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City of Excelsior

Excelsior is a small lakeshore city on the southern shore of Lake Minnetonka in Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States. Its population was 2,188 as of the 2010 census. As the 2020 census, its population was 2,414. The community is located approximately 15 miles (24 km) southwest of downtown Minneapolis. The buildings along Water Street, housing many of the community’s shops, were placed on National Register of Historic Places in 2021.

The first Euro-Americans known to have visited Lake Minnetonka were two teenage boys, Joe Brown and Will Snelling, who canoed up Minnehaha Creek from Fort Saint Anthony in 1822.

Lake Minnetonka was officially named by Minnesota’s territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, in 1852. He had been informed that the Dakota used the phrase Mní iá Tháŋka (“the-water-they-speak-of-is-large” in the Dakota language) to refer to the lake. Excelsior, the lake’s first white settlement, was established the following year.

Streetcars were used in Excelsior until 1932, when the line was cut back to Hopkins.

20th century
A large ballroom called “Danceland” (later “Big Reggie’s Danceland”) stood across the street from Excelsior Amusement Park from the mid-1920s to 1973. Operated by Ray Colihan, it hosted performances by Lawrence Welk, Fred Waring, and the Andrews Sisters in the 1930s. These acts were followed by the Beach Boys, who performed at Danceland on May 3, 1963. Beach Boys singer Mike Love remembered the performance as a significant moment for the band in a 2019 interview. According to Love, people “were breaking the windows to get into [Danceland] because it was sold out… I said to one of my bandmates: ‘This must be like when Elvis was starting out.’” One year later on June 12, 1964, The Rolling Stones played at Danceland for an audience of 283. It is speculated that Jimmy Hutmaker, a resident of Excelsior, inspired Mick Jagger to write the 1969 Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” after a chance encounter with the star at a local drugstore earlier that day. However, this claim has long been disputed.

In 1974 President Gerald Ford purchased a golden retriever named Liberty from Excelsior resident Avis Friberg.

21st century
Through the years, downtown Excelsior historic district has been home to many businesses including hotels, restaurants, and merchants. Since 2010, restaurants and eateries have come to dominate the town’s commercial landscape. While many businesses have come and gone, Excelsior is known for maintaining its historical identity. Beyond the downtown district, Excelsior also retains much of its Victorian era housing stock. Strict building codes are enforced in order to preserve this identity.

The Excelsior Commons and Lake Minnetonka are central amenities to the community and are major draws for tourists today. The Minnesota Streetcar Museum, a local transportation museum, maintains a heritage streetcar line in Excelsior and operates three restored streetcars on the line: Twin City Lines No. 1239, Winona Power & Light Co. #10, and Duluth Street Railway No. 78.

Parks and Recreation
The Commons and Port of Excelsior is a 13-acre (5.3 ha) municipal park developed in 1854. Other notable recreation areas include Excelsior Parkland, and the shoreline on Lake Minnetonka.

Notable People

  • John Berkey, science fiction and film poster artist
  • Jimmy Hutmaker, local celebrity
  • Liberty, presidential dog
  • Terry Katzman, music producer and sound engineer (Hüsker Dü, The Replacements)
  • Ryan McCartan, actor and singer
  • Haley Kalil, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue model and Miss Minnesota USA
  • Vinni Lettieri, professional hockey player
  • John Mark Nelson, singer-songwriter
  • Brent Sass, American Dog Musher
  • Martha Sheldon, medical missionary
  • Don Shelby, television personality
  • Wesley So, Super Grandmaster (chess), two times United States Chess Championship Champion in 2017 and 2020.

In Popular Culture
It is speculated that Jimmy Hutmaker, a resident of Excelsior, inspired Mick Jagger to write the 1969 Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” after a chance encounter with the star at a local drugstore in 1964. However, this claim has long been disputed.

Excelsior serves as the setting for the Needlecraft Mystery book series by Monica Ferris.

Activities and Events
The Southwest Regional Light Rail Transit Trail, a favorite of bicyclists and walkers, passes through downtown Excelsior. At the north end of town is The Commons park and recreation area with a swimming beach, playground, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and areas for picnicking.

There are a number of community events held each year in Excelsior, which are sponsored by the South Lake-Excelsior Area Chamber of Commerce. Thousands of visitors come to Excelsior each year to attend the Art in the Park, Fourth of July festivities, and Apple Day festivities.

Excelsior is a strong, vibrant, caring community. Come to Excelsior soon to shop in our downtown business area, ride on one of the many excursion boats, or just to picnic.


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