Dorothy Molter, The Root Beer Lady

18 05 2008

On my post yesterday I posted photos of visiting Minnesota…and I hinted about a lady named Dorothy Molter, also fondly known as the root beer lady…and I promised you a future post about who she was…so here it is…you’re reading the future 🙂 well, kind of…anyways, when I visited the boundary waters I was told stories about the root beer lady, and I was very intrigued to find out more…so I bought a book, it was appropriatly titled The Root Beer Lady, and was written by Bob Cary…. Below is a photo of the book and a brief summary (provided by the publisher)….

The Root Beer Lady

The story of Dorothy Molter who came to the Minnesota-Ontario Wilderness area as a young woman and stayed for fifty-six years. Making her home on Knife Lake, 18 miles from the nearest road, Dorothy became a North Woods legend. Trained as a nurse, she often cared for wilderness residents and visitors who needed help in this remote area. An ice-cold root beer and a warm welcome greeted thousands of visitores to her island home.

The book is written very simply…oh’s back to the blog now…where was….yes, the book is very simply written…not hard at all the comprehend…but after reading it I just fell in love with her, and wished I’d have had the chance to meet her…unfortunatly, she passed away, long before my canoe paddle ever hit the Minnesota water…however, I was still deeply inspired by her story…and more than once I wanted to flee my life for peacefulness of the boundary water lakes, rather than just the moderate quietness of my teenage room…She was so very strong-willed yet, very caring to everyone who passed through her island…but, anyway, here’s some more info about her (courtesy of so…I hope you enjoy it….psstt…all the pics are from them too.

Who was Dorothy Molter?


Dorothy and Vera the crow 1952

Dorothy Louise Molter was commonly known by thousands of paddlers as the “Root Beer Lady”, Born May 6th, 1907, in Arnold, Pennsylvania she was one of six children born to Mattie and John “Cap” Molter. Mattie passed away when Dorothy was seven, and the children were placed in an orphanage in Cincinnati. When “Cap” remarried in 1919 he moved to Chicago and reunited the family. After attending high school, Dorothy chose a career in nursing. This inevitably led to her lifetime of living in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area on the international border of the United States and Ontario, Canada. She would administer to many, many visitors who were in need of first aid, including tending to wildlife such as Vera the crow pictured here with Dorothy on the Isle of Pines of Knife Lake.

Dorothy came to Knife Lake for the first time in 1930 when she was twenty-three. She came to stay in 1934 to care for Bill Berglund who owned and operated the Isle of Pines Resort. Dorothy spent almost all of her time here, only returning to the Chicago area to attend schooling required to maintain her nursing certificate. When Bill passed away in 1948 Dorothy became the owner of the resort. She operated the Isle of Pines Resort from 1948 to 1975.

In the winter Dorothy would live in the winter cabin, which was located on the east end of the largest of the three islands. In the spring she would move over to the summer island and live in a tent cabin. In the summer she would then rent the winter cabin, trapper cabin, the point cabin, and the Katie cabin located on another small island.

Many visitors to Isle of Pines remember Dorothy’s flower gardens, and the fences crafted from broken paddles, to keep the critters out. As more visitors donated broken paddles, it wasn’t long before there were brightly painted paddle fences everywhere. Dorothy did have one rule. The paddles must be broken and unusable, though many were sawed in half just for the honor of being placed on her fences.

Due to the Wilderness Act, Dorothy’s property was condemned and purchased by the United States government. She was informed she would no longer be allowed to live on Isle of Pines, rent the cabins as a resort, and was ordered to leave the area. Her many friends circulated petitions in order that she would be allowed to remain. She was granted lifetime tenancy in 1975 and as a result was able to stay until her death in December 1986.

Dorothy Molter Museum

Visitors with Dorothy Molter on Isle of Pines

Nestled in a quiet grove of pines, just outside of Ely, Minnesota, are the cabins and museum of one of the northwoods dearest and most colorful individuals, Dorothy Molter. Some remember her fondly as the “Root Beer Lady” while others recall her as the “Nightingale of the Wilderness” or simply, Dorothy.

Dorothy carved out her legacy in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) located within the Quetico-Superior National Forest. Dorothy lived on the Isle of Pines on Knife Lake for more than 56 years where she paddled, hiked, fished, skied and snowshoed this pristine area, until her death in 1986. She was visited by as many as 7,000 people a year.

About the Dorothy Molter Museum

The Dorothy Molter Memorial Foundation located in Ely, Minnesota, was formed to preserve and interpret her legacy. Dorothy’s homestead was dismantled in 1987 and transported by dogsled and snowmobile to Moose Lake, and then on to Ely where volunteers restored two of her cabins. We invite you to not only visit our website, but to also stop by our museum where the root beer is always cold and Dorothy’s story lives on.

The Dorothy Molter Museum is located on the south side of Hwy 169 on the east end of Ely, MN. Guided tours are available weekends during May and September, and the museum is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Monday through Saturday 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, and noon to 5:30 pm on Sundays. Tours are $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under 6.