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.

The original Lafayette Club, 1906

The site was eventually replaced by the Lafayette Club, which opened in 1906 – the same year the Express Boats began operating on the lake. One of the boats’ regular stops was the former Lafayette Landing in Minnetonka Beach. 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 oriented toward Crystal Bay instead of Lafayette Bay.

The ‘new’ Lafayette Club circa 1925

In 1911 President William Howard Taft visited the Lafayette Club and returned for several consecutive summers, making it his “Summer White House.” One cannot help but wonder if President Taft ever took notice or rode on one of the eye-catching streetcar boats. Today the restored Minnehaha makes one of her regular afternoon excursions up to Lafayette Bay to relive the route which he and many others may have taken.

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