The Way We Were: Serpent Lake in the Good Old Days

Written by James P. Gannon

For those of us who are relatively new to Serpent Lake, it is hard to imagine what it was like 50 or 75 years ago or more. But some families have been coming to the area or living at the lake for generations and have photo records of the old days.

North Shore of Serpent Lake looking west towards Thompson Point.

The pictures here come courtesy of Bruce Butler, whose family has deep roots in Deerwood. These glimpses of Serpent Lake in his ancestors’ era are right out of a family photo scrapbook, including labels placed by his father James Butler.

A hired hand waters Birchcrest Dairy cows on north shore of lake.

“My grandparents moved to Deerwood in 1918 and opened Birch Crest Dairy,” Bruce said. “Grandfather passed away in 1939 and my grandmother (Katherine) continued to reside on Serpent Lake with her sister Edna Bowler until grandmother’s death in 1971.”

Bruce’s grandfather, George Edward Butler, was a teacher, principal and superintendent in several Minnesota communities before moving to Serpent Lake. “Grandfather wanted to raise his two children in the ‘country,’” Bruce said. The family moved to Deerwood in 1918, when Bruce’s dad, James Butler, was just three years old.

The photos have that wonderful, sepia-toned look of another age, before much development came to Serpent Lake, when the shoreline was natural. The oldest pictures shown here date to the early 1920s–including the one of the dairy hand watering the cows in the lake.  It would be startling to see cattle in the lake today, and hard to take a photo of the shoreline without seeing cabins, big modern homes and manicured lawns.

A family picnic at Serpent Lake
 Bruce’s father, James, (on left in photo) was just a boy when the photo of the family picnic on the lake was taken in the early 1920s. With him, left to right, is James’ grandmother, Elizabeth Caleff Bowler, his mother Katherine Butler, his sister Amy, and George Butler.
Grandma Kate, who lived to 97, and her sister Edna, who lived to age 109, shared a cottage in Deerwood.

James was attending a seminary in New York City late 1938 when he was called home because his father George fell ill. George Butler died in January 1939. “My grandmother continued to reside in Deerwood,” Bruce recalls, “building a small cottage in the mid-1940s. She and her sister (Edna Bowler) shared the cottage until grandmother’s death in 1971 at age 97.” Edna lived to the remarkable age of 109, when she died in a nursing home in Crosby.

“My father bought the property from Aunt Edna when she moved in town, and moved to Serpent Lake with my mother, Irene, after his retirement from the ministry in 1981,” Bruce said. “Dad passed away in July 1999 and mom in December 2000. My brother and I now share the property.”

The first Birch Crest Dairy farmhouse was built on the north shore in 1918.

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