide.