Little Marais Inn: A Beacon of Charm and Elegance
If it wasn’t for a sign announcing that you’ve arrived in Little Marais, you may just zip through this little resort town on Highway 61. Scandinavian fishermen settled in the sleepy town during the late 1880s, but by the 1920s tourists began motoring their way up the north shore--looking for accommodations as they went. Small resorts and gas stations popped up along the route.
Originally built as a rustic log store, the Little Marais Store was a popular stop for basic provisions. It was transformed twice after that. First into a grocery store and gas station with small rooms for travelers looking for a good night’s sleep, and later the rustic log exterior was covered with lovely white clapboard that completely transformed the overall mood of the place. Inside, an elegant dining room was added and the guest rooms were reimagined so they all had a refined style and a spectacular view of the lake. It was renamed the Little Marais Lodge and Store.
The white clapboard building with its charming green shutters soon became a popular destination for couples on their honeymoon. The sophisticated structure stood out among the rustic accommodations that populated the North Shore at that time. Inside, antique lamps cast a warm glow in each room and historic maps hung on the walls. An abundance of windows, white paneled walls, beamed ceilings, and cool lake breezes gave the lodge a light, airy feel. The gabled roof added gentle sophistication of the exterior.
Many tourists would make the trip from Duluth just to dine in the lodge’s Colonial Dining Room. Elegant meals were served on crisp linens and tables were decorated with fragrant flowers from the lodge’s garden. Each meal was served with the finest silverware on Haviland china. It was a grand experience not soon forgotten by those who enjoyed the hospitality.
The Little Marais Lodge, colloquially known as the Little Marais Inn, and the Colonial Dining Room closed its doors in 1973.
Today, the inn still stands defiantly, but in a sad state of disrepair. People like me often stop by the gift shop next to the dilapidated inn to inquire about the building’s history and look at old photos of its past. Judging by the number of people who stop to snap a photo or wonder about this relic from the past, there is a keen interest in its history, but there has been no attempt to restore the old inn since 2001 when it was.
At the time this article was originally published, 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)
Update: 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.
Wurzer, Cathy. Tales of the Road: Highway 61. 2008.