Category Archives: Newsletter

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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2013: Year In Review

37 Water Street

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.

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Connections Abroad: RMS Segwun & The Muskoka Steamships

Aaron Person, Captain

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. Continue reading

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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Remembering Kermit Stake

Lori Cherland-McCune, Step-daughter

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.

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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

An Engineer’s Day Aboard The Steamboat Minnehaha

Fred Fey, Engineer

An Engineer’s day aboard the steamboat Minnehaha begins about an hour before the rest of the crew even shows up. After checking the condition of the engine, boiler, and bilges, he reads the log book for any problems from the last run. Then he starts following a checklist. The first thing on the list is to position various valves necessary for operation and to start the diesel generator which supplies electricity. He then checks fuel and water levels and makes notations on the log sheet. After making sure the boiler water is at the right level, he switches the boiler to the low fire position to warm the system up. The boiler is a Cleaver-Brooks oil-fired package boiler that provides the engine with 180 pounds of steam. While the boiler is coming up to operating pressure, he will add makeup water to storage tanks and begin oiling the engine.

When the boiler pressure reaches about 90 PSI, a boiler water sample is analyzed and, if necessary, chemicals are added to protect against corrosion and deposits which could affect heat transfer. When pressure reaches about 150 PSI, it is time to begin warming the engine. The boiler’s steam isolation valves are opened and steam is allowed to flow into the engine. The engine is in neutral at this point and steam condenses as it warms the cold engine. The engine’s cylinder drains are then opened to allow the condensate to drain to the condenser. The engine is a “triple-expansion condensing steam engine,” which means the steam expands as it travels from a high pressure piston to an intermediate piston, and then to a low pressure piston. Each piston is larger than the one before it. The exhaust steam is then directed from the third cylinder to a condenser. The condenser contains tubes which are cooled by lake water to condense the spent steam, which is then pumped back to the boiler to be reheated to 180 PSI. Continue reading

Connections Abroad: Donimik Sasim Of Warsaw, Poland

James Vair, Purser

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.” 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