Discussing Sherburne County History, the Brown Hotel, in Big lake, is often mentioned as an outstanding example of fine food and hospitality. In Elk River, the Blanchett Hotel and the Riverside Inn maintained reputations as hotels serving delicious food and cordial surroundings. Yet, an equally auspicious, but overlooked, hostelry entertained and housed visitors in Clear Lake for 47 years. The Clear Lake House, an inn offering hospitality to travelers and long-term guests, anchored a section of the Clear Lake business district near the railroad depot. The history of the inn on the west side of the county warrants attention.
|Clear Lake House, circa 1900
Built in 1880 by C. W. Potter, the hotel replaced a railway eatery that had burned down a year earlier. The hotel offered a restaurant for railroad passengers and train crews. It also provided travelers a brief respite from long rail journeys through Minnesota. Potter ran the hotel for nine years, passing ownership to Phillip Schwab, who served as the first of a long list of short-term owners and operators.
In 1890, the Clear Lake House earned a reputation as one of the largest and best hotels between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud. It also offered very reasonable rates. By 1891, the inn advertised fifteen rooms and a fine livery for travelers through the area.
In 1905, the hotel received less than favorable news coverage when the local papers reported guests being robbed. A tramp relieved Charles Haaf, the son of the hotel manager, of $15, guest Joseph Feuker of $5, and the nearby night operator at the railroad of a pair of shoes. Unfortunately, the thief escaped capture.
The hotel continued to receive guests for another 22 years. In 1927 the hotel closed for renovations and never reopened. In January 1929, the Sherburne County Star News reported “the old building known as the Clear Lake Hotel opposite the Northern Pacific Depot is being razed this week.” Charles Haaf purchased the building with the intention of using the lumber to build a barn and poultry house on his farm site.
In 47 years, the Clear Lake House offered good food and hospitality at reasonable rates. The hotel contributes an important page to the history of Sherburne County along with the inns at Big Lake and Elk River.