Way up north, where Minnesota's border meets Canada's, the historic 1910 Kettle Falls Hotel has stood the test of time. A simple, camp-style wooden structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it's located deep within Voyageurs National Park .
Of the 218,000 acres in this remote park, more than one-third are water. So to reach the hotel and explore the area it's necessary to rent a kayak, sailboat, motorboat, or houseboat or arrive by tour boat or seaplane.
You won't be the first to make this scenic trip. Traveling by canoe, Ojibwe Indians fished here in the early 1700s. Later, French Voyageurs portaged long outriggers and bundles of fur around the Falls. Gold miners hopped steamers from here to Rainy Lake when the Gold Rush of 1859 struck.
With increased activity came the need for lodgings. Bankrolled by madam Nellie Bly, the hotel was erected. An ample supply of Northland customers was virtually guaranteed: Loggers who toiled by the nearby dam, commercial fishermen who auctioned their catches at the docks, and bootleggers who imported whisky during Prohibition all found a warm welcome here.
Standing at the tip of the peninsula between Namakan and Rainy lakes, the seasoned hotel has retained its old-fashioned furnishings and sloped bar room floor which still bears the cleat marks of long-gone lumberjacks. In the dining room, wild rice and walleye salmon, both regional specialties, keep visitors returning.
Those who want to learn more about this area can visit the Kettle Falls Historic District, the Koochiching County Historical Museum in Smokey Bear Park (which houses Native American, gold rush, logging, homesteading, and farming artifacts), and the Kabetogama Lake and Rainy Lake visitor centers. And every June, the local Ladyslipper Festival features an antiques auction in addition to food, arts, crafts, and fun.
Native American History
While much of America was engaged in the Civil War, another conflagration this one between Dakota Indians and Minnesota settlers was being waged. At the Lower Sioux Agency Historic site east of Redwood Falls, you can learn about Dakota life before the 1850s, the government programs that sought to reshape it, and the events and aftermath of the 1862 war. Outdoor exhibits include a reproduction bark lodge.
Other Prairieland museums and historic spots honoring the traditions of American Indians and the early pioneers include Pipestone National Park. According to Lakota tradition, its soft pipestone originated when the Great Spirit sent floods to cleanse the earth. Red pipestone, the "blood of the ancestors," was what remained. After the flood, the Great Spirit gave the Indians a pipe carved from red stone, to be used for religious and ceremonial purposes.
Follow the walking trail that loops through the park, passing working quarries, Leaping Rock, and Winnewissa Falls. In the visitors center find interpretive exhibits and a pipe-filled gift shop, plus local American Indians demonstrating the art of carving.
Downtown Pipestone's Historic District includes 20 distinctive turn-of-the-century buildings built with the Sioux quartzite. Boutiques, antiques shops, The Historic Calumet Inn, and Pipestone County Museum are housed within. The latter includes a pre-history gallery and American Indian artifact collection.
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