Looking Back: Albert Lea’s pearl of an island

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 4, 2003

There are several misconceptions and even an alleged urban myth regarding Katherine Island in Fountain Lake.

The myth about this particular island is based on it being created from a mass of vegetation floating around in the lake. However, this myth is actually based on a fact.

According to research notes in the files of the Freeborn County Historical Society Library, several thick peat bogs of water plants and debris floated from what’s now Edgewater Bay through the Hatch Bridge channel (before the fill from each side was put in for the original bridge) and came into the main part of the lake. One of these bogs came close to the shore and was anchored down with dirt and rocks to create what’s now known as Hanson (or Hansen) Island and Dress Island (and unofficially as Monkey Island).

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Another large mass of floating vegetation went further south and was stabilized near the dam at the lake’s outlet. By 1878 the second island had been formed at its present location, as indicated on an early map of this part of the city.

In reality, neither of these small creations would be islands except for one obvious fact. The dam which made Fountain Lake possible with its present depth and shoreline also surrounded these two islands with water.

When the small island just beyond the south end of Green Avenue was conceived, its name was Pearl. This name could reflect the dictionary definition of a pearl as being &uot;one that is choice or precious.&uot;

One misconception which still persists is based on the present name for this island. Is it Catherine or Katherine?

The right answer is Katherine, and its named for a member of the Ruble family which owned a portion of the nearby shoreline in the early 1900s. Katherine, incidentally, was the granddaughter of George S. Ruble, one of the city’s very first residents and the original builder of the dam which created Fountain Lake.

A news item in the Nov. 4, 1908, issue of the Freeborn County Standard said, &uot;Several months ago C. B. Kellar (a local banker), guardian and on behalf of Miss Katherine Ruble, and representing the estate of her father, the late Charles N. Ruble, offered as a gift to Albert Lea for park purposes the little wooded island at the east end of Fountain Lake, and the offer yet holds good. The tender (offer) was made to the Business Men’s League (a predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce) but it has not yet been presented to the city council. Mr. Kellar will likely soon renew the offer to the city and all will agree that this act on the part of Miss Ruble and other interested is a handsome testimonial of her love for and pride in her native city and one which will ever be appreciated by its admiring denizens. The island is a veritable beauty spot, and when the dead trees are cut out and the plot of land is cleared, it will greatly enhance the attractiveness of that part of the lake. As soon as the city council accepts it and sets it apart, the park board will no doubt see to it that the necessary improvements are made.&uot;

Despite this offer, the actual transfer to the city for park purposes didn’t happen until Sept. 3, 1913. The document was signed by Katherine Ruble Ross (her married name) and William Ross Jr.

Still another misconception regarding this island is based on its being a part of what was once called Lincoln Park, and now renamed New Denmark Park. These are separate parks and have been for 90 years. City records, by the way, show that Katherine Island Park is .2 acre in size.

Thus, for 90 years the &uot;veritable beauty spot&uot; of Fountain Lake has been popular place for picnics, family gatherings, several weddings, fishing, watching traffic (vehicles on Bridge Avenue and boats on the lake), feeding the ducks, and a tranquil place to just relax.

(Contact Ed Shannon at ed.shannon@albertleatribune.com or call 379-3434.)