Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum – Part 1

Minnesota’s Lake History Comes Alive at the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum.

So, if you have been following Woody Boater for the last few weeks, you know that we had a heck of a time leaving Minnesota after attending the Warner Collection Auction in Winsted. First we stopped in for a tour of the Mikkelson Collection Antique & Classic Boat Museum in Willmar. Then, after catching our breath from the Mikkelson Museum tour, we traveled an hour down the road to Alexandria to visit the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum.

The museum was closed for the season but thankfully Bruce Olson, a Director at the museum, graciously offered to meet Woody Boater for a private tour. This is much more than a boating museum, it’s best described in their brochure as a “Celebration of Minnestota’s love affair with our lakes!” From the moment you first enter the magnificent 20,000 square foot facility, you are surrounded by historical exhibits, documentation, archive images and all things relating to the Minnesota Lakes Region.

Resort & Grand Hotel History, Minnesota Boat Builders, History of Chris-Craft & Larson Boat Works, Antique Launches, Minnesouri Angling Club Exhibit, Classic Fiberglass Boats, Fishing Gallery & Kids Corner. A visit to the MLMM has something of interest for everyone.

From the early days on historic Lake Minnetonka when steamships were used as a means of public transportation. As the exhibit describes, Transportation was changing in early 1900’s, both public and private. People were moving to the cities, and they were also moving to Lake Minnetonka. They could work in the city and live at the lake. They needed, however, reliable transportation. The Twin City Rapid Transit Company saw the need and began plans to not only bring streetcars to the lake, but to extend lake transportation by building a fleet of fast, yellow Express Boats that could quickly and reliably transport residents to all points on Lake Minnetonka.

Antique steam launches were the boats of choice for many in the early 1900’s and they are well represented at the museum, with three beautiful examples of launches on hand from the era.

As the poster says, The Only Naphtha Launch – Fifty launches in stock, ready for delivery from the Gas Engine & Power Company and Chas. L. Seabury & Co. Morris Heights, New York City.

The exhibits are very informative with an easy to read, orderly combination of text and images for the visitors. Much of the museum’s colorful, informative signage and display art was created by Bill Basler of Basler Design Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in conjunction with the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club.

The museum features a great exhibit about the history of Alexandria Boat Works. Alexandria Boat Works was one of the first (of over 150) boat builders in Minnesota and was founded in 1885. From the early days of the marque, the name “Lady of the Lakes” was attached to their products.

In a great story by Andreas Jordahl Rhude named Alexandria Boat Works Lady of the Lakes, Andreas wrote – By 1952 Alexandria Boat Works had constructed 15,250 boats in her 67 year life-span. Twenty-one different models were being built that year. The same year a new, modern facility was constructed east of town to house the evolving company.

Planking of the wood strip boats was in western red cedar, Port Orford cedar, cypress, or redwood. Keels, ribs, and other structural components were made from white oak and sometimes mahogany.

The boat works decided in 1954 that building wooden boats was not the means to remain in business. They saw the wave of the future towards non-wood (fiberglass) boats. With this in mind they ceased production of their own boats and they became a retail and wholesale dealer for several other boat lines. They also sold and serviced outboard motors and other marine items.

“Kebe” is an impressive 1929 Dee Wite 16′ Outboard Runabout at the museum.

And from Mild to Wild – Recently the museum accepted what Bruce Olson referred to as a “Walk In Donation” which often occurs. This is a rare Waterbug waterskiff manufactured in Bayport, Minnesota.

Quite simply, it looks like a sheet of plywood with upside down sponsons on the back…

It would be fun to learn more about these little race boats if anyone out there knows the history.

The Gar Wood exhibit in the museum’s new north hall is exceptional. “Victory” is a beautifully prepared 1947 Gar Wood 19’6″ Commodore Deluxe Runabout on loan to the museum from Carl Mammel.

Gar Wood only built Post War boats in 1946 and 1947. The Commodore was their large runabout model and is considered by many to be one of the best looking runabouts ever designed, the product of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes. Don’t forget you can always click on the image to enlarge it, and see the great original deck hardware on “Victory.”
“Oracle” is another rare Gar Wood on loan to the museum from Carl Mammel. The 1937 Gar Wood 24′ Streamline Cabin Utility was considered to be the flagship of the Gar Wood Utility Fleet at the time. Notice the raised wooden walkway for better viewing, it’s these details that makes the MLMM such a great experience.

This model features monkey rails, sliding windows, walnut stained covering boards and king plank. Luxury seating, icebox, lazerette below deck storage locker, toilet, and motor box cushion are some of the options. The rear cockpit seat can be removed for fishing. “Oracle” was restored by Juul Boatworks, from Evansville, MN.

Below is a real nice 1947 Chris-Craft U-22 that was recently brought to the museum to be sold.

This U-22 is an original Minnesota boat and has been used on the St. Croix River for the last 22 years.

I noticed this perfect looking Chris-Craft 14′ Baracuda Kit Boat. Between 1955-1958, 7,030 of these plywood boats were produced and sold by Chris-Craft. It’s unusual to see a Chris-Craft Kit Boat in this condition. That’s what also makes a visit to the MLMM so interesting.
Below is a nice 1950 Higgins 17′ Sportster Deluxe on loan to the museum from Paul Headburg.
The Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum is a “Must See” if your in the Alexandria, MN area. For more information on the MLMM and to see their great website, you can click here.

Photographs for this story are courtesy of the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum.

Stay Tuned to Woody Boater for Part 2 of the museum tour tomorrow which featu
res an original 1931 Dodge Split Cockpit Runabout, boats from the Chris-Craft exhibit and some more beautiful Larson Boats from the Larson Exhibit.

16 replies
  1. Rick
    Rick says:

    A great report Texx as always. Love seeing these collections that in reality I will never get to see first hand. After 2 days of cold rain in the NE a very pleasant diversion.

  2. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    Well, a road trip to Minnesota must include spending time in this museum on the way to or returning from the Mikkelson Collection & Museum. The Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum has actually been on my list of places to see for a while.

    Yet another great story, Texx.


  3. Travis
    Travis says:

    Thanks for the articles on the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum, what a beautiful d place! It's so great that the Alexandria community maintains a museum dedicated the wonderful history and beauty of wood boats. I plan to make a visit this spring!

  4. Denn Tezzier
    Denn Tezzier says:

    The Waterbug was a way cool little hydro design and was used as a stunt boats at Waterski shows in the 1950’s before the Fliver took over duty. Sure wish I had the plans or the measurements would love to build one.

    • Roger
      Roger says:

      Bill, 3/4″ marine plywood 4′ by 10’ft. width cut to 42″ wide. sponsons 10″ high and 12″ wide at the back. i don’t remember how long sponsons were but you can deduce rest of dimensions by observing pictures. the only thing u can’t see is you will need a skag (fin) on the underside center just about where you will sit and maybe one under each sponson in the back or you will be skidding all over the water with little control.

  5. Frank
    Frank says:

    hi there to all you boat enthusiasts I have here a original water bug that I salvage out of a boat house 2 year ago stored for over 40 years I have more pictures it does have the original name plaque on it still serial #1936. I am a salvager here in Canada White-Fish falls Ontario I also did a salvage for Gar-Woods care taker a vary rare 1946 Garform boat only 2 made with the inboard tiler steering 4 cyl. Gray marine phantom 4-45 Hull #146-43 engine#d23431 all there intact restorable. For more info on these dont hesitate to get in touch Cheers

  6. Denn Tezzier
    Denn Tezzier says:

    Okay I’ve searched for the Waterbug plans and the patents over the years and no luck. You’d think they’d be out there somwhere on the internets. However, form the photos Frank posted and the measurements Rodger provided I think I just may try to draw up plans and build a Waterbug. We have a Yamato 302 from the old racing days which would be a blast! We’ll post as we go…

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