From the Sunday Section of the Fargo Forum
Two gems are nestled in the wooded shores of Bass Lake near Battle Lake, Minnesota- - a walnut-sized diamond lost from the ring of a wealthy woman who swam in the lake half a century ago, and a mansion sized stone and cedar cottage named Xanadu.
The diamond may be
long gone, but Xanadu sits proudly on its bluff, half hidden
by trees, a magnificent throwback to the days when Otter Tail
Country was a playground for millionaires and a romantic reminder
of a time when this manicured country was still the near fringe
But Xanadu is a "cottage" the way Yellowstone Lodge is a motel. In fact, it looks and feels something like Yellowstone Lodge - elegantly rustic, or rustically elegant, with three huge stone fireplaces, mint condition Douglas fir wainscoting, furniture crafted of birch logs and a gaggle of stuffed game and scattering of antique furniture.
Now owned by Janet and Bryan Lonski, Xanadu was built in 1922 by a St. Louis millionaire who had fallen in love with Otter Tail County on annual fishing trips. Its name comes from the poem "Kublai Kahn" by Samuel Coleridge: "In Xanadu did Kublai Kahn a stately pleasure dome decree."
Ed Everts of Battle Lake, who worked for Jones in the 1920's and whose father Fred built Xanadu recalls the following: "I remember the day Mr. J.C. Jones came into my father's lumber company and said he was going to build a little shack out on Bass Lake." says Everts.
"Well nobody around here knew who Mr. Jones was or if he had a cent, for that matter," says Everts. "We didn't hear anything more until a few months later the plans for his `shack' arrived in the mail. Still, nobody knew who he was. My father asked around and a millionaire by the name of P.D.C. Ball, who at one time owned the St. Louis Cardinals, said "Jones is good for the money. Build what he wants. Anything he doesn't pay for, I will."
If Jones' manner was casual , construction of his "shack" was a complicated undertaking. First Everts says, a road had to be built to the property, five acres at the end of an isthmus so narrow it was often referred to as an island. The first bit of construction was the electric generator, several outbuildings and three servant's cabins.
"The building went on and on," says Everts, who recalls tagging along with his father during the year of Xanadu's construction. "Mr. Jones had to have everything just so. No expense was spared. He ordered fir beams from the West Coast. He had the porch window frames made special - casement with out swing sashes, grooved and cut for both screens and shutters with all the hardware concealed."
The foundation, supporting pillars and the fireplaces were made
of Otter Tail County field stone; the exterior siding fashioned
of unstained, unpainted cedar shakes. With the exception of glass
windows on the porch, the painting of the cedar shakes and the
installation of a deck and a modern kitchen, Xanadu remains faithful
to Jones' original plans.
Six sets of French doors lead from the wrap-around porch to the large living room, which is dominated by one of three fieldstone fireplaces with log mantles. The other fireplaces are in the master bedroom and a guest room, which flank either side of the living room. Another guest room, a full bath, two half baths, a shared double shower and the kitchen complete the main floor. A circular stairway takes you to a sunny sitting room on the second floor as well as two more guest rooms with heart shaped double jacuzzis and full baths.
The modern kitchen was the previous owner's concession to the contemporary - although buzzers are still installed in the wall next to the back door. "Those were connected to the servants' cabins," says Everts, who served as fishing guide and general grounds keeper for Jones for several years in the late 1920's and early 1930's . "Many times I came running into the house after being buzzed."
"I only wish servants would come running when I press buzzers," says the current owner.
Everts says he was on 24-hours-a-day call to Jones, that he was paid only at the end of the summer and that the hardest part of his job was opening Xanadu in the Spring and closing it in the Fall.
Still Everts remembers Jones with respect and affection. "The Jones were the most generous people I ever met," Everts says. "Sure, they were rich -- Mrs. Jones was Clara Morgan, of the J.P. Morgan family -- but they weren't stingy. Mr. Jones had a policy of always asking the going price for things -- and then he'd offer 25 percent more."
Everts's memories of Xanadu range from the poignant to the extravagant, the historical to the anecdotal:
* "Mrs. Jones had been married before and she'd had a son by the first marriage who was accidentally killed. I remember on the anniversary of his death, she'd stay in her room all day, not even coming out for meals."
* "I remember one year on July 3 we went to town. Mr. Jones saw some young boys walking into town and he had the driver stop. "You going into town tomorrow to celebrate the Fourth of July?" Mr. Jones asked. "Then you'll need some money. He gave each of those boys $25."
* About the lost diamond: "The Joneses always had company, usually other millionaires -- and that was back in the days when a millionaire was a millionaire. One guest, a wealthy woman from back East, had gone swimming wearing this huge diamond ring. She said she remembered seeing it when she got out of the water, but by the time she'd walked up the path toward the house the stone was gone. I must have spent three days on my knees looking for that diamond. Never did find it"
* During Prohibition, Everts recalls, he was required to take on additional duties. "Beneath the house is a half-basement and the only way you can get to it is through a small door in the master bedroom closet," he says. "From time to time Mr. Jones would give me contraband and tell me. "Do something with it. Hide it. Don't tell me where it is. So I got to know that basement."
About 1960, Xanadu was purchased by a couple who converted the servants' cottages into summer rentals. There are guests whose families have been coming here for over forty years. Xanadu has become known to only a select few people because for twenty five years there has been little or no advertising. Mostly just word of mouth.
Then in 1995, Janet and Bryan Lonski were considering an early retirement from their California careers. They decided to explore Minnesota as a place to build or buy a property which could be converted to a bed and breakfast. Two months prior to coming, Janet had saved a small classified ad from one of the local newspapers which she researched before they explored Minnesota. It read, "Rustic summer family estate on lake with 3 furnished guest cabins, 3 ½ miles from Battle Lake." Of course, she envisioned rustic as a dream place like she went to as a small child in upstate New York. Bryan envisioned rustic as a place in need of a major overhaul. They were both right. Xanadu has a spectacular setting and is a great and unique property; however, it required a number of upgrades in terms of heating, water systems, electricity, insulation, etc. It had been a summer home for 70 plus years and thus needed quite a bit of work. In two years they have converted Xanadu into a year around residence. They opened Xanadu as a Bed & Breakfast in June of 1996 and the response has been terrific.
In the Xanadu upgrade, the Lonski's have searched far and wide to utilize materials just like the original. Even going so far as to contact saw mills out in Oregon to acquire Douglas Fir wainscoting and other materials which were an identical match to the original.
Xanadu Island is now available to families and lovers alike who are looking for a special retreat, a week with your family or friends, or a special getaway with your sweetheart. +++