Although Minnetonka has a long history stretching back to the mid 1800s, when the first settlement was established along Minnehaha Creek, it’s the 50th anniversary of incorporation as a village that the city celebrates in 2006. Here’s a brief look at some of the highlights of Minnetonka’s history.
The early years
The land that would come to be known as Minnetonka was sacred ground for Native Americans. The dense woods and open prairies made for good hunting, while Lake Minnetonka provided excellent fishing. The Dakotah Sioux and Ojibway Chippewa would cross through Minnetonka as they traveled between Shakopee and Mille Lacs—a major Indian trail through Minnetonka crossed Minnehaha Creek just below the rapids at present-day Minnetonka Mills, then ran along the present Baker and Plymouth roads.
In 1851, Indian tribes signed an agreement allowing settlement of lands west of Fort Snelling, and by 1852, Minnetonka’s first settlement was established at the current Minnetonka Mills site. Available water power and the clearing of trees for farms provided the right ingredients for establishment of a saw mill, the only one west of the Mississippi River. A few years later, the addition of a furniture factory created the largest business center in Hennepin County. By 1869, the saw mill was replaced by a flour mill, which operated until the mid 1890s when it could no longer compete with the larger mills on St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis.
Early settlers came to Minnetonka primarily from New England and other states east of Minnesota, from northern Europe and the British Isles, and from Bohemia (now part of Czechoslovakia). The Bohemians, or Czechs, introduced the techniques to grow raspberries in this climate—a success the neighboring city of Hopkins has been capitalizing on since 1935 with its annual Raspberry Festival.
As Minnetonka was settled, several small, distinct commercial areas, all two to three miles apart with farms and homes in between, developed over the years. Those areas came to be known as Minnetonka Mills, Glen Lake, Groveland, and Oak Knoll.
From township to village
After World War II, between 1946 and 1955, Deephaven, Wayzata, Hopkins and St. Louis Park annexed additional newly developed residential areas in Minnetonka Township—and as a township, Minnetonka had no legal authority to stop the annexations. By 1956, Minnetonka Township’s area had been reduced from 36 to 28 square miles, while at the same time the population was increasing—rising from 6,466 in 1940 to about 15,600 in 1956.
It was time to become a village. Bill Frommes, who was active in township government, and Carl Dever, a township resident and lawyer who was to serve as village, and later city, attorney for 19 years, led the 1956 effort to incorporate Minnetonka Township into a village.
Meanwhile, a group of Minnetonka Mills residents believed one village would be too large and difficult to govern, so they proposed creation of two villages: one north of Minnetonka Boulevard to be called Burwell, and another that included the rest of the township, to be called Minnetonka.
A race to the Hennepin County Courthouse with the paperwork resulted in the proposal for one village being presented just moments before the petition for two villages. The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners decided an election should be held on the question of the entire township becoming a village.
About half of the township’s eligible voters cast ballots in the hotly contested election, held Aug. 22, 1956, deciding by a vote of 2,309 to 1,275 to change the township to one village. Annexations by adjacent communities were no longer allowed, and Minnetonka’s boundaries were stabilized.
From village to city
As late as the 1960s, Minnetonka still contained many farms, greenhouses and horse pastures. As bus service and highways improved, this second-ring suburb was increasingly accessible to Minneapolis and large tracts of land attracted developers. People continued to move to Minnetonka, with population doubling from 25,000 in 1960 to more than 50,000 today.
As the population grew, so did the need for fire and police protection. The new village established its own volunteer fire department, which continues today as one of the largest volunteer fire departments in the country. Five fire stations around the city house the equipment for 68 paid-on-call volunteer firefighters and 232 full-time staff.
The police department grew from one chief and one patrolman, assisted by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s department, to more than 70 officers today.
In the mid 1960s, I-494 was built through Minnetonka, and large commercial developments soon followed including the 7-Hi strip mall along County Rd. 101 where SuperTarget now stands. In 1968, the village officially became a city.
The last 30 years
During the mid 1970s, city sewer and water lines replaced individual septic tanks and wells in most of Minnetonka. Minnetonka’s current city hall was built in 1970, and over time the facility grew to the extensive Civic Center campus it is today, containing a community center, fire station, police department, ice rinks, soccer fields and a water treatment plant.
Ridgedale Mall opened in the early 1970s. In 1982, the Opus Center, a large mixed-use development of office, light industrial, hotel and residential areas was built between Shady Oak Road and Hwy. 169, just north of the Crosstown.
Minnetonka continues to be home to many major corporate headquarters, including Carlson Companies and Cargill, Inc., as well as a host of other thriving companies.
In 1852, Simon Stevens and Calvin Tuttle filed a claim for a dam site on Minnehaha Creek at present-day Minnetonka Mills, creating the first settlement in the area. Construction of the mill was completed in January 1853, and in May 1853 this first private sawmill west of the Mississippi River began sawing logs.
This first mill burned in 1854 and was replaced by a combination sawmill and furniture factory. By April 1857, more than 2,000 chairs, bedsteads, rockers and chairs were being produced each week by the mill, making it the largest business center in Hennepin County. The mill closed in 1860 and was destroyed by fire in 1868.
The site began its third life in 1869 when a flour mill and cooper shop for making barrels and kegs was built—the Minnetonka Mill Company, with Charles H. Burwell as the company secretary. By 1881, this was one of the most productive flour mills in the region, producing 300 to 400 barrels of flour daily. When the Minnetonka mill closed in 1885, unable to compete with the larger flour mills in Minneapolis, the property was purchased by Burwell.
The final mill on the property was a grist mill that ground grain for farmers, sold corn meal, and manufactured Pettijohn’s Rolled Wheat Cereal. In 1895, the mill was demolished. While it remained the political center of the township, Minnetonka Mills was no longer its dominant retail center.
The Burwell House was built in 1883 by Charles H. Burwell and was occupied by members of his family until 1959. It is not the oldest building in either Minnetonka Mill or the city of Minnetonka, but it is significant because its history is intertwined with that of the previous milling industries nearby and for its location at the hub of historic and modern transportation modes.Restoration of the house to its 1894 appearance was completed by the Minnetonka Historical Society and the city of Minnetonka in 1999. Tours of the house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are available June through September each year. Call 952.939.8200 for more information.
Built in 1907, this Greek Revival-style building at Baker Road and Minnetonka Boulevard housed first the town council, then the village council, and finally the city council. While the current city hall was being built, the city’s first city manager worked out of a trailer, because there wasn’t enough office space for him in the building at Baker Road. After Minnetonka’s government offices moved to the current city hall in 1971, the Town Hall was sold to the Minnetonka Community Church, which has owned it ever since.
Minnetonka Civic Center
Built in 1971, just three years after Minnetonka became a city, the Minnetonka Civic Center campus at 14600 Minnetonka Boulevard now includes the city hall, community center, Senior Services, police station and fire station #1. Extensive reconstruction of the Civic Center grounds took place in 2005-06, including rerouting of the road and redesign of the city hall parking lot; construction of soccer fields and an amphitheater; construction of a new water treatment plant; and trail connections to Jidana Park.
The neighborhood and commercial area located on Excelsior Boulevard at Eden Prairie and Williston roads is known as Glen Lake, named for the large lake located just southeast of that intersection.
In 1907, on the southwest corner of the intersection, Chris Kraemer set up a general store that sold food, sewing materials, hardware, animal feed and clothing. Before Kraemer’s store opened, farmers in the area traveled to Hopkins or Excelsior to make their purchases.
At the same time, electric streetcars and freight trains began traveling between Minneapolis and Lake Minnetonka on train tracks originally installed in 1881. The tracks ran through Glen Lake on the south side of Excelsior Boulevard and under a bridge for Eden Prairie Road, where a station was located. That depot was well used by commuters, farmers taking their goods to Hopkins or Minneapolis, and by those who worked at Glen Lake Sanitarium. The line was discontinued in 1932 when buses became the primary mode of mass transportation. Traces of the line can still be seen just west of Glen Lake, especially at the entrance to Purgatory Park where a bridge traversed Purgatory Creek.
During the 1930s, two grocery stores, a couple filling stations, the post office, a garage and a barber shop were located in Glen Lake. It’s said that during the gas rationing of the 1940s, traffic through Glen Lake was so light that a storeowner’s dog often slept in the middle of the street undisturbed for hours.
In 1958, Kraemer’s store moved to the west end of a new shopping center, and by the 1980s, the business, now primarily a hardware store, occupied a new building across Excelsior Boulevard.
The original one-room Glen Lake School, called the Jackson School for the nearby farmer, was east of Glen Lake on Excelsior Boulevard. In 1911, a new brick building with two classrooms was built on the corner of Woodhill Road and Excelsior Boulevard. In 1945 the building was enlarged, and in 1946 Glen Lake School became part of the Hopkins School District. After being purchased by the city in 1960 for use as a community center, it was torn down in 1990 to make way for soccer fields and a skateboard park.
Glen Lake Sanitarium
The Glen Lake Tuberculosis Sanitarium, located south of Glen Lake on the east side of Eden Prairie Road, was opened in 1916 by Hennepin County and was one of the three leading tuberculosis treatment centers in the world. At the height of the 1930s tuberculosis epidemic, 715 people lived at the sanitarium, receiving the best medical treatment available.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services assumed operation from Hennepin County in 1962 and converted the sanitarium to the Oak Terrace Nursing Home. In 1991, after a combined 75 years of service to 17,000 patients, the state closed the facility and demolished the buildings.
The Glen Lake Golf and Practice Center, a self-supporting, public nine-hole golf course, was opened by Hennepin County in 1997 and is now operated by the Three Rivers Park District.
Located at Minnetonka Boulevard and County Rd. 101, Groveland was first settled by workers who helped build the sawmill, boarding house and Minnehaha Creek dam at present-day Minnetonka Mills.
In 1854, William Chowen donated land on Minnetonka Boulevard and built a log schoolhouse, the first school in Minnetonka. To accommodate the area’s growing population, a larger school was built in 1871 at the present site of Groveland Cemetery—the water pump from that school remains in the cemetery to this day. In 1915, a four-room school was built on the location of the present school. Groveland School became part of the Minnetonka School District in 1949. Nine years later, another new school was built. Since then, additions, remodeling and new construction have resulted in the present-day Groveland Elementary School, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2004.
In 1946, Ty Abel built a service station on the northeast corner of the intersection. The architectural style of the building, the length of time Ty operated the station and other businesses in the area, and his community involvement all contributed to Groveland also coming to be known as Ty Abel Corner. This crossroads remains a thriving commercial, retail and office area. (Learn more about the late Ty Abel.)
As tourism on nearby Lake Minnetonka diminished in the early 1900s, city dwellers began building summer homes along the shores of Wayzata and Grays bays. One of Minnetonka’s first residential developments, Tonkawoodcroft, was platted in 1913.
Bennett Field, a few blocks south on County Rd. 101, is on land donated in 1955 by Ted Bennett to the Deephaven Gun Club, which allowed Little League baseball on a portion of the property. By 1959, the entire parcel was being used for recreation. Now, Bennett Family Park is self-supporting and run by volunteers.
In 1856, a Pennsylvania pioneer was the first person buried in this cemetery. That same year, the 16-month-old son of the Grays, for whom Lake Minnetonka’s Grays Bay is named, died and was buried there. Groveland Cemetery is still in use today.
Gray’s Bay Dam
Built in 1897 at the outlet of Minnehaha Creek from Gray’s Bay, this dam replaced the one near Minnetonka Mills, which had operated from 1853-1891. At the time it was built, there was no screen on top of the dam so, when the water was high, fish flowed over the dam—making for very good fishing in Minnehaha Creek!
Oak Knoll was located at Hopkins Crossroad (County Rd. 73) on both sides of a popular route from Minneapolis to Lake Minnetonka—now I-394. Oak Knoll started out as a farming community known as Boulevard Gardens, but in the 1920s, a few families looking for country places near Minneapolis began buying land and building homes. The area soon became known as Oak Knoll, named for the forests of oak trees on rolling hills.
Businesses located in this area over the years included grocery stores, a root beer stand, a drug store, a tavern, garage and automobile service stations, and a kennel that trained guide dogs.
The Oak Knoll community was nearly wiped out in the 1960s when the east-west highway was widened to four lanes with a median, and a bridge was built over the highway to carry the north-south traffic of Hopkins Crossroad. A few of the small store buildings on the north side of the highway stood until the late 1980s.
Today, the only remnants left of this once-vital community are the Oak Knoll Lutheran Church a few blocks north of I-394, and the former Oak Knoll School on Hopkins Crossroad, now a private facility for special-needs students.