As a private, non-profit organization representing part of the unique and rich history of northeastern Minnesota, the Dorothy Molter Museum strives to not only honor the legacy of its namesake but also, be an active and positive member of the Ely Area community and family of Minnesota museums.
The Dorothy Molter Museum preserves and interprets Northwoods wilderness heritage through learning opportunities inspired by Dorothy Molter, the last non-indigenous resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
Inspiring the next generation of Northwoods stewards to make a significant contribution toward a better world through Dorothy’s legacy of perseverance, integrity and generosity.
The Dorothy Molter Museum is a dynamic and widely recognized educational organization, highly valued for its historical integrity and educational impact. As we continue to remember Dorothy and keep her spirit alive, we strive to embody the same principles that she espoused:
To maintain long-term sustainability in an ever-changing social, political and financial climate.
To maintain the highest degree of historical accuracy and visitor satisfaction.
To be a positive, active and contributing member of the diverse communities we are a part of.
Community Benefits Statement
The Dorothy Molter Museum takes great pride in representing part of the unique and rich history of northeastern Minnesota. Preserving and interpreting the history, heritage and landscape stories of the Northwoods through the lens of Dorothy Molter’s life is a role taken very seriously.
The Museum also believes in being an active, supportive and productive member business of the communities that surround it. Its Community Benefits Statement is a reflection of the work done to ensure that.
Board & Staff
The Dorothy Molter Memorial Foundation does business as the Dorothy Molter Museum with oversight by a volunteer Board of Directors and management by paid staff.
History of the Museum
After Dorothy’s death in December 1986, a group of her local friends arranged a memorial snowmobile ride to the Isle of Pines by coordinating with Dorothy’s family and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for a one-day permit to drive snowmobiles into the BWCAW on January 10, 1987.
Approximately 500 to 1,000 of Dorothy’s family, friends and supporters attended. For those who couldn’t attend, a small memorial service was held at the First Lutheran Church in Ely where a discussion over keeping Dorothy’s memory alive lead to the idea of a museum dedicated to her life.
Participants at the Memorial Ride, January 10, 1987
The USFS was already moving forward with plans to eliminate the structures, non-native plants and personal items from the Isle of Pines in accordance with the residency agreement to return the islands back to a more natural state after occupancy.
Working fast, a dedicated group of volunteers formed a task force, and were referred to as “Dorothy’s Angels.” Working with the USFS, the City of Ely and the Minnesota Historical Society, the “Angels” were granted permission to remove Dorothy’s [salvageable] cabins and personal belongings. They had until March 14 to go in and out of Knife Lake either by non-motorized means or approved flights.
The Point Cabin dismantled
Partnering with the Ely-based Voyageur Outward Bound School (on the South Kawishiwi River) and the Northern Tier Boy Scout Base on Moose Lake, the Angels coordinated dogsled teams (including custom freight sleds) to systematically dismantle, mark and stack the cabins, and haul out the buildings and Dorothy’s personal belongings.
However, in early March, Minnesota experienced a late-winter thaw with temperatures over 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the sustained warm temps made portages muddy and lakes slushy, preventing the dogsled teams from traveling to and from Knife Lake.
Once again, the Ely Community took action. Letters to the USFS were sent by the mayors of Ely and Winton, the Ely Chamber of Commerce and the Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club to request permission to use snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (just out on the market) to finish the job.
ATVs allowed to move the cabins
An interagency letter received on March 20 granted a three-day window to access Isle of Pines by motorized means and remove the remaining cabin logs. An army of about 70 volunteers on snowmobiles and three-wheelers with any type of trailer hurried to Knife Lake in order to beat the weather and meet time constraints.
Dorothy’s cabins and personal belongings were stored in Ely as the Angels developed a plan for the museum and where to rebuild the cabins. In 1991, it was decided that the John Rozman Memorial Forest of primarily mature red pines on the east edge of Ely would be a fitting location.
Again, Dorothy’s Angels pulled together to reassemble the cabins and prepare them for the public. On May 6, 1993, what would have been Dorothy’s eighty-sixth birthday, the Dorothy Molter Museum opened its doors.
Grand Opening (L to R): Bob Cary, Ross Buffington, Bea Brophy, Steve Molter, Bob Haapala and John Rosett
The Dorothy Molter Museum was established in her honor to preserve her legacy. It features her Winter, Point and Cady Cabins, each with unique exhibits highlighting her root beer-making equipment, travel to and from Knife Lake, living in the wilderness, the history of the land that is now called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Dorothy’s childhood using an extensive collection of personal objects, photographs, documents and memorabilia.
Through exhibits, tours and related educational programming, the Dorothy Molter Museum is uniquely positioned to help visitors gain an understanding of how the establishment of the Boundary Waters as a designated federal wilderness is an important part of the area’s past, present, and future.
The museum property is currently comprised of an Interpretive Center/Museum Store, the three original log cabins, Dorothy’s Discovery Trail, a ¼-mile nature trail, and Birds’ Landing at Dorothy’s, a public birding area. As time goes on, those who knew Dorothy personally are becoming rarer therefore, the museum continues to evolve its interpretive offerings and exhibits so that it can continue to provide new and relevant ways to share Dorothy’s story to the next generation of Northwoods stewards who will keep her legacy alive.
The Dorothy Molter Museum has an extensive collection of Dorothy Molter’s personal objects and memorabilia, photos, archives, and three historic log cabins, as well as a smaller collection of photos and archives related to the museum’s history.
Currently, the museum has limited resources in providing public access to the objects, photos and archives in the museum’s collection. However, through grant funding and volunteer help, we have made great strides. Our long-range goal is to have collection details available to the public via this site and limited public access to physical items. Until that time, please contact us directly for information.
The Museum’s Board of Directors adopted a new, five-year strategic plan for 2018-2023 through a collaborative process between Board, staff and volunteers. This plan guides and informs museum leadership in decision-making and planning through established goals.
If you would like to see a more detailed plan that includes specific strategies and outcomes, please let us know.
Dorothy was always concerned with the physical well-being of others and gave freely of her medical knowledge to all who came her way. As a way to give back to the community that supported Dorothy, the Dorothy Molter Memorial Foundation (Dorothy Molter Museum) will award one scholarship per year up to $1,000.00 from the Wilderness First Responders’ Fund. This scholarship is funded by contributions made from staff, board, volunteers, members and guests of the Dorothy Molter Museum. Scholarship availability will be promoted to Ely Area residents interested in enhancing their medical expertise.
Board of Directors
Pam Brunfelt, Chair
Gil Knight, Vice Chair
Sherry Abts, Secretary
Elizabeth “Liz” Gorrilla
Jess Edberg, Executive Director
Lisa Robbins, Finance Manager
Laurie Bambas, Wholesale Manager
Kay Vandervort, Visitor Services Assistant
Join us for a season of fun as a staff member!