Murray County lake recreation on display
SLAYTON — Visitors to the Murray County Museum have a chance to experience the past and present of the county’s lake areas even in the depths of winter.
The museum has a keynote exhibit in a front-and-center display location that covers a panorama of subjects related to lake area histories, lake recreation, seasonal and year-round businesses, and important decisions in water management.
The largest item on display is a boat that was manufactured locally in the 1950s. The company operated for five years until it sustained a major fire.
A sense of climbing aboard is conveyed by a constructed replica of a wooden dock. Visitors can walk up the dock and then enjoy a bird’s eye view of the boat’s cabin interior.
Other parts of the exhibit delve further into seasonal lake traditions. They include accounts of passenger boats such as the Etta Mae, which offered Lake Shetek excursions circa 1900. A modern-day counterpart was the two WhyKnot cruise boats based out of the Key Largo supper club that treated guests to boat rides and often to appetizers and beverages. Events such as class reunions, family reunions, birthdays and retirements often included a cruise.
“We have a long history of enjoying the local lakes and promoting lake tourism,” said Murray County Museum Director Janet Timmerman. “It started almost from the beginning when towns were first established. Many of those traditions have been carried over into the 21st century.”
Other examples of lake recreation history highlight resort locations at Lake Shetek. The two major resorts in the early 20th century were Valhalla on Valhalla Island and Tepeeotah on the eastern shore. Both had multi-floor lodging and large pavilions for guests to gather. A lasting example of resort amenities is the Rollerdome facility; now the location of the Shetek Marine boat, equipment, and accessories dealership.
Timmerman said Murray County has a grand total of 77 lakes. Communities such as Fulda, Avoca and Lake Wilson all have lakes on the outskirts of city limits.
One of the goals in designing the keynote exhibit was to create a complete picture of what it’s taken to manage lakeshores, water quality, and wetland drainage.
“Recreation is a very important part of the concept, but we also wanted to show how it ties back to the water cycle, water quality protection and the ecology of our prairie region,” Timmerman said. “It all ties together. Having both a strong farm economy and the advantages of local lakes has often required good natural resources management.”
Timmerman is the co-editor of the 2001 anthology “Draining the Great Oasis”, along with retired Southwest Minnesota State University history and rural studies professor Joseph Amato and SMSU rural studies professor Anthony Amato.
She wrote the essay that has the same title as the book. Her contribution focuses on a set four lakes west of Slayton known as the Great Oasis, all of which were shallower than Lake Shetek, Lake Sarah and most other nearby lakes. They were drained in the early 1910s with the goal of having productive farm land.
Other essays, all of which centered around aspects of Murray County environmental history, featured topics such as horse culture, road development, soils, wildlife, and lakeshore land use.
She said the current museum exhibit has led to many favorable comments. With each new visitor, it’s likely to bring attention to more than a century’s worth of recreation and water management, much of which is not widely known outside the region.
“We’re not usually thought of as a lake and tourism destination, even though we’re part of Minnesota,” Timmerman said. “It’s an important part of our local way of life. We wanted to share many of the details that deserve attention.”
Shortly after the exhibit was completed, Carlson Corner owner Jeff Carlson said he sees potential for people who see lake history on display in Slayton to decide to come to Lake Shetek and other locations at the height of each summer season. His business is located near U.S. Highway 59 on Vahalla Road leading to Valhalla and Keeley Island on the west side of Lake Shetek
“I think it could help, Carlson said. “If people have a chance to learn about our history and natural resources this winter, they might decide to enjoy the lakes in the summer.”