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Anna G. Larson, Published July 06 2013

Splendid seclusion: $1.6 million Minnesota lake home surrounded by beauty

CALLAWAY, Minn. - The first time John Hamilton drove to the cedar home on Little Sugarbush Lake, he thought, “This is what Sherwood Forest was like.”

The drive to the 38-acre property is lined with sugar maple trees that form a rich green canopy along the gravel Blackberry Road. Once the car turns onto Hamilton Drive, the gated property comes into view.

The five-bedroom, four-bathroom, 6,344-square-foot lake home has an outdoor pool, tennis court, storage building, wine cellar, trapper’s cabin from the 1900s and 1,300 feet of lakeshore. The secluded property is up for sale, and its $1.59 million price tag includes a story.

The property, currently owned by John and Marian Hamilton, was originally built by Marsha Congdon, CEO of Pacific Northwest Bell, and her playwright husband. The couple were cross-country ski enthusiasts who visited the Maplelag Resort situated on the lake.

Congdon built the house after she saw a story in a home magazine about a sugar mill that was transformed into a residence in Vermont, Hamilton says.

Congdon wanted her lake home to look like the magazine home, and promptly called the editor and was invited to stay at the Vermont home. After her stay, she hired the editor’s architect to recreate the structure in Minnesota in 1983.

The Hamiltons, of Williston, N.D., are the second owners of the property, and they say it was difficult to decide to sell.

“We absolutely love it here. This was our passion; this was our dream,” John Hamilton says. “It’s so quiet and secluded.”

Although they never intended to move, the couple purchased a chateau-style home on another lake last year. The home’s commercial kitchen swayed them to leave their maple tree-lined property. Expanding the kitchen and adding a solarium was the next project on the couple’s plate for the Sugarbush home.

While it doesn’t have a commercial kitchen, exposed wooden beams, wood floors and fireplaces lend a quintessential cabin look to the cedar home. The home has two kitchens, and the second kitchen is especially useful for dinner parties, John Hamilton says.

The couple and their two children, now adults, tapped the maple trees one year and made their own syrup, using a turkey roaster to boil off the moisture. It’s one of the memories they’ll leave at Sugarbush Lake.

“I’ll miss everything, I love it here,” Marian Hamilton says. “Last weekend, some of our grandkids said goodbye to the fish. There have been many tears over leaving certain aspects. We put a lot of ourselves into that.”

Since they purchased the property 11 years ago, the Hamiltons have added on to the house and tweaked it to fit their family. John Hamilton is especially proud of his wine cellar, which he hopes the future owner will appreciate as much as he did.

Real estate agent Jack Chivers of Jack Chivers Realty in Detroit Lakes says the future owner will likely be a baby boomer anticipating retirement.

Chivers has worked in real estate since 1966, and in that time, he’s noticed a lot of people wait their whole lives to buy a lake property.

“Eighty percent of the people in North Dakota work all their life with the idea of retiring to the lake. Now they find out that they don’t have to wait,” Chivers says.

Chivers has lived on lakes his whole life and currently has a home on Big Detroit Lake.

Lake life, he says, has a major benefit.

“You live longer. It takes the stress out,” Chivers says. “I always say the best thing about Fargo-Moorhead is that it’s 42 miles to Detroit Lakes.”

If lake life is the life for you, Chivers has some tips for first-time lake home buyers.

• Buy location.

That’s the basic thing about real estate, Chivers says.

“When I started in the ’60s, there was an old gray- haired guy in the office in Minneapolis, and I asked him what do I need to know. He said, ‘Young man, there are three important things about real estate – location, location, location,” he says.

The old adage is especially true with lake real estate.

“You can tear down your cottage and build a new one, paint it a different color, add an addition, but you can’t change the lot,” Chivers says.

• Know your expectations.

Log cabin style? Modern? Secluded? Close to town? Chivers recommends making a checklist of what you (and your partner or family) want in a lake home.

• Expect to pay the price.

Lake homes are going to be three times as expensive as a house in town, Chivers says.

Lots drive the price and are increasing again. Lots typically start at around $200,000, he says.

Home stats

PRICE: $1.59 million


LOT SIZE: 38 acres






ALSO INCLUDES: Swimming pool, tennis court, wine cellar, storage building, central air conditioning, restored trapper’s cabin, fenced property, backup generator

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525