It is hard to believe that another beautiful season of steamboating has already passed into history. 2019 was the restored Minnehaha’s twenty-fourth year on Lake Minnetonka. Despite less-than-ideal weather on many weekends, ridership was good with about 8,000 passengers sailing aboard Minnehaha from late May to early October. This was only possible because of the persistent support received from the community and the dedication of our 70+ volunteers. The following is a recap of just some of the highlights from the past year.
Per usual, the first part of the year focused on Minnehaha’s winter maintenance. Every Saturday, a group of about ten volunteers met at “the barn” to work on various projects. Work this year included repairing the genset cooling system, replacing drains, repairing seats, and regular painting and wood repair. Thanks to the dedication of our winter maintenance crew, Minnehaha was ready to be launched by mid-May.
One of the most common questions that Minnehaha’s passengers like to ask is if there are plans to raise any of the other streetcar boats from the bottom of Lake Minnetonka. The simple answer is “no.” There are many reasons for this; aside from the logistical and economic obstacles that would have to be overcome, it is also illegal. According to the nonprofit Maritime Heritage Minnesota, shipwrecks at the bottom of any lake in Minnesota are subject to several laws at both the state and federal levels, including the Minnesota Field Archaeology Act (1963), the Minnesota Historic Sites Act (1965), and the Federal Abandoned Shipwrecks Act (1987), among others. These laws prevent shipwrecks from being looted or otherwise disturbed, let alone raised. They were enacted, in part, because submerged resources risk being damaged or destroyed if they are raised without proper care.
Many would be surprised to learn that Minnehaha was indeed raised illegally in 1980. So, how was it allowed to happen? The situation was rather complicated.
Have you ever heard the story about the Excelsior Amusement Park roller coaster being moved to Valleyfair? Or maybe you’ve heard that John Philip Sousa and his band played at Big Island Park. Lake Minnetonka’s history is grand, but some of the tidbits that you’ve likely heard are not true. This fall the MLM started an ongoing series of posts on the Steamboat Minnehaha Facebook page called #MythbusterMonday. The series’ popularity has exceeded all expectations, having reached more than 34,000 people thus far. In case you missed it, here are 10 myths about Lake Minnetonka history that we “busted” in 2019.
Myth #1:Minnehaha and her sister
streetcar boats regularly serviced Big Island Park between 1906 and 1911.
The truth:Minnehaha and the
streetcar boats rarely stopped at Big Island Park. In reality, the park
was primarily serviced by three side-wheeled ferries named Minneapolis
(pictured), Saint Paul, and Minnetonka. Each were originally 108
feet long (later extended to 139 feet) and could carry up to 1,000 passengers.
They were also double-ended so they didn’t have to turn around after each
crossing between Excelsior and the park.
Bonus truth: The three Big Island
ferries only sailed between Excelsior and Big Island Park. While the Saint
Paul and Minnetonka were scrapped sometime after Big Island Park
closed in 1911, the Minneapolis was purposely burned to the waterline
and sunk in 1912.
Earlier this year, the MLM received notice that Minnehaha will no longer be granted access to the privately-owned launch site at 600 West Lake Street, Shorewood after December 31, 2019. The launch site is only used twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, for the sole purpose of launching and hauling Minnehaha in and out of the water. Since this is a critical component of Minnehaha’s operation, a new launch site is needed.
Minnehaha is typically launched in the water in May and hauled out in October. While in the water, she is stored at a leased dock slip on Excelsior Bay (687 Excelsior Boulevard, Excelsior). The MLM is guaranteed to keep this slip through 2023.
During the winter months, Minnehaha needs to be stored indoors so that she can be properly preserved and rehabilitated. Minnehaha is currently stored in a large pole barn structure at 140 George Street, Excelsior. This structure is owned by the MLM but sits on land owned by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority.
With Lake Minnetonka currently frozen over, it is hard to believe that another beautiful season of steamboating has already come and gone. 2018 proved to be a strong year for Minnehaha as 10,500 passengers sailed aboard her between early June and mid-October. This would not have been possible without the persistent support received from the community and the dedication of our 75+ volunteers. The following is a recap of just some of the highlights from the past year.
May 5, 2018 was one of the latest ice-out dates ever recorded for Lake Minnetonka. This pushed back the start of Minnehaha’s season by a week, but the extra time was used to finish various winter maintenance projects. The annual meeting was held only a few days later on May 9. At the meeting, Jeff Schott was elected as the MLM’s new president. Mr. Schott replaces Jeff Lambert, who served as president since 2013.
On July 12, 2018, the Museum of Lake Minnetonka lost one of its dearest friends. Jim Ogland was an integral force during Minnehaha’s restoration and served as the restored vessel’s first captain during her lake trials in 1995. A dedicated Lake Minnetonka historian, he passed away peacefully at the age of 87. His full obituary can be viewed here.
MLM Vice President Jim Zimmerman spoke at Jim’s funeral. The following is a transcript of his speech.
“It’s a great personal honor to be able to speak at Jim Ogland’s celebration of life. And what a life we’re celebrating! His was an extraordinary life, exceptionally well lived.
“If you knew Jim well, you know he wore a lot of hats. You will hear a lot about his hats and roles, but I’m here to talk about this hat. It’s a captain’s hat from the steamboat Minnehaha, which was one of Jim’s passions. And he was the very first person to wear this hat.
This article originally appeared in the Wayzata Historical Society newsletter The Telegraph. It has been republished here with permission from the Wayzata Historical Society.
Like many other spots on Lake Minnetonka, the peninsula we know today as Bracketts Point has gone by many different names in its long history. Also known as Promontory Point, Starvation Point, Printers Point, and Orono Point, to name just a few, it was eventually named after its most well-known settler George A. Brackett and his wife Annie Hoit Brackett.
George and Annie Brackett first visited Lake Minnetonka on August 18, 1858 for a picnic and day of fishing and camping with friends. It wasn’t until 1880 that the Bracketts returned to Lake Minnetonka to purchase the peninsula between Browns Bay and Smiths Bay. Mr. and Mrs. Brackett gave it the name Orono Point and built a modest cottage at the site. The name Orono was important to George Brackett, as he had left his home of Orono, Maine to come to Minnesota in 1857. It wasn’t until 1930 that it was renamed Bracketts Point in his honor.
Another year of Minnehaha’s distinguished career has already passed. 2017 brought us a number of hardships, but we prevailed and ended the season successfully with a total ridership of 8,800 passengers. Fun times were had and much business was taken care of, and new friends were made while others are remembered. The following is a recap of just some of the past year’s major events.
The season started in an unfortunate way. While the sale of the former Bayview property was pending, access to Minnehaha’s home dock and utility lines was limited. This led to the cancelation of cruises during Memorial Day weekend. The issue was thankfully resolved after the new owners completed the purchase, and by early June Minnehaha was able to begin operating as scheduled.
2017 was the year that the MLM finally established a proper archive for its collection of photos, videos, documents, blueprints, and memorabilia. The idea to do this began many years ago, but it was daunting. Volunteer Kathy Newman started the effort by moving the archives to their current location in 2013. Finally, in 2015, an official Archives Committee was formed (members included Aaron Person, Sherry White, Helen Sears, Dave Peterson, Chris Wolf, and Juli Englander). Over the next year the Archives Committee met with and received tours from representatives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Hennepin History Museum, and other organizations to learn the proper basics of archiving.
By 2016 the committee had decided that it would be best to hire a professional consultant for the initial phase of the project. With the expertise of volunteer Helen Sears, the committee received a $9,157 legacy grant from the Minnesota Historical Society for labor and supplies expenses. The committee interviewed three candidates that October and ultimately hired Rachel Garrett Howell as the consulting archivist. Work could finally begin!
Leo Conrad Meloche was born in Escanaba, Michigan on December 17, 1931. After graduating from Washburn High School in Minneapolis in 1950, he went on to study at the University of Minnesota. He served in the United States Army for a time before embarking on a thirty-one-year career in sales at IBM Corporation.
During retirement in the 1980s, Leo eyed the hull of the streetcar steamboat Minnehaha sitting on shore near the edge of town in Excelsior. According to local lore, he and resident Bob Bolles looked at the hull after saving the former Blue Line Café ticket booth. It was then that they conspired to restore Minnehaha back to her original glory.
Leo helped form the Steamboat Division of the Minnesota Transportation Museum (the MLM’s predecessor) in 1990, which subsequently received title to Minnehaha’s hull. A barn near Excelsior public works was constructed later that year so that restoration could begin. After fifty-four years on the bottom of Lake Minnetonka and ten agonizing years on shore, Minnehaha was in rough shape. Nevertheless, the Minnehaha Restoration Project began. Leo would act as Director of the project.