Dorothy Molter Museum

A nonprofit organization

$8,835 raised by 67 donors

100% complete

$2,200 Goal

The Dorothy Molter Museum preserves and interprets Northwoods wilderness heritage through learning opportunities inspired by Dorothy Molter.

Dorothy Molter was the last of a special type of person, and the last non-indigenous resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. A self-reliant and resilient woman ahead of her time, she believed in herself and in her abilities to live on her own, often in the harshest conditions, and overcome great challenges. Living in harmony with the environment, she respected the plants and animals with which she shared her world.

Originally from Chicago, IL, Dorothy first came to Knife Lake in 1930 on a family fishing trip while on break from nursing school. She fell in love with the area and ended up helping the original property owner, Bill Berglund, operate the rustic Isle of Pines Resort on Knife Lake until Berglund's death in 1948.  

After inheriting the resort property, she continued to run it as a commercial operation offering her nursing skills to the many canoers who sought her out for help with a broken arm or fish hook in their hand. Each year as many as 6,000 visitors from all over the world would stop by the Isle of Pines and visit Dorothy at her wilderness home and partake in her homemade root beer.

When the Wilderness Act of 1964 passed and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was established, it became unlawful for Dorothy to run her resort operation and her property was threatened with condemnation.  

Already known as both “The Root Beer Lady” and “The Florence Nightingale of the Wilderness” by thousands, Dorothy’s many friends and supporters circulated petitions nation-wide in order that she be allowed to remain on her property. Eventually, she was granted lifetime tenancy in 1972 by the U.S. Congress.

After her death in 1986, volunteers received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to dismantle and transport Dorothy’s homestead by dogsled and snowmobile to Moose Lake and then on to Ely. Volunteers later restored two of the cabins (the Winter and Point cabins) and realized their dream of opening the Dorothy Molter Museum on May 6, 1993, Dorothy’s birthday.

Today, 5,000-6,000 visitors still visit Dorothy’s cabins at the Dorothy Molter Museum in Ely, Minnesota. The museum is dedicated to preserving and interpreting Northwoods wilderness heritage through learning opportunities inspired by Dorothy Molter.


Organization Data


Organization name

Dorothy Molter Museum

Tax id (EIN)



Arts & Culture


PO Box 391 2002 E Sheridan Street
Ely, MN 55731



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