Although the local resort industry near Detroit Lakes stretches back to the 1870s, it wasn’t until the automobile allowed families to become more mobile that Detroit Lakes became known as one of the top resort destinations in the region. As roads improved and leisure time increased for Americans after World War I, demand for outdoor recreation hit a fever pitch. To meet this demand, numerous resort hotels and tourist cabins were constructed along the northern shore of Detroit Lake in the 1920s and 1930s. The darling of this later phase of the burgeoning tourist industry were the Fairyland Cottages.
In 1938, Art and Beatrice Shipton opened the Fairyland Cottages. The cottages were modeled after the iconic movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was released the previous year. Art and Beatrice designed the cabins, and their daughters chose to name each of the twelve, wood-frame cottages after a character in the popular movie.
The cabins were arranged around a U-shaped gravel driveway and across the street from a private beach on Detroit Lake. Each cottage was sheathed in identical white lap siding with corner boards and trim that were painted red. A porch with a clipped gable and curved underside gave the cottages their fairytale look. Each cottage was identified by a carved wooden character from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs attached to the front. Red lawn chairs were placed in a plot of grass bordered by white rocks for guests to relax and socialize with other vacationers.
Six of the cottages were simply an open room with one or two twin beds and a separate bathroom with a shower. The remaining cabins were larger—two or three tiny bedrooms, a modest family room, and a bathroom with shower. All of the cabins were decorated with knotty pine paneling, a cooking stove, and refrigerator. Linens, towels, blankets, and kitchen utensils were also provided. A larger building with wide siding and a hipped roof was built in 1948 to serve as the office and residence for the owners.
After the city redesigned the north shore of Detroit Lake and installed a public sand beach in 1967, the privileges associated with the resorts on this part of the lake were relinquished. This change signaled a downward trend for the tourist cabins as fewer families were choosing to stay along the north shore of the lake. The Fairyland Cottages remained unchanged for 70 years and were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 as an example of the small-scale vacation cottages that once thrived in the area. Sadly, the Fairyland Cottages were demolished in 2008 to make way for two condominium buildings.
Here is a fun fact about the Fairyland Cottages: A postcard of cottages appears in the opening credits of the 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. Can you find them?
Fairyland Cottages Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Nomination File, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.