Bird House Inn Offers History, Good Eats and Ambiance in Some of the Only Lodging on Lake Minnetonka

The 1858 Victorian offers history, ambiance and delicious food in Excelsior.
Historical photo of the Clark home from the early 1900s, which feature the family gathered on the beloved porch.

The historic Clark home on Excelsior’s Water Street stands out from its neighbors—and it has quite a story. Built in 1858, it’s among the oldest homes in the area and is being considered for a spot on an Excelsior list of historic places.

When John “Jack” and Alice Howard purchased the home from the original owners—the Clarks—in 1927, they immediately made it a business venture by renting out rooms. During the Great Depression and the years following, “people did whatever they could to make money,” says the Howards’ grandson, Tom Knowlton, who still lives in Excelsior and has fond memories of his grandparents’ house. His Grandpa Jack was always an entrepreneur—he delivered mail, picked up laundry by boat, and he and his wife operated an eight-unit resort in what is now the TCF Bank parking lot and Wells Fargo Bank.

“There used to be a swing on the porch. We’d bang into the wall and Grandma would come out yelling,” remembers Knowlton. “When I was about 10 years old, Grandma sent me out with a knife and a metal pan and told me to cut dandelion greens from the cabin court next door. She used them in our dinner.” The grand porch outside the house was the site of holiday gatherings, when Knowlton relatives from the Excelsior and Minnewashta areas would gather for a meal and conversation, remembers Tom’s brother, John, who now lives in Texas.

The home has seen its share of owners, renovations and layouts over the years since, but it’s still a charming home-away-from-home for lake-area visitors, with conversation and delicious food at the heart of it all.

Dave and Gretchen Wahlstedt live in the carriage house on the back of the property with their two kids, a dog and two cats. Originally looking for a rental property in the area, the couple considered several others before coming across the Bird House Inn. They employed an innkeeper and then co-owned the property while “working themselves out of” their careers as an engineer and teacher. They now live on-site and operate the inn—with Dave doing most of the cooking—year-round.

In true bed-and-breakfast style, the signature hot breakfast is served in the dining room on weekends, often egg bake with mushrooms and sausage, and lots of fresh fruit, says Dave. On weekdays, there’s a low-key continental breakfast. Every day of the week, the breakfast is included in the stay, and, yes—it’s just fine to wear your pajamas!

“It’s laid-back, comfortable and friendly. It’s not super-posh or pretentious—just kind of relaxed, like a lake home should be,” says Dave. In case you’re wary about the communal living style of a bed and breakfast, it’s totally acceptable to skip out on the morning conversation altogether and take your meal to your room. Guests come and go as they please, with fresh coffee, wine, cold drinks and snacks up for grabs in the living area all day. And when they’re ready to explore outside the inn, guests can take full advantage of booming downtown Excelsior, just steps from the front door.

“What’s been so neat about buying this business is how many good things have happened in Excelsior in the years since,” says Dave. “The town was pretty sleepy, and it’s become a great destination for Twin Cities and out-of-town visitors.” So what does he think about operating almost all of the lake area’s lodging in the Bird House’s quiet guest rooms? “I welcome anyone else who wants to join in, but it’s also nice being the only game in town!”

Bird House Inn has five guest rooms—named for types of birds—each with king or queen beds. Check out the Turtledove for a romantic getaway with a double whirlpool and four-poster bed, or the Meadowlark for a cheery space with a fireplace and private balcony. Rooms range from $99 to $219 per night.