Hotel Del Otero on Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka’s glory days began after the Great Northern Railway extended their line into Spring Park around 1882. More than fifteen trains per day pulled into Spring Park bringing hundreds of tourists to the area. In 1885, James J. Hill began construction on the Hotel Del Otero. Visitors either arrived by steamer to the hotel’s dock, or by train. The railway depot was located just a few yards northwest of the hotel.

Hotel Del Otero was a sprawling three story structure situated on a large knoll. It boasted a large ballroom, screened promenade, and well appointed sleeping rooms. For recreation, the hotel provided sailboats, lawn bowling, croquet, private beaches, a casino, and a dancing pavilion with live music. In 1906, James J. Hill sold the hotel to George F. Hopkins and Company. Hopkins maintained the hotel, the dance pavilion, a ball park, and picnic grounds until 1918 when Adam King became the proprietor.

Hotel Del Otero burned down on July 4, 1945. The fire-scorched shell of the hotel stood as a reminder of Lake Minnetonka’s heyday well into the 1960s. Today, the Mist Apartments on Shoreline Drive occupy the site of the hotel. Just to the east were the hotel’s rental cottages, and the casino was located where the Hennepin County Water Patrol headquarters are located today. The railroad tracks were removed and turned into the Dakota Rail Trail for recreational use. 

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Memorial Day 1919 in New Prague

New Prague’s Memorial Day celebration in 1919. The World War I veterans, band, Red Cross nurses, city residents, and a military band (along with a young man dancing on the storage building in the center of the photo!) gathered to honor servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Just a reminder that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

Photo courtesy of the New Prague Area Historical Society.

St. Patrick’s Day parade in St. Paul

More than 300 people were on hand for the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in St. Paul in 1851. For several years the parades were led by the Irish Catholic Temperance Society, and in 1856 the Benevolent Society of Erin hosted a dinner complete with toasts of cold water instead of liquor. After the Civil War, the festivities began to get rowdy and lasted much of the day and well into the night. By the turn of the century, Archbishop John Ireland had enough of the indulgent celebrations that had turned into what he called “midnight orgies”, and put a stop to the parade and celebrations.

It wasn’t until 1967 that another St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in St. Paul. Planning for the parade took place in just two months, but many traditions we see today came from that first parade, such as the swath of emerald paint down the center of the parade route. The tradition of crowning Ms. Shamrock began with that first parade too–Agnes Sullivan was the lucky lady. The parade started at noon and left from Hilton (now the Radisson) and proceeded down Kellogg Blvd. to the St. Paul Hotel; the entire parade lasted only 40 minutes.

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Waverly’s Moderne Village Hall

The original village hall in Waverly was built in 1893. The two-story, brick and stone building sat on the corner of Third Street and Elm Avenue. Built in the Romanesque style, the town hall featured a large corner tower that looked out over the small village. It was the home to the city’s government offices, fire department, and jail. The upper floor of the building was used for social activities such as dances and school performances. In the summer of 1938 the interior of the building was destroyed by fire. The Great Depression left the city’s coffers low and the community without much hope of rebuilding the hall. 

City officials in Waverly decided their only hope was to request funds from the federal government. They decided to submit a proposal to the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. The WPA constructed a wide variety of municipal facilities based on the needs of particular communities. The projects ranged from small buildings such as a rural fire department garage to large-scale projects like auditoriums and libraries. These projects were especially significant because they often provided meaningful improvements in rural or struggling communities. Without the assistance of the New Deal programs, these projects would never have been possible in communities like Waverly.

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Oliver “Tuddy” Kaldahl

Spectators flocked to this 1942 ski jumping tournament in Glenwood, MN. Glenwood became a popular place to hold tournaments because it was the home town of Oliver “Tuddy” Kaldahl. Tuddy was the 1916 junior ski jump champion at the first National Ski Championship held in Glenwood, Minnesota. He set the American record for four years straight. In 1921, Tuddy won the Canadian National Class A crown. He went onto compete and win numerous events throughout his skiing career and became a highly celebrated ski jumper throughout the world.

Van Cleve Park

Ice skating at Van Cleve Park in Minneapolis in 1901. This 1.5 acre pond was created in the southern half of the park in 1890. That winter, and for several years after, the park board cleared the snow from the pond so it could serve as a skating rink in the winter. A warming house was added for skaters in 1905.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Indian Mounds Park Toboggan Slide

Toboggan slide at Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul. When these photos were taken in 1939, the park covered 135 acres and included this slide, a warming house, refectory house, two tennis courts, and six horseshoe courts.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Spruce Creek CCC Camp

Superintendents at the Spruce Creek Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Lutsen in the mid-1930s.

Workers at the Spruce Creek CCC camp were responsible for building the many of the trails in the Cascade River State Park. Other projects included a highway concourse and the Cascade River overlook. The Spruce Creek CCC camp operated from July 24, 1934 until October 1936.

Photo courtesy of the Cook County Historical Society.

Wilder Public Baths

It’s hard to imagine a time when taking a bath or shower in your own home wasn’t possible, but the convenience of showering on a regular basis is a modern luxury. One hundred years ago, a great deal of working-class homes in St. Paul lacked bathing facilities. People living in rooming houses and along the Mississippi flats didn’t even have running water. Public beaches were a popular way to wash away the dirt and sweat from hard work, but they were only available in the summer. Recognizing the public need for a year-round facility for people to clean themselves, the Amherst H. Wilder Charities established a facility where anyone could have a “shower bath” — no matter the weather.

Cornelia Day Wilder was the only child of Amherst and Fanny Wilder. She grew up on St. Paul’s swish Summit Avenue, just two houses down from the James J. Hill house. As a child, Cornelia recognized her privileged position in St. Paul and decided to use it to help the poor. Throughout her life, she volunteered her time and money to help the less fortunate. Through her stories from the front lines of helping the poor, Amherst and Fanny recognized the need to provide funds to benefit people in need.

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Minnesota’s Northwest Angle

At a glance, nothing peculiar stands out about Minnesota on a map. It’s when you take a longer look that you’ll notice it. Along the northern border there is a small piece of land that looks like it should be part of Manitoba, Canada marked as territory of Minnesota, and the United States. However, this piece of land is not physically connected to the United States at all, it is surrounded by Canada on three sides, and Lake of the Woods on the other. Visitors either have to travel by boat across Lake of the Woods, or cross the Canadian border at Warroad, then cross back into the United States once they reach The Angle.

The mapping oddity that gave this 123-square-mile chunk of land to the United States happened when land negotiators were deciding where the USA/Canada border should be set. The Mitchell Map was used during negotiations — it mistakenly showed that the Mississippi River originated in Lake of the Woods. Understandably, the United States wanted to make sure the headwaters of the Mississippi River remained in the United States, so the border was set at the very northwestern tip of Lake of the Woods, ran due south to the 49th parallel, and then continued west. Because of this, the Northwest Angle became part of Minnesota.

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The Legend of John Beargrease

Since 1980, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon has attracted mushers from around the world. Beginning in Duluth and running 400 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior to the Canadian border, the Beargrease is one of the longest, most grueling race routes outside of Alaska. With the 30th running of the marathon starting later this month, many people are asking “Who is John Beargrease” and “Why does he have a sled dog race named after him?”

John Beargrease’s story began in a wigwam on the outskirts of the first settlement along the north shore of Lake Superior – Beaver Bay. The son of an Anishinabe Chief, Beargrease grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping along the north shore with his father and two brothers. When he was in his teens he worked on commercial fishing boats that sailed up and down the coastline. By the time he was in his twenties, a few more small settlements had sprung up along the north shore, including Agate Bay (now Two Harbors), Castle Danger, Pork Bay, Grand Marais, and Grand Portage. Since the train only went as far as Agate Bay, people along the shore had a hard time sending and receiving mail.  Since this was often the only form of communication with the outside world. Letters and packages from family and friends were extremely important. Since Beargrease and his brothers made regular trips up and down the shore trapping and trading, they began to grab the mail in Agate Bay for the residents along the shore and deliver it as they checked their traps or traded with other residents. By 1879, the brothers were making trips for the mail and delivering it all the way to Grand Marais once or twice per week.

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Secret Ruins Give Clues to an Opulent Past

Before Summit Avenue became a magnet for the state’s empire builders, St. Paul’s elite built their estates in the Sherburne Hill neighborhood (today known as Capitol Heights.) By the time construction on the State Capitol was complete, many of the 15 mansions that stood on the hill had faded into shabby gentility or been razed, leaving barely a trace of the opulent park-like neighborhood that stood above the saintly city. This area, however, still holds secret ruins that are a clue to its grand past.

Today, the Cass Gilbert Memorial Park features a banal concrete overlook that gives visitors a view of downtown from above. The view is nothing short of spectacular on clear summer evenings. This panorama was coveted by the progenitors of St. Paul as well.

In 1882 William Merriam built an imposing, Queen-Anne style home atop Sherburne Hill. Sherburne Avenue was extended to accommodate the mansion, but ended nearby in a grand cul-de-sac that became known as Merriam’s Overlook. After completing the plans for Merriam’s home, architect Clarence Johnston designed a curving stone retaining wall to match the red stone exterior of the home. Lining the edge of the hill, an ornate wrought-iron fence added elegant refinement to the wall, and a small but opulent fountain made of brass sat at the end of the cul-de-sac. A walkway and stone steps allowed pedestrians to access the outlook from Robert Street below. Elegant street lamps were added after the turn-of-the-century to illuminate the road and walkway.

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Wonderland’s Glass Castles

At the turn of the 20th century, urban amusement parks were a popular form of communal entertainment. Throughout the country, parks modeled after Coney Island in New York were popping up in most major cities. Attractions varied from city to city, but most featured a roller coaster, carousel, an aerial swing for thrill-seekers, a dancing pavilion for couples and teenagers, flower gardens and picnic spaces for families, and an electrically lit tower that could be seen for miles to guide crowds to the park.

Elegant Dining on the North Shore

If it weren’t for a sign announcing that you’ve arrived in Little Marais, you may just speed through this little resort town on your way north on Highway 61. Scandinavian fishermen settled in the sleepy town during the late 1880s, but by the 1920s tourists began motoring their way up the north shore – looking for accommodations as they went. Small resorts and gas stations popped up along the route.

Originally built as a rustic log store, the Little Marais Store was a popular stop for basic provisions. It was transformed twice after that; first into a grocery store and gas station with small rooms for travelers looking for a good nights sleep, and later into a lovely white clapboard inn with an elegant dining room and housekeeping cabins along the lake shore. It was renamed the Little Marais Lodge and Store.

The white clapboard building with its charming green shutters soon became a popular destination for couples on their honeymoon. The refined structure stood out among the rustic accommodations that populated the North Shore at that time.  Inside, antique lamps cast a warm glow in each room and historic maps hung on the walls.  An abundance of windows, white paneled walls, and cool lake breezes gave the lodge a light, airy feel. The gabled roof added gentle sophistication of the exterior.

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