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The Wilds of Wisconsin

If I didn't know how difficult it is to make money in the hotel business, I'd try to persuade Dan and Beth Graf to sell me Seven Pines, a 1903 Adirondack-style fishing camp set above a spring-fed trout stream in thestand of towering evergreens for which the lodge is named. I'd ratchet up the luxury quotient, redo some rooms in high Ralph Lauren style, and market it to those who like to do a little fly-fishing on their weekends in the country.

For the moment, though, I'm content to let Dan and Beth live out their own dream here. The young couple took over the property last year, and they plan to gradually improve the place while retaining its charm.

And boy is Seven Pines charming. Built as a private retreat by a Minneapolis grain broker named Charles Lewis, the lodge has remained largely intact over the past 100 years. Miraculously, the main building still has its creaky split-log staircase, original Frank Lloyd Wright fireplace, wide-plank floors, stained-glass windows, and exposed log walls that show off the intricate wooden pegs and dovetail joints crafted by two Norwegians who came in to work each day on skis. Their skis—along with Stickley-style furniture, a stuffed bison head given to Lewis by Teddy Roosevelt, and loads of old snowshoes, fishing creels, ice skates, and picnic baskets—are among the original 19th- and early-20th-century American furnishings that give Seven Pines its authentic feel.

Of the 12 guest rooms scattered among several buildings, only the five in the main lodge, as well as the Gatehouse Cabin, really convey this connection to the past. They're the ones to get. Best is the President's Room(named in honor of Calvin Coolidge, who stayed here in 1928), which has antique Mission furniture, photographs of "Cal," a terrace overlooking the stream, and a great old claw-foot bathtub. (The Royal Coachman, which has its own screened porch, is a good second bet, as long as you're comfortable sharing a toilet across the hall.) This is not a luxury hotel: the sheets and towels are well used, the upholstery worn and linen curtains yellowed, and hot water can take a few minutes to arrive in the morning. I found it all very shabby chic, but some would call this close to roughing it.

Once you get into the ethos of Seven Pines, it's easy to succumb to its rhythms. Spend the early evening fly-fishing with the lodge's excellent guide, Dan Brown; then amble into the bar for a gin and tonic before a languorous dinner on the screened porch overlooking the water: Al Jolson is playing on the stereo, an oil lamp is burning at your table, and there's fresh rainbow trout to eat. New chef Jorge Rosario was still finding his footing on my visit, but the evening was so idyllic that I didn't care. Morning brings orange juice served in Mason jars, hot pancakes with thick slab bacon, and the soft light of the sun peeking through the trees. What a way to wake up.
Frederic; 715/653-2323; www.sevenpineslodge.com; doubles from $125.


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