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Fire at Lutsen Lodge wipes out latest chapter in rich North Shore history

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Lutsen Lodge, the iconic Minnesota skiing and tourist destination, was declared a total loss after a late-night fire engulfed the historic resort overseeing Lake Superior. The wooden lodge was more than 70 years old, having replaced another lodge lost to a fire in 1951.

Here are three things to know about the Lutsen Lodge:

Swedish immigrant roots

Charles Axel Nelson bought the property at the mouth of the Poplar River in 1881 and built a house on the land in 1893. The family home served as an outpost for travelers who arrived by boat, horseback, wagon, sleigh dog teams or on foot — the nearest neighbors were 30 miles away. Nelson himself was an angler who also trapped animals and logged the land.

Guests would typically sleep on the second floor of the family home or in a loft in the barn, according to the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH). The house was soon replaced by a hotel in order to make space for the increasing number of travelers. The family named the resort after the Battle of Lützen between Sweden and Austria during the Thirty Years War.

The Society claims newspapers repeatedly misspelled the name, which led to the current spelling of the resort and surrounding Census designated place: Lutsen.

Blaze. Rebuild. Repeat

The Nelson family expanded the hotel throughout the years, adding a lobby, dining room and several guest rooms in the 1920s. Charles Nelson’s son and grandson, both named George, winterized the lodge and hired two lumberjacks to clear the hillside behind the resort in 1945.

“It was being called ‘the oasis of the North Shore,'” George Jr. told the Star Tribune in a 1993 interview.

A fire destroyed the lodge in 1948. Another fire leveled the resort’s main lodge again in 1951, according to a newspaper report from the time. The blaze began in the laundry room and obliterated the two-story structure. The newspaper reported that 40 executives from the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company were having breakfast when the fire started, but no one was injured.

The iconic wood-framed structure that was erected in its place stood for 72 years.

Three owners over 140 years

The Nelson family held the property for more than a century. George Nelson, Sr. died in 1993. His son told the Star Tribune he “was a true North Shore pioneer.”

George Jr. sold the resort to Scott Harrison, a Duluth-based financial consultant, and local attorney Billy Burns in 1988. Although the men did not disclose how much they paid for the property, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board’s director of economic development pegged the price tag at about $2.36 million, or more than $6.2 million today.

The resort again exchanged hands in 2018 when Bryce Campbell and his mother, Sheila, bought it for an undisclosed amount. The property had gone up for sale a year earlier with an asking price of nearly $10 million.

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