Lights on in the warming house

Image by Miriam Kelen from the collection of the Hennepin History Museum

It’s easy to believe that the long, north-pointing “finger” of Lake of the Isles freezes right to the bottom every winter.

Lake of the Isles is never more than about 30 feet deep, and that northern finger only gets as deep as 10 feet in a couple of places. Most of Lake of the Isles is only 5 feet deep. That makes ice-skating seem, somehow, a little safer.

Lake of the Isles has been one of the best places to skate in Minneapolis since the earliest years of the Park Board in the 1880s. Here was one of the first warming houses at a Minneapolis skating rink. Lake of the Isles was also one of the first places where lights were provided for skating at night. Electric lights were available back in the 1880s at Loring Park, but lights came later to the Isles rink.

Back in 1914, a dentist named Bell contrived a way to light the ice for himself by hanging automobile headlights on his chest and powering those with batteries. It certainly looked silly, but he did not worry about holes in the ice or danger spots. And he got to enjoy the peaceful silence of skating under the winter stars.

The picture is by Miriam Kelen and was taken at dawn on a winter morning in 1992. Skating at Lake of the Isles is a quintessential Minneapolis experience. Perhaps it is the easiest one to share with the past — across more than a century of winters.

Karen Cooper is a researcher at Hennepin History Museum who spends less time skating than she used to and wonders if age is just a number. Her skates languish in the hall closet, but the museum’s holdings are on display in the “Shelf Life” exhibit.  Drop by 2303 3rd Avenue South in Minneapolis or get more information at