White Bear Lake

The Township was originally surveyed in 1848.  Like most townships, it was roughly platted into 36 one-mile sections.  Legally known as the Town of White Bear, White Bear Township was formally organized at John Lamb’s Hotel on the north shore of Goose Lake on May 11, 1858 -- the same day Minnesota became a state.  As originally established, White Bear Township was one of six congressional townships in Ramsey County. 
In more than 150 years, the Township has transcended from a farming community, a resort area and a freestanding town into a cluster of suburban communities within the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.
Political boundary changes began in 1881 when Township residents who owned businesses in what is today’s downtown White Bear Lake voted to form a village.  In 1921, residents of the Village of White Bear voted to incorporate as a city and White Bear Lake was born.
In the late 1950’s, three additional villages were formed out of the Township.  North Oaks was created in 1956, Vadnais Heights began in 1957 and Gem Lake was formed in 1959.  In 1974, all villages in Minnesota became cities by State law.  Additional boundary adjustments occurred in the Township into the early 1970’s through a number of annexations.  Today, the original township is divided into roughly four quadrants with the cities of North Oaks and Vadnais Heights occupying the western half and the community of White Bear Township together with the cities of White Bear Lake and Gem Lake in the eastern portion.
Early Inhabitants
The first inhabitants of White Bear Township were Native Americans known as the Dakota, or Sioux, who lived in tipis on the shores of the Township’s many lakes.  They moved their villages as the seasons changed and the game migrated.  The Dakota’s enemy, the Ojibwe, or Chippewa, lived in birch bark wigwams near Taylors Falls, northeast of the Township.  Territorial conflicts arose between the tribes on a regular basis.
“There is hardly a foot of soil around White Bear Lake that has not been ensanguined by the blood of these hereditary foes,” wrote Historian J. Fletcher Williams. “Spirit Island (Manitou Island) seems to have been the most hotly contested ground, and to this day the remains of rifle pits, redoubts and earthworks are there to be found, while its soil was enriched by the innumerable warriors who were slain.”
An infamous battle between these tribes took place in 1855 when a hunting party of Dakota happened upon a group of Ojibwe near Lake Oneka, north of the Township.  The Dakota killed and scalped an Ojibwe warrior during the battle and later lost two of their own that had been wounded.
The name “Bear Lake” appears on an 1843 map drawn by Explorer J.N. Nicollet, who followed the fur trade route through the region.  White Bear Lake is taken from the Dakota word “Mahto-mde,” which roughly translates into “Bears Lake.”
Future newspapermen, resort owners and visitors would come to call the entire area “White Bear Lake” because the lake was the largest reference point in the vicinity.  The lake would also become well known for its legend in which the spirit of a white bear haunts Manitou Island. There are several versions of the “Legend of White Bear Lake” the most popular of which was made famous in humorist Mark Twain’s 1883 book, Life on the Mississippi.
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