Category Archives: History

How Was Minnehaha Allowed To Be Raised?

By Aaron Person

Minnehaha
Minnehaha as she appeared on August 30, 1980

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.

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10 Myths About Lake Minnetonka History

By Aaron Person

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.


Big Island Park steam ferry Minneapolis

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.

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South a ways: Bracketts Point and the Rise and Fall of the Pillsbury Estate

By Aaron Person and Joanie Holst

Photo courtesy of Wayzata Historical Society

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.

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Archives Update

By Aaron Person

Archives

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!

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Wayzata’s New Landmark

By Aaron Person

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.

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Connections Abroad: RMS Segwun & The Muskoka Steamships

By Aaron Person

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.

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The Glidden Tour Of 1909

By James Vair

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.

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Orville S. McCormick, Steamboat Engineer

By Kathy Newman

Orville McCormick was Minnehaha’s first Engineer. He tended to the fire in her firebox, monitored the water level in her boiler, and oiled her engine from her first run in 1906 until her final run in 1926. The working conditions were cramped, hot, and dirty. The workday was long and demanding. As a third-generation steamboat engineer, Orville was the perfect person for the job. Orville’s father, Lewis Cass McCormick, and his step-grandfather, Silas T. Johnson, both owned and operated steamboats on Lake Minnetonka. Silas T. Johnson offered excursions aboard the Hebe while Lewis offered excursions aboard the Virgie. Both men had extensive experience as steamboat engineers on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers prior to moving to Excelsior, Minnesota sometime between 1882 and 1886. Orville may have started helping out at Dunlap’s Pavilion as a youngster and eventually served as an apprentice engineer, or striker, at the side of either of these two men.

For twenty years Orville would carry out his engineer duties as Minnehaha followed her daily route. Assigned to the Lower Lake, Minnehaha‘s original route took her from Excelsior, to Wayzata, and back. Both Elite and Working-Class people depended upon Minnehaha to get to their respective jobs – the Working-Class to their jobs at the lake’s summer homes and resorts, the affluent to their jobs in the Twin Cities. Interestingly, employers would often board just as employees were getting off. Orville would meet his future bride, Minnie Ljungdahl, as a result of this social dynamic.

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Silas T. Johnson, Steamboat Captain

America Spoors Martin and Silas T. Johnson

Silas T. Johnson was born October 9, 1835 in Washington County, Maine. He and America Spoors Martin (Katherine Martin’s mother) were married in Shawneetown, Illinois on March 5, 1882. This was America’s third marriage and Silas’s second.

Lewis Cass McCormick, Steamboat Captain

Lewis Cass McCormick was born March 17, 1856 to William Thomas McCormick and Susan B. Paxton in Rochester, Missouri. On February 27, 1877, Lewis McCormick and Katherine May Martin were married in Shawneetown, Illinois. Katherine was only sixteen years old. Her mother, America Spoors, gave her consent for the marriage.

Lewis and Katherine would have seven children – three boys and four girls:

  • Willie McCormick, born November 23, 1877 in Shawnetown, Illinois
  • Gertrude McCormick, born July 11, 1879 in Shawnetown, Illinois
  • Bessie McCormick, born November 24, 1882 in Alma, Wisconsin
  • Orville McCormick, born July 28, 1886 in Excelsior, Minnesota
  • Estelle, born January 2, 1890 in Excelsior, Minnesota
  • Addison, born June 27, 1892 in Excelsior, Minnesota