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Chippewa Valley Museum
PO Box 1204
Eau Claire, WI 54702-1204

1204 E. Half Moon Drive
Eau Claire, WI 54703
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Changing Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley

A Story from "Vacationland"

The spread of automobiles and the roads to carry them began to bring people into the woods of northwestern Wisconsin for rest and relaxation. The new cabin culture wasn't all R&R, however. Running a resort is hard work, as the following story about the Draganowski family attests.


Making a Living in Vacationland

Kasimir and Clara Draganowski made a bold move when in 1951 they packed up their apartment in Chicago and hauled five kids into the woods of northern Wisconsin. They had purchased a large private home—formerly the summer home for a police commissioner from Chicago—and dreamed of opening it as a small resort.

The family's first decade running the resort was incredibly difficult. During the move from Chicago to the woods of northern Wisconsin, one of the relatives helping the family threw a cigarette butt out the window. It landed in the trailer with their belongings and destroyed nearly everything. "We lost all our clothes," recalled Kas and Clara's daughter Joanne. "Everything burned." But, she explained laughing, "how much worse can it get? I mean you're out in the middle of nowhere, you have no clothes. . . ."

For the first eight years, Clara returned to Chicago each winter to waitress at a Stouffer’s restaurant. She sent money back north to support Kasimir and the children, who lived in the lodge through the frigid off-season.

Work at the restort was never-ending. "There was so much to be done," remembered Joanne. The building dated to 1928 and wasn't winterized. Its layout had to be changed from a summer home to a functioning resort business. The front porch became a bar. Kas remodeled the commissioner's former boathouse into a cabin. He cut an old barn in half, moved it to a better location, and turned it into another cabin. To get it all done, he would "get up early and start his work outside. Then he’d come in, and then he would have dinner. And then he’d go behind the bar and take care of the customers. That was his routine, every single day," recalled another daughter named Claudia.

Top: Clear Water Lodge from the air. Note the former boathouse and barn Kas had turned into cabins.
Above: The dining room and bar at Clear Water Lodge, 1950s or 1960s.

Clara Draganowski also worked nonstop. "Part of the way they survived was they turned the summer home into an inn, almost a bed and breakfast," recalled Joanne. "Food became a component of having people stay there." Clara almost singlehandedly fed three meals a day to all the guests and her family, eventually including a total of seven children. When hunters were there, she would be up at 4 o'clock in the morning preparing breakfast so they could get out by dawn.

Clara's parents were Italian immigrants. In Chicago, she had become an expert in the art of making pizza and pasta for her neighbors. The Draganowski resort—first called Clear Water Lodge Resort—was more than twenty miles from Hayward, the nearest town with a grocery store, so the food Clara cooked became as much an attraction as the woodsy, lakeside mystique. At first the dinner menu was just pizza, burgers, and fries, but other recipes like lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and chicken cacciatorewere were added as business picked up.

We often think of vacations in terms of escape—escaping work for recreation, escaping the city for a cabin in the woods, escaping your hometown for somewhere exotic or historic. But vacation destinations like the Draganowki's resort are also places that bring different people together in new ways. Though the Draganowski family struggled at first to make ends meet, they soon began to attract regular visitors: hunters from Green Bay, families from the Twin Cities and Eau Claire, and even a troupe of traveling dancers from Lake Nebagamon. Most of them came especially for Clara's pizza. These relationships and experiences are impossible to quantify, but they underlie the entire history of the developing northwoods tourist economy. Vacation destinations like resorts are also places of work. People like the Draganowskis have used the northwoods to earn a living for decades. The business they ran made their guests' leisure possible.

More than 60 years later, the original Draganowski resort remains in the family. In 1961, Kas and Clara bought space in Rice Lake and eventually expanded into a full-service Italian restaurant, which also remains in the family. Some Kasimir and Clara's other children started an Italian restaurant in Eau Claire in 1981, inspired of course by Clara's recipes. It too continues to serve Chippewa Valley residents. Together, these businesses demonstrate how much impact one couple, and one family, can have, helping to shape decades of our regional history.

A 1983 billboard for Drag's Restaurant and Roman Lounge, owned by one of Kas and Clara Draganowski's sons.

Changing Currents exhibit

Automobiles like this Ford Model A carried tourists north to the lakes and forests of the Upper Chippewa Valley in increasing numbers beginning in the 1920s.




Changing Currents exhibit

Kas and Clara Dragonowski at the bar of the Clear Water Lodge near Gordon, Wisconsin, 1959.









































Changing Currents exhibit

Visitors relax outside our re-created Clear Water Lodge in "Vacationland."

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