The completion of Highway 61 along the North Shore in the 1920s allowed vacationers to travel all the way to the Canadian border. It wasn’t long before the tourism economy replaced industries like lumbering and trapping that had already boomed and busted. As the rugged road brought motorists up the shore — looking for gas, nibbles, and accommodations as they went — small resorts and gas stations popped up along the route.

Scandinavian fishermen settled Little Marais during the late 1880s, who pulled fish from Lake Superior that would be sent to Duluth and then by train to eateries as far away as Tennessee. By the mid-1920s, the cozy little town became an excellent place for tourists to hunt and fish. Ben Fenstad saw an opportunity to branch out of his family’s fish company and capitalize on the influx of tourists. He built a rustic log lodge and store in 1924 that catered to fishermen, hunters, and canoeists called the Little Marais Lodge. It became a popular stagecoach stop and acted as an unofficial post office in addition to being one of just a few lodges along the north shore for more than a decade. 

It’s unclear when the homey white clapboard was added to the exterior, but it was likely after the lodge was enlarged. Remnants of the old logs were found under the clapboard in the main section of the building. The crisp white exterior and quaint green shutters gave the lodge an entirely new feel. The rustic lodge with sleeping rooms gave way to a sophisticated inn renamed the Little Marais Inn. Needless to say, the sophisticated remodel caused the inn to stand out among the rustic accommodations that populated the North Shore at that time.

The inn’s new layout featured a living room, a large dining room overlooking the lake, and a kitchen that put out delicious dinners for 20 to 30 guests and travelers alike on the main floor. The decor was centered around an abundance of windows that brought sunshine and light, airy breezes into the rooms. White paneled walls, beamed ceilings, crisp linens, and fresh flowers added to the inn’s sophisticated feel. Ten comfortable guest rooms upstairs were nestled under the gabled roof.

The Fenstads sold the inn in 1975, and others tried to duplicate their success with moderate results. I’ve spoken with people who stayed at the inn and remembered it fondly well into the 1980s. The inn still stands defiantly today but in a sad state of disrepair. People like me often stop by the gift shop next to the dilapidated inn to look at old photos of its past and snap a few new images in its current state. Judging by the number of people who ask about this relic, there is a keen interest in its history.

Still, there has been no attempt to restore the old inn since 2001 when research was done to prepare a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. 
The land the lodge stands on is for sale as I write this. Perhaps the final chapter hasn’t been written for the Little Marais Inn after all. (MLS#: 159001 $597,000)


The Little Marais Inn was razed in November 2017. Thank you to Jim Ericson for providing the last three photos in the gallery below that show how the site of the inn looks in December 2017.

Little Marais Lodge, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
“Vacation Days: A Complete Guide to the Hotels, Resorts, and Vacation Places in Minnesota”. 
The Publicity Bureau–Minneapolis Civic & Commerce Association.