Category Archives: History

Wayzata’s New Landmark

Aaron Person, Captain

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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The Glidden Tour Of 1909

James Vair, Purser

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

Kathy Newman, Marketing

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 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. Continue reading

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

Minnehaha’s Connection To History (1/4)

George Kissinger, Secretary

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 Chester Alan Arthur and key members of his cabinet visited the hotel to celebrate the connection of the Saint Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway with Seattle and Puget Sound. Former President Ulysses S. Grant was also a visitor of the hotel.

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

By 1906, 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. Continue reading

Minnehaha’s Connection To History (2/4)

George Kissinger, Secretary

Why have streetcar service to Lake Minnetonka in the first place? To answer that question you need to go all the way back to the mid-1860s, when one had to ride a stage coach from Minneapolis to Minnetonka Mills to reach Lake Minnetonka. There, passengers would transfer onto a small steamboat that would take them further up Minnehaha Creek (which was actually navigable at the time) and out to the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

The Saint Paul & Pacific Railroad established rail service from Minneapolis to Wayzata in 1867. In 1881 the Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railroad reached Excelsior and Tonka Bay (the right-of-way of which exists today as a regional biking trail). In 1882 the Minneapolis, Lyndale & Minnetonka narrow gauge rail line (the “Motor Line”) was extended from Lake Harriet to Excelsior. This was originally a steam powered streetcar line that ran on Nicollet Avenue, but underwent several major expansions in response to population growth in the area. The Motor Line’s Excelsior division lasted until 1886, when the Great Northern Railroad purchased the right-of-way, laid standard gauge track, and ran a rail line around the south side of Lake Minnetonka out to Saint Bonifacious and points west. In 1887 the Milwaukee Road reached Deephaven and the Hotel Saint Louis. However, the Hotel Saint Louis closed by 1901, and service on those tracks subsequently ended.

At this point in time the Twin City Rapid Transit company (TCRT) and its streetcars entered the picture. TCRT bought and electrified the former Great Northern (ex-Motor Line) right-of-way to Excelsior in 1905. In 1907, it leased and electrified the Minneapolis & Saint Louis right-of-way, reaching to Excelsior, Tonka Bay and Wildhurst. TCRT also purchased and electrified the Milwaukee Road right-of-way serving Deephaven, thus completing the company’s position for doing business in the growing area west of Minneapolis. Continue reading

Minnehaha’s Connection To History (3/4)

George Kissinger, Secretary

Research recently turned up an MIT engineering study on White Bear, one of TCRT’s Lake Minnetonka “Express Boats” (and sister of Minnehaha). The 1910 engineering study was written and based on scientific observations made in July of 1909, when a “Service Trial” and “Progressive Speed Trials” of the “Steam Passenger Boat Whitebear [sic]” were conducted.

White Bear was virtually identical in overall design, dimensions, weight, and propulsion to Minnehaha. As a result, the detailed study of White Bear provides key insights and confirmation of how nearly exact the historic restoration of Minnehaha truly is. Several revealing 1909 photos of White Bear were also part of the thesis.

From the study, it is now known that Marine Iron Works of Chicago, Illinois built White Bear’s steam engine. The engine is described as a vertical, condensing, triple-expansion steam engine. Although Minnehaha’s original engine was removed before the vessel was scuttled in 1926, today’s engine is of the same type, size, and style as the engine described and pictured on board White Bear. Continue reading

Minnehaha’s Connection To History (4/4)

George Kissinger, Secretary

Twin City Rapid Transit (TCRT) was, if anything, innovative and cutting edge – from developing arguably the most expansive and modern urban street railway system in the United States to developing customer base with seemingly unrelated enterprises such as hotels and amusement parks. To do the later, a fleet of six fast Express Boats had to literally be invented and incorporated into an overall system. Minnehaha was one such Express Boat. (A seventh Express Boat, the Excelsior, was built and put into service in 1915.) Furthermore, multiple crews had to be hired and trained for an essentially 24/7 seasonal operating pace.

Even with all the necessary infrastructure put in place, TCRT had the additional insight not to ignore the human factor. The Express Boats’ schedules were coordinated to meet streetcars arriving and departing at Deephaven, Excelsior, and Wildhurst. These schedules were continually refined for efficiency, the changing needs of customers, and volume of fares.

With noted and somewhat complicated variations, there were essentially three separate time periods that defined the Express Boats’ operation on the lake. From 1906 through 1907, service was started up with all Express Boats initiating their routes from the docks in Excelsior. From 1908 to 1912, after some trial and error, the service was split in two with three boats operating exclusively on the Upper lake out of Wildhurst and three boats operating exclusively on the Lower lake out of Excelsior. In 1913 the Express Boats were given continuous routes serving, via a loop, all stops on both the Upper and Lower Lake. This period lasted through the end of all operation in 1926. At the peak of ridership (approximately 220,000 in 1921), there were twenty-seven separate stops on the loop route. Ridership then began to decline and dropped to around 68,000 by 1924. Continue reading