The History of Star Isle
By Gail Hagen, Secretary
Some of my favorite memories as a young teenager were summers on Star Lake. I remember one particular summer that my parents had sold our home in Moorhead and were planning to move to Minneapolis in late August, so we were living at our place on Star Lake. My dad was an over-the-road truck driver and gone during the week, and my mom worked for the Veterans Administration in Fargo and commuted into work every day, leaving my sisters and I at the lake. It was the summer that President Nixon resigned, the movie The Exorcist was in theaters, “Band on the Run” was playing on the radio, and 3 teenage girls had lots of time to explore Star Lake! With a couple of mini-bikes, a runabout with a 40 horse Johnson motor and no adults around, we could have gotten into a lot of trouble, but instead we learned lots of card games, perfected our waterskiing skills, and beat down a path in the ditch along Highway 108 from West Rosewood to Rocky’s Resort.
One of the places on Star Lake that always intrigued us was the Island with the “abandoned” house (we thought it was haunted). Our curiosity got the best of us one day and we decided (on a dare) to explore the Island. The path leading up to the house was overgrown making the house look even more ominous than it did from the lake. Much to our surprise, the house was not locked and even though it was dark inside – it almost seemed inviting with a guest book on the kitchen table. We wondered what the story was about this island, the “abandoned” house, and even the guest book.
Fast forward about 50 years… I decided to learn more about the Island on Star Lake. I spoke to Rod and Alice Spidahl about their 4.5-acre Island, with 3600 feet of virtually untouched lakeshore, and this is what I learned.
Known to many as Star Isle, it was informally named Mu-Jo Crescent Island – after Muggs (Melvyn) Townsend, his friend John Gingrich and the crescent shape of the Island. The Spidahl family now lovingly call it Alice’s Island. Alice is the daughter of Muggs. In 1927, Muggs was a young 14 year-old, and was concerned about all of the trees that were being cut down along Star Lake. His dad told him that if he wanted to save trees – he needed to buy land. And that is what they did. The Island was purchased for $75 from a tax lien sale and the cabin was finished in 1929. The house was built with brick (layered two wide) that was reclaimed from a barn destroyed by a cyclone in the area. Muggs and friends cleaned all of the bricks by hand and brought them out to the Island in a Model-T pickup across the ice in the winter. The wood for the trusses, framing, floors and doors for the house came from Oak, Maple, Ash and Birch trees that were milled at the Saw Mill owned by Oscar Peterson (Peterson Point), who (in addition to dairy farming) was a skilled carpenter and stone layer.
The finished house had a combined kitchen and living area and some sleeping areas in the upper loft – but wasn’t used by Muggs, Katherine and their family very much during the summer as they were all too busy working at his Ice Cream Shop in Fergus Falls and running concessions across the country from Spring until Fall. Alice remembers a time when she was out fishing with her dad, and asked about the Island (she didn’t even know that it was owned by her dad). Muggs kept the house unlocked intending it to be a refuge for boaters that may need shelter during inclement weather. After some severe vandalism, the house was kept locked. Muggs also lived and instilled in his children and guests the importance of preservation of the natural wild and to live minimally, so the natural vegetation around the house and Island was intentional. Many friends and retreat groups (including even square dancers!), used the island.
The Island was eventually gifted to Alice. For many years, due to break ins, they had to add metal shutters on the windows to keep intruders out. Alice and Rod still enjoy the island which is owned by their three children. Rod has had to replace the roof a couple of times, but they still use the original wood stove and pump water by hand from a sand-point well. They honor Muggs by living their Star Lake life minimally only using kerosene, candles, a wood burning stove and an outhouse. They experience the natural beauty and wildlife that Star Lake offers. Their Island is also home to many loons, which often nest in the “crescent” area of the lake on the North side of the Island. Unknown to most, there is also a wetlands area in the middle of the Island.
Currently, the island is used by many of Mugg’s grandchildren as a vacation spot and getaway. The family owners appreciate respecting their privacy and keeping the island in its natural state. The Island isn’t meant to be a site to camp out – nor is it a public swimming beach The beaches are fragile and get damaged when a boat or pontoon is pushed on shore. When personal water-craft go past the Island, it is helpful if they swing wide and slow down to protect the nesting areas of loons and waterfowl.
So now, you will be able to share the story and some history of “Alice’s Island” to your family, friends and future generations of Star Lake residents – preserving this bit of history on Star Lake.
About the Spidahl Family - Alice and Rod Spidahl live in Fergus Falls. They have three adult children and two grandchildren. The family lived in Northern Cameroon for five years where they lived minimally among the villagers they served. The entire family enjoys activities in the outdoors like skiing, hiking, fishing and winter camping. They harvest sap each Spring and make their own Maple Syrup, enjoy gardening and their fruit trees, as well as raise bees. They love the outdoors and the Island has given them many years of tremendous enjoyment, and many more years in the future for the descendants of Muggs.