The Vance Lake Logging Camp- A Historic BWCA Site Revisited
Ted Young, Gunflint Trail-The other day Julie Collman, Cook County Deputy Sheriff; John Jacobsen, Grand Marais; Ashley Jacobsen, student at Superior State College; and I retraced a trip into an old logging camp on Vance Lake that Julie had visited more then twenty years before with her parents. When first visited by Julie, much of the original camp was still intact. She recalled that there were twenty-four old building on the site at the time of her first visit.
(Image at right is of remains of old log building)
Our quest to find the old camp began with a canoe trip across the east end of Brule Lake then over the portage to Echo Lake, down Echo to near the east end where we beach our canoes. We then bushwhacked about a half mile through thick “blowdown” north to Vance Lake and then to the east end of Vance where Julie recalled the camp was located.
Upon reaching the east end of the lake, our first discovery was the remains of small log building by the shoreline with a culvert buried in the ground that we speculated might have been the camp’s water source or maybe a small boathouse. Searching the area further we found the remains of a large log structure build into a side hill. There were trees growing out of this building. This build was large enough to have been the camp’s mess hall. We also came across many cleared areas that we presume were the sites of other structure and of course we found lots of rusty tin cans. But the other buildings Julie had previously seen were gone.
One unexpected fine located on the site was a test pit or mine. The pit was located about one hundred feet north east of the remains of the large log structure. The pit was filled with water so we could not tell its depth. Around the pit were many pieces of jasper that appear to have come from the hole. We can only speculate that at sometime prospectors must have taken up residents at the camp.
It was likely that the camp was in operation sometime during the 1940-50s. During this period it would be likely that the logs were trucked out in the winter through a frozen creek-lowlands passage lying just north of the camp. This creek flows east about one and a half miles to the northeast corner of Brule Lake. From there the trucks could travel across Brule Lake over an ice road. The High hills and steep cliffs surround most of Vance Lake would make this one of the few places trucks could have readily travel to and from the camp.
A similar ice road across the Brule was used to haul the timber cut at the Davis Lake Logging Camp east of Winchell Lake. The Davis Lake camp was in operation from 1948-52. (see “North Star Timber Company and the Davis Lake Timber Sale” by Robert Lee, Iron Mountain, and MI. May 2005)
However, John Lyght, life-long Lutsen resident, former county sheriff and who trucked timber across Brule Lake for the Davis Lake Timber sale felt the Vance Lake Camp was operating in the 1920’s. The deterioration of the two remaining building in my mind would certainly indicate this. If this were the case then logs were hauled to the railhead of the Alger-Smith Logging Rail Road. The railroad had spur lines going into the Brule and another line into a logging camp on Swan Lake and possible as far as Vernon Lake just east of the Swan Lake camp. Somehow logs would have to have been hauled to one of these two railheads.
After exploring what remained of the camp we retracing our route out across Echo and Brule Lakes and home.
We can only speculate when the camp was in operation and who were the many folks that lived and worked there. Why was there a test pit or mine at the camp? And what were these prospectors looking for? Our trip only raises more questions then it answers. We would like to know more about the Vance Lake Logging Camp.
Therefore if anyone has any additional information about history of this camp we would very much like to hear from you.
Editors note- Since we were unable to find the twenty four structures Julie had previously seen on her earlier visit, I can only speculate that the Forest Service burn these structures just as they had burned the Davis Lake Logging Camp, Benny Ambrose’s cabin and other historical structures in what is now the BWCA. The explanation I have heard from Forestry officials for burning these building was that these building were in a “wilderness area” where people were not suppose to have lived. However this goes without say people have lived there for thousands of years. Other Forest Services officials have told me unoccupied building in the BWCA would be vandalized. To me burning these old building and pretending that these buildings and the people that lived and work there never existed is the ultimate form of vandalism.
Thankfully, the Forest Services policy of trying to destroy the past by burning it has been changed and they now recognize that maybe historical structures within the BWCA should be allowed to remain.