Winter by the Lake, Then and Now
The next time you find yourself shivering on the walk from your car to the front door of a coffee shop, just remember it could be worse.
Oh, the difficulties of facing a Minnesota winter…putting markers along the driveway so the snowplow doesn’t wreck the yard…hoping the city plows don’t knock over the mailbox…having to flip on the TV early in the morning to check for school closings…getting the boat cleaned and stored for the season…
Of course, once upon a time, things were just a little bit tougher. Only a hundred years ago, a batch of snow meant potentially devastating hardships.
The early homesteaders faced a difficult decision with the approach of winter: stay with their rustic log cabins in hopes they were sturdy enough to withstand the cold and snow, or retreat to live with friends and relatives elsewhere, risking that squatters would steal their land.
Newcomers typically arrived in the spring and waited impatiently for trains to come with the necessary materials to clear their land and build their homes. All of this had to be accomplished before the onset of winter. Because of the limited building season, cabins were often small and poorly made.
Fireplaces were of the utmost importance. They heated the home and doubled as a stove. To keep a fire burning from mid-November through mid-March meant chopping half-a-dozen cords of wood or more (in addition to everything else). Ironically, fireplaces were also the source of many tragedies. Chimney fires were common, and a house fire in the dead of winter meant abandoning your stakes and searching for shelter in town.
You might expect early residents facing such hardships would at least have a place to drown their sorrows. Well…not until 1897. After 45 years of debate, the “Wets” finally beat out the “Drys” and won village approval to open a saloon in Excelsior.
Winter was not all bad, however. Ice yachts were introduced to Lake Minnetonka in 1902, bringing some much-needed winter recreation. The freezing-over of Lake Minnetonka allowed easy transport of the Excelsior Casino, a massive lakeside pavilion, to its new home across the street from Excelsior Amusement Park in 1925. As each winter passed, the communities grew, the infrastructures developed, and the catastrophes were fewer and further between.
So the next time the minor inconveniences of winter get you down, remember…not so long ago things were a bit more of a challenge.