The Mystery of Lake Hassel Island

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Long shot of Island
Lake Hassel Island. Enshrouded in mystery, this miniature land mass rests in the center of a shallow, mud-bottomed slough, lovely to look at but unfit for most recreational activities. Was it really once owned by a prominent local doctor? Who was he? Did he really give it to the Boy Scouts? Is there truly an abandoned cabin out there somewhere? What's it like?

When friends proved willing in spirit but lacking in free time, I contacted the Swift County DNR conservation officer, Neil Henriksen, to inquire about the safety of venturing out there alone to take some photographs. As luck would have it, he'd recently made a trip himself on snowmobile. All I had to do was follow his track to the southern (right) end of the island. You can just start to make out the cabin at the halfway point (even moreso when I zoom in).

Here's the public access landing and snowmobile trail behind me after I set off. Going...going...


As I neared the island, I discovered a small rocky beach on the west side near the southern tip. If I'd followed the snowmobile tracks around the tip, I'd have discovered an easy way to walk right onto the island. But I was eager to get off the ice and on to terra firma ("the more firmer, the less terror"), so I decided to scale this hill instead. Good thing I brought my ski poles!

Almost immediately, I spotted something Officer Henriksen had mentioned - the island is a nesting site for herons. The trees were filled with their enormous nests.

As I made my way towards the cabin, I discovered footprints leading past an outhouse that appears to be in functional shape.

They continued all the way to the cabin...and right up to the door. Shall we go in?

The cabin is a cluster of contradictions. Vintage milk jugs next to a plastic Squirt bottle? Three stoves from wildly differing eras? Was the Old Timer wood stove brought in to replace the fireplace as a heat source? What does that tell us about when the cabin was built or when the Boy Scouts took over? The kitchen sink faucet looks fairly new. But it's nonfunctional, rocking freely on loosened, rusted screws. Are the bunks, with their plastic-covered mattresses, decades newer than the chairs around the dining table? What's with the shoe rack on the wall? And hey! If the cabin can have a kitchen sink, why not a toilet?

Attached at to the north end of the cabin is a storage/bunk room with neatly stacked chairs, another vintage stove (for heat?), shelving large enough for sleeping, and a picnic table with a north view. Katie was here. And Howie and Joel and Steve and Stan Payne...

According to leader Steve Orbeck, the scouts have not used the cabin for a couple of years because of health concerns related to the herons. Here again, the cabin contains an odd assortment of contradictions. There is some bird poop on the floor and the windows. But look at the completely unmolested roll of papertowels. Why hasn't some critter shredded it for bedding? Have the birds eaten all the rodents? The ceiling is mere plywood. But the floors are gorgeous dark hardwood. Who put hardwood floors in what seems otherwise to be a very simple and modest structure?


The mysteries continue outside. Consider this enormous stone fireplace chimney. Who built it? Isn't it a tad large for this cabin? Was there another structure here before? Is that why the stones stop at the roofline? Did there used to be a second story?

The exterior steps to the basement/crawlspace appear to be crumbling. Who built them and when? How do you haul cinderblocks and cement to this island?
A Swift County Plat Map from 1931 reveals that Lake Hassel Island, which lies in Section 9 of Benson Township, was owned by Dr. Charles L. Scofield (1865-1950), a prominent local physician. But there is no black rectangle indicating a structure. Why did he buy Lake Hassel Island? Did he build on the island in the last twenty years of his life? When did he turn the island over to the Boy Scouts? In his will? Is he responsible for the hardwood floors and the stone chimney?

Do these propane tanks appear to be in working order? How do you deliver propane to this island, anyway? In winter, by driving on the ice? The tanks look heavy enough to sink a boat, and I'm not sure you can use a pontoon on Hassel.

These appear to be cement steps down to the north beach. Does the north tip provide the best point of approach by boat?

Here's a shot of the cabin from the north beach (note the heron nests) plus a shot of the north beach itself.

I'll end with a quick shout out to Mother Nature. The fog and frost added significant beauty and mystery to this expidition (taken Jan. 6, 2013).

I'm Rebecca Webb and I can be reached via e-mail at