Northern Lights Resort

John Lyght
John Lyght

Hosey Posey and Stella Lyght, with several small children, arrived on the America December 3, 1913, to homestead in Lutsen. They had determination, one dollar and a sack of flour to tide them over. The young black family, originally from Alabama, had read about the Homestead Act and somehow acquired a Duluth newspaper giving information about the Lutsen property. With the help of their new friend Alfred Nelson, they survived that first winter. Not only did the Lyghts prosper, they established a resort--Northern Lights! The resort was sold in 1948, and is now the site of Cathedral of the Pines church camp. The following is taken from former Cook County Sheriff John Lyght's interview with Barbara Puch on October 5, 1996:

"[In 1927 or 1929], they started a resort on Caribou Lake. There was some more dead land (after being logged off) that my dad picked up after he got here and started to work around and working on different road projects and other little chores and everything. He bought that piece of property on Caribou Lake. And there was twenty acres over there and he bought that. They had the resort from '29 until '41, and that's when the war broke out and that was the end of the resort on account of the gas ration.

"He had 7 cabins here, 3 boats. And this was his beginning of going into business and doing things on his own and doing what he wanted to do without nobody dictating to him. He built a main lodge, now torn down. For a while he served some meals out of it, and then eventually sold pop, candy, and matter of fact, back in those days they had slot machines and he used to have a nickel, dime, and penny slot machine back in here in those days! Then he had cabins strolled all along, he had 7 cabins. He had a couple here and across the creek here they had more cabins. And then on the road that came down from the other road, now called County Road 39, he had cabins coming down on the side of that road. [The resort owned 1,500 feet of lake frontage on Caribou.]

"They didn't have what they called hobos up here but they had people that needed a place to stay and some food. And my folks always took in one or two fellows even regardless of our big family, because we always had a farm and plenty to eat and everything like that, so once in awhile my dad would take in a fellow like that to help him. And him and this other fellow one time, built a lot of these cabins, they built them out of logs. And they'd go out in the woods and cut the logs, us kids would help cut the logs, and peel the logs and let them dry. Then he'd turn around and build cabins out of them. And he would just, each year, build another cabin and in that way it worked up to 7 cabins.

"We had people come from Iowa, Chicago, and---it was pretty well advertised and around Minneapolis, the metropolitan area of Minnesota, Duluth. I can still remember my first little black baby that I ever seen. And it was a doctor from Des Moines Iowa, who came up, him and his wife came up and they had a baby that was only a few months old. And when that baby came here, when they came up to the resort here, us kids and my mother all went out to see it because it was something different! Because, we were used to seeing white babies not the black babies, it was really something.

"But, what happened is that years back they had a sawmill on Caribou Lake and when they called it the Sawmill Bay and that's where they got the words Sawmill Bay was that there was a logging operation, they had a sawmill there, and they blew their sawdust into the lake. And this is what they're getting. And I remember when we were kids, we used to back a team of horses and a wagon back there with a box there, you know, and shovel the sawdust out of the lake into the wagon and haul it up here on land and dump it up there. And every spring it's always at least 3-4 yards of that sawdust still coming up from the lake, yah. And you hear the people today talking about pollution and all this kind of stuff. That was really polluting the lake when they were blowing that sawdust back into the lake! And that was birch, and cedar and balsam sawdust, and that stuff once it gets into the water, it just stays there! And this is the only beach on the lake so it automatically drifts back here and washes up on the beach.

"I was pretty young at that time but we had the farm here and so when they had the cabins going, the tourists always wanted milk from the farm here, so that was our duty. We had those little milk buckets that held 8 quarts of milk on each side. We peddled milk to the tourists and to the cabins and also to the home people who had cabins on the lake. And that's how they made the extra change. And I remember a quart of milk was only a quarter-- 35 cents for a little pint of cream. That was something! There were some people that lived right around the point, see, and there wasn't a path all the way around the lake and they wanted the milk so we had to take the boat. See, my dad had 3 boats that went with the resort so we'd take the boat and go around. The weather would get up pretty strong in the lake and the boat would bounce around, but we would manage to make it. On the hillside, over the hill from here there is a little pond that had lot of minnows then. From there, we got the job of selling minnows. My dad told us kids, he said you know you're going to have to work, and we did.

"[Before being purchased by Mt. Olivet Church in 1948, the resort] just sat there. The cabins were kind of deteriorating a little bit and just sat vacant. Once in a while, I guess there was a person that come up but my mother never charged them for staying. They had to clean it and stay in it themselves. And we still had the boats here and so she let them use the boats. And at that time, you didn't have the registered boats and nothing like that like you do today so they could use the boats any time. There was no law about life preservers in the boats or anything like that so. She'd say, Go take the boats and stay in the cabins if you clean it up. Just make certain you leave it clean when you got through. And that was the way it was!"

For more articles on Cook County History, visit the archives.