Your new owners come with previous resort experience, and maybe even a face you will recognize. 

Mark and Karrie Nelson previously owned a resort on Cass Lake.  

Karrie has been the Dining Room Manager here at Ruttger’s for the past few years!

A message from the Nelson's

“We appreciate the history of this iconic resort and look forward to continuing the legacy that the Ruttger family has built.

As new owners, we will work hard throughout the next few years to revive this treasured landmark.  We will be actively involved in providing the very best vacation experience for all of our guests.  We understand that we are just the new keepers of Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge, and it really belongs to all of you.

Like us on Facebook and follow our new Instagram page @Ruttgersbemidji.

We cannot wait to meet you!”

– The Nelson’s and all of your Ruttger’s staff


In 1898, Joe Ruttger, a late 19th century immigrant from Germany, built some cottages on the farm that he homesteaded in Bay Lake, Minnesota. Fisherman would take the train from the Twin Cities to Deerwood, MN, where Joe would meet them with his team of horses and drive them to his farm on Bay Lake. The fishing was good, the cabins were clean and comfortable, and the meals cooked by his Joe’s wife, Josephine, were delicious.

The fishermen returned year after year to fish and enjoy the wonderful hospitality. There was no air-conditioning, and many of the guests came from Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri to spend an entire summer in the cool northern Minnesota weather. Joe built a new cabin about every year, and his resort continued to grow. Joe’s grandson, Jack Ruttger, and his family now operate Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, one of the oldest resorts in Minnesota. Eventually, all four of Joe’s sons and some of his grandsons had their own resorts for a total of five Ruttger resorts in Minnesota and three in Florida. 

In 1913, George Cochran decided that his property on the north end of Lake Bemidji would be ideal to construct a few cabins. Its excellent beach, wonderful fishing, and scenic grandeur could prove attractive to vacationers starting to discover northern Minnesota. He had his lumberjacks build three log cabins which, two years later, had expanded to 15 frame cottages and a three story lodge. Some of the cabins George built in 1915 still stand today: 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, and 23.

old Birchmont Hotel circa 1918
"Birchmont Hotel" circa 1918
Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge circa 1925

On Sept. 2, 1920, the main lodge caught fire and was completely destroyed. No one was hurt, but Cochran decided to get out of the resort business. The property was sold to a group of Bemidji businessmen. They formed the Birchmont Beach Hotel company, expanded the resort, and built a 50-room hotel and convention hall. They also modernized the cottages with indoor plumbing!

The ‘20s saw the Birchmont Beach Hotel prosper and become one of the few fine resorts in Minnesota. It was so popular for guests to brings their maids and chauffeurs, that a special dining room was set up for them.

Around this time, golf became more popular, so a 9-hole golf course was cut out of the dense pine forest. Nine more holes were constructed, and the entire course was watered, to make it one of the finest in the state. The annual Birchmont International Golf Tournament got its start in the ‘20s when a large group of resort guests from Winnipeg challenged Bemidji golfers to a match. The tournament is still being played the last week of July at the Bemidji Town & Country Club.

The depression of the ‘30s put a damper on travel and vacationing, because very few people had dispensable income. The Birchmont Beach Hotel company weathered two years of practically no business, then went bankrupt in 1934. Back in Bay Lake, Joe Ruttger’s sons Max and Alex heard that the Birchmont Beach Hotel in Bemidji was for sale, and in September of 1936 they acquired the property for only $39,000!

In the spring of 1937, the new owners of the Birchmont, Max and Alex, were busy with their own resorts, so they sent Max’s son Don, up to Bemidji. Don, only 21, had the job of restoring a run-down property, rebuilding a clientele, and getting the business back into the black. It was an immediate success. Don eventually bought the resort from his father and uncle, and in 1944, he married Bemidji native, Lucille Forester. They had two children, Randy and Sally. Sally has since moved to Florida. Randy, the fourth generation of Ruttger’s to continue in the family tradition, owned and operated the resort until it’s sale in 2018. 

Randy and Tina Ruttger officially retired in 2018.  Of course, they will likely be seen around the resort for summers to come, but as guests now; relaxing and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge circa 2019

The Birchmont has seen many changes over the 80 + years since Don first moved to Bemidji. The Ruttger family family maintained the charm of the grand old summer resort on Lake Bemidji from 1936 to 2018.

In February of 2018, Mark & Karrie Nelson purchased the property.  Now Mark & Karrie are looking forward to continuing the legacy that the Cochran & Ruttger families have built.  “We understand that we are just the new keepers of this iconic resort and it really belongs to all of you.”

One thing will never change.  The friendly hospitality of family ownership.  Photos of the old Birchmont Hotel, Birchmont Beach Hotel, and of personages that have stayed here scattered around the lobby.


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