MENTOR, Minn. — Only the rubble remains of a landmark guest house along the shores of Maple Lake that was a popular destination for visitors from far away cities, such as New York.
The former Buhn Hotel, most recently known as a bed and breakfast called the Inn at Maple Crossing, was razed in early January. A listing on realtor.com says the building, which had been for sale since 2017, was on 6.26 acres with more than 570 feet of lakefront.
The sprawling hotel had been a fixture at Maple Lake near Mentor, Minn., for more than 100 years, beginning when John Olson, a Swedish immigrant, opened it in August 1896, according to a history written by Jim Thomasson who last owned the building with his wife, Nancy. When Olson arrived in Minnesota and found out there were many people with the same last name, he changed it to “Buhn,” after the farmstead on which he lived in Sweden, Thomasson’s history said.
The first rooms rented in the Buhn Hotel were part of a log building that was constructed around a cabin, which Thomasson believes was built in the late 1860s by a soldier returning from the Civil War.
In 1903, the main part of the hotel was added onto the original log structure, and the Buhn boasted a total of 35 guest rooms. For the next five decades, the hotel was a destination center for a variety of activities, including political rallies, where candidates gave speeches on an outdoor platform. Besides New York City, guests traveled to the Buhn Hotel by train from cities including Winnipeg, Duluth and Minneapolis.
By the early 1970s, railroad travel had declined, and the Buhn Hotel no longer drew travelers from a distance but, instead, catered to families living on Maple Lake who came to its restaurant for Sunday chicken dinners.
Fort Worth, Texas, resident Katie Shide recalls going to the hotel for the chicken dinners when she was a child. Shide, whose parents and maternal grandparents owned homes on Maple Lake, recalls that on summer Sundays, she and her brothers, her mother and her grandmother dressed up and went to the fancy dinner. The Sunday event featured chicken, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and lemon meringue pie.
“The meringue on the pie was 2 inches high,” Shide said. “I learned to like lemon meringue pie because of the pie at those dinners, and now it’s my favorite.”
The dinners were served on china plates that were on tables covered with linen cloths, she said.
“You had on your nice Sunday clothes and you had nice manners,” recalled Shide, who remembers that the then-owners Clariece and Dora Buhn, sisters who took over the hotel after the death of their father, were always busy cooking, cleaning and clearing tables during the dinners.
The sisters were “warm and wonderful,” said Nancy Thomasson, who grew up in Crookston. The cottage that Thomasson’s parents owned on Maple Lake, 10 doors down from the Buhn Hotel, didn’t have a telephone, and her mother often sent her there to use the hotel’s, she said.
Though, the sisters appeared stern and a bit “scary'' to Thomasson, she knew that they were kind because they always gave her a treat when she came to use the phone, Thomasson said.
In 1974, business at the hotel had declined to the point where it wasn’t cost-effective to keep open, and the Buhn sisters closed it. The building was vacant until 18 years later when the Thomassons left their home in Virginia to renovate it. The couple and their son, Tim, and his wife, Laura, worked three-and-a-half years to restore and expand the hotel.
“We had no plumbing, no heat and no electricity. We had to take it apart and put it back together,” Nancy Thomasson said.
Her husband left his job as a Georgetown University professor to design the architecture of the inn, she did the interior decorating and their son and daughter-in-law remodeled the old hotel.
The Thomassons reopened the hotel in 1995 as a bed and breakfast called the Inn at Maple Crossing. Besides 16 guest rooms, the inn featured a gift shop, interdisciplinary study center and a formal dining room that served lunch and dinner to the public.
The meals at the Inn at Maple Crossing included chicken dinners with the signature lemon meringue pie for dessert.
“That was part of the Buhn Hotel history,” Nancy Thomasson said.
The Thomassons, who are retired and live in Crookston, Minn., have many fond memories of their 25 years of inn ownership.
“We had wonderful, wonderful years there,” Thomasson said. “We facilitated so many special occasions; we had marriage proposals and wedding anniversaries and class reunions."
Meanwhile, the Inn at Maple Crossing also hosted retreats.
“We had guests who came back year after year and became good friends,” Thomasson said. “We worked hard, and we loved every minute.”
When the Thomassons closed the hotel, they hoped that it would be purchased by someone who would preserve its history and continue its tradition, she said. While she is sad that didn’t happen, she is grateful for the memories.
“Our memories outweigh our sadness that it has disappeared," Thomasson said.