Excelsior's Forgotten Railroad
Updated: Aug 12, 2022
Excelsior - that little suburb to the west of Minneapolis. Back in the day, it used to be known as a getaway for the elite of Minneapolis and St. Paul as they retreated to the shores of Lake Minnetonka for a summer getaway. Excelsior even hosted some high profile drama in the autumn of 1926 when Frank Lloyd Wright was arrested for allegedly violating the Mann Act - a federal statute prohibiting the transport of women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Wright brought his mistress to town - the Hennepin County Sheriff did not take kindly to this and arrested Wright where he spent two days in county jail. Wright ultimately was not prosecuted, but it certainly was embarrassing at the time - and likely not his proudest moment.
Back in 1926, the easiest way to get to Excelsior by way of Minneapolis was by rail. This line still exists today, although it's been repurposed as the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail, a local trail frequented by cyclists. This 15-mile stretch of rail right-of-way stretches from Hopkins in the east to Carver Park Reserve at it's western terminus. In Hopkins, the railroad still exists where the BNSF shares the right-of-way with the burgeoning Southwest LRT.
However, rail companies used to compete for business, and many railroads used to cross the prairies and woodlands of Minnesota. One of these forgotten railways can still be traced from Excelsior to St. Bonifacius in the West. This railway was part of the Great Northern Railroad, the railway was ultimately abandoned in the late 1800's. Many suburbanites may not be aware that their homes and properties are on top of what was once a bustling rail corridor carrying people and commerce throughout Minnesota.
This aerial photograph of Excelsior and Shorewood from 1937 clearly depicts the scar of the Great Northern Railway as it cuts it's way through the center of the photograph. It's easy to be confused by the stretch of BNSF that later became the Lake Minnetonka LRT to the north in this aerial photograph. I've taken the courtesy to highlight the forgotten rail in red. Today, this section of rail cuts directly through homes, yards, and parks as it skates its way towards St. Bonifacius.
This section of rail is nearly indiscernible On Google Maps today. You can most clearly see the remnants of the railway on the western border of the former Minnetonka Country Club land, and parts of trail in Carver Park Reserve use this abandoned right-of-way for their walking and cycling trails.
Once the forgotten railway enters Carver Park Reserve, it meandered through the park where it bridged Mud Lake and Parley Lake to the north of Crown College. This area to the east of these lakes is now frequented by mountain bikers and cross-country skiers visiting the Three Rivers Park. The railway ultimately ends at it's western terminus as it connected to what is now the Dakota Rail Regional Trail. The rail continued westward until it connected with another network of rail in Hutchinson, Minnesota.
If you visit Google Maps, you are still able to faintly draw the outline of the line of rail in Carver Park Reserve.
Like many abandoned railroads across the United States, this railroad was shuttered due to a number of reasons. Mainly, competition from other railroads and mergers of rail companies ensured the obsolescence of this roughly eight-mile stretch of rail. One thing I can guarantee is had this right of way existed today, it would make for a great trail.