Most people probably think of Eden Prairie’s settler history uniformly as agrarian, protestant, and primarily of northern European descent. But, besides its rich indigenous past, Eden Prairie’s last 170 years or so have been peppered with endearing examples of African Americans welcomed into the community as laborers, tenants, and business owners.
One such example comes from the memories of Roger Dressen. A descendant of Eden Prairie’s first pioneers, Roger was born on a farm near Pioneer Trail in 1930. He tells the story of a man named Edgar Kennedy King, who along with his wife, Grace, purchased in 1938 the “Lantern Inn” on Riley Lake, on land that today is the public boat launch area.
The Inn’s origins date to 1934, when Helen Hatleberg of Chippewa, Wis. purchased land from the Schmidel family — which owned all of the land that is the Bearpath neighborhood today – to open a resort on the lake. The small enterprise rented out wooden fishing boats, offered lakeshore cabins for rent, and hosted galas celebrating New Year’s Eve and other festive occasions.
Roger has many memories from the King era, when his family sold eggs, chickens, and vegetables Fridays and Sundays as cars from the cities stopped along Pioneer Trail. Some people became frequent visitors and Roger remembers one woman, Mrs. Session, who would send a post card with her order so that it was ready for her trip back home on Sunday. She would arrive in a Packard with a driver wearing white gloves and a hat. Roger has such fond memories of this wealthy, African American woman in a limousine who treated him so kindly.
The Kings are believed to be the first black family ever to own and run a business in Eden Prairie. They expanded the resort to offer weekend get-aways featuring barbecues, jazz bands, and concessions lakeside. Renamed “King’s Valley,” the resort drew faithful customers from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the farm communities within driving distance. Additionally, Edgar and Grace lived and farmed the property that surrounded the area south of what is the public beach today.
Edgar died in 1948 and, four years later, public records show the property in probate selling for $12,000. Back in the ‘50s, the Eden Prairie Township had not yet begun to acquire parkland, so in 1952 the property sold on the open market to Kenneth “Dutch” Schaitberger. Renamed “Dutch’s Resort,” the property stayed in the Schaitberger family until, in 1975, the City of Eden Prairie purchased 36 acres to develop what is now Riley Lake Park.
Today there’s nothing left but memories of the resort on Riley Lake with its rich history and storied past. But the next time you are taking a walk on a misty summer evening down by the beach at Riley Lake, stop and listen, and you might still hear the sounds of dancing, laughter, and boisterous chatter. You might even catch a glimpse of Mrs. Session being helped out of her limo by her chauffeur and dancing her way down to the water.
Thank you, Roger Dressen, for sharing a piece of your Eden Prairie past! And a belated thanks to the Kings, who helped to preserve one our most precious community amenities of today: the park at Riley Lake.
(This article is being published during Black History Month and was provided by Kathie Case, who leads the Eden Prairie Historical Society.)
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