The earliest people on the land surrounding Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota were the Dakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Iowa and Ojibwa. The lake was formed by glaciers and the woodlands surrounding it were of great spiritual importance, they were used as burial grounds.
In 1822, the first recorded European descendants arrived when two teenage boys followed Minnehaha Creek by canoe to its headwaters at Lake Minnetonka. But the area remained largely untouched until the Treaty of Mendota in 1851 which transferred 2 million acres of Indian land (including Lake Minnetonka) to the U.S. government. The request from Hockakaduta that the area around Lake Minnetonka remain Indian land was denied. The treaty was enacted despite most chiefs refusing to sign it. Shortly thereafter, Governor Ramsey “officially” named Lake Minnetonka after being told the words the Native Americans used meant “Big Water.”
In 1861, the first riverboat was launched and Lake Minnetonka quickly became a tourist attraction. It was especially appealing for southerners following the Civil War until the railroad expanded west in the late 1800s and tourists flocked to new attractions like Yellowstone. However, summer cottages and permanent homes were springing up. When the streetcar arrived in 1905, the lake saw tremendous growth and even opened an amusement park.
With the popularity of the lake, “streetcar boats” were created. The Express Boats were treated like floating streetcars and transported people to nearly thirty landings around the lake. These boats were so successful with commuters living in the area that they remained in operation until the 1920s.
In the 21st century, Lake Minnetonka is still a popular location for water enthusiasts. It is surrounded by lavish homes and is closely monitored because of pollution problems that began in the 1970s from sewage and fertilizer runoff. Its claims to fame include a Rolling Stones performance in 1964 and Prince’s mention of the lake in the movie Purple Rain. More embarrassing headlines include a scandal with the Minnesota Vikings and interestingly, Frank Lloyd Wright. According to Wikipedia, “on October 26, 1926, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was arrested for violating the Mann Act while vacationing at a cottage in Tonka Bay, Minnesota with a woman who would later become his wife.” Who would have thought?