The Burwell House Is a Home for the Ages

by | Jun 2023

The Burwell House

Photos: City of Minnetonka

Burwell House opens its doors to historical appreciation.

Be honest. Have you ever thought, “I’d love to see the inside of that house” as you walked or driven by a home? I’ll go a step further. I sometimes wonder about the people who called the abode “home.” Who are they? What do they do for a living?

Here’s a chance to do so by getting an inside view into the life of Charles Henry Burwell and his family, who resided at 13209 E. McGinty Road in Minnetonka. Since 2002, the City of Minnetonka has offered tours the home during select times of the year. More on that later.

Who was Burwell?

From 1874 to 1886, Burwell served as the secretary and manager of the Minnetonka Mill Company. “It was one of the largest and most important of the six flouring mills that stood on Minnehaha Creek in the 1870s,” says Kathy Kline, Minnetonka’s recreation administrative coordinator.

Many people were employed at the mill, which was near the Burwell House, built after the mill opened after the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed on July 23, 1851. (The treaty was between the United States government and the Upper Dakota Sioux bands.) To learn more about the Minnetonka Mill Company, visit

The Burwell House was built in 1883 along the Minnehaha Creek at Minnetonka Mills and was home to Burwell; his wife, Mary; daughter, Louise; and son, Loring. The dwelling was eventually sold in 1958 to the William Smith and his wife, Dolores. The couple had five children. The City of Minnetonka purchased the home from the Smith family in 1970. “It is lovingly and authentically renovated by the City of Minnetonka …”
says Petey Ellis, tour guide. “It is unique because visitors walk through the house with a tour guide, who can entwine the history of the area, the customs of the Victorian Age and era furnishings to reimagine how people once lived and prospered.”

Petey Ellis

Petey Ellis

In 1974, the venue was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The grounds also include a cottage, a woodshed, an ice house and the Minnetonka Historical Society Museum, which was Burwell’s former workshop and was the original office for the mill.

Once a Teacher …

Ellis of Minnetonka has been heading up tours for about eight years and is one of about 20 Burwell House tour guides. “I love history, and I’ve grown up here and saw the Burwell House a lot of times when it was a private house,” she says.

The retired teacher from the Osseo School District is still a student of history. “I try to read everything I can about Minnetonka and put information that is exciting about history [into the tours] because I think history is so exciting,” Ellis says. “I think it’s important for people to know that where they live has a history and people live on. So many places lose that history if someone doesn’t write it down or keep the history.”

Ellis not only shares her love of history with the touring public, her granddaughter, Ella Davidman (Wayzata High School Class of 2024), is also a Burwell House tour guide.

Interested in becoming a tour guide? Shifts are typically three hours, twice a month, but scheduling is flexible. Training is provided.

Additional information is available by calling 952.939.8350.

Mark the Calendar
  • Guided tours are available from 1–4 p.m. Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from June–August.
  • There are also tours from 1–4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in September.
  • Tours last between 30–60 minutes and are free, but donations are accepted.
  • The City of Minnetonka hosts Spooktacular at the end of October.
  • The Minnetonka Historical Society decorates the home for the holidays and offers tours on Sundays in November, and a Holiday Open House is held usually on the first Sunday of December.
  • Permits are available for private use of Minnetonka Mills Park and the Burwell grounds for events, such as weddings and receptions. To request a permit, call 952.939.8354.

For tour information, visit


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