During the last glacial period, large amounts of glacial till was deposited and accumulated forming hills as the glacier passed over and receded from this area. The twisting and undulation of the land forms as well as the shape of the lakes may be the basis for the city's name - Minnetrista (Minne from the Dakota word meaning water and trista from the Dakota word meaning crooked or twisted).
Much of the area became covered with hard and soft wood forest and was settled by the Dakota Indians centuries ago. The tribe nearest the Minnetrista area was the Mdewakanton, the largest tribe of the Dakota. Indian mounds were prevalent in Minnetrista and some remain to this day. Some say that these mounds were built by Indians of an earlier period known as the "Mound Builders." These mounds are such a prominent part of the area landscape that our neighbor, the City of Mound, was named for them. An impressive group of 69 mounds extended along the high land on the north side of Halstead Bay. Click here to learn more about this mound group (file supplied by the Westonka History Museum, located in Mound. Visit the museum to see a 3D-printed physical model of this mound group).
In 1849, Minnesota was organized as a territory and pressure was put on Congress to acquire the valuable Indian land. In 1851, The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed and the Dakota left the area.
The first European settlers came to the area in the 1850's. In 1854, the Merz Brothers moved into the Saint Bonifacius area, Nathaniel Sanders and J. F. Buck settled on the shores of Saunders Lake, and John Carman and Mathias Cook moved into the Cook's Bay area.
Notable early settler Frank W. Halsted arrived in the area in 1855. He built a cabin on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, on what is now known as Halstead Bay, in his honor. Captain Halsted served in the Navy during the Civil War with distinction and then returned to the area and built a larger cabin, which was called "the Hermitage" by area residents. Captain Halsted was the Justice of the Peace and solemnized the first marriage in Minnetrista. The Hermitage was an oft visited site, as Captain Halsted and the house itself were intriguing to all visitors. After Captain Halsted's mysterious death in 1876, his brother Major George Halsted, moved into the Hermitage and welcomed visitors until his tragic demise in the 1901 fire that destroyed the landmark.
Samuel Merriman was the first settler in the northwestern part of the community, when he moved onto a large claim in between Whaletail and Ox Yoke Lakes in 1857.
On April 10, 1858, Hennepin County Commissioners set apart Town 117, Range 24 as German Home Township, named for the large number of residents of German stock. In 1859, the town government was organized when voters met in Mathias S. Cook's log cabin. During this meeting, there were several proposals to change the name of the town and name "Minnetrista" was chosen.
In the early 1900s one of America's first transcontinental auto routes, the Yellowstone Trail, passed through that portion of Minnetrista bordering the City of Victoria, running over the top of the bluff between Lake Minnetonka and Lake Zumbra. Travelers on their way west often stopped at the area hotels and inns including the Chapman House and the Palmer House hotel which featured a gazebo, celestial observatory telescope, and formal gardens complete with a fountain.
Over the years, the Cities of Mound and Saint Bonifacius separated from Minnetrista Township and incorporated into cities. Minnetrista Township remained as not only a popular tourist destination with hotels, cabins, a prominent boat landing, and summer camps, as well as a thriving rural agricultural community.
Minnetrista Township continued until 1960, when the government was adopted municipal structure and became known as the Village of Minnetrista. In the early 1970s, Minnetrista was fully incorporated as a statuatory city.
The Stories Behind the Names
Wawatosa Island, sometimes referred to as Boy Scout Island, was named for a Dakota Indian that saved a fur trader's daughter from drowning. Literally translated, Wawatosa means 'little firefly'.
Historic Crane Island was so named because the early settlers misidentified the plentiful blue heron birds as cranes.
Enchanted Island was named for the medicine dances that the Dakota Indians performed there.
Ox Yoke and Whaletail Lakes were so named because of their evocative shapes on the map.
Dutch Lake was named for a group of Germans (aka "Deutsch" in their native tongue) that settled near its shores.
Lake Minnetonka's name derives from the Dakota words that mean "big water".
Jennings Bay, Halstead Bay, Phelps Bay, Painters Creek, and Saunders Lake were all named for early settlers. In the case of Saunders (for Nathaniel Sanders) Lake and Halstead (for Frank Halsted) Bay the honor came with an extra vowel.