Emile Julien Amblard, known as the "Duke of Clearwater Lake," became one of Coney Island's leading residents. He bought his first piece of land there in 1893. The western edge of the island and a building in Waconia would become his passion for the next twenty-one years.
Amblard was born in Paris, France on April 4, 1840. He was the son of a wealthy landowner and mayor of the town of Périgueux. Amblard spent his youth at the family's country home in Burgundy and in Paris schools. As an adult, he worked for F. Chauvenet and Company, distributors of fine French wine. As the company's representative in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, a lot of Amblard's time was spent traveling, introducing and importing Burgundy wines. After a yearlong absence to serve in the Franco-German War (July 19, 1870–May 10, 1871) under Napoleon III, he spent the rest of his days working for F. Chauvenet and Company.
Amblard first visited the United States in 1889. The following year, he visited an old friend, former German Army Officer Rudolph Steinmetz, who lived in Minneapolis. While there, Amblard was invited on a fishing trip to Clearwater Lake. He fell in love with the beauty of the area and stayed.
Amblard purchased his first property on Coney Island in 1893 from Mary Orth, with an existing cabin. The following year he married Mary Augusta Wood of Manitoba, Canada. The family, including Mary's mother and Amblard's daughter from a previous marriage, Marie Therésè, spent their summers on the island. In the winter, the women lived in their Summit Avenue home in Minneapolis, while Marie Therésè attended St. Joseph's Academy. Amblard spent his winters traveling for work.
In 1898, Amblard bought more land on the island and built his main summer residence. Known as "Villa Emile," the building was one story, with a two-story tower on one side and a veranda on three sides. The original property became known as Villa Marie, for his wife, Mary. The Amblards also built Villa Topsy, a five-room guesthouse, named for their beloved dog. Over time, Amblard added a park, gardens, a boathouse, a bathhouse, a billiard room, a chess room, and gazebos. The area became known as Amblard Point and Amblard Park. When the 1904 Waconia Cyclone hit, it wrecked the boathouse, the boat landing, gazebo, and Villa Topsy. Villas Emile and Marie were left undamaged. In 1906, Amblard purchased a building on Vine Street in Waconia. Over time, he added an automobile garage, guest rooms above, and a dining room.
By 1911, Amblard's health had begun to deteriorate, and the family was living mainly in their Minneapolis home. In 1912, he spent weeks ill in the hospital and in 1913, he fractured his leg. Despite his poor health, the family took a final trip to the Amblard home in Burgundy, then on to Paris, Nice, and Monte Carlo. In July 1914, Amblard entered the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis for surgery; there were complications.
Emile Amblard died in the hospital on July 15, 1914 at age seventy-four. Legend has it he wanted to be buried standing up, facing his beloved island, but he had a traditional burial in the Waconia city cemetery. His is the only grave in the cemetery facing the island, in a north-south direction, as all other plots face east to west.
Mary Amblard was the sole heir to Amblard's estate, but she had little interest in the land. The Coney Island property was sold to James R. Ferris of the National Hotel in Minneapolis and became "Frenchman's Point." The garage and club-house in Waconia were sold to James E. Hamilton of Janesville, Wisconsin, and became the "Waconia Tavern and Garage." Mary sold the Minneapolis home and then lived in California, Belgium and France. She died and was buried in Winnipeg, Canada in 1946.
In the twenty-first century, no Amblard structures remain on the island. The club and garage in Waconia were placed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 4, 1980. They were converted, and are now the Wishing Well Apartments. Amblard's passion for building lives on in that structure.
"A Crew of Men Are Busily Engaged on the New Addition to the Amblard Building." Waconia Patriot, April 17, 1908.
Anderson, Keith, "Historic Waconia Building Welcomes Changes." Carver County News, October 4, 1990.
"E. Amblard, A French Gentleman from New York." Carver County News, May 25, 1894.
Holcombe, Maj. R.I., ed. Compendium of History and Biography of Carver and Hennepin Counties, Minnesota. Chicago: Henry Taylor and Company, 1915.
"Mons. Amblard Property is Sold." Waconia Patriot, August 21, 1914.
"Mons. Emile Amblard Gone to His Reward." Waconia Patriot, July 17, 1914.
"Mons. Emile Amblard Was Here Tuesday." Waconia Patriot, April 5, 1912.
"Monsieur E. Amblard." Carver County News, August 8, 1890.
"Mr. Amblard Left Tuesday for Minneapolis." Waconia Patriot, September 4, 1903.
"Mrs. Marie Amblard Dies in Canada." Waconia Patriot, April 4, 1946.
Waconia Heritage Association. Waconia, Paradise of the Northwest: The Lake and Its Island. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1986.
"Waconia's Most Progressive Citizen, Mons. Amblard." Waconia Patriot, May 19, 1911.
"We Are Pleased to Note that Mons. Emile Amblard." Waconia Patriot, April 11, 1913.
In 1890, Emile Amblard’s visit to Clearwater Lake inspires him to buy his first property on Coney Island.