Minnehaha’s Connection To History (1/4)

By George Kissinger

When the Express “Streetcar” Boats first began operation on Lake Minnetonka in May of 1906, the Twin City Rapid Transit dock facilities in Excelsior were not yet completed. As a result, Minnehaha and the other TCRT boats operated out of dockage at Minnetonka Beach on Lafayette Bay, just west of an area known as Arcola.

Minnetonka Beach had once been known as the location of the famed Hotel Lafayette, the largest hotel ever to have existed on Lake Minnetonka. The Hotel Lafayette had hosted many prominent guests during its life. On one occasion in 1883, President Arthur and former President Grant visited the hotel to celebrate the connection of the Northern Pacific Railway with Seattle and Puget Sound.

Hotel Lafayette, built by the Saint Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway

By the turn of the century, however, the Hotel Lafayette was only a memory, it having been destroyed by a fire in 1897. The hotel regularly closed for the winter months, and the fire occurred shortly after the fall closing of its fifteenth season. Staff and guests had already gone home and there was no one present to fight the blaze. By the time flames were detected, it was too late, and the huge wooden structure was completely destroyed.

The original Lafayette Club circa 1906

The site was eventually replaced by the Lafayette Club, which originally opened in 1900. Like the Hotel Lafayette, the clubhouse at the Lafayette Club also suffered a fiery fate and burned to the ground in 1922. It was replaced by the current clubhouse in 1924. The new clubhouse was built on the same site as its predecessor and therefore on the same site as the original hotel, but was oriented toward Crystal Bay instead of Lafayette Bay.

The “new” Lafayette Club circa 1925

Among the club’s famous visitors was President Taft, who stopped in Minnetonka Beach while touring the Twin Cities in September 1909. The visit prompted Taft and a number of prominent locals to promote the idea of a “Summer White House” on Lake Minnetonka in 1911, but the idea never came to fruition. Although his time at Lake Minnetonka was brief, one cannot help but wonder if President Taft ever took notice of one of the eye-catching streetcar boats steaming across its waters.

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