Photographs by David Bowman
Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge Fire Pit
Nightly bonfires at Ruttger's are downright magical.
Just after dinner most Saturdays in the summer, Jack Ruttger prepares to present a slideshow in a tiny sitting area in the corner of a cottage his grandfather built in the 1890s. Guests at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge amble in. Some have seen the slideshow a hundred times, others are new to its charm. Some sit on the couch. Some pull up chairs. Others just mill about, half-committed. Kids in swimming suits whap through the screen door back toward the pool, Shirley Temple acquired, barely paying a sideways glance to Jack as he dutifully focuses on the projector screen and starts into the story he’s been telling for decades.
The operator emeritus of the Deerwood summer resort is 87 and still a daily fixture at the place his grandfather Joseph started almost by accident in 1898, that his father Alec built up into a national destination, and that he personally took the reigns of in 1955. His wife Ann sits in a chair next to him, and gently prods him along if he tries lingering too long on any one slide—he has more than 118 years to cover, after all. Meanwhile, behind him, just past the massive stone fireplace on the other side of the lounge, his son Chris, who took over daily operations in 1992, oversees the tail end of dinner service in the massive log dining hall named Ruby’s.
Bay Lake in 1920s and Today
The only thing that's changed about Bay Lake since the 1920s is color photography.
As Jack tells it, before the Bay Lake parcel was Ruttger’s—and before Ruttger’s boasted four Minnesota outposts in addition to Bay Lake, plus three Florida resorts at its mid-1950s zenith—it was the modest homestead of German immigrant Joseph Ruttger. Joseph originally settled on an island in Bay Lake, but in 1894, four years after marrying Josephine, he swapped his island for the sweeping stretch of shoreline opposite it. Joseph and Josephine were farmers, but by 1898 they were renting their barn to fishermen, and by 1901 they’d built the Ruttger Cottage and the first family guests were starting to arrive. Add a nine-hole golf course, a series of cottages, and a grand log dining hall, and by the 1920s, Minnesota’s first bona fide summer resort was born.
Over the better part of a century since, while similar resorts came and went, Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge endured by growing without losing any of the bootstrap family-first character it began with. The original nine-hole golf course named after Jack’s dad Alec (and once manicured by grazing sheep) is still there, but it abuts the more modern 18-hole Lakes Course. The Ruttger Cottage and the log dining hall have been incorporated into a larger lodge/dining hall/conference center/indoor pool/outdoor pool complex that’s the hub of the Ruttger’s action (and home to Jack’s slideshow).
Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge Pool
Ever sit in a pool 10 feet from a lake? At Ruttger's you can.
The actual lodging has developed in waves, and ranges from a mishmash of throwback log cottages flanking the main complex up and down the shoreline of most of the Ruttger’s parcel to more modern accommodations like the posh Bay Lake Villas on a bluff on the western edge of the property. Roaming the knotted system of paths and streets that wind their way through swimming beaches, cabins, bonfire pits, putting greens, docks, general stores, tennis courts, playgrounds, pools, shuffleboard courts, boat houses, and Adirondack chairs placed in just the right spots, what’s even more striking than the majesty of Ruttger’s Bay Lake perch is the nostalgia bred from its patchwork charm.
You can swim and boat and golf and relax and do all the requisite resorty stuff, but that charm—that sense of unmistakable nostalgia for something simpler, slower, and more attainable—makes Ruttger’s mythical. It’s why for 118 years, as surely as the Bay Lake walleye bite on leeched jigs, families big and small have made annual pilgrimages north to Deerwood. They journey to get reacquainted—both with themselves and with their lifelong hosts, the Ruttgers.
At a glance: Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge
25039 Tame Fish Lake Rd., Deerwood, 218-678-2885, ruttgers.com
- Founders: Joseph and Josephine Ruttger
- Season: Spring - Fall, plus Thanksgiving weekend
- Activities: Golf, tennis, boating, canoeing/kayaking, swimming, fishing, biking, spa, shopping, kids camp, and more
- Pricing: Resort packages include lodging, breakfast, dinner, free golf on the nine-hole course, and 20 percent off boat rentals. Packages start at $99 per night, per adult. Lodging-only rates are also available.