Legacy of the Lakes Museum - Atlas Obscura

Legacy of the Lakes Museum

This museum is dedicated to preserving Minnesota's lake culture through displays of vintage watercraft and rotating exhibits. 


“We’re going up north to the lake.” It’s a common phrase heard every summer across the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and for many families, boat culture is synonymous with being a Minnesotan. At the Legacy of the Lakes Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota, this cultural heritage is preserved and explained to Minnesotans and visitors alike.

The museum began in the 1990s as a shared concept among a group of locals who loved restoring classic boats. There was a desire to have a home for the boats as well as to celebrate lake life. After a decade of fundraising and visioning, the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum opened in October 2004, soon moving into a new building in 2006.

The heart of the museum remains the collection of vintage luxury watercraft. Many of the boats date to the early part of the 20th century, and the collection includes rare boats from classic manufacturers like Chris-Craft, Gar Wood, as well as local manufacturers such as Alexandria Boat Works. Displays on pontoons and fishing explain recreational life on the lakes, and the museum also hosts an exhibit on the history of the opulent resorts in the area. And of course, there’s a free annual boat show, held each summer in Alexandria.

The museum’s focus has shifted in recent years, however, from a collection of recreational boats to a broader perspective on lake culture. The museum is now home to music and cultural events, and a landscaped botanical garden was added in 2012. The lens of the museum has also expanded to focus on working class life and the Native American boat culture that existed in the area from even before first contact. To acknowledge this perspective, the museum’s name was changed in 2016 to the Legacy of the Lakes Museum to better reflect that the museum is not just about the past, but also the future. These days, the mission is to pass down the memories of Minnesota families going to the lake to the next generation.

Know Before You Go

The Legacy of the Lakes Museum is open seasonally. Check the website for details on dates and hours, as well as special events, including the annual boat show.

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