The Gunflint Lake Region

by Sue Kerfoot

Gunflint Lodge was started in 1925 by Dora Blankenburg and her son, Russell. Although from Illinois, they had a resort in northern Wisconsin and were looking to expand. By 1929 the extra resort was too much. The Blankenburgs sold Gunflint Lodge to Mae Spunner and her daughter, Justine. The Spunners were friends of the Blankenburgs from Illinois. Justine would spend the rest of her life at Gunflint Lodge.

Immediately after the August purchase, the two women contracted to have to lodge expanded and more cabins built. Additional plans for expansion were limited after the Depression hit. Mae’s husband, George, was financially ruined in the Depression. His creditors could not take Gunflint Lodge because his wife and daughter owned it. This tiny resort with a mortgage and other debt became the only income for the entire family. It would be many years before they were able to pay all the bills.

Meanwhile the struggle to survive continued. Justine married Bill Kerfoot and raised a family. New cabins were built. By the 1950’s Justine was ready to add indoor plumbing to all the cabins. Money was tight so she did the work herself. It was a learning experience since Justine had no plumbing knowledge. The late 1950’s also brought electricity to the lodge via the Rural Electrification program.

Why did people decide to vacation at Gunflint? At first it was men coming for fishing. The resort offered basic accommodations and meals for superior fishing of lake trout and northern pike. Eventually a few men brought their wives. After World War II, families started to come up. In addition to fishing these families explored the north woods. They canoed and camped. They hiked and picked berries.

A small hitch in the growing business occurred in June of 1953. The main lodge burned to the ground. With Justine’s typical energy, construction on the new lodge was started the next day. By August a partially completed lodge was ready to greet guests and serve meals. By the next spring, everything would be finished.

In the 1960’s, the next generation was ready to run the lodge. Bruce Kerfoot and his wife, Sue, started another round of remodeling, rebuilding and upgrading. Bruce had gone to hotel school and returned with lots of ideas for improvements. Slowly they started to make changes.

Today Bruce and Sue are the established generation at Gunflint Lodge but they are still making changes. A naturalist program was added to help people explore the forest and lakes. With the addition of a liquor license, the dining room menu was upgraded. Kitchens were added to cabins. A bistro and outdoor patio expanded food service even more. A stable runs in the summer. Winter business, centering on cross country skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding, keeps people coming all winter.

There seems to be an endless list of new projects to work on. With great staff, who knows what will be added in the coming years?