Solving the mystery of an island’s name

Published 10:10 am Saturday, July 10, 2010

Installing a new bridge for access to an island in Fountain Lake has resulted in a legitimate question from area residents. Just what is the real name for this small island that’s a part of Albert Lea’s park system? Is it Hanson Island, Dress Island or Monkey Island? Then, just to really confuse the issue, through the years at least four other names have been used for this part of the lake near Botsford Avenue and Lakeview Boulevard.

There’s still another mystery regarding this island. On the back of an old postcard in the archives of the Freeborn County Historical Museum is this explanation: “Located about 20 feet from the shoreline, this island mysteriously appeared out of Fountain Lake and derives its name from Mr. Hanson who has transformed it into a beautiful rock and flower garden.”

In reality, this .2 acre part of the lake, plus Katherine Island, were floating bogs. They were anchored down with soil and rocks over a period of time in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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There’s no real indication this offshore part of the lake had a name until 1925 when Hans C. Hanson purchased seven acres of the Gilbert Gulbertson Estate property on what was then Lake Boulevard. Hanson (1870-1934) was a Danish immigrant who became the founder and president of the American Gas Machine Co. As a result, he had the nickname of “Gas.”

One of his projects was to clear the small island of underbrush and trees and convert it into a garden with a small windmill, access bridge and a small building for tools. He evidently allowed people to visit the island. Thus, the place eventually became known as Hanson Island, Gas Hanson Island, Hanson’s Island and Hansen Island. The last version, found in the museum’s archives was allegedly based on the Danish spelling of Hanson’s name.

On the back of an old photo in the museum’s archives is a notation listing the name of this place as West Island. Evidently, Katherine Island was supposed to be the East Island.

The name Monkey Island was a nickname created by the city’s younger generation. The origin of this zoo-like name is now subject to conjecture.

During the years there may have been an assumption that Hanson Island was public property and a part of the city’s park system. To partly verify this belief, a Tribune news report found by local researcher Kevin Savick said the Albert Lea Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) planned to improve the island with new grass sod, crushed rock paths and a new bridge in 1964 and 1965.

Now, here’s the key answer regarding the present name for this island. According to recent listings of city parks in several publications and maps, the correct name for this small park is Dress. A check with the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Department shows the official name for this place as Dress Island. And here’s how that name evolved.

Sometime prior to 1972, local Realtor George Dress purchased the Hanson property. According to several sources, Dress was reportedly assessed for improvements to Lakeview Boulevard on both sides of the street. He felt that the portion of his property between the boulevard and the lakeshore, plus the island, should be owned by the city instead. Thus, according to Freeborn County Recorder Kelly Callahan, the title for this parcel of land, and especially the island, was deeded to the City of Albert Lea by George Dress and his wife, Mary, on Oct. 28, 1972.

This transfer of land title clearly indicates that this popular lakeside destination really wasn’t a city park up to 1972. Sometime after 1972 the decision was made to change the name of the island and park to Dress to give recognition to the man and wife who actually donated the property to the city.