Wednesday, September 19, 2007

History of Youngs Island- Poplar Lake

Dorothy Young's Island is a fifteen acre island located near the middle of Poplar Lake on Government Lot 1, Sec 1 (lot with the cabin), and Government Lot 12 Sec 1, T64-2W; Government Lot 8, Sec 6 and Lot 3, Sec 7, T64-1W. It is one of thirty-two islands on the lake. The island's eight-tenth of an acre mainland boat landing is located along the Gunflint Trail west of Windigo Lodge at T64N, R1W, Sec. 6 Government Lots ---------------------------6& 7.

Mature white pine, white spruce and white cedar dominate the island's pre-1999-blowdown forest eco-system. Prior to this storm there were twenty-four large white pines and an uncountable number of old cedars all dating back many centuries. Unlike most of the forest surrounding Poplar Lake, the island, along with the point north of the island and Swensen's Island, were not burned in the big fire that took place in the early part of the twentieth century. This fire produced the aspen-birch forest found around Poplar Lake today. It is believed that Poplar Lake's name is derived from this forest. While the island contains many mature birch trees, there are no poplars. Along the old snowmobile trail north of the cabin, which runs eastward to a point on the island north side, several moccasin flowers can be found. Moose maple is prevalent throughout the island.

The 1999 BWCA blowdown toppled half of the two dozen white pine and many of the old cedars. Among the cedars toppled by the storm was the largest and perhaps the island's oldest cedar. This cedar was located about two hundred yards west of the cabin.
In the open areas created by the blowdown and later storm clean-up, raspberries flourish.

Documented human history on the island can be traced back thousands of years through an exciting find uncovered during the mid-1980s. Ted and Barbara Young's son Joey and a friend were playing in the garden east of the cabin when they came across what appeared to be an ancient rock tool. When the artifact was shown to the USFS's archaeologist, Gordon Peters, he identified it as a scrapping tool used by Clovis people who roamed the area some 8,000-12,000 years ago. Peters went on to explain that the tool came from the ancient rock quarry on Knife Lake.

From these early times on, other native people certainly traveled and camped on the island. While no additional artifacts from these first people have yet been found, their presence in the area is evident by the many canoe routes they opened and traveled.

The next documented evidence of anyone setting foot on the island was when the US government's first surveyors came through the area in the 1880s. The survey crew left behind a hand carved wooden survey corner post on the east end of the island. Ted Young found this dated and signed post several years ago but unfortunately it has since been lost. The wooden post was replaced by a metal corner pole in 19__.

During the late 1880s, prospector Frank Johnson built one of the first known cabins on Poplar Lake, directly across from the island and just east of the Prune Lake Portage. From this cabin Johnson and his prospecting crew traveled the area in search of minerals.

A Certificate of Title was issued for the island along with much of the land around Poplar Lake on December 20, 1917. The Marais Investment Company of Duluth purchased this title on December 27, 1919. Shortly thereafter the land was transferred to William H. Yawkey, a New York City industrialist. At Willam Yawkey's death the land was passed on to his descendants. The Yawkey family controls large mining and timber holdings throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The family also became famous for their involvement in professional baseball: family members owned the Boston Redsox and the Detroit Tigers. Ownership of these lands continued in the Yawkey family until January 20, 1931, when Paul and Jenny Stoltz, owners and builders of Rockwood Lodge, purchased the island land.

On the same day the Stoltzes received title for the island, the title was again transferred, this time to Henry & Leonora Cunnington. The Cunningtons lived in Minneapolis where Henry was a musician with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. The next year, 1932, the Cunningtons hired Paul Stoltz to build a small vertical log cabin on the island. Assisting Paul in the construction of the cabin was Poplar Lake resident Eddy Girous This cabin remains to this day. Paul and Ed have passed on.

The Cunningtons used their cabin as a summer home. The cabin was equipped, as were most of the cabins on Poplar Lake, with a wood cook stove, kerosene lights, kerosene stove, an icebox, and an outhouse. It was rumored that when guests came, rather than cook on their wood or kerosene stove, the Cunningtons would have meals catered in by boat from Rockwood Lodge.

On September 3, 1946, the island was purchased by Alma and Louis Grewe. Louis owned Grewe's Granite Works in St. Cloud. Shortly after the Grewes purchased the island, Louis died and Alma became the island's sole owner. After Louis's death Alma changed her last name to Olsen, probability by marrying someone named Olsen. But she remained sole owner of the island. During the Grewe's ownership the island was used very little. The forest crept in, engulfing the cabin, and maintenance was neglected. The old "Grewe's Island" sign remains in a shed on the island.

On Memorial Day weekend in 1952, Dorothy Young, her husband Edwin, and their three children, Ted, Tim and Nancy, came to the Gunflint Trail looking for property to purchase. The family stayed at Dell Kloek's cabin, now the Bridgemans' cabin, on the mainland. Van Johnson, a Grand Marais realtor, showed them several properties around the area. None of the properties shown by Johnson interested the family. On the second day of looking for property, Edwin ran into Darwin Noyes at Rockwood Lodge who had two islands for sale on Poplar Lake: Grewe's Island and Ode Island, now Swenson's Island. Edwin, the children, and Darwin went out by boat to view the islands. After returning to Dell's cabin the family decided that they would like to purchase Grewe's Island. Edwin informed Darwin and a deal was struck to purchase the island for $3400.

As a side note, the reason the Young family stayed in Dell's cabin was that Dell was interested in selling his cabin and had invited the Youngs to stay there in hope they would purchase it. Many years later, after the Youngs had purchased the island from the Grewes, Dell told Ted that he wanted to sell his cabin in order to purchase the island Grewe owned. Unfortunately for Dell, it was Ted's family that ended up purchasing the island the weekend they stayed at Dell's cabin. Eventually Dell bought another island next to Young's Island. In relaying his early misfortune to Ted, Dell stated that "he now was happy how it all turned out and greatly satisfied with the island he ended up purchasing."

During the winter after the island had been purchased by Edwin and Dorothy, Edwin died, leaving Dorothy with three young children, a home in the Minneapolis suburb of Morningside, a recently purchased island, and little money to pay the island's monthly mortgage. The next summer, Dorothy rented her Morningside home and took her children to the island. They stayed until the fall. Over the next several summers the family would again return to their island for the summer, moving back to the cities each fall. Dorothy had a job that enabled her to take much of the summers off.
During this period the cabin was equipped and furnished much as it was when the Cunningtons owned it, with a cook stove, kerosene lighting, and an outhouse. Running water was whoever went to the lake to fetch it. The Young family crossed the lake to and from the island in an old wooden boat with an even older three-horse Sea-King outboard motor. More often than not, the
Dorothy with daughter Nancy in front of island's wood cook stove- mid 1950's

motor did not work and the family ended up rowing.

One family story recalled from this period was the time during a hot July day when Dorothy sent her sons, Tim and Ted, off with fifty cents to purchase a block of ice from Rockwood Lodge. The children got the ice from the resort's ice house and loaded it into their boat. But rather than return to the cabin with the ice, they spend the next several hours playing with their friends. Needless to say by the time the kids returned the fifty-pound block of ice had melted to about five pounds. And mother was not happy!

The island was a busy place during the summer. Relatives and friends were always welcome, and if they stayed overnight, Dorothy always made room for them in the small cabin. The social life of the family took place at the island, at neighbors' cabins, or at the nearby resorts of Rockwood, Northwoods and Balsam Grove (now Nor'Wester). The Youngs' boat was docked at Rockwood Lodge, and later when Ted's college roommate and friend Carl Brandt Jr. purchased Balsam Grove from his mother, the boat was moved there. As Dorothy's children reached their mid-teens they worked at resorts in the area. Ted worked first as a dock boy at Rockwood and later served as a fishing guide. Tim worked at Northwoods and at Echo Ridge, a small lodge now the Perusses' cabin, and Nancy worked as a cabin-girl at Balsam Grove.

In 1972, Tim, Ted and Nancy, whose married name was now Olmem, and their spouses purchased from Matty Mattis a lot near Windigo Lodge to use as a boat landing. The lawyer handling the transaction for the three families filed the ownership deed with the following information: Ted and Barbara Young having a 1/3 ownership interest, Nancy and Terry Olmem with 1/3 ownership interest and Timothy and Lois Young with 1/2 ownership interest.

Ted and Barbara Young, in May of 1974, moved from Chicago to the island and became year-round residents. In October of 1975 their son Joey was born. The family raised chickens, goats, duck, geese and pigs on the island. They eked out an existence by doing odd jobs, guiding and working at the resorts on the lake. One memory from this period was young Joey running down from the garden screaming and holding up his diapers with the geese biting him in the behind as he ran.

In the winter the cabin was heated by wood. While some of the firewood was cut on the island, most was hauled in by snowmobile from the mainland.

Sled dogs were brought to the island in 1975 and a dog sled touring business was started shortly thereafter. The business, first called "Young's Dog Sled Freighting Service", would become Boundary Country Trekking.

Phone service at a cost of $25 was installed on the island in 1979. An addition was added to the cabin in 1980. The addition added an another bedroom and a new kitchen.

Shortly thereafter Arrowhead Electric Coop ran electric power to the Island. In preparation Ted cut-open the right-away on the mainland and island where the line was to run. And he recalled the cold-snowy-very windy day the power-company ran the lines and brought the transformer across the lake. According to Ted, "dragging the power line from the point on the mainland across the channel went pretty smooth. But bring the transformer across was a different matter. We tied two boats together loaded the heavy transformer aboard and started across. The waves were pretty big. We were lucky to get the across without tipping the boat and loosing the transformer in the lake It was a pretty hairy experience!"

The island cabin was converted into a B&B in 1983 and ran until 1992.

In a ceremony during the summer of 1986 honoring Dorothy, and attended by many of the her
Poplar Lake neighbors, the island was formally dedicated as "Dorothy Young's Island." A
Bronze plaque affixed to a large rock in front of the island's cabin testifies to this event and her
desire that the island should someday be passed on to her grandchildren. Dorothy continued to
return to the island until her death in 1987. With her death, the island was passed to her three
children and their spouses.

Joey grew up and left the island to follow his dreams" in 1998. He had attended school in Grand Marais, catching the school bus on the Gunflint at the mainland boat landing. Rarely did he ever miss school because of ice conditions. In the winter he often was able to bike to the bus stop using the frozen snowmobile path as his bike trail.

Following the 1999 blowdown the Young family responded with an ambitious program to clear the down trees littering the island. A logger was hired, and in February of 2000 the logger and his son brought a skidder and log forwarder over the ice-covered lake. The loggers went to work clear the down trees, salvaging what they could by dragging them across the lake and piling the rest to be burned. Due to the early spring, this equipment had to be removed by mid March. Additional clearing, piling and later burning was continued throughout the summer by hand. That summer the family held a tree-planting weekend on the island and over a thousand red and white pine seedlings were planted.

Ted and Barbara moved from the island in April of 2000 to the Bed and Breakfast they were building on Little Ollie Lake. With their departure the island reverted to its original use as a summer home.

Terry and Nancy Olmem were the island's main occupants during the summers. Since Nancy was a schoolteacher in Duluth she was able to spend much of the summer there. During the summers of 2006 and 2007 the Olmem's replaced many rotting timbers beneath the cabin and rebuilt the sagging dock.
On July__ 2007 the Young and Olmem families, in order to perpetuate the continued use and administration of the affairs of the island by their descendants, established the Dorothy Young's Island Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Members of this new LLC are Tim Young, Nancy Olmem and Ted Young. It is the Corporation's mission to continue the Young family's heritage by passing on the island in the future to Dorothy Young's direct descendants, thereby fulfilling her wish that someday her grandchildren would inherit the island. .


Anonymous Kristine 'Grewe' Hanson said...

OH MY GOSH! Alma and Louis Grewe are my grandparents. They had two children, William and Joanne, William is my dad. My dad and mom first fell in love on that island!I believe my sister has pictures of that sign 'Grewe's Isle' Alma did indeed remarry my "grandpa Ole" or Olson. Would love to learn more about this island - or get a small piece of my family history somehow! I often wondered what happened to that piece of land.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Gunflint said...

To Kristine- What a wonderful surprise to hear from you. It is true we still have the Grewe Isle sign in the shed at the island. If you are ever in the area please get in touch with us we would love to show you the Island that captivated you ancestor just as it has captivated us. Regards, Ted and Barbara Young

We operate a B&B along the Gunflint Trail just a short distance from the island. ( You can reached by email at or phone at 218-388-4487.

2:31 AM  
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Anonymous Kristine said...

Ted and Barbara Young, I would like to make plans to come and see you and the island my grandfather owned so long ago. I understand you have a bed and breakfast, but I don't want to make reservations unless I know you will be there - I'd love to see the old Grewe sign that you say is still in the shed - please email me at and let me know how to go about meeting you!
Thanks much, God bless,

7:12 PM  
Blogger Jim Pascale said...

I grew up in Chicago where my dad's family settled after coming over from Italy. My father's first cousin, Jim Greco, bought property sometime around 1945 along the Gunflint Trail that accomodated a garage for his car and another garage known as the "Stuga" which I understand means winter place in Sweden. He also purchased a boat access only lot across the lake that had its own small island and a BWCA portage route in his bay. He named his place Red Pine Lodge because of a huge, dominant Red Pine that stood prominently overlooking the lake. He and his brothers hand build 3 beautiful cabins that probably still stand today. His property reached back to Little Ollie Lake. Jim Greco named that lake after his first wife, Ollie, who died at a young age from cancer. Jim used to take a boat across the lake on Sundays and walk down the road a hundred yards or so to a general store / restaruant / service station to use the phone booth to call his relatives in Chicago. He used to connect through Duluth and usually spoke with an operator named Betty. After many calls over time, the two became so well acquainted that they decided to meet when Jim next went to Duluth. They ended up getting married. As Jim aged and could no longer care keep up Red Pine Lodge, he sold it to frequent guests from Lombard, IL. I believe their last name was Leggler. Our extended family was surprised when Jim sold and many were disappointed they didn't get a shot at owning the property. Jim felt he did the right thing as the Legglers loved the lodge as much as he did.

My last visit to Red Pine Lodge was probably 30 years ago when I was a teenager. At the time of my last visit, there had been electicity run across the lake, but water was still taken from a pump that drew from a spring.

Jim Pascale
Edina, MN

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