The Resort Years
Wilson's Independence Beach Resort
In 1924, Mr and Mrs H.C. Wilson bought a portion of the Pieper property from the First Investment Company. The property was across from the park, and included the old hotel, some of the cottages, and lakeshore. The hotel had 10 guest rooms, a large dining room, and rooms for the hired help. There was a large porch that was used by guests, a large living room, and living quarters for the Wilson family.
Mrs Wilson and her two brothers would take a horse & buggy (and later, a small van) up to Loretto to pick up guests at the train station. Meals were served family style in the hotel. Mrs. Wilson did most of the cooking. Meals were served three times a day, seven days a week.
There were some permanent guests at the hotel including the depot agent from Loretto, his son, two bank clerks from Loretto and a lumberman from Loretto. In addition, there were families that stayed there for months at a time. The hotel was usually fully occupied.
The summer cabins were often rented by the same families year after year, so the cabins were named after them. There were no kitchens so visitors ate their meals in the main building. The cabins had outhouses. Water was available from a pump on the Renner property at the foot of Brook St.
(There was apparently also a dance hall but no mention of when this was added. But Marie Painter Krueger’s article said the dance hall was only 10 feet from the hotel.)
On New Years Eve, 1929, there was a party at the dance hall. One of the men spilled a beer near the heating grate. The cold beer hit the hot stove below, and apparently it cracked. There was no obvious fire during the party but the building started burning overnight. By then the temperature was 20 degrees below zero. Around 1:00 a.m. the Delano fire department was called, but the fire truck was unable to get there because their engine froze up along the way. The main hotel was only about 10 feet from the dance hall, so the hotel burned down also. No one was hurt but the buildings were all destroyed.
Subsequently a new building was built, consisting of a dance hall, dining room, and summer living quarters for the family. After Mrs. Wilson passed away in 1933, the resort was operated by their daughter, Marie (nickname Flossie) and she ran the business until 1944, when it was sold.
In the mid-30’s, the building had a small store upfront that carried necessities for the visitors – bread, milk, etc. There was small bar with a couple of booths. In front there was a mechanical gas pump topped with a large glass tube. The pump was manually operated, and when the glass tube was filled to the top, indicating 5 gallons had been pumped, the gas would then be dispensed into the automobile.
During the Depression, young men would be hired for $10/day to harvest crops from sun-up to sundown. At the end of the day, Wilson's was a popular site for spending some of that day's pay. During World War II, soldiers home on leave and young ladies interested in meeting soldiers would flock to Independence Beach to drink and dance. Some evenings parked cars were lined up all along Lakeshore Avenue.
The dance hall was located in the back of the building. There was an admission charge. On Saturday nights, a live orchestra played on the dance hall stage. Orchestra leaders included Whoppee John, Slim Jim, Kip Hale and J.R. Clark.
At some point, date unknown, the Wilson’s leased the park land from the City, paying $1.00 for a 99-year lease. They constructed a picnic shelter in the park, containing six picnic tables and an cast-iron wood stove picnickers could use for cooking.
Stairs were built from the park down to the lakeshore. A bathhouse had changing rooms for swimmers. In the 1930's a large wooden slide was constructed. Swimmers would ride down the slide on a wooden sled. The slide was dismantled sometime before WWII, after a swimmer was injured.
Editor's Note: The dance hall history will be continued in the next section to be added at a later date.