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

Before purchasing Ruttger’s in 2018, Mark and Karrie Nelson owned a resort on Cass Lake; Karrie also has history at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge, serving as the Dining Room Manager for several years prior to taking ownership.  

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 19th century German immigrant, built multiple cottages on the farm that he homesteaded in Bay Lake, Minnesota. Fisherman would take the train from the Twin Cities to Deerwood, MN; Joe and his team of horses would then drive them to his farm. The fishing from his farm was great, the cabins were clean and comfortable, and the meals cooked by Joe’s wife, Josephine, were delicious.

The fishermen returned year after year to fish and enjoy the wonderful hospitality. Air conditioning was yet to be invented, and many of the guests came from Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri to spend entire summers in the cool northern Minnesota air. Joe built new cabins frequently, and with each passing year, his resort continued to grow in both size and reputation. Eventually, all four of Joe’s sons – and even some of his grandsons – had their own resorts. Five Ruttger’s resorts have been in operation –  two based in Minnesota and three in Florida. Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge now stands as one of the oldest resorts in Minnesota. 

In 1913, George Cochran decided that his property on the north end of Lake Bemidji would be ideal to construct a few cottages. Its excellent beach, wonderful fishing, and scenic grandeur had potential to prove attractive to vacationers starting to discover northern Minnesota. His experienced lumberjacks stared by building three log cabins, and within two years the property had expanded to a total of 15 cottages and a three-story lodge. Some of the cottages 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 September 2nd, 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 subsequently sold to a group of local businessmen. They formed the Birchmont Beach Hotel company, expanded the resort, and built a 50-room hotel with a convention hall. The cottages were also modernized with indoor plumbing.

The Birchmont Beach Hotel prospered in the 1920s, becoming one of the few fine resorts in Minnesota. It was so popular for guests to brings their maids and chauffeurs while traveling that a special dining room was set up for guest’s personal staff.

Around this time, golf became more popular; A 9-hole golf course was cut out of the dense pine forest as a result. In the following years, nine more holes were constructed. The entire 18-hole course was watered frequently – a large feat for the time – making it one of the finest in the state. The annual Birchmont International Golf Tournament got its start during this time when a large group of resort guests from Winnipeg challenged Bemidji golfers to a match. The tournament is still played in the last week of July at the Bemidji Town & Country Club.

The Great Depression of the ‘30s put a damper on travel and vacationing, as few people had disposable income. The Birchmont Beach Hotel company weathered two years with little-to-no business before going bankrupt in 1934. Joe Ruttger’s sons, Max and Alex, caught word that the Birchmont Beach Hotel in Bemidji was for sale and the property was sold to the brothers in September of 1936  for a mere $39,000.

In the spring of 1937, the new owners had their hands full with their respective resorts. Max’s son, Don, was sent up to Bemidji in their place. Don, then only 21, had the job of restoring the now run-down property, rebuilding clientele, and getting the business back on track. It was an immediate success. Don eventually bought the resort from his father and uncle, and in 1944, he married Bemidji native Lucille Forester. Together they had two children, Randy and Sally. While Sally has since moved to Florida, Randy, the fourth generation of Ruttgers to continue in the family tradition, owned and operated the resort until it’s sale in 2018. 

Randy and his wife, Tina, officially retired in 2018.  They can still be seen around the resort, 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 are scattered around the lobby, celebrating what the lodge once was and what it will always be.


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