Rutherford's Was the Place to Be
Imagaine going away for a weekend getaway at the trendiest resort between Chicago and Door County. You’re ready to wine, dine, and sit pool side. All packed and ready to go, your car arrives in Hika.
Believe it or not, during the 1950s, Hika was the place to be. The small village was home to the famous Rutherford’s Surf Motor Hotel and Resturant, a gathering place for locals and guests from all over the Midwest.
The Rutherford’s Surf Motor Hotel and Restaurant complex was operated by Bill and Jessie Ritchie Rutherford. Prior to constructing the Hotel and Resturant complex, the couple owned a dinner club - Rutherford’s Surf Club - in the former Centerville Amusement Center building. The Rutherford’s also owned the Town House (later named the Left End) in Manitowoc, which became the site of many submarine launching parties during World War II. While the War brought in good business for the Town House it hindered a dream of the Rutherford’s to expand the Surf Club until the war ended.
The main complex of the resort was constructed in 1948 and upon completion included two coctail lounges, three dining rooms, 2 suites, 14 double rooms, a swimming pool, as well as tennis and shuffle board courts. The dining menu included live lobster, flown into Milwaukee, which were kept in a tank in the restaurant’s lounge. Jessie Rutherford was in charge of the meal preperation, which was considered among the best in the area. Although efforts were made to appeal to the Milwaukee and Chicago elite, guests from all backgrounds stayed at the resort.
Camp Haven, located a few miles to the south in Sheboygan County, provided its own entertainment for the guests and staff of Rutherford’s. The camp, which operated from 1949 until 1959, served as an anti-aircraft testing range. Today, the Whistling Straits golf course is built on the site. The sound of the heavy guns could easily be heard throughout the resorts’ grounds and vibrations from the blasts kept staff on alert to keep the glassware and china from breaking.
On December 23, 1963 a fire destroyed the Rutherford resort complex. The headline in the Herald-Times read “$300,000 Fire Levels Rutherford Motor Hotel.” A bartender who lived near the resort alerted the four guests who were staying in the hotel at the time. The hotel was completely booked for New Years but thankfully only a few guests had decided to lodge there over Christmas. Bill Rutherford was in Milkwaukee at the time of the fire. The newspaper quoted him as saying he had insurance “but [the resort] could not be replaced for $300,000.” The complex was never rebuilt.
Looking at Hika today one would never know what an exciting place the village was and all the bustling activity that was once there.