Dorothy Molter

Dorothy Molter. (Image: rootbeerlady.com)

Dorothy Molter, aka “The Rootbeer Lady,” was the last person to live inside the borders of the B.W.C.A.W. on a permanent basis. In 1930 she moved into an island cabin on Knife Lake, thirty miles north of Ely, and settled in. She made the trip to town for provisions by way of canoe, Nordic skis, and snowshoes. In 1952 the Saturday Evening Post called her “The Loneliest Woman in America,” though that was hardly the case. When the weather allowed, Dorothy enjoyed an almost constant stream of visitors, particularly during the summer months. For a time she operated a small resort and trading post, brewing up homemade root beer for thirsty canoeists, earning her the nickname “The Root Beer Lady” (to cool the drinks in the summer, Molter used lake ice she had packed in moss each spring before the thaw). In 1983 alone, more than 6,500 canoeists signed her guestbook. When a federal law banning permanent residents in the B.W.C.A.W. went into place in 1974, Molter and Benny Ambrose (who lived on Ottertrack Lake) were allowed to stay as “voluntary employees” of the Forest Service (Ambrose died in 1982). Molter lived alone, claiming she never married because “I hate to cook.” She died December 18, 1986. Her cabins were later dismantled, moved to Ely, and reconstructed; they are now the main attraction of the town’s Dorothy Molter Museum.

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