Much of what we know about early Lake Minnetonka history comes from the pages of Lydia Ferguson’s diaries. She recorded it all, from 1854 to 1886, in a clear-eyed chronicle that includes her own family’s tales of suffering, insanity, death, love and endurance.
Ferguson was one of the earliest white settlers on Lake Minnetonka when it was still surrounded by wilderness. She was born in Massachusetts in 1825. At maturity, she stood only 5-foot-1 and weighed 84 pounds. She married William Ferguson in 1845 and moved to New York, where they both taught school. In 1854, the Fergusons and their children migrated to the Township of Excelsior, on what came to be known as Ferguson Point. For $225 in gold, they purchased a claim with one acre cleared and a garden.
In 1857, grasshoppers took most of their crops, and that same year, her husband drowned in Excelsior Bay. Ferguson was compelled to remain on the claim her husband had secured. In the early 1860s, she went back to teaching school in Plymouth Township. She was remarried in 1862 to William Holtz, a disabled soldier of the Union Army, whom she later divorced.
The hardships continued. Ferguson’s daughter was institutionalized three times, and family members tried to commit Ferguson and her son, too. In fact, some of her diaries were burned by a daughter and son-in-law, so we’re missing her views of the Civil and Dakota Wars. Her remaining diaries share everything from ice-out dates to planting schedules to her daily hopes and fears. They’re a great window to a lakeside era that’s long past.
Deanna Bunkelman is the president of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society. Volunteer Lisa Stevens contributed to this reporting. On January 14, as part of the Tapping History series, Stevens will present more about Lydia Ferguson’s diaries (7 p.m., Excelsior Brewing Co.).