A week from Monday, the Twins open another season. And if things go well against the Detroit Tigers, Stillwater’s own Glen Perkins will take the pitcher’s mound in the ninth inning to close the game and seal the victory.
Perkins is far and away the most successful major league baseball player with ties to Washington County. Still, he has yet to set a record that has stood for decades. Nor has he had a road in the county named for his family.
For the moment at least, those two distinctions belong to Gene DeMontreville.
DeMontreville, with his brother Lee (short for Leon), played major league baseball at the turn of the last century.
Gene DeMontreville, who was mostly a second baseman and shortstop, had the longer and more successful playing career of the two. His 36-game hitting streak spanning the 1896 and 1897 seasons still ranks as the 10th longest in the baseball record books, behind the likes of Joe DiMaggio (56 games), Pete Rose (44) and new Twins manager Paul Molitor (39).
And it is the brothers’ family for whom DeMontreville Trail — and the lake that it leads to as it winds southward from Hwy. 36 east of the Interstate 694 interchange — is named. Lake DeMontreville is part of a trio of beautiful lakes, including Olson and Jane, that has attracted people for decades and was a popular summer destination for city dwellers.
When the lakes were part of the former Oakdale Township, Lake DeMontreville was called Lake Emma. One of those early summer residents who owned property on Lake Emma was the brothers’ father, Dr. Clarence DeMontreville, a pioneering dentist born in 1824 who lived on St. Paul’s West Side.
Along with helping to form the first dentists’ organization in Minnesota, Clarence DeMontreville helped lead the Mexican War Soldiers’ Union of Minnesota, which sponsored reunions and advocated for legislation to obtain pensions for Mexican War veterans.
It is the good dentist for whom the lake and road are named, according to the Washington County Historical Society. There were at least eight children in the family, including the two future major leaguers.
Lee DeMontreville was born in Washington County in 1874, and was 18 months younger than Gene DeMontreville, who had been born in St. Paul. Lee DeMontreville had a far more arduous struggle to reach the big leagues, and once he made it to the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1903, he played only the last half of the season, mostly at shortstop.
Like his older brother, Lee DeMontreville put in time in the minors, but he didn’t reach the majors until nearly 10 years after Gene, whose career by then was winding down.
Lee DeMontreville’s career was waylaid by, of all things, a trolley accident. According to a newspaper account, he had been playing for the Syracuse Stars minor league team in New York in May of 1901.
After the Stars dropped a 9-1 decision to Hartford the previous day, the trolley the team was riding jumped the tracks at a curve, injuring 12 of the players. Lee DeMontreville was among the most seriously hurt, breaking his leg and missing the rest of the season.
Gene DeMontreville, meanwhile, had his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1894. He would play with the Washington Senators, Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Superbas, Boston Braves and, finally, the St. Louis Browns in 1904.
Unlike hometown favorite Perkins, neither of the two brothers was apparently drawn back to Washington County, or Minnesota for that matter. Lee DeMontreville died in suburban New York in 1962 at age 87. His older brother died in Memphis in 1935, while working at a carnival, according to a brief New York Times obituary.
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039