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A Brief History of Lake Minnetonka
(adapted from "Biohistory of Lake Minnetonka compiled by Jim Gilbert for the Freshwater Foundation
and Hennepin Parks)

11,000 yrs ago

  • Large blocks of ice were left in the wake of the retreating glacier. These blocks of ice which were buried in soil and rock, eventually melted to form Lake Minnetonka.

First People

  • Dakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Iowa and Ojibwa people all occupied the area around Lake Minnetonka at some point. The woodland areas surrounding the lake were used as burial grounds and were highly revered as a place of great spiritual importance.

    Original Vegetation Map


  • The first recorded people of European descent came to Lake Minnetonka. Joseph Brown and Will Snelling (both boys 14 years of age) traveled up Minnehaha Creek by canoe to the headwaters at Lake Minnetonka.


  • The Treaty of Mendota was established transferring 2 million acres of Indian land, including Lake Minnetonka, to the U.S. government. Hockakaduta asked that the area around Lake Minnetonka remain Indian land; the request was denied. Most of the chiefs refused to sign the treaty for this reason although the treaty was enacted despite the lack of signatures.


  • Governor Ramsey "officially" names Lake Minnetonka after being told that it is the Indian name for the lake meaning "Big Water". The name Lake Minnetonka appears on the first official state map. The town of Excelsior is established by a group of immigrants from New York.


  • The Minnetonka Hotel is built at Minnetonka Mills


  • Minnetonka's first steamboat, the Governor Ramsey, is launched.


  • Lake Minnetonka was becoming a popular tourist destination, especially for southerners trying to escape the aftermath of the civil war.


  • The St. Paul and Pacific Company completed a railroad to Wayzata.


  • The Steamboat "City of St. Louis" was constructed in Wayzata. It was 160 feet long and was the first inland vessel to have electric lights. It had a capacity of 1,000 passengers.


  • The Belle of Minnetonka, the largest vessel ever launched on the lake was first used on July third. The Belle measured 300 feet and had a capacity for 2,500 passengers.


  • The Minnetonka Yacht Club becomes incorporated.


  • This time period was considered the lake's heyday. There were several grand hotels and resorts as well as many steamships cruising the lake. This period ended abruptly as economic depression set in as well as people traveling further north with the expansion of the railroad.


  • Curled pondweed (Potamogeton crispus L.) was first noticed in Lake Minnetonka


  • The first Purple Loosestrife is noticed in Lake Minnetonka.


  • It is estimated that more than 41 million fish have been planted in Lake Minnetonka, most of which have been walleye fry


  • The lake receives 3 million gallons of treated wastewater each day from dysfunctional sewage treatment plants.


  • The Gray Freshwater Biological Institute is built on the shores of Lake Minnetonka by the Freshwater Foundation and given to the University of Minnesota.


  • The last of the sewage treatment plants discharging into Lake Minnetonka is closed. Since this closing both phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the lake have dropped substantially.


  • Eurasian Water Milfoil is first identified in Lake Minnetonka.


  • Eurasian Water Milfoil forms a dense canopy up to 15 feet thick in parts of the lake. The Lake Minnetonka Conservation District dedicates the Hattie Mae, the first of four $70,000 milfoil harvesters for the lake.


  • Lake Access RUSS units invade the lake.
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