At the turn of the 20th century, Lake Minnetonka was a destination for vacationers from across the United States. They came to escape the summer heat at dozens of grand lakeside hotels, where even the hottest days were made bearable by lake breezes and swimming.
Steamboat trolleys came on the scene in 1906 to ferry people to towns around the lake and out to the legendary (and now lost) amusement park on Big Island. Just 20 years later, in a prelude to shortsighted times to come, the boats were deemed “unnecessary” and sunk to the bottom of the lake. In 1980, one of those boats—the Minnehaha—was recovered and restored, making its next voyage in 1996.
Today the Minnehaha runs on the weekends between the towns of Excelsior and Wayzata. We took a ride this summer, meeting the boat at the Excelsior pier. The quality of the restoration is incredible. Everything from the brass interior machinery to the wicker bench seats is top notch and the whole excursion was a lot of fun.
The story of the Minnehaha is bittersweet—how does something so practical come to have the novelty and worth of a ride at the fair? That made me a little sad. On the other hand, Excelsior can proudly claim that it is the only town on Lake Minnetonka that has managed to hold onto any character after the last decades of suburban renewal. Its beach, lakeside park, bandshell, small movie theater, and restaurants—all were filled with locals and visitors enjoying themselves in a manner that must echo the spirit of the lake’s historic past.
More info at: Steamboat Minnehaha
Vintage photos courtesy of Steamboat Minnehaha
All other photos by Rebecca and Anthony for the Field Office