2016 marked an important milestone in Minnehaha’s career and a significant achievement for the Museum of Lake Minnetonka as it was the twentieth anniversary of Minnehaha’s return to passenger service. We are very proud to say that, as of May 25, Minnehaha has now been in service longer in her second life than in her first. Furthermore, we are thrilled by the past year’s near-record ridership – approximately 11,500 – as it shows that, even after twenty years, Minnehaha and her story continue to inspire new interest and remain a beloved piece of the community. Thus, the legend continues! The following is merely a recap of the latest chapter in Minnehaha’s story.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the restored Minnehaha’s maiden voyage, the MLM hosted a party at Excelsior Brewing Company in May for volunteers old and new. It was a joyous evening with live music, good beer and food, and mingling between the earliest of early volunteers and newest of new recruits. On the morning of May 25 – exactly twenty years to the hour since the maiden voyage – a commemorative video entitled “Salvaged Memories” was published on the Steamboat Minnehaha Facebook page. This video was shared by 450 individuals and viewed nearly 30,000 times over the course of several days. To further commemorate this moment, a beautiful tribute by Meghan Davy was published in the Lakeshore Weekly newspaper.
Time has certainly escaped us as we can now say that it is the end of yet another year and yet another sailing season on Lake Minnetonka – and what a year it has been! 2015 saw higher-than-normal ridership on board Minnehaha, as well as some very special events, media coverage, and more. The following is a summary of just some of the happenings that have transpired over the past twelve months.
The Winter Maintenance Crew worked hard finishing up various projects before Minnehaha‘s launch in May. On top of the regular repairs and inspections that are made every year, two unique projects that took place were rebuilding Minnehaha‘s telescoping smoke stack and planing her bronze propeller. The smoke stack can now be raised and lowered more easily when needed, and the planed-out propeller (originally from the Express Boat Como) reduces stress on the steam engine and allows for a smoother ride.
Bold. That was the type of year 2014 was for the Museum of Lake Minnetonka. With an overhauled timetable, national press coverage, and another Captain at the helm, it was nothing short of this. Here we will reflect on this truly spectacular year.
New Passenger Experience
It began by asking the question “How can our passengers’ experience be more historical?” We realized at that point that the Museum had to reinvent itself – no longer could we simply provide a mere boat ride. Instead we would have to provide a fully historical, educational, and legendary experience. The first order of business was to overhaul Minnehaha‘s timetable with all new and unique cruises, each of which would cover a different part of the lake and highlight different stories from Lake Minnetonka’s past. Among these new cruises included Minnetonka’s Gold Coast, Legends of Big Island, and Victorian Gems, Cottage Treasures. An additional specialty cruise called The Grand Minnetonka Voyage was added as well. Departing only once a month, this two-and-a-half hour cruise would be by far the most inclusive experience the Museum had ever offered.
In last year’s newsletter we featured an article about one MLM volunteer’s experience aboard the RMS Segwun, the oldest operating steamship in North America, which caught the attention of one of Segwun‘s engineers, Bryan Dawes.
This past summer the MLM received an email from Bryan Dawes seeking the expertise of an engineer in Minnesota who could help fire a newly built steamboat named Arezoo, a replica of an Edwardian gentleman’s steam launch. Arezoo, which means Wish in Persian, began life in 1994 when IMAX co-founder Robert Kerr designed her. Kerr’s “relentless pursuit of perfection” is evident in every detail of the vessel’s impeccable craftsmanship – it appears more like a piece of art than a functioning boat. Sadly Kerr passed away before construction of the vessel was complete, though his daughters Nancy and Barbara went on to finish the project shortly after his death. By 2011 Arezoo was ready to set sail with initial boiler tests and sea trials conducted by Bryan Dawes on Lake Ontario.
Strolling through the woods of Shaver Park in Wayzata, visitors and local residents alike are bound to pass by a little log cabin that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere. If they read the plaque standing next to the structure, passersby might be shocked to discover that this unsuspecting shack is actually the oldest surviving structure in Wayzata and likely the oldest in the greater Lake Minnetonka area, possibly dating back to the 1850s. But it didn’t simply appear there spontaneously. Bolted to a boulder near the cabin’s entrance is another plaque that reads: “Through the dedication of Irene Stemmer this nineteenth century Trapper’s Cabin was saved in 2014.”
The “Trapper’s Cabin,” as it is called, was originally located east of town, just north of the railroad tracks off Bushaway Road, though the tracks probably didn’t even exist when the cabin was built. Although it is unknown who actually built the cabin, records show that Horace Norton was the original owner of the property it sat on. Norton purchased the land in 1855 from the federal government under the Act of Preemption. However, this does not necessarily mean that Norton built the cabin – property owners of the time often bought land without actually visiting it, and it was common for squatters to build small, primitive shacks on the land without any official record. One theory, although purely based upon lore, suggests that the cabin was built by a Black logger who was sent out from Saint Paul to clear the land. Another theory suggests that it was built by an early trapper, which is why the structure has been referred to as the “Trapper’s Cabin” since the early 1900s. One thing that is certain, however, is that the cabin was constructed out of timber from nearby tamarack swamps, almost all of which were depleted early on for use as railroad ties and other construction. Tests conducted by the Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota have confirmed this hypothesis.
We kicked off the 2013 Season with the Grand Opening of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce‘s new Welcome Center at 37 Water Street, where we now have an office to act as a “home base” for our merchandise and archives. It was a lovely evening to get acquainted with the recently renovated facility, take crazy pictures with friends both old and new, and enjoy fine refreshments amid jazz in the background. The Welcome Center is currently open from 9 to 5 every week, Monday through Friday – stop by if you haven’t yet had the chance!
Art On The Lake & Wayzata Art Experience
Two annual Lake Minnetonka traditions held at the end of June are Excelsior’s Art On The Lake and the Wayzata Art Experience. Art On the Lake has become a staple in our “Special Events” schedule over the years with half-priced cruises departing the dock every hour. But 2013 was the first year that we had ever participated in the Wayzata Art Experience, a similar festival held at the other end of the lake. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate for either event as rain dampened the festivities in Excelsior and severe storms destroyed the Wayzata Art Experience. Despite all odds, however, Minnehaha steamed on and ran every cruise as planned. We even had local author and architectural historian Bette Jones Hammel narrate a special “Architectural Design” cruise out of Wayzata which showcased dozens of historic homes along Lake Minnetonka’s shoreline.
Segwun, in Algonquin, means springtime. Thus, the first sounding of the RMS Segwun’s steam whistle marks the arrival of spring on Lake Muskoka. Muskoka, approximately ninety minutes north of Toronto, is a glimmering network of channels and bays hidden within the forests of Ontario. It is much like Lake Minnetonka in this regard. Muskoka is also a mecca among antique and classic boat enthusiasts with annual shows and rendezvouses being among the region’s biggest summer highlights. Crowning above all other historic craft, however, is perhaps the most well-known icon of the Muskoka region: the RMS Segwun – a gleaming white passenger steamship approximately 125 feet long, three decks tall, with a red and black funnel atop her superstructure. She cuts through the water ever so gracefully, blowing her signature steam whistle for onlookers waving from shore, just as she has done for over 120 years.
Built as the side-wheeler Nipissing in 1887, the ship now known as Segwun was put into service as a packet boat that would bring people and goods to and from a number of landings all around the lake, making stops at resorts and private docks along the way – a service which essentially mirrored that of Minnehaha‘s. All connections to civilization were tied in the communities of Bracebridge and Gravenhurst, where summer tourists and lake residents alike would arrive by train from Toronto, Montreal, New York, Detroit, and beyond.
Glancing at their cars you would never believe that just a few days before they had been brand new. Or had ever been clean. What had once been gleaming paint with intricate Edwardian-era detail and miles of freshly polished chrome was now obscured beneath layers of mud. Tall, smooth fenders had given way to countless dents and dings from rocks and other flying debris. Their thin tires and ornate wooden wheels had started the tour well, but were soon useless on the country roads, taking a toll from the mud and deep wagon ruts. The drivers matched their automobiles in this regard. With their cars’ open air designs they had been exposed to the elements and were caked in dust. Luckily their goggles were still holding up – but they still had another two weeks to go!
Who were these intrepid drivers? They were the members of the 1909 AAA Automotive Reliability Tour, or, as it is more commonly remembered, the Sixth Annual Glidden Tour. A test of vehicle endurance, performance, and driver stamina, the tour contestants had started their journey back in Detroit on a sunny July morning. Their destination was Kansas City, with the tour’s route specifically designed to prove to skeptical American buyers that automobiles were indeed a viable form of cross-country transportation.
Kermit Stake’s love for the steamboat Minnehaha, Lake Minnetonka, and boats in general was no secret. Along with his wife, Audre, they volunteered many an hour toward Minnehaha’s restoration and its subsequent lake travels. Audre’s grandfather was Royal C. Moore, the designer and builder of the original streetcar boats, and although Moore died five years before she was born, the love of boats had become a family legacy ever since.
Kerm was born at home in Minneapolis on April 19, 1926 to Swedish immigrant Henrik Stake and his Swedish-American wife, Mildred Mark. He arrived prematurely, so his father rushed him to the hospital. He weighed only four pounds and was not expected to survive, but the nurses kept him warm in the hospital’s kitchen oven and named him “Arby” for “Our Baby.”
He grew up in South Minneapolis at 40th Street and 40th Avenue, not far from Minnehaha Falls. He attended Longfellow Elementary School and graduated from Roosevelt High. He spent his childhood summers in northern Wisconsin with his mother’s family, who were involved in the logging and sawmill industry. He and his friends took the streetcar all over the metro area to go fishing and to attend knothole games of the Minneapolis Miller baseball team. During high school he tried to enlist in the Army Air Corp, but they wouldn’t welcome him until he turned eighteen in 1944. So, he started flight school and was sent to field artillery, where they discovered that he was color blind. He then became a communication specialist in the First Army in the French Alps, but mustered out in 1946 to attend the University of Minnesota for a time.
From avid accumulators to their casual counterparts, the process of amassing items with a shared theme is a near universal experience. It’s an activity that can transcend generations and all types of interests and backgrounds. Since virtually everything has the potential to be collected, the sky truly is the limit. Some items like stamps, currency, comics, and stuffed animals will forever be synonymous as popular collector’s items. Regardless of the size and shape of a collector’s prized possessions, however, there is always a story behind what motivated him to begin collecting.
Donimik Sasim of Warsaw, Poland is by no means an exception. For more than five years, Sasim has been accumulating museum pins and badges from across the globe. The Museum of Lake Minnetonka first heard his story last summer, when he requested that we send a little piece of the lake to him. According to his most recent count, Sasim’s collection has approached nearly 1,500 unique pieces, nearly half of them being from outside of Poland.
Like many things, Sasim’s current collection began while working on a previous project.
“My hobby began with the collection of post stamps together with my father,” Sasim explains in an interview with Concord’s Point Lighthouse in Maryland (to which he had also requested a pin). “Later I switched to badges and label pins from various museums.” A museum’s location or specialty doesn’t deter Sasim. “My collection expands mainly thanks to exchanges with other collectors as well as via internet auctions. My friends and colleagues also remember my hobby and often bring these small souvenirs for me from their domestic or international voyages. Additionally, I often visit museums myself in search of new gadgets for my collection.”