Remembering the Storied Past of Waseca's Loon Lake Island



May 6th, 10:41 PM CDT by Stacy Steinhagen


If you've driven past Loon Lake in Waseca, you may have spotted its sleepy island. But 100 years ago, it was a destination complete with a dance and beer hall.

On Waseca's Loon Lake sits an island. Unassuming and quiet, one may have never questioned its history. So historians turn to Ron Purcell, whose family history on Loon Lake dates back four generations. Purcell says, "It was not a lake to begin with. No, they raised the outlet six feet and and turned it into a lake."

In 1877, the Minneapolis and St. Louis railroad built a trestle over the east end of the lake. The water levels rose, severing the end of the peninsula from the land. A peninsula flooded, but an island, Ward's Island, came into being. Purcell says, "There was a road out to the island from the park over there. Well, when I was a kid there was about a foot of water on top of it, so we could walk out on that. But there was an old dance hall. A drinking establishment and dance hall that was there long ago and before I was a kid." Stories tell of a time where Waseca's Loon Lake was quite the attraction.

Purcell says, "The city was dry. You couldn't drink. Booze was prohibited, but the island was not." Joan Mooney says, "Bootlegging was rampant. They just smuggled it out there." Over 100 years ago, it was an active site. Even sporting a steamboat. Mooney says, "Excursions they were called. People going out to the island by steamboat and that was the thing to do. If we have an island, let's turn it into a resort, much like they did in Excelsior with the big island."

Purcell says, "It was a pretty going place I guess, and then it burned down." Mooney says, "We have no pictures to prove it. But we do have little mentions here and there in the newspaper." And now the island sits dormant.

Purcell says, "But now, it's washing away." Its history a vague dream atop the water's horizon.

Purcell says, "I think very few people know much about the lake, other than it's there." And a once vibrant island now sits quite. Purcell says, "The island is so much smaller now. And unless something is done to keep it, it is going to just disappear."

The island was purchased by the Fell family in 1898 who later sold it as a park to the city of Waseca in 1957 for a mere $300.