Robert Mathieson (the First Settler of Manhattan Beach) and the Spirit Lake Massacre

(Fall 1856 - March 1857)


In July 1856, Rowland Gardner Sr. of New Haven, Connecticut, settled in Okoboji with his wife, Frances, and their four children (Mary, Eliza, Abigail, and Rowland Jr.) Many claim seekers visited the lakes region before the Gardners, but no official claims had yet been staked out. Thus, Gardner and his son-in-law Harvey Luce were the first settlers to establish claims on Lake Okoboji–a “promised land” of natural beauty, abundant fish, wild game, large groves, and sand beaches. They surveyed the entire lakes area and its surrounding prairies but ultimately decided to construct grand cabins on the southeastern shore of West Lake Okoboji, close to (what is now known as) Pillsbury’s Point. By November 1, 1856, at least six other groups of people settled after the Gardners and Luces–all within a six-mile radius of the Gardner cabin.


The first family to settle after the Gardners were the Mattocks of Delaware County, Iowa. The Mattocks brought with them an 18-year-old young man named Robert Mathieson (frequently misspelled 'Madison'.) Robert was the only member of the Mathieson family who spent Winter 1856 in Okoboji. The rest planned to join Robert in Spring 1857 after he constructed suitable accommodations for them.


The Mattocks settled at the south end of the Okoboji Bridge (about one mile from the Gardner cabin.) Robert Mathieson, however, claimed the large grove along the western shores of West Lake Okoboji. Although this area is now known as Manhattan Beach, these shores were known for many years as “Madison Grove.”


After several years of growing tension and (minor) violent conflicts between the settlers and the Wahpekute tribe of the Santee Sioux (led by 55-year-old renegade chief Inkpaduta), the Wahpekute massacred nearly all of the Okoboji settlers in early March 1857. It was a particularly harsh winter and resources were low for both the Wahpekute and settlers alike; starvation and death was imminent. Thus, the tribe first attacked the Mattock cabin and killed everyone inside, including Robert Mathieson. The first U.S. troops to arrive in Okoboji after the massacre documented that the Mattock Cabin and its occupants were the only group to put up a resisting fight against the Wahpekute’s slaughter.


Shortly after attacking the Mattock cabin, the Wahpekute went to the Gardners' cabin. They demanded all of the Gardners' flour–only to immediately shoot Rowland Sr. from behind as he went to retrieve it. The tribe then viciously and relentlessly killed everyone in the cabin (including the youngest children), sparing only 13-year-old Abigail (Abbie) Gardner–possibly due to her exotic light-colored hair and blue eyes.


By the end of the Spirit Lake Massacre, the Wahpekute tribe killed at least 36 Okoboji settlers. They held Abbie Gardner and three other women (Thatcher, Noble, and Marble) as prisoners for several months. The Wahpekute killed Thatcher for being ill and unable to keep up with the intense slave labor. Inkpaduta’s son, Roaring Cloud, clubbed Noble to death for refusing to exit a tipi. The tribe traded Marble (unknowingly to her eventual freedom) for various goods. And finally, approximately three months after the massacre, Abbie Gardner was also ransomed for two horses, two kegs of powder, 12 blankets, 20 pounds of tobacco, 32 yards of blue cloth, 37.5 yards of calico and ribbon, and other miscellaneous articles. Her obedience, stoicism, perseverance, and baking skills (in addition to her appearance) mystified the Wahpekute and saved her life. Nevertheless, on May 30, 1857, she finally returned to freedom.


By 1862, the Sioux’s string of massacres reached a slow yet bloody end in Minnesota.


In 1885, Abbie Gardner published a short memoir of the massacre and her captivity–which became a very popular seller. Six years later, in 1891, she returned to Okoboji for the first time and bought her family’s cabin. The state erected a monument close to the Gardner cabin to honor the massacred settlers in 1895. Gardner operated the cabin as a tourist site until she died in 1921.


The Sioux Negotiating the Release of Abbie Gardner

Abbie Gardner, Robert Mathieson, and Inkpaduta


Artistic Depictions of the Spirit Lake Massacre


The Gardner Cabin


The Spirit Lake Massacre Monument



David B. Lyons of Des Moines, IA


Original Manhattan Beach Plat Documents


19th-Century Manhattan Beach


Ben Lennox and the Manhattan


One of the oldest photographs of Manhattan Beach, featuring its swimmers. The sign behind them reads "Manhattan Beach Lake Shore Lots for Sale $300."



David B. Lyons and the Manhattan Beach Company

(January 1892 - 1899)


In 1892, some of “the leading men of brains, money, and energy in Des Moines” formed a joint-stock company called the Manhattan Beach Company:

• David B. Lyons, renowned philanthropist and businessman of the Central Loan and Trust Company
• F.S. Treat, businessman of the Central Loan and Trust Company
• W.F. Stotts, President of the Stotts Investment Company
• O.H. Perkins, one of the leading capitalists of Des Moines
• Bowen & Regur and M. McFarlin, grain dealers

The Manhattan Beach Company purchased 1.5 miles of lakeshore on the western side of West Lake Okoboji–encompassing Gould’s Point and Madison Grove. The investors renamed the stretch simply “Manhattan Beach.” They allotted $50,000 to construct the historic Manhattan Hotel, which stretched approximately 180 feet long by 50 feet wide over the beach’s sandbar point–only feet from the clear waters of West Lake Okoboji. The hotel’s first-class amenities included a dancing pavilion with a two-story bandstand, a cafe, housing and offices for property managers, 32 dressing rooms for bathers (swimmers), a toboggan slide, tennis courts, and even a bowling alley. 

The Manhattan Beach Company also platted around 100 lakeside cabin lots which were 60 feet wide by 200-300 feet deep. By August 1, 1892, the lots were valued at $250 to $1000 each and ready for sale. This offering was the first of its kind and big news for travelers who wanted to build their family cabins on prime Okoboji real estate. The investors also saw these lots as a great opportunity for quick profits and a way to establish steady cash flows from the resort’s new neighbors. However, interest was severely limited since the only way to reach the resort was by sailboat or steamboat. As a result, only about a dozen cabin lots were sold by 1899.

By 1893, the Manhattan Beach Company purchased the old 80 ft steamboat Ben Lennox, which had roughly the same passenger capacity as the Queen. They overhauled it to be a first-class steamer and promptly renamed it the Manhattan. The Manhattan brought guests to the resort from the Arnolds Park railroad station free of charge. The steamer was also used for excursions every Wednesday and Sunday featuring brass bands that played live music. Unfortunately, since the Manhattan was unreliable, rotted, and poorly maintained, it took its final voyage in 1899. However, Manhattan’s failed steamboats were only the tip of a very problematic iceberg.

By 1898, D.B. Lyons sold out of the resort due to financial disputes and unfulfilled liabilities from the Manhattan Beach Company. Additionally, the resort wasn’t generating enough profits and didn’t sell enough house lots. Thus, to satisfy growing debts, creditors forced the resort into a sheriff’s sale for $40,000–the largest deal in county history.

In 1899, the Manhattan Hotel went bankrupt.

One of the oldest photographs of Manhattan Beach, featuring its swimmers. The sign behind them reads "Manhattan Beach Lake Shore Lots for Sale $300."


David B. Lyons of Des Moines, IA


Original Manhattan Beach Plat Documents


19th-Century Manhattan Beach


Ben Lennox and the Manhattan



Myerly's Revamped Manhattan


The Okoboji (previously the Manhattan) arrives at the Old Hotel.

 

Joseph I. Myerly Revitalizes the Manhattan Hotel

(October 1900 - September 1911)


The Manhattan Hotel was essentially deserted after its bankruptcy in 1899. 


In October 1900, Joseph I. Myerly of Des Moines formed the Manhattan Hotel and Land Company, of which he and his two sons were the primary incorporators. The company purchased the property with plans of renovating the hotel and building several house lots closer to the hotel. Myerly hired Will A. Brown of Leon, Iowa as manager and his wife as hostess for many successful summers at the resort.


In 1902, Myerly doubled the hotel’s capacity with 14 new bedrooms. He also added a new 40 ft x 90 ft dancing pavilion (with space for an orchestra) and wide porches surrounding the entire building.


By 1903, the hotel had accommodations for 250 guests, a new billiard hall, and a 300 ft long patio with a beautiful, panoramic view of West Lake Okoboji. There were also considerable improvements to the resort’s grounds, beach, boat landings, and a newly installed electric lighting plant.


For the 1905 and 1906 seasons, D.B. Fleming and Horace Birdsall of the Savery Hotel Company of Des Moines leased out the Manhattan Hotel. Unfortunately, this arrangement lasted only two summer seasons after Birdsall died of a heart attack in August 1905.


For about a decade, Myerly relied heavily on the “certainty” that there would be a rail line built along the west side of the lake–taking travelers directly to Manhattan with no need for steamers or sailboats. This line, however, was never built and forced Myerly to cut his losses. As a result, Myerly sold the Manhattan Hotel in 1911.


Myerly's Revamped Manhattan


The Okoboji (previously the Manhattan) arrives at the Old Hotel.


Life at Old Manhattan


Old Manhattan Beach Advertisements


Owners of the Manhattan Beach Hotel

(September 1911 - May 1933)


George Thomas Harker of Spirit Lake: September 1911 - May 1913?
• Myerly traded the Manhattan Hotel to Harker for over 1,100 acres of land in Kossuth and Clay County. The agreement was based on a trade amount of $45,000 and included the hotel, its attached buildings, five cottages, and four acres of land.
• Harker planned to self-manage the hotel and make general improvements for Summer 1912, although the hotel’s ownership from 1911 to 1913 is somewhat unclear.

J.H. Waters of Des Moines: May 1913? - August 1915
• Waters sold the hotel to Harkins in 1915 for $1, likely to retire personal debts.

A.J. “Andy” Harkins of Des Moines: August 1915 - May 1920
• In 1916, Harkins personally managed the hotel and made extensive improvements, including new rowboats and large passenger-loading boat docks.
• In January 1919, a Manhattan Hotel employee sued Harkins because he got in a car accident on the way to the hotel. Furthermore, the roads around the lake and the hotel were generally in poor condition, so Manhattan was closed for the summer season. 
• By June 14, 1919, Harkins listed the Manhattan Hotel for sale.

Lustfield and Bank of Paulina: March 1920 - August 1927 - June 1931?
• In March 1920, a group of Paullina bankers and businessmen purchased the resort for $18,000.
• By 1926, the roads leading to the Manhattan Hotel were finally graded and graveled. 
• Ownership during this era is very unclear. The last date documenting Lustfield at the Manhattan Hotel is 1927. The Hotel changed ownership somewhere between 1927 and 1931. Management changed at least twice (in 1926 and 1930.)
• In the 1930 Census, Manhattan Beach had 539 people, 43 boats, and 121 cars. The only place with more residents than Manhattan Beach was Arnolds Park.

R.O. Robinson of Spencer: June 1931 - 1932

Growe Riffle and Ray McNulty of Sioux City: 1932 - April 1933
• The two Sioux City men made several improvements (including a new dance hall) to the resort in an attempt to draw in new guests, but the old hotel still wasn't popular enough to be saved.
• By April 1933, West Okoboji split and the city of Wahpeton was formed.

Life at Old Manhattan


Old Manhattan Beach Advertisements


An Illustration of the Old Hotel from the
1906 Lake Region Blue Book


Hobart A. Ross Rebuilds Manhattan

(April 1933 - September 1948)

• Hobart Ross, who later went on to build Vacation Village (now Village West), dismantled the 40-year-old hotel and used its lumber to construct a colony of at least 25 new cottages for Summer 1933. Each cottage had a fireplace, a wide porch, several windows, and a lake view.

• Ross made many other improvements to the resort, including a new shuffleboard court, blacktop roads, flower gardens, and a children’s playground where the bowling alley once stood.

• Historians remember and respect Ross for taking on such a drastic project during the peak of the Great Depression. He provided desperately needed jobs to boost the local economy and save one of the most important historic locations in the Okoboji lakes region.

The Old Hotel is Torn Down in 1933

Ross's Manhattan Cottages


Summer Days at Ross's Manhattan

The Old Hotel is Torn Down in 1933

Ross's Manhattan Cottages



Kamp's Manhattan (September 1948 - February 1957)

Evans's Manhattan (February 1957 - June 1975)


Fedora's Manhattan (June 1975 - March 1984)


Previous Owners of Manhattan Beach Resort

(September 1948 - March 1984)


Nick J. Kamp of Rock Rapids: (September 1948 - February 1957):
• In 1948, Kamp purchased the resort, which included 40 furnished cottages, resort equipment, and the 1,200 ft sand beach.
• By the time of the resort’s sale in 1957, Kamp had constructed two additional cottages for a total of 42.

Chick and Lucile Evans of Sioux Rapids: (February 1957 - June 1975)
• Although Chick Evans and his wife Lucile were the primary owners and managers of Manhattan Beach, there were other investors as well (R. Cleveland, R.J. Mattice, L. Henry, V. Schuelke, W. Kracht)–mostly from Sioux Rapids.
• During their period of ownership, Evans added a trailer park (with 21 spots) and a new beachside hotel (with 20 mostly two-bedroom units) to the resort.

Dick and Linda Fedora of Saint Paul: (June 1975 - March 1984)
• Dick Fedora and his brother-in-law, Gary Place, first purchased the resort together in 1975.
• Dick and his wife Linda managed it together for nine years and sold the resort to its current owners in 1984.

Kamp's Manhattan (September 1948 - February 1957)

Evans's Manhattan (February 1957 - June 1975)


Fedora's Manhattan (June 1975 - March 1984)


August 16, 1969: Newlyweds Donald R Fisk, M.D. and Sandra Ott-Fisk spend three days of their honeymoon at Manhattan Beach Resort.
 

 Manhattan Beach Resort Today


Interesting Newspaper Ads and Articles


Current Owners of Manhattan Beach Resort

(March 1984 - Present)


Chuck and Denise Long of Sioux City: (March 1984 - Present)
• Chuck Long and Jon Winkel (his primary business partner at Long Lines Ltd. and MCI for many years) purchased Manhattan Beach Resort in 1984. Long purchased the resort during his extensive renovation of the Okoboji area, which included Arnolds Park and numerous other resorts. 
• Since there were already many reservations booked for Summer 1984, Long had to run the resort as-is for his first upcoming season.
• By the end of a rather chaotic summer, Long discovered how passionate and tight-knit the Manhattan Beach guests were and how much charm the resort had. Thus, he decided to rebuild the resort to a new glory just after Labor Day Weekend 1984 drew to an end.
• Long redesigned and replatted the entire resort, specifically keeping in mind the protection and preservation of the sacred oak trees that had lived there for decades–or even centuries–before 1984. Protection efforts went as far as wrapping the trees with mattresses and strategically preventing root damage from weight or digging during reconstruction. 
• The old cottages were leaky and in poor condition, so they needed replacement. The “F Row” units close to the beach’s south-facing shores were particularly troublesome, so they were not rebuilt. The hotel (now referred to as the ‘Shores Building’) received interior renovations, new windows, and heater/air conditioning units installed.
• By 1985, the resort was fully functional and featured its own convention center, tennis courts, grocery store, restaurant, bar, laundromat, towel exchange, and more. 
• In the 2000s, Manhattan Beach Resort slowly transitioned from daily/weekly rentals to seasonal rentals.
• For about 25 years, the resort featured cedar shingles and siding. However, since oak sap easily rots cedar panels, Manhattan Beach Resort updated its exteriors to corrugated metal in the 2010s.
• By the 2010s, Long recognized the greatest demand was for annual rentals, which is now the primary offering at Manhattan Beach Resort today.

 Manhattan Beach Resort Today


Interesting Newspaper Ads and Articles


Affordable, family-operated resorts are nearly extinct in the Iowa Great Lakes region. The unique value proposition of Manhattan Beach Resort cannot be understated. There is significant demand to join our beloved resort, which is managed by a waitlist that grows every year.


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