50 Years of a Great Thing

photo by Courtney Perry

This weekend, my family will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the little cabin in the north woods that my grandfather built. I wrote about it in the StarTribune:

In 1964, my grandfather, Bower Hawthorne, was a rising newsman and editor at the Star and Tribune, a civic leader in Edina and the father of four girls in high school and college. Having taken his family on many vacations to a camp on Clearwater Lake in Crow Wing County, he befriended the legendary Brainerd businessman and mayor Tom O’Brien. Tom called Bower with a tip that a parcel of land was for sale on the next lake in the Nokasippi River chain. Bower bought just over 160 acres on Tom’s advice — a combination of woodland, slough and lakeshore on Eagle Lake.

Bower and his wife, Jane, were socialites in the Twin Cities, but they roughed it in the woods of Cuyuna country. They built one small cabin at first, then added a guesthouse and a garage with a bunkhouse above it. Lake water was pumped up to the cabins. A small fishing boat doubled as a ski boat for their daughters and new sons-in-law.

In 1973, an F3 tornado blew right through the property. The Brainerd Dispatch reported that it sounded “like 40 freight trains.” The garage collapsed on Bower and Jane and, to Bower’s great sadness, hundreds of white pine trees were uprooted. In the years after the tornado, he’d tell us that he almost sold the place over his grief at the loss of the pines. But he didn’t sell. He rebuilt.

Since Bower and Jane died in the 1980s, two of their daughters and spouses have improved the lake place significantly, digging a well, modernizing the kitchen and adding a new garage. Last winter, they acquired more adjacent forest land, bringing the total property to over 250 acres.

On June 20-22, three generations of Bower and Jane’s descendants will convene to celebrate the cabin’s 50th anniversary. In spite of the improvements, we will still stand on wood floors hand-pegged by Bower himself, and gather around a grand fireplace with field stones he split himself. And a new group (the fourth generation) from toddlers to teenagers will enjoy the cabin.


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