Root beer lady

Dorothy Molter Museum marks 20 years

K. Vandervort
Dorothy Day held last Sunday is part of the 20th anniversary of the Dorothy Molter Museum in Ely.
Keith Vandervort

ELY – Dorothy Day was held Sunday as part of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Dorothy Molter Museum in Ely. The special day included free tours of Dorothy’s cabins, guided trail hikes, naturalist presentations and nature crafts for kids.

Visitors to Dorothy Day also had the opportunity to visit the museum’s expanded gift shop and the new exhibit “Dorothy Molter: Living in the Boundary Waters.”

“It is important to tell Dorothy’s story,” said Nancy McReady, who has been a tour guide at the museum for the past 10 years. “Her story is such a big part of the story of the Boundary Waters.”

Who was Dorothy?

Dorothy was born in 1907 in Pennsylvania, one of six children. After high school she chose a career in nursing which eventually led her to a lifetime of living in what would become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, according to biographical material at the museum.

She first came to Knife Lake in 1930 when she was 23 years- old. She came to stay in 1934 to care for Bill Berglund who owned the Isle of Pines Resort. She lived there for more than 56 years.

As a result of the Wilderness Act, her property was purchased by the government. Friends circulated petitions to allow her to stay. She was granted permanent tenancy in 1975 and she lived on the Isle of Pines until her death in 1986.

Her homestead was dismantled in 1987 and eventually moved to Ely where two of her cabins were reconstructed. The Dorothy Molter Memorial Foundation was formed to preserve and interpret her legacy.

Craig Ohlhauser, of Ely, brought his wife, Beth and their three children to Dorothy Day. “I first started paddling the BWCA when I was 16 years old,” he said. “I never met her but remember seeing the remnants of her cabins on Knife Lake and later reading about her history up year. I’m glad her history is preserved here.”


Legend says Dorothy’s nieces and nephews would visit her in the summer to help with chores and in the production of her famous root beer. “All they wanted to do was swim and fish and have fun,” McReady said. “She would say to them ‘quit your belly-aching.’ Her brother would make signs with the saying and his own humorous way of spelling the phrase,” she said.

Root beer

Dorothy brewed over 10,000 bottles of root beer each year. “It was chilled by ice carved out of Knife Lake in the winter,” McReady said. “It was enjoyed by the thousands of paddlers who visited her island home.” The beverage is currently brewed in Janesville, Wis. “Someday, we want to have Dorothy’s root beer made right here in Ely,” she said.


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