History of incorporation

It was a lively topic of discussion and activity in 1956: incorporation as one village or two. However, the decision to change from a township to a village was not made overnight.


Several neighboring communities had previously incorporated as separate cities that included portions of Minnetonka Township’s 36 square miles: Wayzata in 1883, West Minneapolis in 1893—later renamed Hopkins for the railroad stop, and Deephaven in 1900.

Other areas annexed later by Hopkins included Belgrove (1950), after city sewer was connected to Minneapolis in June of 1950 and city water was available; west Hopkins (1949, 1953); Knollwood (sometime between 1947 and 1954); Oak Ridge Golf Club (1946); Drillane (1949); and Interlachen Park (1949, 1952).

From 1950 to 1954, small tracts of Minnetonka Township were annexed into Wayzata. And from 1947 through 1955, St. Louis Park annexed land east of Ford Road north of Runnymeade.

Then, in early June of 1956 landowners and developers petitioned St. Louis Park for another 200 acres to be annexed out of Hopkins.

The St. Louis Park City Council responded with the first and second reading of an ordinance. Annexation requests could only be made by the individual property owners involved; township governments, like Minnetonka, did not have the authority to stop or deny annexations.

That was the last straw.

Initial discussions

On June 14, 1956, Minnetonka Township residents met to name a committee to study the possibility of incorporation into a village “as a remedy to repeated raids on township territory by neighboring communities.”

The meeting was initiated by residents from the northeast side of the township, in the area proposed for annexation into St. Louis Park. They were opposed to the annexation, which was initiated largely by landowners who did not live on the land, some living outside the state, also described as “nonresident owners [petitioning] specifically for development of real estate interests.”

Town Board Chairman Ray Porter led the meeting. William T. Frommes, a Clear Springs attorney, was named chairman of a committee to study the advisability of incorporation as a village as one measure to protect Minnetonka from land annexations by neighboring St. Louis Park.

Other members of the committee were Gale Chapman, who was appointed secretary, and six sub-committee chairs. George Heisey (was to “to find people who went through the period of a village incorporation study several years ago [in 1948];” Jim Henry would study expenditures; Mrs. Theo Telke would study revenue and the township’s tax base; Carl Deverwas to bring information about the relative powers of both types of government; and Paul Buck headed an organizational subcommittee. The group met again on June 27.

It was rumored that Glen Lake might attempt to become a separate village. Ceil Robertson Marshall, wrote in her 1979 booklet, “Welcome to Glen Lake” that “Glen Lake has never been a town. It has been a community and at one time some residents wanted to incorporate. It was decided, after much discussion and some angry feelings, that it would be better to stay within the Minnetonka Township government.”

A flurry of annexations

A flurry of annexations to Wayzata occurred over a five-week period in June and July of 1956. Owners of almost 700 acres (over one square mile) in the northwestern part of Minnetonka township (which included 625 people in 175 properties in Bushaway, Holdridge and the Gleason Lake areas), requested annexation to Wayzata because they would be eligible for city sewer and water services, increased fire protection and policing, as well as the taxes to go with those services.

Almost daily emergency meetings of the Wayzata City Council were held to accept petitions from landowners who wanted to be annexed into Wayzata before Minnetonka became a village.

One village or two?

When the committee report recommending incorporation as a single village was presented to the Town Board a couple of weeks later, the campaign for two communities—one being Burwell—was also well underway.

The boundary line for two proposed villages to be incorporated out of the township ran west along Cedar Lake Road from present Highway 169 to Minnehaha Creek at Minnetonka Mills, then west along the creek to Gray’s Bay and around its north side to the western border of the township.

The village of Burwell was proposed north of that line, with the village of Minnetonka south of that line. The proposed village of Burwell included 3,808 people in an area that was about three and a half miles east to west and three and a half miles north to south.

Competing petitions

A letter dated July 13, 1956, from the Burwell Village proponents described the sequence of events when competing petitions were presented to the County Board for a single village and for two communities.

“We were alarmed because, through previous careful study, we [the Burwell Group] were convinced that the area … of the proposed village of Burwell would make an ideal village where we could control our costs of services and government as the years went on. We immediately canvassed and met with a large group of citizens representing every portion of the Burwell area. After careful consideration, this group of citizens decided to take a census and petition the Board of County Commissioners to hold an election which would determine if a majority of the citizens of Burwell area wanted to form their own village. Our census was started on Saturday, June 30.

“It was completed and the petition prepared and properly signed and notarized on Tuesday, July 3, too late for presentation at the County Commissioner’s Office. We appeared at the Court House at 6:15 the morning of July 5, and at 6:45 a.m. had representatives in the front of the four doors of the County Auditor’s Office, where the petition must be presented.

“The representative carrying the petition prepared by those close to the Minnetonka Township Council appeared at 7:35 a.m.

“In the newspaper article, the incident was described as a “photo-finish and a draw.” Actually, as witnesses can testify, your Burwell representatives stood in front of each of the four doors of the County Auditor’s Office first. Our petition was presented first and stamped at 8:00 a.m. The other petition ws stamped at 8:15 a.m. At any ticket window, first is first—not a draw. We feel that our petition should be recognized and voted upon first [in an incorporation election].

“In conclusion, we wish to pay a tribute to the good services and good government we have enjoyed under the Minnetonka Township and its Governing Board. It is too bad that we cannot keep it that way, but we cannot.”

The Hennepin County Board accepted the petition for a referendum for a single village that included the entire township and set August 22, 1956, as the election date.

A letter dated July 13, 1956, listed reasons for establishing Burwell village:

“We want to keep this beautiful residential area which it now is; …keep down the cost of services and government; the area is homogeneous in quality and outlook, and it is necessary …[for] immediate protection against the encroachments of adjacent communities; large enough in area and population for economical government, small enough for personalized, close-to-the-grassroots government; relatively limited road problems [resulting in ] limited maintenance costs in relation to population; no fringe areas have been left out and forced to join nearby communities with which they do not desire ties; keep building restrictions as they are; no problems requiring large community capital expenditures are likely—drainage situation is good, all homes have their own wells and sewage systems on lots of 1/3 acre or larger, [meaning] we will never need trunk line sewers and city water supply except in a few very small areas; enable us to keep our taxes under our own control and lower than they are likely to be in any village formed from the whole township; citizens will be able to run their village government with all necessary services at a minimum cost to each householder—tax revenues, based on present valuations and mill levy, will carry our estimated costs of services and government.”

Thirty residents signed the letter, asking “for your support to this public effort which is dedicated to giving you good services, good government, and a good place in which to live at minimum cost.”

An attachment to that letter mentioned that the powers of a town board were very limited.

The Burwell group wrote that one reason they acted was in response to potential annexations by St. Louis Park in the northeastern part of Minnetonka Township.

Reporting recommendations

The report from the committee appointed by the Town Board was completed on July 30 and made available to residents.

The fact-finding committee had considered the pros and cons of four alternatives: incorporating as a single village, remaining a township, annexation to several adjoining communities, or splitting into two more villages.

The report recommended incorporation as a single village. Portions of the report were published in the Aug. 2 issue of the Hennepin County Review.

Two minority reports were filed at the same time—one by Charlotte Chope (a former town clerk) and Atherton Bean, the other by John Shanard (the township attorney and a member of the committee).

Chope and Bean wrote that the committee was rushed, that much of the data and information gathered was not available to allow adequate time for study, deliberation and discussion before decisions were made.

They asked that serious study be given to the incorporation of Minnetonka as two or more villages.

Shanard said he believed township government was best suited to Minnetonka, that it would be a change from “a grass roots democratic government to a representative government…which [would be] more susceptible to pressure groups than is a town board.”

He stated that annexations were not the great problem they were deemed to be, and he advised that “no challenge to the authority of the town board has been made, and therefore, no change is necessary.”

Alleged inaccuracies of the census were also discussed in detail in the two minority reports.

Both complete minority reports were published in the Aug. 9 edition of the Hennepin County Review.

Halting elections

A group of residents in the proposed Burwell Village area filed a temporary injunction to halt the election on the grounds that “census figures gathered by the township’s fact-finding committee were ‘inaccurate, misleading and liable to cause considerable loss of tax revenue and funds.”

A hearing was set for on September 24, but the injunction was suspended to give residents the chance to vote on August 22.

Despite the restraining order, more than 150 residents listened for nearly three hours on August 21 while fact-finders answered questions relative to village incorporation. From their remarks, most [in attendance] favored the August 22 election and incorporation as a village.

The restraining order drew heated comment. Residents objected to what they termed “the right of a small group to deprive the majority of the township’s residents from voting Aug. 22.”

Meeting chairman George Heisey, a member of the fact-finding group, reminded residents that “in the U.S., a minority always has the privilege of speaking its mind and resorting to the courts for remedy or relief in such matters.”

A new census of the entire township was taken in a whirlwind move the day before the election in order to correct inaccuracies of a figure listed in the petition for incorporation; it showed a population of 15,500.

Literature was distributed for all points of view: one village, two villages, or remaining a township.

Not everyone who lived in the proposed Burwell Village area favored two villages. Sixteen families who lived there signed a flyer urging a vote for incorporation of the entire township as one village.

Voting for a village

The election on incorporation of Minnetonka Township to become a village was held at the Town Hall, where regular or special town elections always took place.

More voters turned out than for any previous township election in the area. The Minneapolis Star reported that 3,625 voters decided 2,309 to 1,275 that Minnetonka would become a village.

Seymour Thimsen, town clerk, said if the vote had been any larger, judges wouldn’t have been able to handle it. All that remained to complete the incorporation were the procedural steps of certifying election results and documents with the county auditor and secretary of state.

Minnetonka became the 11th township in Hennepin County to join the growing list of governments switching to village status since the 1950 census. The other ten townships that incorporated as villages between 1950 and 1956 were: Spring Park, 1951; New Hope, 1953; Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, and Maple Grove, 1954; Medina and Plymouth, 1955; Greenwood, Independence, and Shorewood, 1956.

In a letter to Burwell proponents dated Sept. 11, 1956, and signed by Atherton Bean and Arthur Hyde, they noted the defeat of their proposition. They wrote that they believed if they pursued their legal position, it would be upheld and the election nullified.

However, they also believed a large amount of public excitement would follow, and there was no assurance that an election for the establishment of a village of Burwell could be won.

Therefore they wrote, “It is our judgment that the time and money involved in pursuing the legal course would be better spent: (a) in working to elect the best candidate for Mayor and the most competent members for the Council of the new Village of Minnetonka; (b) to sustain continuous interest in the actions of the Council which we know will be subjected in the future to pressure to change our building regulations and zoning restrictions; and (c) to use our best efforts to keep down the cost of government.”

First elected officials

The election of officers for the new village was set for September 18.

Three men ran for mayor, and 25 ran for four council seats. In that first council election, 3,014 people voted.

Ray Porter was elected mayor. He had previously served as township mayor, and he worked as a heating and plumbing contractor.

People elected to the council were Paul Buck, Bill Carlson, Jack Eide and Fred Swanson.

Elected justices of the peace were Allan Johnson and Bill Frommes. Dick Kucera and Chet Brokl were elected constables. Kucera held a similar position with the township.

After the election, the Village Council created a municipal court, revised the building ordinance to establish half acre minimum lots, increased minimum frontages and side yards for building lots, and passed a new platting ordinance.

The Park Board was established in 1957. In 1958, the council increased the number of men on the police force and authorized additional equipment.

False fears

An article in the Hennepin County Review in January, 1957, expressed a couple of opinions about the future of Minnetonka that were later proven erroneous.

“Informed sources maintain there is not enough available manpower to operate a volunteer department.”

Two years later, the volunteer fire department was established with 35 charter members and an additional 6 probationary members.

“Services like sanitary and storm sewer appear to be far off into the future. They are usually undertaken because of demand of which there has been almost none.”

By the late 1960s, testing found many wells to be contaminated, and some areas in Minnetonka were expressing concern about leaking septic systems. In the mid-1970s, roads and yards were being torn up to install municipal sewer and water lines.