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Boats on Green Lake

Who owned the first boat on Green Lake? Well, to be perfectly truthful, no one seems to know. Certainly among the earliest were William Cartledge and Andrew Holes, who in the spring of 1859, built a basswood scow to transport potatoes from Nest Lake down the Crow River to the Mississippi and then on to St. Anthony (Minneapolis). The story of their colorful voyage, as related in the "Illustrated History of Kandiyohi County," established the commercial navigability of the Middle and North Fork of the Crow River but left considerable doubt that such a route would ever be practicable, considering the obstacles they encountered.

George Nichols and his son Edgar built the darn at the inlet to Green Lake in the spring of 1867 and by early summer had a sawmill in operation. Under the supervision of Charles J. Sperry, millwright and first sheriff of Monongalia County, they also constructed a grist mill at the site. As a part of their business Nichols and Son had one of the first sail boats on Green Lake, and at one time made an attempt to establish a depot on the cast side of the lake to freight wheat, flour, and lumber to and from the mill by means of a barge.

The first steamboat on Green Lake was a 50-passenger catamaran named "Little Eva" purchased by William Olson in 1886. It was built in Hastings and for a number of years had been used on the Mississippi River between St. Paul and Hastings. Mr. Olson's first season in the tourist excursion business must have been a success for in March 1887; he traded the Chippewa County family farm for the "Star," a double-deck Minnetonka steamboat 85 feet long and 16 feet wide with a reported (and possibly exaggerated) capacity of 300 passengers. The boat was hauled across the ice of Lake Minnetonka to Wayzata on huge lumberman's sleds, loaded on two flat cars, and, accompanied by a bridge crew to open overhead bridges, transported to Spicer by train. At Green Lake it was overhauled, painted and rechristened "The Belle of Green Lake." It was used to transport tourists around Green Lake until 1890. The boat was traded for land near Pierre, South Dakota, and in 1891 sold for taxes to S. H. Adams, who sold the machinery to parties from Belgrade. The "The Belle of Green Lake" came to a sorrowful end when the beached hull was crushed by ice. The wreckage lay on the lakeshore for many years and gradually disappeared, erasing all traces of what had to be the most famous boat ever to grace the waters of Green Lake.

The Steam Launch Iris on Green Lake

A number of smaller steamboats called steam launches, among which were the "Iris" and the "Green Lake Star," appeared in 1891 and 1892. Some carried as many as 75 passengers and made regular trips from Spicer to all parts of the lake. Those wishing to take pleasure trips were given a complete circuit of the lake for 25 cents. Launches powered by gasoline engines began to replace the steam engines around 1902, although steam boats were still being used on Green Lake as late as 1910.

Many of the early steam and gasoline launches were designed and built in Spicer in either the J. M. Alden boat factory or the Holt Boat Works. Early photos taken around the turn of the century show the beautifully designed, cedar lap-strake rowboats that were built by these firms. Due to the primitive condition of the roads, all of the resort hotels and a number of the more prosperous summer residents owned launches to transport their guests and supplies across the lake. Among the largest of the launches were those owned by D. N. Tallman and J. M. Spicer, which were 25 to 30 feet long. By the 1930's most of the launches had disappeared, having been gradually replaced by smaller boats powered by outboard motors or later in the 1940's by speedboats.

Boat on Green Lake by the downtown beach. Building in the background
is believed to be the Fairview Pavilion. Picture was taken in 1910.

Synonymous with the word speedboat was the name of George W. House, who from 1947 through 1955 operated his inboards from the downtown park. Art Fredeen built a metal inboard that proved to be the fastest on the lake. He also operated a concession giving pontoon rides. Throughout the years many different water-based concessions have served tourists, ranging from paddleboats, water bugs, and bumper boats up to seaplanes. At the present time a one or two person watercraft called a "Jet Ski" is a showy, expensive addition to the boats on Green. Our forebears would probably be pleased to see that sailboats continue to grace the lake but would probably be surprised by the remarkable speed that the twin-hulled catamarans can attain. These are perhaps not as fast as the iceboat "Arrow" built by George Holt in 1904 or the propeller driven iceboat built by Harold Thorvig but exciting nonetheless. Speed is required to water-ski and present day fiberglass and aluminum boats attain speeds where even skis are not required-exceptional individuals have mastered the art of water skiing barefoot.

Our forebears would also be pleased to see that fishing continues to be very popular but would also understand that due to this popularity, the catching is much poorer than when they rowed from Spicer to the Old Mill to catch a few big ones. They would also understand when we told them that many of us yearn for the much slower times when we could pack a picnic lunch, and together with the city band, simply take a cruise on "The Belle of Green Lake."