Minnetonka's first historian

Anne and Dana Frear, circa 1965. Dana is considered Minnetonka’s first historian. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Dana W. Frear was Minnetonka's first historian. In the early 1930s he began gathering material for a comprehensive history of Minnetonka.

We became acquainted in 1957, not long after my family moved into a new home in Minnetonka.

A League of Women Voters chapter was gathering information about the recently-approved village, and Dana knew a lot about its history. He taught me how to collect and pass on that history.

The unpublished manuscript he began planning and writing in 1934 would span the years from the community's beginnings as a township in 1851 to 1971, two years after Minnetonka became a city.

As the work got underway, "Minnetonka Town: The First Hundred Years," occupied most of Dana and Anne Frear's spare time for decades. After Anne became ill, his sisters-in-law Alexandra Campbell and Dagny Scharmann helped with the typing and proofreading.

Dana Frear was born in 1884 in the home with the distinctive stone wall, which his father built for his new wife on McGinty Road in 1878. The house sat across the road from the property on which the Burwell House would be constructed in 1883.

The house had no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water for many years. Kerosene lamps and lanterns furnished light, water was drawn from a well with a hand pump and chimneys in every room vented the wood stoves that heated the house.

After Dana married and returned to live in the family home, the house was modernized in 1928.

When World War II ended, the pent-up demand for new housing made it financially appealing for landowners to divide their property. The Frear family farm off McGinty and Plymouth roads was platted as Frear Acres and divided into lots.

Dana spent a great deal of time in his growing-up years in the Eidam-Frear general store in Minnetonka Mills, co-owned by his father, Walter, and Edward Eidam (on the site of today's Bennis Feed and Fuel).

The variety of goods and activities there reflected the daily life of the community. Dana's vivid memories of the customers and inventory of the popular gathering place are recorded in his manuscript.

Frear attended the University of Minnesota, graduating from the University's College of Agriculture in 1909 with his bachelor's degree. He subsequently also earned master's and doctoral degrees. During the course of his career, he was the author or co-author of articles and publications about botanical subjects.

He was on the faculty and did research and extension work in several midwestern universities and worked in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After 22 years serving in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, he retired as state agronomist in 1954.

Most of his time away from work was devoted to learning more about the history of Minnetonka and Hennepin County, and after he retired that became his main focus. One of his greatest pleasures was to go calling on old-timers and "mine" their historical information. Dana said he was inspired mainly by stories his mother told about her childhood in Minneapolis in the 1850s-60s.

At first, he expected to be able to write a short history immediately from material on hand or already in print in widely scattered places. He soon realized that the vast reservoir of history material of the town was rapidly disappearing. Those whose minds and memories were full of history lore were dying.

Public and private records, papers, diaries and documents were accidentally and, in some cases, deliberately being destroyed. Too many private citizens and public officials were indifferent to the historical value of such material and the need for preserving it.

He decided it was more important to collect and preserve as much material as possible before it was too late. The abundance of material available and the possibility of finding much more by diligent and persistent search encouraged Dana to enlarge the scope of his efforts, thereby prolonging completion of the written history.

It was a matter of time and persistence. He became quite skilled in knowing where and how to search.

Often the most fruitful sources were the casual and unexpected contacts with individuals in person or by letter, or stumbling on information in newspapers or documents that filled in gaps or led in another direction.

Along the way, Dana took numerous photographs and created displays. He and Anne presented lectures, often illustrated by glass slides made from Dana's photographs.

In 1971, after being recognized as the unofficial city historian, Dana Frear received Minnetonka's Distinguished Service Award in acknowledgement of his work to preserve Minnetonka's heritage with his manuscript.

Dana said, "Completion of the book was a dream come true. It has affected the perpetuity of the history of Minnetonka, honored its pioneers and acquainted the present generation and its children with the rich history of the region."

Dana Frear died on Jan. 28, 1975, at the age of 90, eight hours after Anne died at age 79.

He had lived through almost a century of great changes in Minnetonka and recorded much of it.

The city of Minnetonka Historical Society is currently preparing Frear's book for publication.