Dorothy Molter Museum
The Dorothy Molter Museum (2002 Sheridan St. E., 218/365-4451, www.rootbeerlady.com, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–5:30 p.m. Sun. summer, Sat.–Sun. only May and Sept., $6 adults) celebrates a most remarkable woman.
In 1934, at the age of 27, this Chicago nurse dropped her life and moved to the deep wilderness of Knife Lake up near the U.S.-Canadian border to help run the Isle of Pines Resort. She soon became a self-sufficient wilderness expert living in a large canvas tent for most of the year, only moving to more solid quarters for the winter.
Known to many as the Root Beer Lady, as many as 7,000 canoeists would stop each summer to chat and get a drink—chilled with ice she had cut during the winter and packed in sawdust and moss.
The U.S. Forest Service had added her property to the Wilderness Area, but due to her popularity and vital nursing skills (she was also known as the “Nightingale of the Wilderness”), Molter was allowed to stay. Though she could no longer conduct business out there, nobody was prevented from making a free-will donation in exchange for a cold root beer.
When she died in 1986, two of her cabins were hauled out piece by piece by dogsled and reassembled in Ely, and they form the majority of the museum. The interior of her winter cabin remains just as she left it, while the Point Cabin, formerly used by guests, holds various photos and other personal effects.
Though small, the museum deserves plenty of your time, since most of the guides knew Dorothy and have decades’ worth of stories to share.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition