The Incredible Story Of The Root Beer Lady – The Last Person To Live In The Boundary Waters
Did you know that people used to live and operate resorts in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area? As long as I could remember it's been part of the Superior National Forest and heavily regulated by the U.S. Forest Service. But, years ago people actually owned resorts and lived there year-round.
One of those people that lived there was Dorothy Molter. Her life was so remarkable that a museum was created to honor her memory. It's in Ely, Minnesota.
When Dorothy graduated high school, she went on to nursing school in Chicago. One year, her family made the trip to the Boundary waters in the 1930s. She fell in love with the outdoors, something she had never experienced before. She eventually moved to the Isle of Pines and worked at a resort with the owner. He promised her that he would give the Isle of Pines resort to her when he died. He ended up passing away in the 1950s.
Here's the remarkable thing about all of this. As time went on, living so remotely got harder and harder, not easier. Dorothy found a way to overcome incredible odds to live over 50 years on the island. She became a celebrity and a piece of folklore for paddlers that would come to see her. Sometimes she would get 200 visitors in a day.
President Harry Truman banned floatplanes from the Boundary Waters area in 1949. That's how people like Dorothy got her supplies. Some rogue pilots kept flying out of protest to bring supplies, but after the government started confiscating planes that stopped. The only way to get to nearby Ely was by canoe with included 5 portages. The closest road to Dorothy was 15 miles away. That's how remote this place was.
When the planes stopped bringing supplies in, she started making her own rootbeer. She'd get the syrup from Ely, add sugar and yeast, and get the water from Knife Lake. Her rootbeer was a treat for paddlers that would look forward to a refreshing drink. She also sold candy. One time she was even attacked by a bear, who ripped the backpack of candy right off her back.
In 1964 The Wilderness Act was passed and the U.S. Government forced her to sell them the property. She was allowed to temporarily stay there, and eventually, she was allowed to live there for the rest of her life after she didn't leave. Local forest rangers and authorities liked having Dorothy there. They even gave her a two-way radio and called her a volunteer in service. Not a bad idea to have a trained nurse in the middle of nowhere either.
Dorothy passed away in 1986. She left such a legacy that her friends and volunteers dismantled her cabins one by one and brought them to Ely, where the museum was built in her memory. You also can still buy her rootbeer there, and in other places in the area as well.
Dorothy Molter was a woman before her time. When she was born, women didn't even have the right to vote. For her to continue on and make such an impact is truly remarkable. The museum is closed for the season, but I'll be sure to be making a trip this summer. Watch the video from Minnesota Historia from WDIO - WIRT for the full story. Very cool stuff!