Before the United States Government and six local Indian tribes crafted a treaty in 1825, the White Bear Lake area had been a prime hunting and fishing ground for over 4,000 years. In 1858, Minnesota became a state, and White Bear Township was born as a government entity. By that time, the area was already a popular vacation spot for city folk looking for summer reprieve from the bustle of busy streets.
Villeroy B. Barnum had erected the town's first hotel in 1853, and over the next 20 years, other resorts, including the Leip Hotel, The Williams House, and Ramaley's Pavilion, sprang up along the lakeshore. By 1890, five resort hotels and numerous white tent communities accommodated guests from the Twin Cities and beyond. Three hours' travel via horse-drawn wagons and carriages brought visitors to the scenic beauty of White Bear Lake.
When the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroads extended tracks to the lake in 1868, the travel time was cut to 30 minutes, and up to 10,000 tourists per day flooded to the area to enjoy special events sponsored by the resorts. They took to the water in steamships and walked along the shores of the lake as musicians performed from floating barges. On the southernmost bay of White Bear Lake, they rollicked in Wildwood Amusement Park.
The park began as a public picnic ground in the 1880s, and was further developed by the Twin City Rail Transit Company to include a Tilt-A-Whirl, roller coasters, bumper cars, a bowling alley, and a dance pavilion. Through the 1920s, the air rang out with happy shouts of families on vacation, but automobile travel soon made northern resorts more accessible, and in 1932, Wildwood closed its gates forever. In 1938, the park was torn down, and the land sold for development. White Bear Lake was no longer a vacation hot spot.
Once a playground for the likes of Ma Barker, Babyface Nelson and high-society matrons, White Bear Lake was left to the year round residents like J.W. Fillebrown. He bought a lakeside home in 1905, and by 1920, he had winterized and remodeled the cottage so that he and his family could enjoy the lake through all the changing seasons.
Fillebrown's daughter, Helen, returned from studying in Europe and taught music and held recitals at the family home. Later, she and a group of friends ran a Depression-era tea room there, and the home became known as the Red Chalet.
By 1950, White Bear Lake's population had grown to 3,646 and it more than tripled after the post war building boom. In 1965, White Bear Lake was dubbed ìAll American Cityî by the National Municipal League and Look magazine. Today, the town remains a flourishing all-American community, and carefully restored historic remnants serve as reminders of the city's colorful past.
Helen and her brother left the Fillebrown home to the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society, which has preserved this architectural treasure and opens it to the public on summer Sundays. Other local landmarks include the Geist Gazebo; The Soldier's Memorial on Clark Avenue, which was erected in 1913 to honor the men of White Bear Lake who served in the Grand Army of the Republic; and the White Bear Lake Depot. Built in 1868, the Depot now houses the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society and a railroad museum.
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