ELY, Minn. (WCCO) — The Land of 10,000 Lakes has no shortage of legends, and deep in the north woods of St. Louis County, you’ll find another one: Dorothy Molter.
She was the last non-indigenous resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
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Before that, she was a city girl and a nurse who took over Isle of Pines resort on Knife Lake in the late ‘40s. Molter quickly developed a reputation for being kind, quirky and resourceful.
“She had a mink that was orphaned that she helped raise. There was a crow. There was a deer,” said Jess Edberg of the Dorothy Molter Museum.
There were also broken canoe paddles everywhere that she used as fencing to keep people out of her flowerbeds. After a while, visitors would put their names on paddles and give them to her.
But Molter really made a splash when the Forest Service started buying out property to create a wilderness area. They offered her $3,000 for her resort. Dorothy wasn’t impressed. She stood her ground, knowing it was worth a lot more. Eventually they worked out a deal.
“Long-term she ended up selling it, but on the flipside, she got to stay there,” Edberg said.
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When float planes were banned in the Boundary Waters, Molter could no longer get some supplies, including pop. So she used empty bottles and made her own root beer with lake water.
“It was inexpensive and easy to brew,” Edberg said. As for the taste, that’s up for debate.
Today, that pop is still sold at a museum in her honor. When the Root Beer Lady passed away in 1986, friends used dogsleds and snowmobiles to move her cabins and belongings from her island to Ely.
Edberg believes she was a lady who knew what she wanted and loved what she did.
“She did it during a time when it was incredibly challenging for young, unwed women that were educated,” Edberg said. “She’s a great example of living her life in a very authentic way.”
Molter’s root beer is also sold through a distributor.
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The museum also teaches classes on root beer making. The museum will re-open in May.