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Finding Minnesota: Detroit Lake Resort's Unique Collections

CALLAWAY, Minn. (WCCO) -- Hotel chains provide a lot of options for those vacationing in Minnesota, but many people prefer the Northwoods-style lodges with unique local features.

Maplelag, for example, is a popular resort for cross country skiers near Detroit Lakes.

Its two-story lodge not only offers warm meals and a place for skiers to relax, it's also a showcase for hundreds of vintage signs.

One of Maplelag's owners, Jim Richards, 74, has been a collector since he was a child, and his hobby has taken him around the world.

"This is from Buenos Aires in Argentina," he said, pointing to a school sign mounted on the wall.

Richards likes signs that tell stories and evoke memories, signs of summertime fun and friendly places. Most come from an era when signs were hand-painted by artists.

"To make the cut here, they've got to be very unique," he said.

His signs now hang throughout the lodge, arranged in various themes such as park signs, traffic signs and resort signs.

"We've got so many different rooms," he said. "We've got 13 rooms downstairs alone."

Richards collects more than signs. He has a vintage lunch box collection on the main floor, numbering in the hundreds.

He collects hand-made snowshoes and skis.

And throughout the lodge are stained glass windows from Holland.

He described them as "very art deco-ish, very geometric, quite different than the American stained glass."

On top of all that are hundreds of railroad depot signs from the upper Midwest and Canada.

"Some could be from the 20s," he said, "some from the teens, turn of the century even."

It may be the largest regional collection of depot signs in the country.

"I'm a collector," Richards said. "I make no bones about it. I enjoy the search. I enjoy the quest."

He pays anywhere from $50-250 for his signs.

"I've been collecting for 60 years," he said, "so I've developed a network of people that call me. They find 10 skis, they find 10 lunch boxes, so I have first shot at it."

They're pieces that may have reached the end of their usefulness in some people's minds, but not in his.

"It's saving a part of history, and here's a place for people to come and enjoy it," he said.

Richards said he hasn't kept track of how many signs he owns, but it's probably between 500 and 600.

And there's still plenty of wall space that hasn't been covered at the lodge, so his quest continues.

If you have a Finding Minnesota idea, let us know here.

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