The Red Door, Old and New

Today’s Red Door features modern resort amenities: motel and recently-built cabins, upgraded harbor and launching ramp, bait and tackle store, plus deluxe fish-house rentals and the finest services for private fish-house owners. These fine accommodations cater to 21st century anglers and vacationers.

But the Red Door resort grounds, located in the old Wealthwood neighborhood,  also carry a century of colorful north-shore Mille Lacs history. The property was purchased in the 1900s by Author M. Smith, of Smith Wine & Spirits on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. A. M. Smith Jr. and his family became even more identified with the place, well into the 1930s. A. M. Jr. operated a Ford dealership in Minneapolis, brought telephone service to Wealthwood, and had one of the first gasoline-powered boats in the neighborhood. He also donated the land for Kamp Kitchi Kahniss, a camp for underprivileged boys operated by the Big Brothers and Optimist Club of Minneapolis from 1925 into the 1980’s.

The historic “stone house,” located towards the lake from our motel, was built around 1910 as the Smiths’ carriage house and garage. Over the years it has housed store businesses, upstairs rental rooms, and living quarters for a succession of resort proprietors—including Lawrence and Peg Gilbertson from the 1960s to 1991. The stone house is currently being remodeled into a three bedroom cabin to be available the spring of 2013.

The barnlike structure, pictured here and known to longtime Red Door patrons as a bar, restaurant, and resort headquarters, was dismantled in the fall of 1999 and replaced with cabins in the spring of 2000. That landmark was built in 1914 as a cattle barn for A. M. Smith. In 1929, a young Wealthwood man was killed in this barn, after being kicked by a horse. Through the years, this building—so long identified with the Red Door—housed a dance hall, grocery and meat sales, and even Indian drum-making.

During the long Gilbertson era at the Red Door, the food menu featured home-smoked ribs straight from the resort smokehouse, where Lawrence Gilbertson also smoked Mille Lacs tullibees and carp. Otto and Dee Hanson shared the work load during the Gilbertson years, helping grow the restaurant, campground, boat access, and ice-fishing services.

Fred & Debbie Dally purchased the Red Door in 1991. His daughter, Dana, and her husband Terry Cleys managed the place for several years. The harbor was modernized in 1993. The motel was added in 1994. During the last week of that year Fred, Debbie and their two sons, Sam & Danny moved to the lake. They built new cabins, south of the motel, in 1996-97. More new cabins, on the site of the removed bar-restaurant (that old A. M. Smith livestock barn), were added in spring, 2000. And, yes, brand new cabins near the lake in spring of 2009. Also new are nice restroom-shower facilities in our fish house park north of Highway 18. The 1990s and 2000s have brought many improvements at the Red Door, now the Mille Lacs north shore’s only year-round fishing/vacation resort with motel and cabins.

Fred and Deb Dally built a new lakeshore home just east of the resort grounds. This land was part of the original A. M. Smith property and the site of the Smith home or “lodge,” but later became separated from the Red Door grounds and hosted separate fishing-related businesses. For example, beginning in the mid-1940s, Letty Dahl and Pinky Freeman operated the long-running Wealthwood Shores Resort here, complete with cabins and rental boats. Now that land is back in the Red Door family.

In January of 2014, Lynn and Steve Kulifaj purchased the resort and home from the Dally’s. Lynn and Steve have 5 children and were excited to carry on the Red Door Resort traditions.   They expanded another 86-site fish house park and new shower-house on the northwest property and are expanding another 49 site wheelhouse/RV park.   Spanning nearly 120 acres, the resort property is being fully utilized to offer new and exciting offerings to our members and guests.    The Red Door is a progressive 21st century resort with a colorful past.