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Ely MN 1969 and 2008

Kathleen Here



Let’s see, it must have been 43 years ago that George and I took off for a long weekend of camping in the Boundry Waters Canoe Area, Ely, MN. We rented a canoe, loaded it high with our gear and began paddling north. At sunset we made camp on an island, lit a fire, ate hot dogs and beans and listened to Minnesota’s state bird, the Loon. Their lonely cry, at sunset, lulls you to a sound and restful sleep. We fell in love with the north woods and the lakes of this beautiful region. We traveled back to this area several times those first years of our life together. One of those trips took us over portages and down rapids until entering Knife Lake, close to the Canadian Border. We had heard of an elderly lady who lived all by herself on Pine Island in the middle of this lake.


On this particular day, we decided to find the island and stop and say hello to this intriguing woman. Dorothy Molter fell in love with the Boundry Waters as a young woman fresh out of nursing school. In the 1930s she moved to the Isle of Pines to help an aging friend with his resort business, thus allowing herself to enjoy the wilderness of Northern Minnesota. After the death of her friend, Dorothy took over the little business, renting the few cabins and canoes. Within a few years, she became well known, and hardy canoers found their way to her three small islands.


During this time, the government passed the Wilderness Act. Dorothy was offered $1.00 a shore line foot for the Isle of Pines. She said no. The government was consistent in their attempts to buy her out to the point of condemning her islands. She was heartbroken in fear of having to leave her beloved home. A friend of hers, who happened to be a reporter from Chicago, after discovering her plight, wrote an article about her misfortune.


Soon her fans from around the country began writing letters protesting the government’s intentions. After a battle between the “friends of Dorothy,” and Uncle Sam, a compromise was agreed upon. In 1975 Dorothy sold the islands, but was given the title of Overseer and Wilderness Nurse of Knife Lake. She was granted her wish to live on Pine Island for as long as she wished.


Dorothy, long ago, began brewing home made root beer. Her recipe was simple: pure lake water, root beer flavoring, sugar, and yeast. She bottled the brew herself, sold it to her visitors and they loved it. However, after the government took over, she was not allowed to sell anything. She began accepting donations and made more money and thus did not have to pay income tax.


She dutifully called in every evening to give a report on the lake’s visitors. She lived happily on her islands, greeting her visitors and offering root beer to all. People came from all over the United States and Canada to visit Dorothy. Signatures of thousands of visitors, such as George and Kathleen Brosius, June 11, 1969 to a 16 year old Julia Roberts in1984 were recorded in her books.






In December, 1986 Dorothy didn’t call in. She was found lying on her cabin floor clutching an arm full of firewood. She died in her home of 56 years, of a massive heart attack on the island that she loved at the age of 79.  Her beloved friends lovingly disassembled her cabins and reassembled them in a wooded area on the edge of Ely, MN. Tours and her famous root beer are offered to visitors daily. She has not been forgotten.


George and I visited Ely and the Dorothy Molter Museum this past week. Fond memories of our visit with her on that day in June on our fourth wedding anniversary in1969 brought tears to our eyes. We are so very happy to have met such a remarkable woman. Visit www.rootbeerlady.com and read more of Dorothy.

George, Dorothy, and Kathleen 1969













George, Dorothy, and Kathleen 1969




Dorothys Island












Dorothys Island photoed by us in 1969




Kathleen at our camp near Dorothy in 1969














Kathleen at our camp on Knife lake a few miles from Dorothys Island June 11th 1969, our 4th wedding anniversary.


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