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Finding Minnesota: Quirky, Scenic Latsch Island

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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Web Extra: Slideshow Of Latsch Island Houseboats

WINONA, Minn. (WCCO) – In one of Minnesota’s most scenic areas, you’ll find one of its quirkiest neighborhoods. Not only are many of the homes oddly-shaped, they’re not even on solid ground.

Latsch Island is in the middle of the Mississippi River near Winona, and it has dozens of boathouses tethered to its shores.

Leslie Eaton, 62, has one of them. She wandered into the floating community about 20 years ago, and decided right then, her wandering was over.

“It was not like any place I had ever been,” she said.

Eaton is a grandmother who grows her own tobacco on her back porch and rolls her own cigars.

“It’s really good smokin’ stuff actually,” she said.

She also has a deep fascination with aliens.

“It’s just something that is real,” she said. “You don’t have to believe that, but once you’ve seen a UFO, it pretty much settles the question for you.”

The community she settled into has a population as diverse as the designs of the structures. Everyone from gypsies and old hippies to a judge and state senator have had boathouses on Latsch Island.

“We’ve got them all,” said Tom Nelson, president of the Winona Boathouse Association, “from the well employed to the unemployed.”

“Well it’s kind of a Huck Finn lifestyle,” said Rod Hoesley, a former teacher who owns his own boathouse. “What a cheap way to live!”

The homes have no plumbing and no cable, but plenty of life. Hoesley’s boathouse has survived 35 years of climbing with the spring floods and rocking during the summer season.

Many owners have ropes tied around trees to keep their homes from drifting away, while most of the boathouses are also attached to long gin poles, firmly planted in the river.

“And then the house just rises up and down on the poles,” said Hoesley.

He lived in his boathouse for 12 years and saved enough money to buy another home on land. His boathouse is now his weekend getaway.

Leslie Eaton is one of about a dozen who stay on Latsch Island year-round, even though there’s no electricity on her side of the island.

“It’s a beautiful place in the winter,” she said. “It’s just beautiful here. I use kerosene lamps, candles, little LED lights. I’ve got a little head lamp for when I need it.”

After all the places that never seemed right, this wandering fortune teller finally found her home.

“We’re pretty friggin’ lucky,” she said. “We really are. And we know it. We know how lucky we are.”

The people of Latsch Island have had battles with government leaders, who didn’t consider that a proper use of public property. But they reached an agreement 15 years ago that allows them to keep 100 sites for boathouses and docks.

We appreciate the viewer named Colleen who suggested this story. If you have an idea for a future Finding Minnesota report, let us know here.

 

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