The Early Days on Mille Lacs Lake

The Early Days on Mille Lacs Lake
Big boats left a legacy on the big lake.

Boats and boat building have been a big part of the Mille Lacs Lake area for over 100 years. The first power driven boat there was probably built and launched in 1884 by Verril and McGregor, a logging firm from Minneapolis. It was an 85 foot tow boat with a 20 foot beam, built and launched on the west side of the lake. After the hull was completed, a large boiler and engine were installed; cord wood was used for fuel.

The boat was used to tow log booms across the lake to the Rum River, but after the area was logged over, Verril and McGregor had no further use of the tow boat and anchored it in the bay close to the now Fr. Hennepin Road, abandoned it, and left it to deteriorate. Years later, two early settlers removed the boiler and engine and used it for power to operate a saw mill. The boat was then towed across the bay and sunk in the channel near Malone’s Island.

In 1913, Andrew Peterson and N.P. Burman, with the assistance of other town folk, were successful in dragging the sunken hull to shore by using several stump pullers and horses, where it remained for several years until it was destroyed by an arson fire.

The Queen Ann
Around the turn of the century, the Foley Bean Lumber Co. built a large side wheeler tow boat called the Queen Ann, at Shakopee Lake on the Rum River. It was used exclusively for towing log booms across the lake, some of which contained 2 million feet of logs. The trip across the lake took up to 30 hours to tow a boom of logs from Malmo to Vineland, a distance of 20 miles, providing the weather was favorable.

On June 10, 1940, the steamer Queen Ann made its last trip on Mille Lacs with free excursions from Cove, music, and a dance before being brought to Wahkon to be dismantled and shipped away.
A June 16 news article reported the steamer’s fate. “The Queen Ann was beached at the foot of Main Street on Sunday morning and at noon the tones of her whistle reverberated for the last time over the placid waters of Mille Lacs. The passing of the Queen Ann is the last chapter in the story of the operations in the pine forests of Mille Lacs. She was built by the Foley-Bean Co. some 15 years ago. She was a powerful steamer of the side-wheel type with an electric plant for lighting outfit, for in those balmy days, she was on the go day and night. Since the cessation of the logging operations, she has been more or less in commission for freighting and excursion purposes. Three years ago, she was purchased by a Mr. Mattson of Brainerd who recently sold her to a Leech Lake concern. She is now being dismantled for shipment to her new field of operations.”

The Gertrude
The tug boat Gertrude arrived at the north shore of Mille Lacs Sunday morning, March 29, 1908, where it underwent repairs and was repainted. The 57 foot long Gertrude reached Aitkin the Friday before from Duluth where it had served in Lake Superior. The boat was shipped on two flat cars and arrived in good shape.
The Gertrude was bought by the Weatherland Bros., who used it for general traffic on the big inland lake. It was expected that with railroad connections with the Soo Line, there would be considerable business for a good seaworthy craft on that lake and so the Gertrude is out for her share of it. The weight of the boat was estimated at from 15 to 20 tons. The steamer Gertrude made its initial trip across the lake in late June of 1908, entering the harbor at Cove. The tug was described as “a staunch craft of about 20 tons burden, 57 feet long with a 65 horsepower engine, and is of propeller type. She is licensed to do both a passenger and freight business. It is built low and draws about four feet of water and therefore is perfectly safe in any storm.”

The Luella
A June 4, 1908 newspaper article proudly proclaimed, “Mille Lacs is to have a trim little passenger steamer some of these fine days. W.E. Robson of Battle Lake is the owner and has sent us a photograph of the craft. In a letter to the Enterprise he says,’I have fitted up a fine passenger steamboat for Mille Lacs. I intended to be there this spring, but as the boat is too big to haul across the country on wheels, I will be obliged to wait for the railroad which will probably be there this fall. My boat is one of the finest on the inland waters of the state. Built at
Superior, I shipped it to Glenwood, but as there was no business there for it, I shipped it to Battle Lake for this summer. It is altogether too fine a boat for a small lake.”
Capt. Robson expected to ship the Luella in the near future. This boat was handsomely finished and capable of handling 100 passengers. Capt. Robson figured on working up a packet business as well as a passenger traffic.
The Luella was launched October 15, 1908 after having the boiler inspected the day before. Capt. Robson planned to put a fleet of barges on the lake the following spring to be run in connection with his steamer, Luella.
On March 4, 1909, a newspaper abruptly reported, “…the transportation company which will engage in the passenger and freight business on the lake is composed of Duluth capitalists instead of Minneapolis parties, as stated in those columns recently, and that the steamer Luella, Capt. Robson commanding, would be one of the fleet. He left last Friday for a trip around the lake to close contracts for dock privileges at the several stations that are to be established.”
Shortly after that report, the Luella was purchased by the Mille Lacs Transportation Co. with Capt. Robson in charge of the traffic on the lake. More barges were expected to be built for heavy freight and the company purchased another steamer at Duluth to be shipped Mille Lacs Lake.

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to the author, Wanda D. Coppernoll and editor, Jim Baden of the Mille Lacs Messenger for permission to reprint this article, the second of three on Minnesota Boat Builders.