In 1855, the Fort Ridgely Territorial Road opened passage from Minneapolis to Wayzata, followed by a stagecoach route and train line, making Lake Minnetonka suddenly accessible to locals and tourists alike. Steamboats carried passengers, mail and goods from Minnetonka Mills to points throughout the lake.
In the years after the Civil War, tourists, including wealthy southerners and easterners began coming to the “healthy waters” of Lake Minnetonka and hotels began popping up to accommodate the influx of visitors. In a seven-year window, the summer visitors to the lake increased more than 30-fold, reaching more than 200,000 in 1883.
However, the boom did not last. Around that time, quarter-acre lots on Lake Minnetonka were sold to a growing group of summer cottage owners and transportation improvements provided access to more vacation destinations elsewhere.
A brief revival of the tourism industry came at the turn of the 20th century when the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company (TCRT) ran a steam-powered streetcar line from Lake Harriet in Minneapolis to Excelsior where its fleet of boats and ferries extended service across Lake Minnetonka. The TRCT opened the Big Island amusement park in 1906, and took over the Tonka Bay Hotel. The park and hotel closed five years later and the excursion boats and ferries ended service by 1914. Streetcar boat service continued until 1926 and automobiles ultimately put the streetcars out of business in 1954.
Read the full article here: Laker & Pioneer | Tourism and agriculture in the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District