Heartwood emerged out of humble beginnings in the early 1900s, when the Hoinville family purchased the property and erected their family home. Over the ensuing decades, the property got larger, as organizations like the Paradise Sportsman club from Chicago and the Northwest Suburban Council of the Boy Scouts exchanged ownership of the land and left their mark on its institutions.
The Hoinville Family, 1922–1955
After traveling to Washburn County, Wisconsin in 1922 by train, Chicagoans Charles and Julia Hoinville traveled 26 miles in an open sleigh in ten below zero cold to view 1,200 acres owned by the railroad. They purchased the property and named it Hoinville Hills.
Their three-story summer home, built in 1923, used logs from the property, which were hauled by a Model-T Ford truck. It was located on the same site as the Eagle Lodge Conference Center.
The remarkable lodge had beautiful woodwork, wooden ceiling beams, lots of windows, and a large fireplace made from stones picked from local fields. It had electricity, which came from a gas generator and banks of batteries on the home’s back side. Ice was cut from the lake in the winter for refrigeration and was stored in an ice house nearby. The year-round caretaker’s house also had indoor plumbing, running water, and electricity. Firewood was used for cooking and heating. A former resident said, “the wood cook stove made the best bread and fried chicken,” and said that during the Great Depression, they never went hungry. In January 1942, Julia Hoinville passed away. Mr. Hoinville later married a Mrs. Mary Symons. He retired from the railroad in January 1946 after 52 years of service. After he passed away in 1955, Mary Hoinville sold the land to the Paradise Sportsmen’s Club.
The Paradise Sportsmen’s Club, 1955–1960
The Sportsmen’s Club’s headquarters was in Chicago. It was rumored that they were a part of the mafia due to the armed guards at the entrance. This club built a garage, the long stable building near the caretaker’s house, and the five cabins on the west end of Hoinville Lake. They are still in use today. This club lost the property because they didn’t pay their taxes.
Camp Adventure, 1960–1962
Camp Adventure, Inc. bought the property in 1960. Mr. Chris Deecorp sold three sets of 99-year leases for two-week vacations at the cabins. When the lease holders discovered the multiple leases, they tried to sue Camp Adventure. They didn’t get their $500 back because Mr. Deecorp and his girlfriend fled to Mexico with all of the money.
Northwest Suburban Council of the Boy Scouts, 1962–1977
In autumn 1962, the Northwest Suburban Council of the Boy Scouts, from Des Plaines, Illinois, bought Hoinville Hills for back taxes (about $15,000). In the summer of 1963, a volunteer staff built the first part of the Namekagon Scout Reservation, with four campsites and a shower house on the west side of Hoinville Lake. The next summer, they opened for wilderness camping. All meals were prepared at the camp sites. In the summer of 1969, the swamp road on the north end of Hoinville Lake, leading to the cabins, was rebuilt by staff members. Hundreds of logs and tons of sand were put down to prevent the road from washing out. The screened porches on the five cabins were added in 1970. During 1971-72, logs were hauled in east of the present day maintenance shed and were sawed into lumber. The lumber was used to build a trading post, shower house, activity building, and outhouses on Pear Lake. The trading post sold Boy Scout patches, t-shirts, food, candy, mugs, and beverages. Today it serves as Heartwood’s maintenance shed. During the summer of 1974, close to 2,000 scouts attended the camp, but by the summer of 1976, the cost of gasoline to travel the 400 miles to the camp became an issue for the adult troop leaders. A sharp decline in attendance resulted. This forced the Boy Scout Council to close and sell the camp.
John Patrick Investments, 1977–1978
On December 29, 1977, the Boy Scout Council sold the property to John Patrick Investments, Inc., for $330,000. The 1,200 acres were listed as four parcels of land. In 1978, Patrick Investments sold the south part of the land to F. Richard Titus and Owen Smith. This is when the original 1,200 acres were divided. As a result, the present property is only about 700 acres.
The Briar Patch, 1978–1998
During the Titus ownership, the lodge basement was remodeled into a bar called the Briar Patch. In April, 1980, a 10,000-acre forest fire burned 100+ acres across the south end of the property, down by the Namekagon River. After the fire, Mr. Titus had the burn area bulldozed clean and wanted to turn it into a golf course. It is surmised that the Department of Natural Resources put a damper on this idea since fertilizer for the course would have run directly into the nationally-protected Namekagon River.
The Schwan Center, 1998–2005
Mr. Titus sold the property in 1998 to Bethany Lutheran College, Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Mankato, Minnesota. Grant funding was appropriated by the Marvin Schwan Foundation, so the property was named The Schwan Center. Bethany envisioned using the Center for educational purposes and embarked on a site improvement and building program. A retreat center and five duplexes were built first. Then, in 2000, the Eagle Lodge Conference Center and the hotel wings on either side were completed. The reinforced concrete decking was trucked in from Winnipeg, Canada. A huge crane lifted the sections off the truck and onto the foundation. The large wooden beams came from out West and the stones arrived in wooden crates from Indiana. Howard Ullom, a Trego masonry contractor, was hired to build the fireplaces and lower level walls in the conference center and hotels. Bethany’s board decided that running a retreat center was not a part of their core mission, so in 2005 they decided to sell. Having a strong desire to retain the property within the Lutheran community, they approached Thrivent Financial to see if there was an interest in acquisition.
Heartwood Conference Center & Retreat, 2005–present.
Heartwood was purchased by Thrivent Financial to carry out and complement the organization’s mission, demonstrating its core values in a unique and different way. Heartwood is an experience of togetherness, learning, celebration, and overall wellness for the benefit of the Christian community and others. While the vast majority of the buildings and landscaping have remained the same, Thrivent has made some capital improvements, including the purchase of the north end of the original property, adding signage and building the Welcome Center on Highway 77, as well as the completion of a new 20-room hotel unit, along with additional landscaping and promenade.
As Heartwood continues to grow and develop, it remains a perfect setting for corporate and church meetings and retreats, as well as family reunions, celebrations, weddings, personal vacations, and more.