In 1905, the Twin Cities Rapid Transit (TCRT) company extended their streetcar lines to Excelsior. During the peak years, it is estimated that 12,000 people rode the streetcars to Excelsior on summer holidays. One year later, TCRT launched six 70-foot steamboats on Lake Minnetonka to provide transportation to lake residents and tourists.
At the time, it was said that Lake Minnetonka was the only place in the world where you could get off a streetcar and onto a streetcar boat. The streetcar boats were named the Como, Harriet, Hopkins, Minnehaha, Stillwater and White Bear Lake, which were also stops on TCRT’s trolley route.
Painted the same color yellow as the streetcars, the steamboats also had the exact same seating and interior. With an almost 15-foot wide beam, their capacity was 120 passengers. The steamboats delivered passengers to various destinations on the lake, including TCRT’s Big Island Amusement Park. Rumor has it that the streetcar boats would also stop at private docks with the wave of a white hanky.
After the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation, the number of passengers on the streetcars and streetcar boats declined. In 1926, the Minnehaha, Como and White Bear Lake were filled with debris from the demolition of Big Island Amusement Park, which had closed in 1911, and were sunk between Big Island and Bracketts Point. Two streetcar boats, the Harriet and Stillwater, were taken off Lake Minnetonka and sent elsewhere.
The Hopkins, which was renamed the Minnetonka in 1926, remained in operation until 1949. It was sunk off the northeast point of Big Island.
The Minnehaha rested on the bottom of the lake for over 50 years. In 1979, the Minnehaha was discovered 60 feet below the surface by diver Jerry Provost. Half buried in mud and weighing approximately 62,000 pounds, raising it proved to be a major challenge. The Minnehaha was raised in 1980 and was eventually restored over a period of six years.
In 1996, the Minnesota Transportation Museum began offering rides on the Minnehaha. The Minnehaha is operated by the Museum of Lake Minnetonka (MLM), which is a non-profit organization. The 2011 season begins on May 28. Schedules can be viewed and tickets can be purchased at www.steamboatminnehaha.org.
The Minnesota Streetcar Museum offers 15-minute rides on a restored streetcar in Excelsior between Water Street and Old Excelsior Road. The 2011 season begins on May 5. For more information, visit www.trolleyride.org.
Stephanie Larsen grew up in Minnetonka and now lives on Lake Minnetonka with her husband and two children. She loves sharing information about the rich history of the Lake Minnetonka area with others. In 2009, Stephanie co-authored “Historic Lake Minnetonka,” which provides an overview of how Lake Minnetonka was discovered, developed, and settled.