Harmon’s Histories: A look back at Holland Lake Lodge’s owners, ‘dudes’
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
Most folks by now are probably aware of the controversy over the Holland Lake Lodge expansion proposal by a Utah-based company called POWDR.
A citizen group called Save Holland Lake wants the U.S. Forest Service “to deny a permit to a giant Utah ski developer to triple the size of Holland Lake Lodge on public land and rule that the proposal is not in the public interest.”
The group says, “We believe it is crucial to preserve the history of Holland Lake and protect the surrounding ecosystem for generations to come.”
The lodge dates back to 1925, when the Forest Service issued a permit for a summer resort at Holland lake to include “a main building 40 by 60 feet in size, and a number of cabins for individual use,” according to press reports at the time.
Back then, there was just a wagon road in the Swan Valley. The Fourth Infantry (350 men) from Fort Missoula used to take their 200-mile, two-week “annual hike via Bonner, McNamara, Potomac, the Greenough ranch and then into the Clearwater lakes country.”
Holland lake was described in a Missoulian newspaper article as “the most beautiful of all the lakes in this territory: three miles in length, running from west to east where the falls drop down from the sheer crevice of the Gordon Pass.”
The Northern Pacific railroad’s staff photographer B.L. Brown predicted that western Montana dude ranches would expand “on an unusual scale in the immediate future” because of people becoming “fed up on pavement, street cars, apartments and traffic regulations.”
The Milwaukee Railroad also saw interest boom in “rough and ready recreation ranches under Montana skies,” so they promoted “informational summer outings in the Montana mountains for those” sweltering in the oppressive heat of the Midwest and East.
Among those traveling to Holland Lake every summer, from 1930 to 1958, was a group known as the “Keewaydin Girls” camp troupe.
The girls “came from various parts of the east” every year to experience western life, under the watchful eye of Miss Gertrude E. Clarkson of Short Hills, N.J.
A 1937 story in the Missoulian described the scene as the girls arrived in Missoula: “When the train pulled in Sunday morning the girls, already attired in their cowboy outfits, were out and raring to go to the ranch at the lake.”
“Included were a number of girls who had been on former trips and immediately some of them made requests to D.A. White, who operates the Holland Lake Lodge, for assignment of the same saddle horses they had last year. Each of the girls has her own saddle horse for the season.”
The 1958 group (the last reported visit) consisted of 15 girls, ranging in age from 12 up. The girls “acclimated” at Holland Lake Lodge, then proceeded “on a camping tour into the South Fork of the Blackfoot.”
In the 1920s, automobile owners lobbied for better access to the area, envisioning “a first class highway into the Swan river country.”
In July 1925, the bureau of public roads initiated a survey of a potential link between the Swan and Mission ranges.
In 1930, the Holland Lake resort was sold to Paul Judge of Missoula for $30,000.
Then, Lewis K. Jensen purchased the lodge in September 1946. Jensen brought in hunters from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The next year he had advance reservations, “mostly from southern Californians who are coming north for summer vacation.”
Fast forward to today – we wait to see how things play out over the latest expansion plans for the historic Holland Lake Lodge proposed by POWDR, and the challenge to those plans by the Save Holland Lake citizen group.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.