Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
By the Waters of Minnetonka

By the Waters of Minnetonka

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    By the Waters of Minnetonka
    Book Description:

    Lake Minnetonka is renowned for its natural beauty as well as the prominent people it has attracted to its shores as a historic site of grand hotels, steamboats, and wealthy visitors from around the world, and as the home of the legendary Excelsior Amusement Park. But did you know that early European settlers to the region faced conditions so dire that they named an outlet of the lake "Purgatory Creek"? Or that a ginseng boom brought slaves to Wayzata to harvest the plant's roots? Many know that Frank Lloyd Wright designed famous homes around the lake, but few are aware he was also arrested there for living with his mistress and sent to the Hennepin County jail for "white slavery."

    By the Waters of Minnetonkauncovers remarkable and hidden facts about the lake and those who have lived on its shores, from the region's original Dakota inhabitants to the present. Nineteenth-century plantation owners made Minnetonka into a summer vacation playground for the wealthy, and Prohibition-era battles led teetotalers to hoax Minneapolis newspapers about bloody clashes between preachers and saloon owners.

    Eric Dregni, who grew up in Minnetonka, sheds light on intriguing, if at times unsettling, aspects of the lake's history, challenging myths and revisiting elements of the past that have been forgotten or glossed over. He also relates-and sometimes pokes fun at-the opulent, glamorous, and sometimes raucous moments that have made Lake Minnetonka an icon of splendid resort living in Minnesota.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4247-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. [Illustration]
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. 1 “Big Water”
    (pp. 1-32)

    The popular history of early Lake Minnetonka is loaded with embellishment. The stories of the Native Americans of the area have been “recorded” by the white settlers—history is written by the victors. The City of Minnetonka Web site states that the first settlement was established in 1852 and makes no reference to earlier “settlements” by the Dakota in the area. Many sources declare that in 1822 the lake was “discovered,” a troubling word, considering that people already lived there.

    In fact, even early European visitors to the lake noticed lots of conical mounds on high points around the shore...

  6. 2 The Settlers Settle
    (pp. 33-66)

    Some of the early settlers around the lake fancied themselves as Robinson Crusoes in the wilds of Indian territory before it was officially U.S. land. The trapper Hezekiah Hotchkiss wrote in 1852 about a trip with an Indian friend: “[We] were canoeing along the southeast shore when we caught sight of a man stepping off land and stopping to drive stakes now and then.” His time in the wild away from white society was coming to an end.

    James M. Goodhue, editor of theMinnesota Pioneer(later thePioneer Press), wrote to readers that same year, “The treatieswill be...

  7. 3 Harvesting the Lake
    (pp. 67-96)

    Traveling toward Lake Minnetonka from Minneapolis along Minnetonka Boulevard brings visitors past the historic Burwell House, built in 1883 by milling money earned from one of the earliest settlements of the area. The small but majestic Italianate house shows that the first permanent white settlers in the area had visions of turning the area into a European-style haven.

    To most Minnesotans, Minnetonka may evoke leisurely cruises over the crystal waves, but in the nineteenth century the name was synonymous with the finest flour in the Midwest. Initially a sawmill took advantage of the gushing Minnehaha Creek at Minnetonka Mills, which...

  8. 4 Hotels and High Rollers
    (pp. 97-130)

    After the Civil War, southerners invaded Lake Minnetonka. Well-to-do ex-Confederates took the trains to the lake to lounge on the extended porches of the Hotel St. Louis (named so the Missourians would feel right at home), the Lake Park Hotel, and the Hotel Lafayette.

    Lake Park Hotel, later called the Tonka Bay Hotel, was built in 1879 and had giant balconies and tall ceilings so guests could breathe in the breeze. The building was five stories high, all with verandas that wrapped around the hotel and were wide enough “for promenading.” According to Minnetonka Story, “On those verandas they would...

  9. 5 Enter the Trolleys
    (pp. 131-150)

    Once Thomas Lowry set up streetcar lines from White Bear Lake to Excelsior in 1905, my grandparents and others like them could shake off cramped city living to summer on the sunny shores of Lake Minnetonka. Elegant hotels encircled by open-air porches housed the wealthy—at least until the railroads stretched to the national parks in Wyoming and Montana. Then the wealthy tourists moved on. Just as James J. Hill’s railway brought his guests right to the doorstep of the Hotel Lafayette, Thomas Lowry’s streetcars conveniently deposited tourists in front of his Tonka Bay Hotel in 1907. Visitors could also...

  10. 6 Hitting the Water
    (pp. 151-176)

    In 1854, William Lithgow earned the dubious distinction of being the first white man known to have drowned in Lake Minnetonka, when a thunderstorm whipped up and shipwrecked his sloop. But the most tragic story of a boat turned turtle happened off Starvation Point (now often called Brackett or Orono Point) on October 19, 1859. The family of Martin B. Stone had arrived in Minnetonka Mills and loaded all their household belongings, including a cast-iron kitchen stove, on a double-masted sailboat, theWhite Swan, to sail across the lake to settle. Loading at the Mills took the entire day, and...

  11. 7 Work Hard, Play Harder
    (pp. 177-192)

    Poets, artists, and musicians have always romanticized Lake Minnetonka. Longfellow waxed poetic about Minnehaha Falls in 1855 inThe Song of Hiawatha, but he never visited Minnesota. In the same vein, Charles Wakefield Cadman wrote the song “From the Land of the Sky-Blue Waters” in 1909 (later adopted as the Hamm’s Beer jingle), including Indian tom-toms to complete the atmosphere. The most famous song about the lake had to be Thurlow Lieurance’s “By the Waters of Minnetonka: An Indian Love Song,” heard on every jukebox in the country in 1926:

    Moon Deer, how near

    your soul divine

    Sun Deer, No...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 193-194)

    What will the future bring for Lake Minnetonka? I keep coming back to the lake and discovering new stories and new innovation as the area reinvents itself.

    My grandparents long ago, in the 1940s, gave up their Seton Lake cottage near the main lake and built a little cabin on the remote Whitefish chain of lakes north of Brainerd. Lake Minnetonka has been built up with million-dollar mansions, and the same cycle is occurring around northern lakes. Some of the railroad overpasses I used for bridge jumping when I was young have been torn down, and James J. Hill’s railway...

  13. For Further Reading
    (pp. 195-198)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)