White Bear Lake has always been a popular recreation area for visitors and residents alike. For decades, the summer brought train cars filled to capacity with eager city dwellers who wanted to enjoy the warm breezes and the healthful waters of the “northern lakes” region. As the leaves turned each fall, the trains would become less frequent and attention would turn back to the endeavors within the larger cities.
For those who stayed at the lakes, the cooler temperatures provided a winter playground full of opportunities and adventure. Children would shovel off ice skating rinks on the many lakes and ponds around the area to enjoy. Cross-country skiing was a popular mode of transportation throughout town and downhill skiing took shape for a short period in what is now North Oaks.
For several years, a large toboggan slide was constructed at the end of Clark Avenue near Lake Avenue. Riders would climb the wooden stairs up the back and slide their way down through the rollers, to be shot off into the snowy boulevard.
The most exhilarating form of winter recreation, however, had to be the iceboats. These graceful and speedy crafts can be seen on the lake today if the conditions are right. An iceboat needs a solid depth of ice with little or no snow on the surface to impede the runners as they glide across the ice. An iceboat can reach great speeds and provided the most exhilarating ride that could be found on the lake a century ago. The tradition of iceboating on White Bear dates back to the last turn of the century, and while the season is short, the enthusiasts are many.
Sara Markoe Hanson is the executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society. She is one of a handful of community representatives sharing history thoughts monthly on our website and in our magazine. For more information on the history of iceboating in the area, visit whitebearhistory.org, or call 651.407.5327.