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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

My Stuntz Bay boathouse

April Wamhoff
Posted 7/19/23

Living on an island takes a great deal of planning and consideration. I certainly wish I had done that and not gone on the seat of my pants method. Still, four years later, I’m still here and …

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My Stuntz Bay boathouse


Living on an island takes a great deal of planning and consideration. I certainly wish I had done that and not gone on the seat of my pants method. Still, four years later, I’m still here and happy about my decision. I’ve learned a lot and still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I fell into and certainly did not appreciate near enough at the time. The Stuntz Bay boathouse.
According to Wikipedia, there are 143 boathouses in Stuntz Bay, mostly built in the first half of the 20th century. The lots were given to the Soudan Iron Mine employees as a reward for years of service and the miners built the structures out of tamarack poles and scrap metal from the mine. Resourceful, huh? Apparently the mining company promoted outdoor recreation as an employment perk and I can imagine hunting and fishing were popular pastimes.
At any rate, I have one that has been in the family for quite a few years now. Because the houses are now part of the Soudan Underground Mine National Park and are listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, I am subject to the rules of that organization. As it stands currently, I will be the last generation in my family to use the boathouse and ownership will eventually revert back to the park. I can never sell it or give it to a next generation. I am it!
But, man oh man, I’m gonna use it now and appreciate it every day! My boathouse is a rather medium- size one compared to some of the other houses. It fits my runabout just nicely. When my dad purchased the house, it came with a retired mailboat. I’m sure it was a large boat for the day. There are larger boathouses and even doubles, and doubles that have been remodeled to house larger boats. And there are smaller ones. Much smaller ones. I don’t imagine, back in the day, there was much call for a house large enough for a huge runabout or a houseboat.
And though the worth and ownership of the boathouse ends with me, she is priceless. Truly! I use it nearly every day. And as such, we maintain her whenever she needs some TLC. She was originally sitting on posts pounded into the bay. Egads! We’ve since had cribs put in. Tilt up doors have been replaced and a roll up installed. The year of the flood, I had to have my three big dogs sit in the front of the boat for enough weight to get under the tilted-up door. It needed replacing anyway. The barn swallows are messy part-time residents in the boathouse. I have three plastic owls doing sentinel duty. They are marginally helpful. One has blinking lights for eyes and hoots when it is activated by motion. I think it was inspired by a horror movie and, if I were a tiny bird, I think I would be scared. But they are brave. And they don’t pay rent!
I see other improvements made to the boathouses. Some have solar panels. More roll-up doors and new cribs have been installed. But some have fallen into extreme disrepair and even collapsed into the lake. Such a shame. I imagine they have already reverted back to government ownership for one reason or another.
Those of us who have the true privilege of the use of one of these structures are so incredibly fortunate. I do wish the rules would change to allow more years of ownership to more generations. Then maybe the decay of these truly priceless buildings would stop. But for now, we live with the rules and hope for a change. This humble little structure, my Stuntz Bay boathouse, rich in history, allows me the ability to live on my island.