Fair Hills Resort, Detroit Lakes
Fair Hills Resort in Detroit Lakes was founded in 1906 by three Ashelman brothers: Frank, George and Hud. Resort guests would arrive from Detroit Lakes via a canal system on the Pelican River. They sold it in 1918 and it had different owners every two years until it was repossessed by the bank in 1926. Ed Kaldahl purchased the property from the bank for $18,500 after selling his Glenwood-based Kaldahl’s Velvet Ice Cream company. He and his son, Chester, arrived to find all linens, dishes and everything moveable auctioned off by the previous owner. Ed wrote a letter to cancel the purchase, but forgot to mail it. The Kaldahl family has owned Fair Hills ever since!
In 1926, the weekly American plan rates (three meals per day) were $12 for adults and $7.50 for children. In those early days, guests came for the fishing and the food, including “Gramma Kaldahl’s Brown Bread,” baked by Ed’s wife, Bessie. Ed was the PR guy while Chester worked behind the scenes in the office. Ed and Chester started the resort’s strong musical tradition by playing trumpet and alto sax entertainment out on a rowboat in the evenings.
By 1930, there were 32 cottages and 15 rooms in the lodge (or casino
as it was called)...with running water and inside toilets! There was a nine-hole golf course, a water wheel and toboggan slide into the water. Muncie, the Shetland pony, began his long career. American Plan rates were $21 per week for adults and $14 for children. The pool tables in the green room are the same ones used today. Other amenities included two clay tennis courts and a croquet court.
Chester also served as the Detroit Lakes High School band director and in 1938 he married Mildred Wood, the choral director. That was the official beginning of the Fair Hills Family Band: Chester on alto sax and Mildred playing the piano. Eventually daughter Sue joined in on drums, and son Dave on tenor sax. From 1938 through 1941, Fair Hills offered a 10-day band camp for high school juniors and seniors. The director was Dr. Frank Simon of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He brought along his own student trumpet player: Al Hirt, who later posted 22 albums on the Billboard charts in the 1950s-60s and won a Grammy Award, among other honors.
Ed and Bessie ran the resort until 1942, when Chester and Mildred took over. The early ‘40s were lean years with a previously large Canadian trade vanishing and travel restricted by gas rationing. Guests mostly arrived by train and Fair Hills survived by having a school bus transport them to the resort. Financially, the resort survived with all the net profit coming from slot machines in the lobby. Each one (a nickel, a dime and a quarter machine) brought in $2,000 profit and that $6,000 was the net profit for each of those war years. These "one-armed bandits" became illegal after 1945. During the late 1940s, the emphasis on fishing changed to interest in other recreation, such as volleyball, sailing and water skiing.
In the 1950s, many cabins were replaced. A new kitchen was built in 1957 along with enlarging the dining room to its present size. 1961 brought the excitement of a swimming pool. At the time, it was a daring idea to for a resort on a beautiful lake to also have a pool! In 1954, son Dave married Barb Burd, who served as the children’s recreation director her first year. They would purchase the resort from Chester in 1973. Dave and Barb are the parents of Steve, Beth, Lisa and Dan. All but Dan are still involved in running Fair Hills.
Additional units were added over the years, including the 12-unit Ranch House and the four-unit Cliff House. The 1960s brought a new pavilion and an irrigation system for the golf course (no more sand greens). In 1974, the resort was featured in Money magazine.
In 1992, land was purchased for the development of the adjacent Wildflower Golf Course, designed by Joel Goldstrand. The course opened in 1993. In 2001, Dave and Barb’s daughter, Beth Schupp, returned to the resort after living in Iowa where her husband practiced radiology. She and her husband, Dan purchased Fair Hills in 2008. Of their six children, only daughter Emily Meyers currently works at the resort, representing the fifth generation of Kaldahls to run the resort!
In 1976, the family purchased the nearby Lake Five Resort which now offers 11 cabins. Its big white barn was converted from horse stalls to an event center in 2012 and hosts many weddings with Fair Hills providing catering services. Located just 20 minutes from Fair Hills, Lake Five offers meal options in the Fair Hills dining room.
Fair Hills is known for its weekly Hootenanny – a musical variety show led by the staff every Tuesday evening. The first Hootenanny was held back in 1965 and for many guests, it is the highlight of their week at the resort. The 50+ year tradition is led by long-time “director of fun” Larry Swenson, along with three generations of Kaldahls.
Besides the Hootenanny, Fair Hills has many other traditions near and dear to their guests’ hearts…from belly flop contests and a marching band parade to the 7 a.m. walking club. About 85 percent of their business comes from repeat guests. In fact, they have an anniversary special – families who have been coming for 50 years receive a free week!
Fair Hills Resort has been profiled in National Geographic Traveler, Travel and Leisure, Midwest Living, Boston Globe, MSN Travel, Fox News, Huffington Post, Frommer’s and KSTP’s On the Road with Jason Davis.
Learn more at http://fairhillsresort.com.
Click Here for a print-friendly version of
the primary content on this page.