Spencer Brook: Nearly a Ghost Town

Settled in 1854 by Pennsylvania native Benjamin Spencer, Spencer Brook was one of the first communities in Isanti County. During the 1850s, Spencer Brook became a favorite spot for east coast Yankees seeking lumbering opportunities. The nearby Rum River provided the flowing waters needed to float logs downstream to the Twin Cities.

The first post office in the county was established in Spencer Brook in 1857 and a school in 1858. A hotel, blacksmith shop, implement store, creamery, photography shop, general store, and a grist mill soon followed. To ease crossing the Rum River, a ferry began operation in 1870. In 1874 a bridge was built to replace the ferry, but it was destroyed by ice the following spring. The brook that splits the town was dammed for the grist mill, and the resulting millpond was a popular recreation area for the residents.

Spencer Brook became known as the largest settlement of native-born Americans in the state outside of the Twin Cities. Swedish immigrants began arriving in the area in the 1870s and fields of potatoes and navy beans began to surround the township.

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District 6 School in New Sweden

The District 6 school in New Sweden Township stands in a field surrounded by tall stalks of corn in the summer and drifts of white snow in the winter. This pretty, white clapboard building with a porch and full basement was constructed in 1929. It is the third school to stand on this site—the first was built in the 1860s and the second in 1891. Nicollet County was once home to 68 one-room school houses spread across 13 townships. Now only two remain. The District 6 school closed in 1958, and the district split three ways—students were sent to either St. Peter, Gaylord, or Nicollet schools.

After the district dissolved in 1962, the land the school sits on reverted to the landowner, who then donated it to the township. It was used as the town hall and meeting space for many years until the township could no longer afford to maintain the building. It reverted to the landowner again. A new nonprofit group called the Friends of District 6 expressed interest in restoring the schoolhouse, so the landowner signed the property over to the group. The Friends of District 6 have worked diligently since 2011 to raise money and complete renovations on the 88-year-old school.

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The Pine Tree Lumber Company

Pine Tree Lumber Company was established in Little Falls in 1890. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in central Minnesota, the company was run by Charles Weyerhaeuser and Richard “Drew” Musser. Little Falls was chosen as the location for this new mill because of its proximity to the Mississippi River. The dam created a large boom area where the logs could be stored and sorted, and the  Northern Pacific Railroad passed through town which made transporting lumber convenient.

An existing mill was purchased by the partners on the east side of the river, and a larger facility with cutting-edge equipment was built on the west bank. Commercial operations began at Pine Tree Lumber on May 18, 1891.  In this new venture, Weyerhaeuser was put in charge of the logs and the mill while Musser managed sales and bookkeeping. The mill employed several hundred men and doubled the population of Little Falls less than ten years.

An office building for the operation was built in 1891 on the east bank of the Mississippi, just south of the railroad bridge. The rectangular brick building features a hipped roof with eyebrow dormers that allow light into the attic where Musser is said to have held exercise classes for his employees. The first floor contained offices and meeting space. Living quarters for Weyerhaeuser and Musser were located on the second level of the building.

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Tivoli Gardens in New Ulm

In 1872, Joseph Schmucker took over operation of Friton Brewery, which was the first brewery to operate in New Ulm starting in the 1850s. Operating under a new business name, Schmucker Brewery, Schmucker built Tivoli Gardens in 1885. Located adjacent to the brewery, Tivoli Gardens operated as a bar that served products from the brewery with a dance hall on the second floor. Tivoli was described as one of the strongest and most handsome brick structures in the city.

Outside of the brewery business, Schmucker was also a three-term chairman of the New Ulm City Council Park Committee. He pushed for the beautification of the area around his brewery and bar on First North Street, including nearby German Park. He was an avid horticulturist and established beautiful Biergarten filled with flowers at the Tivoli where guests could enjoy a beer or three.

Tivoli Gardens was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The nomination form stated that “…the surrounding warehouse and industrial structures give the Tivoli a high visibility through contrast; its very survival in such a context is fortunate.” Its survival was short-lived, however. The Tivoli Gardens building was demolished in 1985 by its owner, Edward Nierengarten. The site is now an empty lot.

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Cozy Theater in Wadena

The Cozy Theater in Wadena was built in 1914 from a design by Minneapolis architect Kirby Snyder. John Quincer bought the building in 1923, and remodeled it to its present Moderne appearance in 1938. Quincer closed the theater for three months to install the marquee, glass and metal Streamline Moderne front doors, as well as a raised front wall and stepped side walls to the top of the building. Most of the interior fixtures were replaced with Moderne decorations to complete the transformation. The Quincer family continues to own and operate the theater.     

West Riverside School Near Cambridge

Built in 1898, the West Riverside School was originally known as District #38 School. Isanti County once had 67 rural schools similar to this. Aside from teaching children, one of the important roles of rural schools was to teach immigrants the English language and prepare them for the American citizenship exam. Most were also an important community center for social and cultural events.

Located one mile west of Cambridge, the West Riverside School is constructed of brick made in nearby Springvale Twp. The open bell tower still houses a black iron bell. West Riverside operated until 1971 when the last of the remaining rural schools were consolidated. The school has been restored to its 1900 appearance by the Isanti County Historical Society. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Swenson’s General Store in Norseland

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Nicollet County had eight rural crossroads hamlets. While all of the other small towns have removed many of the structures that marked their existence, Norseland has held onto their identity by recognizing the importance of their general store.

In 1858—the same year that Minnesota became a state—Irish immigrant John Burke moved to Nicollet County from New York City. The 29-year-old planned to buy a farm and operate a general store that would “carry everything a human or animal needed to survive and thrive.” Once a post office was established in Burke’s general store, a town was born. The community chose the name Norseland to pay homage their dominant population of Swedish and Norwegian settlers. Burke’s store became known as the Norseland General Store.

John Burke retired in approximately 1893 and left the store to his sons, Henry and George. George took more interest in farming than running a general store, but Henry enjoyed the grocery and dry goods business. In 1900, Henry virtually rebuilt the store by expanding the main level, adding a second story, and tacking on a single-story addition to the east side. A buggy sales and repair shop were established in the new, single-story addition. The main part of the store handled the grocery business on the first level and dry goods on the second floor. An elevator was also constructed to move merchandise between floors.

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Hollywood-Inspired Fairyland Cottages in Detroit Lakes

Although the local resort industry near Detroit Lakes stretches back to the 1870s, it wasn’t until the automobile allowed families to become more mobile that Detroit Lakes became known as one of the top resort destinations in the region. As roads improved and leisure time increased for Americans after World War I, demand for outdoor recreation hit a fever pitch. To meet this demand, numerous resort hotels and tourist cabins were constructed along the northern shore of Detroit Lake in the 1920s and 1930s. The darling of this later phase of the burgeoning tourist industry were the Fairyland Cottages.

In 1938, Art and Beatrice Shipton opened the Fairyland Cottages. The cottages were modeled after the iconic movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was released the previous year. Art and Beatrice designed the cabins, and their daughters chose to name each of the twelve, wood-frame cottages after a character in the popular movie.

The cabins were arranged around a U-shaped gravel driveway and across the street from a private beach on Detroit Lake. Each cottage was sheathed in identical white lap siding with corner boards and trim that were painted red. A porch with a clipped gable and curved underside gave the cottages their fairytale look. Each cottage was identified by a carved wooden character from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs attached to the front. Red lawn chairs were placed in a plot of grass bordered by white rocks for guests to relax and socialize with other vacationers.

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Fredrick C. Pillsbury Mansion in Minneapolis

The Fredrick C. Pillsbury mansion in Minneapolis was considered the finest of all of the homes in the Pillsbury family. The house was built in 1888 and designed by noted architect Leroy Buffington. It was located at 303 Tenth Street South—just across the street from his brother George’s mansion that was built nine years earlier. This 1888 drawing from Buffington shows the elaborate front door that featured panels inlaid with colored glass, metal studs, and swirling wrought-iron patterns.

Inside, the central hall led to a library, drawing room, and a dining room with a fireplace surrounded by Mexican onyx and Tiffany tiles. Fred died in the Richardsonian Romanesque home in 1892 at the age of 40. Just 38 years after being built, the mansion fell to the wrecking ball in 1916. An addition to the Curtis Hotel took its place.

District #28 School in Ramsey

The District #28 School was constructed in Ramsey in 1892 to replace a smaller, wood frame school house. Buff-colored bricks manufactured by the nearby Kelsey Brickyard cover the exterior of the school. Inside, one large classroom dominates the space. It has a pressed metal ceiling and chalkboards covering the walls. All windows and the original double entry door are arched to match the decorative brick arches above.

From 1947 until 1977 the old school house served as Ramsey’s Town Hall. One of the cloakrooms was converted into a kitchen, the chalkboards painted over, and many of the interior walls covered with fiberboard. The beautiful arched windows and front door were blocked in with plywood so rectangular windows and a standard door could be installed.

After being abandoned by the local government, the Anoka County Historical Society formed a restoration committee that concluded many of the school’s historical integrity remained intact. It was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and accepted on February 11, 1980. It continues to be one of only a handful of one room schoolhouses in Minnesota on the Register.

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Jefferson Highway Through St. Cloud

Lincoln Avenue, located on the east side of St. Cloud, became part of the Jefferson Highway system in 1916. Edwin T. Meredith of Iowa believed an international highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg would be economically beneficial to farmers and promoted his idea in states along the proposed route. A committee determined that the Minnesota route would enter the state at Albert Lea and proceed through Owatonna, Faribault, Northfield, and Farmington before arriving in the Twin Cities. From there it would pass through Osseo, Anoka, Elk River, St. Cloud, and Little Falls before turning northwest. The entire route was completed in 1922 and was touted as the longest paved road in the United States.

This sign persuaded travelers to make a stop in downtown St. Cloud via St. Germain Street. The sign was erected by the St. Cloud Automobile Club for $1,000 in the early 1920s. The sign stood 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide and was illuminated by 300 lights after dark.

Portions of the Jefferson Highway still retain its name in several states—including sections near Osseo and Wadena—but in many places it was replaced with a numbered highway system in the mid-1920s. Lincoln Avenue became part of U.S. Highway 10 in November 1926. In 1953, a new four-lane highway was constructed just east of Lincoln Avenue, and the route was discontinued in St. Cloud by late-1958.

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The Fire Relief Houses of Pine County

After a devastating forest fire had obliterated the villages of Finlayson, Hinckley, Miller, Mission Creek, Pokegama, and Sandstone in Pine County on the afternoon of September 1, 1894, the state put forward an unprecedented humanitarian effort to attend to the needs of survivors. Hundreds of people were left homeless and without necessities such as food and clothing. Governor Knute Nelson appointed a state commission that would receive and distribute contributions of money and supplies, as well as provide victims with temporary shelter, food, clothing, furniture, seed, and tools. The commission also oversaw the construction of houses for survivors who owned homes before the fire but lacked sufficient insurance to rebuild. These homes became known as fire relief houses.

Within three months of the fire, 149 simple 16-foot-by-24-foot fire relief houses were erected in the burned area. The houses were either one or two levels depending on the size of the family, and cost approximately $150-$180 to build.

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The End of the Line in Currie

In 1899, the Des Moines Valley Railway Company began work on a plan to extend their rail line in western Minnesota an additional 38.63 miles northwest from Bingham Lake to Currie. That year, nearly 14 miles of track was laid and put into operation. The remaining 24.73 miles of rail between Jeffers and Currie was finished the following year. Upon the completion of the spur, the Des Moines Valley Railway Company and all of its property was purchased by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railway. It was decided that the line would not extend beyond Currie, making the small town the new terminus of the railway’s western spur.

As a terminus, the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railway needed a way to turn locomotives around so trains could return to Bingham Lake along the same track. In 1901, they contracted with the American Bridge Company of Chicago to build a massive, manually operated turntable constructed of stone, wood, and steel. Its massive undercarriage measured 70 feet long and just over six feet wide. The platform on top of the undercarriage was constructed of 16-foot oak timbers over which rail was laid. The pit that held the turntable varied in depth from four feet at the outer edge, to seven feet at the center. Mankato limestone lined the entire pit and the stones were carefully fitted together to eliminate the need for mortar.

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Frank E. Little Mansion in Minneapolis

Frank E. Little was a partner in a Minneapolis-based real estate firm. He didn’t leave behind much of a legacy in the city he called home, but this architectural rendering of his mansion near Loring Park proves that he did alright for himself. Little’s home was located at 1414 Harmon Place—about halfway between Spruce and Willow.

Built in 1889, the home was designed by acclaimed architect Leroy Buffington. Buffington mixed design elements from Queen Anne and Shingle styles with other inspirations such as a beehive tower, checkerboard trim, tiled upper walls, and a front overhang that some have compared to a railroad lounge car.

In 1903, banker Edward W. Decker purchased the home for $10,000. Decker sold the mansion to the Luther Ford Company after constructing an automobile sales building next door. Luther Ford Company owned the property until it was razed in 1936.

Stone Ruins of Park Terrace in Duluth

Park Terrace was an opulent building of Victorian townhouses located on a steep hill just off of Mesaba Avenue in Duluth. Built in 1890 by the Meyers Brothers Company, a local real estate business, the building was situated to give residents one of the best views of downtown and the harbor in the city. The design featured a grand corner tower complete with a large Star of David weathervane that sat atop an ornate metal dome. Six upward terraces climbed the steep hill on the northeastern side of the building, and four terraces ascended the northwestern side. To reach their home from the street, residents climbed concrete exterior stairs to a concrete walkway that led to an individual porch for each of the two or three level homes.

The Meyers brothers, Benjamin, Henry, and Jacob, all lived with their families at Park Terrace for five years. By the mid-1890s Benjamin had moved to a house on London Road and Jacob relocated to Texas, which left Henry to run the real estate and investment business in Duluth until his death in 1931. After Henry’s death, Park Terrace began to deteriorate, and the building was abandoned. By 1936 Park Terrace had been sitting vacant and dilapidated for some time, so the decision was made to demolish the building. The cornerstone, which can be seen just below the corner porches in the historic photo, was saved and has been placed at street level where it still rests. Today, trees and bushes cover the terraced foundations and crumbling staircases where the grand building once stood.

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Historic Mendota Gallery

I had some free time last weekend so I decided to venture down to historic Mendota. You may remember my photos this summer from the Sibley Historic Site, but there are a few other places nearby that I wanted to see.

I stopped at the Sibley and Faribault houses first, then spent some time at the historic St. Peter’s Church, and finally walked through the church’s historic cemetery. If you love historic cemeteries, be sure to put this one on your list. It had all of my favorite things—pretty monuments, graves dating back to the 1860s (or later, many were too weathered to read), and a lot of quiet time to reflect. 

Prehistoric Minnesota Woman

As construction workers were excavating a roadway along the eastern shore of Prairie Lake near Pelican Rapids in 1931, they uncovered one of the most exciting prehistoric finds in this region of North America—a human skeleton. The remains were found nine feet below the surface and encased in fine layers of clay which had once been the bottom of a lake that predated glacial Lake Agassiz. The state archaeologist was called in to exhume the bones and look for additional artifacts that would help identify and date the remains. At the time, the bones were determined to be those of a 15-year-old boy who died close to 20,000 years before. An unusual conch and elk antler knife were also found near the skeleton. For many scientists, the remains and artifacts were proof that prehistoric people inhabited this part of North America.

Soon after the completion of the roadway, a plaque was placed at the site where the remains were found. It said: “The remains of the Minnesota Man of the Pleistocene Age were found in this road cut on June 16, 1931.” In 1959, a wayside rest was established near the site, and a new marker was placed there by the Minnesota Historical Society.

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Finding the Extraordinary in University Grove

University Grove is an eclectic jumble of 20th-century homes situated on tree-lined streets in a secluded area near the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. The 103 architect-designed homes are virtually all owned by University of Minnesota faculty and administrators. Considered by many to be an architectural time capsule, the Grove evolved from a couple of blocks of English Tudor and Colonial homes to eight blocks of contemporary vernacular architecture.

In 1928, University vice-president William Middlebrook devised a unique leasehold system in an attempt to attract new professors to the University by offering them high quality, yet affordable housing. Under this scheme, residents build or purchase the home, but the University retains ownership of the land it sits on. The University then leases the land back to residents for between $75 and $200 annually. This arrangement allows the University to control the evolution of the neighborhood without the risk of developing it themselves.

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Terrace Theatre Gallery

Located in Robbinsdale, the international-style Terrace Theatre opened on May 23, 1951. At the time, it was one of the most luxurious and modern theaters in the country.

The Young-Quinlan Housewarming

It was on this day ninety years ago that the doors to the Elizabeth C. Quinlan building in Minneapolis first opened its doors. It was the new home of the Young-Quinlan department store. The building was designed by residential architect Frederick L. Ackerman from New York to be a  “beautiful home” for customers to shop in. In fact, the grand opening of the building was dubbed a housewarming by Quinlan.

Thousands of people lined up along Nicollet, as well as Ninth Street, which was almost shut down to automobiles because of the crowd, for the chance at being among the first to see  Quinlan’s “perfect gem” of a building. The store would be open from 10:00 am until 5:30 pm, and again from 7:30 until 10:00 pm to allow everyone a chance to tour the store.

Minneapolis Mayor George Leach spoke at the opening ceremony and remarked that Quinlan “would always be remembered as one of the true builders of this city.” He then called for three cheers for Quinlan, which the crowd of thousands gave enthusiastically.

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Fred D. Young of the Young-Quinlan Company

While many people recognize the name Elizabeth Quinlan because of her public role and decades of leadership at the Young-Quinlan Company, few know about Fred Young.

Frederick Dean Young was born in Freeport, Illinois in 1862. By the time he was thirty years old, Young was living in Minneapolis with is mother and brother and one of the top salespeople at Goodfellow and Eastman Dry Goods. It was there that he met Elizabeth Quinlan. Young and Quinlan became good friends and he convinced her to join him in opening their own specialty shop for women. Quinlan agreed to join Fred D. Young and Company as a buyer and salesperson for three months. If it didn’t work out, she would return to her job at Goodfellow and Eastman.

Young opened his first store in a subleased corner of Vrooman’s Glove Company in the Syndicate Building. And of course, the business worked out. Young handled the business administration and advertising for the store, while Quinlan did the buying and selling. Quinlan saved her money and was able to buy an equal partnership with Young in the early 1900s. In 1903, Young recognized the “value of [Quinlan’s] name in connection with a store devoted exclusively to fashion to women,” which led him to change the name of the store to the Young-Quinlan Company.

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Elizabeth C. Quinlan Building: The Ramp

This week marks the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Elizabeth C. Quinlan building in downtown Minneapolis. The building at 901 Nicollet was home to the Young-Quinlan Department Store. I’ll be sharing interesting tidbits about the building, the store, Elizabeth Quinlan, and Fred Young all week. First up: The Ramp.

Even before the Elizabeth C. Quinlan building opened in 1926, word began to spread about the building’s underground parking ramp. The underground ramp was the one of the first of its kind in the country, and the concept was quickly copied by other retail establishments.

Quinlan asked all of her employees to refer to the underground parking as “the ramp” or “the parking floor”, and never as a parking garage. The ramp wasn’t just a convenience for Young-Quinlan customers; it was a public service as well. It was the largest parking ramp in the city with stalls for 250 automobiles. It was open twenty-four hours a day, every day. This convenience made the ramp an attractive place to park in the evenings. Anyone could park in the ramp between 6:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. for just a quarter. As an added benefit, expert washing and oiling services were offered in the ramp as well.

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Sibley Historic Site in Mendota

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the pre-grand opening of the Sibley Historic Site in Mendota with several of my DAR friends. After a brief reception, we were given a private tour of the buildings at the site while reenactors from the fur trade era set up tents and replicas of a birchbark canoe and bateau on the lawn. The site is open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 until 4:00 pm, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Even if you can’t make it to one of the tours, there are interpretive signs and a small self-guided audio (via your cell phone) tour.

The Sibley House was built in 1836 for Henry Hastings Sibley. Sibley lived in the house for eight years before marrying Sarah Jane Steele. In May 1840, their home served as the temporary territorial headquarters while Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey visited Sibley in Mendota.

The people of Minnesota elected Henry Sibley to be their first governor on May 11, 1858. He narrowly beat out his friend Alexander Ramsey for the job. In 1862, Sibley moved to St. Paul and sold his home in Mendota to St. Peter’s Catholic Parish. The house was subsequently leased to several parties but was later abandoned. Railroad transients took over the house and used the hardwood floors, stairway, and millwork for fires. The house was left in ruin.

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The Gates of Stonebridge

In 1907, St. Paul businessman and inventor Oliver Crosby purchased twenty-eight acres of land on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in St. Paul. There, he built a twenty thousand square foot brick estate that he called Stonebridge. In his book Once There Were Castles, author Larry Millett claims that Stonebridge was “the greatest estate ever built in St. Paul.”

The house was remarkable, but the grounds were what visitors raved about. There were two artificial lakes, large sunken gardens, a 100-foot-long pergola, and a reservoir that fed a series of waterfalls that flowed beneath the picturesque stone bridge that gave the house its name.

Crosby only lived at Stonebridge for six years; he died in 1922. Most of the property around Stonebridge was sold off after Crosby’s wife Elizabeth died, but the mansion stayed intact until 1944 when it was tax-forfeited to the state. Unable to find a use for the mansion, the state demolished Stonebridge in 1953.

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Duluth’s Incline Railway

Last fall I was able to cross a few stops in Duluth’s west end off of my to-do list. I wanted to walk the path that once ran alongside the Incline Railway for several years, but it always got pushed down on my list because I haven’t spent a lot of them in this part of town. I decided to park along Skyline Parkway (between N Sixth Avenue W, and N Eighth Avenue W) and walk down to Fourth Street W where the pathway appeared to end. Even though there are a few houses close to the walkway, it still feels like you’ve discovered a hidden piece of history.

The Incline Railway (a.k.a. The Seventh Avenue West Incline, and later the Duluth Skyride) was built in 1890 by Highland Improvement Company to transport people and horses up and down the hill. Two separate tracks ran a half-mile up the hill, rising to more than 500 feet above Lake Superior. The original trolly cars were large enough to hold four teams of horses with a wagon, or up to 250 people per car. Cars ran every fifteen minutes, and a one-way trip took about sixteen minutes.

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Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College

Earlier this week I visited the Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. The garden is only two acres in size, but there is plenty of room for quiet contemplation. It was designed by Tokyo-based garden architect Takao Watanabe and dedicated in 1976.

Visitors enter through a cedar gate and are greeted by the sound of a waterfall in the distance. The more than 300 trees in the garden require artful pruning to create an overall feeling for the landscape, and the lagoon is stocked with nearly 200 goldfish whose ancestors were brought to the garden from Loring Park Lake in Minneapolis. Two bridges cross the lagoon, one is a flat bridge, and the other is a zig-zag bridge designed so that evil spirits, who follow a straight line, cannot cross. Three hand-carved granite lanterns from Japan also dot the landscape. The Bentendo (hexagon-shaped building) and drum-shaped bridge were constructed with funds donated by Military Intelligence Service Language School veterans who were stationed at Fort Snelling during World War II as a memorial to their time spent in Minnesota. The garden is a cozy alternative to the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden at Como Park and well worth a trip when your spirit needs renewal.

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Interstate Bridge in Duluth

Before the Interstate Bridge was built between Duluth and Superior in the late-1890s, the only way to get between the two cities was by ferry. Of course, ice prevented them from running in the winter. The Duluth-Superior Bridge Company, funded by the Great Northern Railway, was formed in 1894 to build a bridge connecting Connors Point in Wisconsin to Rice’s Point in Minnesota. Disagreements between the two cities delayed construction for years, and the bickering didn’t end once construction began. When the bridge opened on April 23, 1897, the first person to make the journey across the bridge found that the Superior side hadn’t been completed and he was forced to turn around. The bridge wasn’t officially completed until July.

A toll was collected from everyone crossing the bridge: pedestrians and bicyclists paid five cents, wagons and carts were fifteen cents, and each head of cattle cost a dime. These travelers crossed using a platform that hung off of the western side of the structure. Two parallel railroad tracks running down the center of the bridge carried trains and trolleys. Eventually, the bridge was refitted for automobile traffic. The streetcar line was removed in 1938, and by 1949 only one railway track was in use.

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Rainy Lake Gold Rush

When people think of the gold rush, they think of California, but Minnesota had its own gold rush. With stories of people striking it rich in California spreading east, even the slightest hint of gold elsewhere in the country would spark a new frenzy. When a vein of gold-laden quartz was found amid the forests and lakes of Minnesota – the hunt was on. While it certainly wasn’t as large or frenzied as California’s rush, Minnesota’s gold rush shaped the history of the northern-most part of the state.

Fools Gold Rush
In 1865, State Geologist Henry Eames encouraged assay on a vein of quartz from Lake Vermillion that had indicated a gold value of $23 per metric ton. He explained that the slates around the lake were crisscrossed with veins of quartz in which nearly all showed the presence of precious metals like gold and silver.

After the results of the Eames assay had begun to spread, people started to flock to Lake Vermillion. A reporter with the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote in 1865 that a majority of points on the lake were “composed of talcose slate sprinkled with gold-bearing quartzes.” He went on to explain that the rocks were covered with thick, spongy moss that when removed revealed bright veins of quartz enriched with gold.

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Upper Post of Fort Snelling: Dead House / Morgue

The yellow brick morgue was originally built in 1904. It was used to store bodies of deceased military personnel from the post during the months when the ground was too frozen to bury them. An addition to the morgue in 1933 more than doubled the square footage.

The need for additional housing in 1938 caused the morgue to be revamped into living quarters for the Senior Medical Corps non-commissioned officer and his family. The converted living quarters had hardwood floors and a porch attached to the front. A coal chute was located on the north side of the building that loaded coal into the basement, which could be accessed from the outside.

Today, you can clearly see the difference in brick between the original building and the addition. The building is in good overall condition.

Fast Facts:
Commonly Known As: Dead House/Morgue
Building Number: 62
Year built: 1904
Last year of occupancy: 1994
Square footage: 538, enlarged to 1,083
Floors: 1

Osman, Stephen E. Fort Snelling Then and Now: The World War II Years. Minneapolis: Friends of Fort Snelling, 2011. 126.

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Stewart Creek Stone-Arch Bridge

“The Picturesque is seen in ideas of beauty manifested with something of rudeness, violence, or difficulty. The effect of the whole is spirited and pleasing, but parts are not balanced, proportions are not perfect, and details are rude. We feel at the first glance at a picturesque object, the idea of power exerted, rather than the idea of beauty which it involves.”
— Andrew Jackson Downing, American Landscape Architect

Travelers come upon the Stewart Creek stone-arch bridge in a bend of an unpaved section of Skyline Parkway, where the bridge reveals its mammoth, craggy, Picturesque stonework over a beautifully wooded ravine. The bridge was constructed around 1925 as part of a new section of the scenic parkway. It conveys a mood rather than a particular style and was designed as much for its ornamental effect as it was for its function.

Made of locally-quarried, dark green gabbro, the single 30-foot elliptical arch spans the deep ravine of Stewart Creek. Atop the arch, a row of boulders shaped into a row of jagged sawtooth creates a railing and gives the bridge a Medieval look. Additional stones were roughly worked into pinnacles and extend along the retaining walls that extend along the bridge approach. The bridge was intended to be the gem of the western extension of Skyline Parkway, which was expected to eventually connect to Fond du Lac and Jay Cooke State Park.

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Lundring Service Station in Canby

As the popularity and accessibility of automobiles grew throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the problem of planning where to put filling and service stations became a concern for residents and city officials. Filling stations in the mid-1910s were merely a curbside gas pump connected to an underground tank. The pumps were designed to fill a tin can, which would then be taken home and stored in the garage until it was needed. Although this option was more convenient than having to visit a wholesale gasoline seller, which were often only located in large cities, refineries were looking for new ways to make purchasing gasoline even more convenient for automobile owners. They wanted to bring pumps closer to residential areas and eliminate the need for customers to store gasoline in their residential garages. This was done in part to reduce the risk of the tin containers catching fire and putting homes in jeopardy.

Communities understandably didn’t want gasoline pumps located close to residential neighborhoods, so oil companies began looking for more attractive ways to bring their product closer to their customers. Their first offering was known as the shed design. As the name implies, sheds were typically built on corner lots with gravel or dirt driveways leading to the pump. The shed was used to house equipment, oils, and greases needed for early cars and the gasoline pump was located in the front  or at the side of the building. They were more utilitarian than attractive and often drew complaints from neighbors about the look of the building, as well as the smell and clutter that typically surrounded them.

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Enter Marlon Brando

Founded in 1858, Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault was one of the oldest and most respected college preparatory boarding schools in the Midwest. Shattuck was known for its rigid military discipline, strong academics, and were used to dealing with students who had been expelled from other schools. Enter Marlon Brando. After being expelled from his local high school for reportedly riding a motorcycle through the halls, Marlon Brando was sent to Shattuck Military Academy in 1941. Brando’s father, Marlon Brando Sr. attended Shattuck in the early 1910s and hoped the rigid program would sort his son out.

By all accounts, Brando was a popular but roguish cadet. Teachers at Shattuck have said that Brando was not disrespectful, but a prankster and a “character.” In his autobiography “Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me,” he recalled the bell that rang every fifteen minutes to remind students to attend drills, meals, classes, and other duties. One night, Brando recalled that he climbed the bell tower, removed the 150-pound clapper and carried it about 200 yards away and buried it. When school authorities found it missing the next morning, Brando organized a student committee to find out who committed the crime to divert suspicion from himself. The ploy worked, and Brando said that he would take the burial place with him to his grave.

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Upper Post of Fort Snelling: Post Library

Libraries like the one located on the Upper Post of Fort Snelling were established by the American Red Cross (ARC) in thirty-two cantonments and National Guard training camps during World War I. These special buildings were erected by the American Red Cross and each of the libraries was under the control of a trained librarian. The libraries were designed to be 40×120 feet in size, one-story high, and accommodate eight to ten thousand books, newspapers, and magazines. The buildings were designed to include living quarters for the librarian.

The War Service Committee of the American Library Association raised nearly one-million dollars to purchase books for ARC libraries. In addition, the ARC asked volunteers to collect books and distribute them to cantonment libraries through their Books for Soldiers and Sailors program. Non-fiction books about war, travel, history, and biographies were the most popular. Libraries also carried fiction titles as well—short stories, detective yarns, and stories of sea and land adventures were favorites.

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Thomson Pioneer Cemetery Gallery

The Thomson Pioneer Cemetery is located within the boundary of Jay Cooke State Park near Carlton. This cemetery was the burial place for many pioneer families of the nearby village of Thomson. The majority of the graves date to the 1880s and 1890s and most of them are unmarked.

Forgotten Minnesota Turns Five

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Forgotten Minnesota website. The first article was posted on January 3, 2011—about two days after I decided to start a website. It all started as something to keep me busy after my job of ten years was made redundant. My goal was to write a short history of as many places as I could find throughout the state. It wasn’t long before I found that goal to be impossible. After digging into several places, I found it difficult to keep the articles short since brevity has never been my strong suit—there was just so much more to each story than I could tell in 500 words. I found that I enjoyed researching, writing, and posting more when I allowed myself to dig into the story and not be guided by a word limit. After realizing that, I was on my way.

The first year was tough. I wasn’t confident enough in what I was doing to let anyone other than friends and family know about the site. The site averaged 50-75 hits per month, but each new reader boosted my confidence. People started emailing me leads and offering their expertise, and with that came more and more hits. Forgotten Minnesota slowly grew by word of mouth. In May 2014, an article about me and my website was published in the Star Tribune. Within an hour of the article going live on the Star Tribune website, Forgotten Minnesota had more hits than it had in the previous month. Email and phone calls started pouring in, and I knew that I was doing something that connected with people.

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Oxford Mill Ruin

The Oxford Mill was located on the bank of the Little Cannon River near Cannon Falls. When the mill was built by C.N. Wilcox and John and Edward Archibald in 1878, it was part of the wheat boom sweeping through the state. Annual record yields of wheat generated the need to process the harvests, causing flour mills to spring up along every river and stream. Wilcox eventually purchased the Archibald’s interest in the mill. By 1900, there were twenty-seven flour mills in Goodhue County alone. In the mill’s heyday, it handled more than 400 bushels of wheat per day and employed thirty to forty men.

Grain was cleaned at a small building to the north of the main building and then taken by a shaker conveyor to the first level of the mill. It was then moved to the second floor by cup-like attachments on a moving belt. The grain was then dropped from the second or third levels through a shaft to the grinding unit. Depending on how much wheat needed to be ground, the large, undershot water wheel could turn between one to four grinding stones at a time. The bran was then discharged into the river and the flour was sacked. An opening to the side of the west door was used to convey the sacked flour to wagons waiting outside of the mill. Farmers would bring their wheat harvest to the mill and exchange it for flour. Flour from the Oxford Mill would also be taken to Hastings and loaded on boats going to Minneapolis. The mill was gutted by an arson fire in 1905, but the outer walls remained standing. The owners of the mill decided against rebuilding  due to the decline in the flour milling industry in the Cannon River Valley.

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Historic Ness Lutheran Church

The Ness Congregation was originally organized as the Norwegian Evangelical St. Johannes Congregation of Meeker and surrounding counties in 1861. The name was changed to Ness in October of that year. By 1864, the congregation had raised the $100.00 needed to purchase forty acres of land that had previously been set aside as a cemetery since the first interment there six years earlier. This land would eventually become the home to the Ness Lutheran Church, Ness Memorial Cemetery, a state historical monument, and the original granary where the congregation’s first services were held.

Between 1861 and 1868, sixty-five people joined the Ness congregation. Services were held in a granary built by Ole H. Ness. The first confirmation took place in the granary in 1861—members of the confirmation class were Even Evenson, Ole Kittleson, Hans Johnson, and Helle Kolberg. Many baptisms and weddings were presided over by guest pastors in the Ness granary before a permanent pastor was found and the church building was constructed.

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Ness Memorial Cemetery Gallery

The  Ness Memorial Cemetery is located on the same property as the historic Ness Lutheran Church. The first burial took place in 1858—sixteen years before the church was built. More information about Ness Lutheran Church can be found here.

Schmid Farmhouse Ruins

The Schmid Farmhouse is located on a hill above Lake Minnetonka. It was constructed in 1876 by German immigrants Joseph and Benedict Schmid. Although Benedict was known to have lived in the home at one time, Joseph and his family spent the most time living and working on the 156-acre farm. Their livestock included dairy cows, horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, and sheep and the primary crops were wheat, oats, corn, hay, potatoes, and apples.

Joseph’s son, Joseph jr. began selling acreage in the 1890s after the farm was transferred to him. It wasn’t until 1905 that the farmhouse and the last of the land was sold to a nearby dairy farmer. That farmer rented the old farmhouse out to workers of his farm until 1948. Thankfully, the abandoned farmhouse was spared the wrecking ball because it was located within the private estate of professional wrestler Verne Gagne. Gagne gifted the land to be used as a park after his death. The Schmid farmhouse is now part of the Lake Minnetonka Regional Park.

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The Horatio and Charlotte Van Cleve House

On March 22, 1836, Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark married Horatio Phillips Van Cleve, a graduate of West Point Military Academy and Second Lieutenant with the United States Fifth Infantry Regiment. Horatio had been serving frontier duty at Fort Howard and Fort Winnebago in the territory that is now Wisconsin, and Charlotte lived with her parents at Fort Snelling. After their wedding, the couple moved to Davis Prairie, Missouri and later to Michigan. In 1856, they moved to Long Prairie, Minnesota where they stayed until 1861 when Horatio received an appointment as a colonel of the Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Horatio and Charlotte then moved to St. Anthony Falls (Minneapolis).

Horatio Van Cleve was born in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on November 24, 1809. He was fifty-one years old when he received his appointment as colonel of the Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He served throughout the Civil War, and beginning in 1863, he was in charge of Union forces at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. After mustering out in 1865, he returned home to Minnesota and served as Adjutant General.

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Edith Robbins Daniel

Edith Robbins was the eldest daughter of Robbinsdale’s founder Andrew B. Robbins. She attended prep school at Macalester and Carleton Colleges, and then went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota in 1894, and a Master of Arts in 1896. For several years, Edith Robbins taught in the various grades of the public school of Robbinsdale. Her experience teaching in Robbinsdale helped her secure the position of Principal of the Madelia High School. That experience lead her back to Minneapolis where she accepted a position at East Minneapolis High School. From there, she was transferred to Central High School where she worked until her marriage to Thomas Lester Daniel in 1907. In 1920, she was elected as the School Director in Independent School District 24 in Robbinsdale. She served two, three-year terms in this position. Edith Robbins Daniel served on the Robbinsdale School Board for twenty-four years.

In addition to her work in education, Edith Robbins Daniel did extraordinary work on the home front during World War I. Under her personal supervision, several thousand garments were made from dozens of bolts of new fabric donated for the cause. Edith’s workrooms included the T. B. Walker offices at 807 Hennepin Avenue on “heatless Mondays” and the Charles Pillsbury residence, where she kept scores of sewing machines supplied with material and volunteer workers. All these garments were sent to people in need in France and Belgium.

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The Wreck of the Arthur Orr

The Arthur Orr was a 286’ steel package freighter built by the Chicago Ship Building Company. She was entered into service as a package freighter on the Great Lakes in 1893. The Arthur Orr served faithfully out of Duluth, carrying packages and small freight up and down the north and south shores of Lake Superior.

After leaving Duluth with a mixed cargo on November 21, 1898, the Arthur Orr was driven ashore during a heavy storm in the early morning hours of November 22 at the mouth of the Baptism River near Silver Bay. No lives were lost, but most of the cargo spilled out of the ship and into Lake Superior.

The Arthur Orr was towed back to Chicago to be repaired and lengthened to 334’ in 1899. She returned to service later that year and served until 1947 when she was scrapped in Hamilton, Ontario.

Photos courtesy of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library.

National Duties

On September 2, 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech titled “National Duties” to 10,000 people at the Grandstand of the Minnesota State Fair. The speech was the first time Roosevelt used his famous line, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” in a public address. Four days after Roosevelt spoke at the fair, President McKinley was shot by an assassin in Buffalo, N.Y. Theodore Roosevelt would become the youngest U.S. president in history at the age of 42.

Here is an excerpt from Roosevelt’s speech at the Minnesota State Fair. ”A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far,’. If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble; and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power.”The full “National Duties” speech can be read at http://www.jonesmansion.com/history/speechon.htm

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Presidential Candidate Herbert Hoover

Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover makes a campaign stop in St. James in 1928. Herbert Hoover won the election that year bolstered by pledges to continue the economic boom of the Coolidge years. It was one of the greatest victories in presidential history. Hoover won fifty-eight percent of the votes. Democrat Al Smith got just forty percent. Hoover captured 444 electoral votes to Smith’s 87. When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, Hoover tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression with moderate government public works projects such as the Hoover Dam. Hoover only served one term as President, he was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

Photo courtesy of the Watonwan County Historical Center.

WWI Army Nurse Tena Heglund Johnson

During World War I, the military recruited 20,000 nurses for duty. More than 10,000 of them served overseas during the Great War. Most nurses either served at one of the 58 military hospitals or helped staff 47 ambulance companies that operated on the Western Front. This photo shows Tena Heglund Johnson of Fosston in her Army Nurse Corps uniform shortly before she left for Europe in 1918. She was 31 years old when she enlisted. After the war, Tena continued to work as a nurse at the Fosston Hospital.

Photo courtesy of the East Polk Heritage Center.

Buchanan: A Town of Firsts

Rumors of copper riches hidden in the North Shore’s streams and hillsides had excited the imaginations of mineral prospectors and speculators for years. Copper towns were numerous along the North Shore of Lake Superior in the mid-19th century. With few exceptions, the townsites, much like their creators’ dreams, never became a reality.

In 1856, Buchanan was established as the seat of the U.S. Land Office in the northeastern land district in Minnesota Territory. The founders of Buchanan had high hopes of creating a boomtown — they believed there was a lot of copper in the nearby bed of the Knife River. The first settlers expected Buchanan to eventually become the capital of the county and the greatest copper port in Minnesota. Along with the perceived mineral seams, a seemingly endless supply of white pine and fur-bearing animals all around, and the close proximity to the port of Duluth seemed to make this an ideal place for a town.

It wasn’t long before a hotel, several saloons, boarding houses, a steam dock, residences, and buildings for the post office and newspaper office sprang up in Buchanan. All of the buildings were likely constructed with logs from the forest along the shore. An early copper prospector described that, “Timbers were taken out, nicely hewen for five two-story buildings in town.” Two of these buildings were used by the land officers while the others served as a hotel, boarding house, and saloon. When men ventured out of the wilderness and into Buchanan, they typically were looking for three things; provisions, a saloon, or the temporary companionship of a woman.

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Hotel Del Otero on Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka’s glory days began after the Great Northern Railway extended their line into Spring Park around 1882. More than fifteen trains per day pulled into Spring Park bringing hundreds of tourists to the area. In 1885, James J. Hill began construction on the Hotel Del Otero. Visitors either arrived by steamer to the hotel’s dock, or by train. The railway depot was located just a few yards northwest of the hotel.

Hotel Del Otero was a sprawling three story structure situated on a large knoll. It boasted a large ballroom, screened promenade, and well appointed sleeping rooms. For recreation, the hotel provided sailboats, lawn bowling, croquet, private beaches, a casino, and a dancing pavilion with live music. In 1906, James J. Hill sold the hotel to George F. Hopkins and Company. Hopkins maintained the hotel, the dance pavilion, a ball park, and picnic grounds until 1918 when Adam King became the proprietor.

Hotel Del Otero burned down on July 4, 1945. The fire-scorched shell of the hotel stood as a reminder of Lake Minnetonka’s heyday well into the 1960s. Today, the Mist Apartments on Shoreline Drive occupy the site of the hotel. Just to the east were the hotel’s rental cottages, and the casino was located where the Hennepin County Water Patrol headquarters are located today. The railroad tracks were removed and turned into the Dakota Rail Trail for recreational use. 

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Have you ever wondered how avid readers in rural communities kept up with their favorite authors in the 1950s and 1960s? If they lived in Aitkin, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, or Pine county, they probably participated in the Mail-a-Book delivery program. This photo shows a patron receiving the Mail-a-Book program catalog in the mail in 1959. He would choose a book and mail the form back to the library, who would then send the requested book to the patron. When he was done, he’d simply return the book by mail.

Photo courtesy of the East Central Regional Library.

Hasty: A Minnesota Ghost Town

The town of Hasty in central Minnesota began with the construction of a new Great Northern Railway line. The tracks were laid in 1881, adjacent to land owned by Warren Hasty. The new line connected Minneapolis to Osseo, Monticello, and Clearwater.

Construction of a railroad depot for Hasty began in the fall of 1888, and opened with little fanfare in February 1889. From the outset, residents of nearby Silver Creek spearheaded an attempt to have the Hasty Depot renamed Silver Creek Station. Since Silver Creek was a larger town than Hasty, they thought the name change would be a helpful guide to riders and bring passengers to their businesses. The argument for the name change was noted, but the depot retained its original name.

The increase in business along the route meant that Hasty needed a few essential services for farmers who used the line to get their crops to Minneapolis, as well as passengers making their way through Hasty to points beyond. Warren Hasty started a blacksmith shop in March of 1889. A brickyard was also established that year by W.F. Shattuck. The brickyard thrived; three or four railcars of bricks left Hasty each day. Swan Ahl opened a general store in May near the blacksmith shop. Not to be outdone, Warren Hasty built his general store right next to the depot in August. However, Warren Hasty’s store was short-lived. He auctioned the contents and razed the store just before he moved to St. Cloud in 1890.

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The Pressroom at the Little Falls Herald

Take a look inside of the pressroom at the Little Falls Herald in the 1910s. The The Herald was a weekly newspaper that covered local news in Little Falls and served as a news source for other nearby towns in the county. The paper also included state, national, and some international news within its eight-page, six-column format. The Herald was published each Friday beginning in March 1889. The last issue went to press in August 1950.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society (17600).

Quevli Family Farm

Big, family-owned farms were big business at the turn of the 20th century in southern Minnesota. This postcard shows the Nels Quevli family farm in 1909. The farm was located in West Heron Lake Township near Lakefield in Jackson County. It consisted of 2,243 acres of land in sections 25, 26, 27, 33, 34, 35, and 36, The caption on the postcard states that the farm had ten sets of buildings. Nels, however, never worked on the Quevli family farm; he was in real estate and later worked as a lawyer.

Photo courtesy of the Jackson County Historical Society.

A Womanless Wedding in Worthington

Here is the cast of a Womanless Wedding in Worthington. The Womanless Wedding took place on February 2, 1927.

Womanless Weddings, often staged by men’s civic and fraternal groups, were popular entertainment prior to the advent of television. They consisted of a mock wedding in which males dressed the roles of the entire wedding party, including the bride, mother of the bride, bridesmaids, and flower girl. These events were often fundraisers, since many in the community were more than willing to pay admission to see their male neighbors dressed in female attire. The men in this photo were raising money for the Woman’s Relief Corps, Auxiliary of the Grand Arm of the Republic.

Photo courtesy of the Nobles County Historical Society.

Dancing School

Circa 1890 photo of dancing school at the at the Free Press Hall in Mankato. As you can imagine, dancing school was an integral part of a child’s education–but it wasn’t just about learning how to waltz. Children also learned etiquette and how to interact socially with their peers and members of the opposite sex (all while under strict supervision of the adults who can be seen sitting in the background, of course!).

Photo courtesy of the Blue Earth County Historical Society.

Historic Park Island Hotel Threatened With Demolition

The Park Island Hotel in Center City opened in 1900. The secluded, lakeside property offered guests nearly 3,000 square feet of space to relax on the main level alone–including a large dining room and a lounge at the back of the hotel that overlooked the lake. Twenty guest rooms were located upstairs. Some rooms had a private bathroom while others shared. The long dock featured a bandshell at the midway point. Bands and orchestras played in the bandshell on weekend evenings, drawing guests and locals to the lake.

As with so many other hotels from this era, the Park Island Hotel fell out of favor with travelers once automobiles became common and vacationers sought destinations farther north. The hotel was forced to close. More recently, the historic building served as a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. During that time, the aging building was only minimally maintained. When the maintenance costs became too high, and the building became unsafe for residents, it was abandoned.

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Dakota and Ojibwe Battle Near Anoka

On this day in 1839, Dakota warriors engaged in two battles with the Ojibwe. The first took place near the mouth of the Rum River (Anoka) near where this photo was taken. The other, at Battle Point (Stillwater), claimed many Ojibwe lives. Both of the battles together claimed more than 100 Ojibwe lives (no report on how many Dakota were lost). The Dakota spent the next month along the shores of Mde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis) honoring their victory with dancing and singing.

Baberich Fabric Shop in St. Peter

This photo shows the interior of the Baberich Fabric Shop on Minnesota Avenue in St. Peter. Casper Baberich and his wife also operated a millinery shop on Minnesota Avenue, between Grace and Nassau Streets, and a small flower shop out of the front porch of their home on the northwest corner Third and Nassau Streets.

When this photo was taken in 1905, women either made clothing for themselves and their families, or had a seamstress make it for them. Most small-town dry goods stores carried fabric, but the selection was limited and many other women in the same town used the same fabric for their clothing. However, larger towns often had a dedicated fabric store where women could find a wider variety of type, color, and print.

Photo courtesy of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

The Mysterious Death of Clara Ober in Blue Earth

After one hundred and twenty years, the mystery of what happened to Clara Ober between the evening of July 29th, and 2:00 p.m. the following day remains unknown. The entire community around Blue Earth, Minnesota was divided about what happened to Clara and who was responsible for her death. In fact, it is still debated today.

Clara Ober was the second oldest child of German immigrants, George and Amanda Ober. The couple settled in Blue Earth around 1870; George got a job as a carpenter, and they started their family. The couple had eight children before George’s sudden death on Christmas day in 1890 at the age of fifty. Amanda was several months pregnant at the time of George’s death and suffering from depression. Clara was only sixteen. She moved in with saloon and restaurant owner Jacob Freund and his family, who lived just a few blocks away.  Although the reason for her move into the Freund home was never reported, she may have worked as a nanny for their two children.

Jacob Freund operated a successful saloon and restaurant in Blue Earth. In 1890, he built a Queen Anne style cottage on the 200 block of Galbraith Street for his wife, Sadie, and their two children, Pearl and Otto. Clara lived in the house with the family until 1895 when she begged her uncle, Henry Eberlein, to allow her to move into his home on Fourth Street. He agreed and helped find Clara a job as a dressmaker.

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The final Government Land Sale in Thief River Falls

One hundred and eleven years ago today (June 20, 1904), the final Government Land Sale took place in Thief River Falls. A crowd of towns people and hopeful settlers gathered on the north side of the old Washington School to watch as the last 93,000 acres of surveyed land were sold. The town had been established just 17 years prior.

Photo courtesy of the Pennington County Historical Society.

Bailey Brothers Prove They Sell Durable Overalls

In 1902, a large crowd surrounded the Bailey Brothers Store on Main Street in Belle Plaine as the brothers demonstrated the durability of the overalls they sold in their store. The publicity stunt was advertised in the newspaper and brought out more than one hundred people. A local band played music and the crowds cheered as the brothers pulled and tugged at the pants. There is no information about whether the sales stunt was a success, but it undoubtedly brought more than a few new customers into their store on that day.

Photo courtesy of the Scott County Historical Society.

The Eight Days in May Protests

For many at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus, May 9, 1972 started out like any other day. The weather was much cooler than normal, so students rushed to and from their classes. The buzz on campus concerned President Nixon’s announcement that the United States would lay mines in North Vietnam’s Haiphong Harbor in an attempt to impede the supply of weapons and material to the North Vietnamese military. Later in the day, a rally against the mining was planned, along with an off-campus demonstration at the Cedar-Riverside housing development’s opening ceremony. Tension was low on campus. However, the next few days would turn into the most turbulent in the University’s history.

The rally against the mining of Haiphong Harbor was scheduled to take place at noon in front of Northrup Memorial Auditorium on May 9th. More than 250 students and faculty attended the peaceful, but enthusiastic demonstration. About ten University police officers were on hand in case of any disturbance. Meanwhile, there was a mounting concern that this group of demonstrators would meet up with a group protesting the opening of the nearby Cedar-Riverside housing development. The combined unease could lead to an unmanageable situation for University police officers.

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Expeditionary Crew for the Northern Pacific Railway

This 1869 photo shows the main expeditionary crew for the Northern Pacific Railway. The crew consisted of one Native American woman, two Native American men, and twenty-five railroad scouts. Together, they charted a westward route across the state while financial backers were being courted. Crews like this often maneuvered through tough terrain such as swamps, bogs, and tamarack forests to find the best route. Leading this crew were Pierre Bottineau and G. A. Bracket.

Photo courtesy of the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

Memorial Day 1919 in New Prague

New Prague’s Memorial Day celebration in 1919. The World War I veterans, band, Red Cross nurses, city residents, and a military band (along with a young man dancing on the storage building in the center of the photo!) gathered to honor servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Just a reminder that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

Photo courtesy of the New Prague Area Historical Society.

The Olympis Quartet

Meet the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway’s singing porters. This group of gentlemen were known as the Olympis Quartet in 1922. Many railway lines throughout the country trained their porters in quartet singing to entertain train guests.

Photo courtesy of the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

A Queen Anne Masterpiece in Canby

John Grant Lund was a feisty showman and self-made millionaire known locally as “The Real Estate King of Canby”. As one of southwestern Minnesota’s first land speculators, he was known to meet incoming trains filled with prospective settlers at the depot. Accompanied by a full band, Lund would take center stage in a vest decorated with brass buttons, a bandmaster’s cap, and a cornet that he would blow to call attention to his sales pitch. The colorful show worked. In 1889 alone, Lund sold more than 60,000 acres of land in Yellow Medicine County and had another 100,000 acres of wild and improved land for sale through the Lund Land Agency.

Born in 1868 to Norwegian immigrants, John Lund moved to Canby with his family in 1876. His father ran the hardware store in town, where John’s brothers often helped out. John, however, began working as a cashier at the bank in town at age 15. 1888 was a big year for Lund; he married Flora Miller and started a real estate business.

In August of 1890, Lund swept into the offices of the Canby News to announce that he was planning to build a “palatial residence” to the north of the park square. He requested that his announcement be printed in the newspaper the next day. So it wasn’t a surprise to the folks in Canby when several loads of lumber arrived in town and were stacked on a sprawling corner lot in April 1891. The Canby News reported that Lund planned to, “put up a very fine residence from modern plans”. Lund hired as many carpenters as he could find to build his house in the shortest amount of time possible. In fact, John and Flora moved into their new home just 49 days after construction began.

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Huson’s Sandwich Shop

Huson’s Sandwich Shop, pictured here in 1935, was a popular eatery on Pokegama Avenue in Grand Rapids for several decades. Huson’s was located between Second and Third Avenues. The shop was owned by Leo Buckley from the 1920s until 1942 when the shop closed. In December 1943, George Lemler and his wife reopened Huson’s for several more years. It’s unclear when the shop closed for the last time, or when the building was demolished. The Wells Fargo drive-up is now located on the former site of Huson’s.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society (MI8.9 GR3.1 r10)

State Hospital Diet Kitchens

Diet kitchens at the St. Peter State Hospital were used to distribute food from the main kitchen into the wards at meal time, prepare items for patients with special dietary needs in the ward, and provide hot water for coffee and tea throughout the day. Because diet kitchens were located in each ward, cooks often knew the dietary needs and preferences of patients they prepared meals for better than the workers in the central kitchen. This photo shows a diet kitchen on the fourth floor of the center building in 1918.

Photo courtesy of the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center archives.

Tenney – The Evolution of a Ghost Town

For several years, Tenney held the distinction of being Minnesota’s smallest town. The 2010 census showed that Tenney boasted two families, and an average age of close to 57 years old. The total population was five. When the numbers dwindled to just three residents, it became nearly impossible to keep the town alive. Tenney was on the brink of becoming a ghost town.

Tenney is located about 65 miles south of Moorhead on what was once the flat bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz in western Minnesota. The rich, fertile soil left behind drew settlers from all over the country beginning in the 1870s. John P. Tenney owned several hundred acres of land in the area and sold many of those acres to the railroad in order to establish a line through the county. Once the railroad came through in 1885, farmers had a way to get their crops to the Twin Cities, and then on to the east coast.

A provisional plat for Tenney was registered with Wilkin County in August of 1887. A post office opened the same year. The land was officially surveyed in 1901, and the plat for the town was adopted. It consisted of four square miles of land which would provide room for a sufficient population to have saloons, a general store, and other services that every up-and-coming town needed. It didn’t take long for Tenney to start drawing new business owners to town.

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EACO Flour Mill Fire in Waseca

This photo from 1900 shows Loon Lake and the town of Waseca in the distance. On the left are the newly reconstructed buildings of the Everett, Aughenbaugh and Company (EACO) flour mill. The original EACO mill burned to the ground in 1896. Here is a historical account of the events of August 25, 1896:

At about twenty minutes after 3 o’clock Tuesday morning, Aug. 25, 1896, the fire alarm and mill whistle aroused our citizens and it was soon discovered that the old and long-vacant coffin factory, on the west side of the M. & St. L. railroad track, nearly opposite the flour mill of Everett, Aughenbaugh & Co., was on fire. It made a terribly hot fire, but soon burned to the ground, and the people were just congratulating one another that the fire was no worse, when the cry went forth that the flour and bran house on the south of the mill was on fire.

Undoubtedly the heat upon the sheet iron covering had set the woodwork inside on fire. Every effort was made by the fire department to keep down the flames, but the high wind and the bursting of a water main in the south part of the city at that time, reducing the pressure, combined to aid the flames which were carried directly into the windows of the mill. It was short work for the consuming element to destroy one of the. best mills in the state, the accumulation of years of industry, economy, and safe business management. Two cars loaded with flour were also consumed. The total loss of the EACO Milling Company was estimated at $70,000, and the property of the mill was insured for $45,000. The old coffin factory was of little value and had been, for a long time, the tramps’ paradise. There is no doubt that the fire was either the work of incendiarism or the carelessness of tramps. The mills were at once rebuilt on a more elaborate plan than before.

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Laura Baker’s School in Northfield

Laura Belle Baker was born in Chariton, Iowa on April 10, 1859. Her parents were liberal and civic-minded farmers who stressed the importance of education, tolerance, and empathy to their children. Shortly after graduating from grammar school, Baker began teaching. She would spend the next eighty-three years successfully educating boys and girls that society often feared.

After receiving her teaching degree in 1877, Baker began her first job at the newly expanded Glenwood Asylum for Feeble Minded Children in Mills County, Iowa. The facility housed and educated developmentally disabled children in southwestern Iowa. The Glenwood Asylum was only the seventh such institution in the United States at the time; the first located west of the Mississippi. Baker served as one of the two principal teachers there for seven years.

In 1884, Baker traveled by wagon to Minnesota where she had been offered the position of principal at the Faribault State School. She thrived as a teacher and administrator at the school for more than twelve years. During her time at Fairbault, her success was overshadowed by her distress at the custodial approach to housing and educating developmentally disabled boys and girls. She firmly believed these children could achieve richer, fuller lives through education and training in an environment that better suited their unique needs. From this, a greater awareness and community acceptance of developmentally disabled individuals would follow. Although Baker enjoyed her time teaching at Fairbault, she realized that the changes that needed to be made would not happen quickly in a state-run facility.

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St. Patrick’s Day parade in St. Paul

More than 300 people were on hand for the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in St. Paul in 1851. For several years the parades were led by the Irish Catholic Temperance Society, and in 1856 the Benevolent Society of Erin hosted a dinner complete with toasts of cold water instead of liquor. After the Civil War, the festivities began to get rowdy and lasted much of the day and well into the night. By the turn of the century, Archbishop John Ireland had enough of the indulgent celebrations that had turned into what he called “midnight orgies”, and put a stop to the parade and celebrations.

It wasn’t until 1967 that another St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in St. Paul. Planning for the parade took place in just two months, but many traditions we see today came from that first parade, such as the swath of emerald paint down the center of the parade route. The tradition of crowning Ms. Shamrock began with that first parade too–Agnes Sullivan was the lucky lady. The parade started at noon and left from Hilton (now the Radisson) and proceeded down Kellogg Blvd. to the St. Paul Hotel; the entire parade lasted only 40 minutes.

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Central School in Grand Rapids

Interior of the Central School in downtown Grand Rapids. Built in 1895, the three story building served as an elementary school from 1895 to 1972. A community effort restored the building in 1984 and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society (MI8.9 GR5.2 p4)

St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Art

As the nineteenth century began to wind down, the residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul became eager to establish institutions that would nurture American culture while enhancing a reputation of philanthropy within the music and art communities of the Twin Cities. The task of enriching residents with these types of cultural institutions was taken up by notable names like William Dunwoody and James J. Hill—both contributors and trustees of The Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, and T.B. Walker—founder of the Walker Art Gallery. From there, establishing schools of fine art and music education was made a priority. The first of these schools, St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Art, was established in 1884. The Northwestern Conservatory of Minneapolis (1885), The Minneapolis School of Art (1886), and the St. Paul School of Fine Arts (1894) followed soon after.

Originally established under the name St. Agatha’s Conservatory and Convent, the school was conceived by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province, under the guidance of Mother Seraphine (a.k.a. Ella Ireland—sister of Archbishop John Ireland).  The initial school and convent was located in a rented home at Tenth and Main Street in St. Paul. It housed twenty sisters who taught in parochial schools around the city. The convent was intended to be entirely self-supporting. Classrooms were added so the sisters could teach music and needlework in the evenings in order to generate the funds needed to run the facility.

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Artist Nicholas Brewer

Nicholas Brewer was a prominent 19th-century portrait and landscape painter. He was born in Olmsted County and was raised on a farm along the Root River. He was a student at the National Academy of Design in New York, where he also exhibited. Once he moved back to Minnesota, Brewer painted a crucifixion scene in the Cathedral of St. Paul. He was highly sought after as a portrait painter in the Twin Cities. He painted portraits of notable citizens such as Theodore Hamm, Frank Kellogg, and John Ireland, among others. This photo from 1900 shows Brewer in his St. Paul studio. The large portrait on the right is of Father Thomas J. Ducey, founder of St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church in New York City.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

John S. Bradstreet – The Apostle of Good Taste

Names like Louis Comfort Tiffany and Gustav Stickley are well rooted in many American’s minds as two of the key players in interior design and the decorative arts of the early twentieth century. For the emerging upper-middle class in Minneapolis, it was a craftsman closer to home that excelled in creating handsomely-crafted pieces locally. John Bradstreet’s position as a tastemaker in the city was solidified into history when the Minneapolis Journal eulogized him in 1914 by proclaiming, “If this section of the country is to furnish a name that will be known to the America of one hundred years from today, that name is more likely to be that of John Scott Bradstreet than any other.” 

Bradstreet got his start in Minneapolis in 1878 when he established a custom furniture business partnership with Edmund Phelps. The firm grew steadily over the next five years, and their showroom eventually occupied six floors of the Syndicate Block on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Bradstreet wasn’t only building his business; he was earning a reputation for being the city’s leading interior decorator and furniture designer. In 1884, Phelps sold his share of the business to pursue other ventures. That same year, Bradstreet partnered with the Thurbers of Gorham Manufacturing and formed Bradstreet, Thurber, and Co.

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The Emporium

The Emporium opened in downtown St. Paul in 1920. It was located on the corner of Robert and Seventh Streets, which was a busy shopping district at the time. Rothschild’s, the Golden Rule, Schuneman’s, and Donaldson’s were all within a few blocks at one time or another. The Emporium’s millinery department and crystal shop rivaled those of the bigger-named stores. The Tea Room was a favorite lunch spot for shoppers and people who worked downtown. The Emporium and Tea Room closed in 1968. Although the façade has drastically changed, the building still stands and houses offices.
Photos courtesy of the Pioneer Press Archive

Kresge’s Five and Dime

A 1957 Valentine’s Day window display at Kresge’s Five and Dime in downtown Minneapolis. Kresge’s was located on Nicollet Mall, across from Donaldson’s. Kresge’s Five and Dime stores would later evolve into K-Mart.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Waverly’s Moderne Village Hall

The original village hall in Waverly was built in 1893. The two-story, brick and stone building sat on the corner of Third Street and Elm Avenue. Built in the Romanesque style, the town hall featured a large corner tower that looked out over the small village. It was the home to the city’s government offices, fire department, and jail. The upper floor of the building was used for social activities such as dances and school performances. In the summer of 1938 the interior of the building was destroyed by fire. The Great Depression left the city’s coffers low and the community without much hope of rebuilding the hall. 

City officials in Waverly decided their only hope was to request funds from the federal government. They decided to submit a proposal to the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. The WPA constructed a wide variety of municipal facilities based on the needs of particular communities. The projects ranged from small buildings such as a rural fire department garage to large-scale projects like auditoriums and libraries. These projects were especially significant because they often provided meaningful improvements in rural or struggling communities. Without the assistance of the New Deal programs, these projects would never have been possible in communities like Waverly.

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The White Eagle Service Station

The White Eagle Service Station in Worthington. The english cottage style station stood on the corner of Ninth Street and Second Avenue. English cottage style service stations were popular in the 1920s and 1930s because they blended with the residential areas they were often on the edge of.

Travel in style!

Here is an interior view of the North Coast Limited All-Pullman train. The train went into service on May 16, 1930. The modern Pullman car was exhibited for a week before going into service at Saint Paul’s Union Station.

Photo courtesy of the New Brighton Area Historical Society

Oliver “Tuddy” Kaldahl

Spectators flocked to this 1942 ski jumping tournament in Glenwood, MN. Glenwood became a popular place to hold tournaments because it was the home town of Oliver “Tuddy” Kaldahl. Tuddy was the 1916 junior ski jump champion at the first National Ski Championship held in Glenwood, Minnesota. He set the American record for four years straight. In 1921, Tuddy won the Canadian National Class A crown. He went onto compete and win numerous events throughout his skiing career and became a highly celebrated ski jumper throughout the world.

Van Cleve Park

Ice skating at Van Cleve Park in Minneapolis in 1901. This 1.5 acre pond was created in the southern half of the park in 1890. That winter, and for several years after, the park board cleared the snow from the pond so it could serve as a skating rink in the winter. A warming house was added for skaters in 1905.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Indian Mounds Park Toboggan Slide

Toboggan slide at Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul. When these photos were taken in 1939, the park covered 135 acres and included this slide, a warming house, refectory house, two tennis courts, and six horseshoe courts.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Fandel’s Department Store

Interior view of Fandel’s Department Store in St. Cloud from 1946. Fandel’s opened in 1900 on St. Germain Street, between Sixth and Seventh. The building was razed in the 1980s to make way for the new Herberger’s department store.

The Pine River Dam

The Pine River Dam near Brainerd was the fourth dam built as part of the Mississippi River Headwaters Reservoirs system. The original timber dam was constructed from 1884-1886. A concrete dam replaced it in 1905. This photo was taken in 1910.

The dam site once included a house, office, a barn, a carpenter shop, a blacksmith shop, two warehouses, a wood shed, and a chicken coop. These structures were demolished through extensive redevelopment for public recreation.

Bernard Pietenpol – The Father of the Home Built Airplane

A new dawn of mechanical advancement was brought to the forefront of American consciousness because of the burgeoning automobile industry after World War I. Dreamers and adventurers alike were captivated by the use of airplanes during the war. Many Americans were eager to experiment with building their own airplanes, or improving motorized aviation technology. Tinkering with cheap and practical home built aircraft became common in garages and workshops throughout small-town America. Much like Orville and Wilbur Wright had years before, these trailblazers sought to use the latest technology to forge new pathways in aviation history.

When barnstormers began buzzing dairy barns, cornfields, and cherry orchards in southern Minnesota, it lit a fire within three young men in Cherry Grove. Bernard Pietenpol, Donald Finke, and Orrin Hoopman grew up in a time of meager subsistence and great sacrifice. Their quest to join the golden age of aviation lead them to collect  spare parts, build what they could not buy, and experiment with motorcycle, aircraft, and automobile engines in order to create their own home built airplane.

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A. Knoblauch and Sons

Alois Knoblauch arrived in Minneapolis from Germany in 1854. The following year, Alois established the first shoe store in the city at 26 First Street N. Alois ran the store for more than 30 years with his sons Anton and Frank. After Alois’ death, Anton took over A. Knoblauch and Sons Fine Shoe Store. The brothers operated stores 41 Washington Avenue S, 121 Washington Avenue S, 239 Nicollet, and 514 Nicollet. They also operated shoe departments in several department stores. In 1911, Anton and Frank decided to dispose of their shoe business. Anton went on to a career in real estate investment.

Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940

The weather on the morning of November 11, 1940 appeared to be harmless. Many people were outdoors, taking advantage of the mild weather. The weather forecast that morning was for colder temperatures and a few flurries. No one was prepared for what was to come. The storm started with rain but quickly turned to snow. By the time the blizzard tapered off on the 12th, the Twin Cities had received 16.7 inches of snow, Collegeville 26.6 inches, and 20-foot drifts were reported near Willmar. In all 49 Minnesotans lost their lives in this storm, many of them hunters trapped by the sudden turn of weather. This photo was taken on Excelsior Boulevard, west of Minneapolis, after the storm.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

A Thief River Falls Railroad Crew

A railroad crew poses on the tracks with shovels. This crew laid track near Thief River Falls around 1905. Behind the crew, a pump trolley is visible on the tracks. A pump car is a railroad car powered by its passengers. It was often used to get from the nearest town to where the crew would work at the end of the track.

Photo courtesy of the Pennington County Historical Society.

The Mesaba Railway

The Mesaba Railway ran streetcar service between Hibbing and North Hibbing. This car is stopped near the Oliver Hotel on Third Avenue in North Hibbing in 1921. This stop was at the north end of the line.

Photo courtesy Iron Range Research Center.

The Ole Shows

George Engesser’s Circus was based in St. Peter, Minnesota. It was one of the largest motorized circuses in the US from the 1920s until the start of WWII. This poster advertises What Happened to Ole – one of the many Ole Shows put on by the circus. George’s father, Matthew, founded the Engesser Brewing Company in 1916.

Photo courtesy of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

The Gales of November: George Herbert Shipwreck

It was a typical Monday morning for the crew of the flat-bottomed scow, George Herbert. Captain Charlie Johnson and lumber clerk William Hicks were discussing their trip one-hundred miles up the north shore of Lake Superior with provisions for the M.H. Coolidge Lumber Company. Three other crew members, Ole Nelson, George Olson, and Ole Miller were loading shovels, axes, smoked meats, coffee, whiskey, and lard into the scow’s hold. The lake was calm, and the weather was fair for November, but a steady northeast breeze made the temperature feel like it was below zero. The unpowered scow was loaded quickly. Captain Johnson rang the F.W. Gillett, their tug for the trip, to let them know the scow was ready.

As the George Herbert and F.W. Gillett made their way east along the shore, the wind began to blow harder, and the temperature began to fall. Hoping they could get past the edge of the storm, Captain Johnson stayed on course. By about 1:00 in the afternoon, the wind and the waves had increased to an alarming level. Johnson continued to press eastward hoping to find relative safety from the wind behind a group of islands near present-day Taconite Harbor. After two hours, the scow and its tug dropped anchor on the lee side of Two Islands. The George Herbert and F.W. Gillett  were the first boats to encounter the storm that would become known as the Big Blow of 1905.

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Herdliska Jewelry Store

The Herdliska Jewelry Store was located at 101 South 10th Avenue in Princeton. Raleigh Herdliska also co-owned the hardware store just a few buildings away. Pictured here in 1900 are Mr. Herdliska, August Schlesner, Fred Mueller, and August Meyer.

Photo courtesy of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society.

Spruce Creek CCC Camp

Superintendents at the Spruce Creek Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Lutsen in the mid-1930s.

Workers at the Spruce Creek CCC camp were responsible for building the many of the trails in the Cascade River State Park. Other projects included a highway concourse and the Cascade River overlook. The Spruce Creek CCC camp operated from July 24, 1934 until October 1936.

Photo courtesy of the Cook County Historical Society.

First National Bank in Ironton

This photo of the First National Bank in Ironton (Crosby) shows the wealth that flowed through the Cuyuna Iron Range in the 1920s. Two tellers were always available to customers — one to receive money (deposits) and one to pay money (withdrawals). The bars surrounding the tellers were gleaming brass. The counter was made of rich, dark wood with marble running along the bottom. The entire public space of the bank was carpeted — a rarity for public buildings at the time. Did you notice the spittoon on the floor between the two tellers?

Photo courtesy of the Cuyuna Iron Range Heritage Network.

James J. Hill’s North Oaks Farm

James J. Hill was the preeminent transportation pioneer in the American Northwest. He arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota on a steamboat in 1856 and planned on becoming a trapper and trader. Instead, he found work with a steamboat company. During the Civil War, Hill learned the business of buying, selling, and transporting goods. Through connections made during this time, he was able to move into a more lucrative position with the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. His entrepreneurial spirit lead him to start a new business which would supply the StP&P with coal for fuel. Skip ahead to 1883 and Hill had acquired the StP&P and incorporated it into the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway Co. and was now the railway president. Under Hill’s direction, the railway prospered and its net worth increased by $24 million in just five years.

As James J. Hill’s professional interests took his railway west to the Pacific, his personal interests were firmly locked in Minnesota. He dreamed of experimenting with cutting-edge agricultural practices that would improve farming for the immigrants that were flooding into Minnesota on his railroad. In 1880, he acquired 160-acres of land on Lake Minnetonka’s Crystal Bay. He named it Hillier Farm. Hill set his mind to use the farm to breed stock that would improve the cattle available to farmers along his railroad lines. In December of 1881 Hill began purchasing land in the fertile Red River Valley near Hallock, Minnesota. The 45,000-acres of land he purchased became known as Humboldt Farm and was run as a basic bonanza farm. Eventually, 3,000-acres of Humboldt would be split off and managed by Hill’s youngest son, Walter, under the name Northcote Farm. Finally, in 1883 Hill purchased 3,500-acres of land in Ramsey County for $50,000. This investment would expand to nearly 5,500-acres and serve not only as a farm, but also as Hill’s country estate. It became known as North Oaks Farm.

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Joe Budde’s Restaurant

Staff and customers inside Joe Budde’s Restaurant and Bakery in the 1940s. The restaurant and bakery was a staple in Slayton for many years. It was sandwiched between a shoe store and a popular barber shop on Main Street. After doing business for several years, Joe Budde’s added on to their building and recreated the space as a restaurant and pool hall.

Photo courtesy of Murray County Historical Society.

Lilac Way: Showcase of the Belt Line

Although it’s difficult to tell now, Highway 100 in the west metro was once one of the most beautiful and serene roads in the nation. The roadway was conceived just after the start of the Great Depression as a joint venture between the National Recovery Work Relief Program (which would later become the Works Progress Administration) and the Minnesota Highway Department. Highway 100 would be the first piece of a larger road system that would bypass the Twin Cities, called the Belt Line. This western portion of the project would be the showcase section because of its innovative design and thoughtful landscaping.

A 1957 Harp Recital

Such a beautiful instrument. Students from The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth playing harps at a recital in 1957. Pictured left to right are Dea Bowden, Betty Dunlap, Ann Sander, Vivian Schuldt, Elverna Stalvig, and Diane Smith.

Photo courtesy of The College of St. Scholastica.

Turnblad’s Painted Window

This hand-blown, enamel-painted window can be seen on the grand stairway landing of the American Swedish Institute (formerly the Turnblad mansion). The ornate window is a reproduction of the painting Valdemar IV Atterdag Holding Visby to Ransom by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist. The Danish King Valdemar IV is seen sitting on his throne to the right with his army in the background. The Danish have threatened to destroy the town of Visby, Sweden unless the citizens give up all their valuable possessions. The mayor of Visby is seen in the center with his fist clenched. His beautiful wife is by his side looking toward the heavens for divine intervention. The original painting was too small to be placed in the space allowed for the window, so the craftsman extended the length by placing himself in the artwork on the left side.

Bill Krisatis’ Popcorn Wagon

Bill Krisatis’ popcorn wagon was a popular staple in St. Peter during the 1930s and 1940s. His wagon offered many popular treats for adults and children alike. Buttered popcorn, caramel corn, roasted peanuts, candy, and cigarettes could be purchased at the wagon six days a week. In this photo, Bill Krisatis is taking delivery of his first $1,000.00 order of corn for popping.

Photo courtesy of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

The Nankin Cafe

The Nankin Cafe was a downtown Minneapolis landmark for over 80 years. Founder Walter James opened the Chinese restaurant at 14 South Seventh Street in 1919. The restaurant’s popularity soared — customers would come from all over the upper midwest to eat at the Nankin. In the 1950s, the Nankin moved into a larger space across the street and then relocated to City Center in the 1980s. The 1990s were troublesome for the restaurant — a labor strike and a drug raid where 19 customers and staff were arrested damaged the Nankin’s reputation. Customers that once flocked to the best Chinese restaurant in the midwest began avoiding the Nankin. The restaurant was forced to close in 1999.

This postcard shows what the first and second level dining rooms looked like in the mid-1920s.

A Daring Robbery

The Queen’s float at the Anoka Street Carnival on October 13, 1906. Queen Margaret Saunders and King Robert Streetly are seated in the back of the float.

A daring robbery took place during the street carnival that year. At around 9:00 p.m., while most of the town people were gathered on Main Street to watch the carnival, two masked men with revolvers attacked the operator at the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot. The operator had been working at his desk when he heard two men enter the waiting room. A moment later he looked up to find the two masked men pointing their revolvers at him and demanding that he open the till. They removed $39 from the drawer and ran out of the building.

Photo courtesy of the Anoka County Historical Society

Concord Coach Line

Colonel Alvaren Allen began stagecoach service from St. Paul to Crow Wing with his four-horse Concord coach line in 1854. As the need to travel west and south of St. Paul grew, so did the coach line. Within a few years Allen had eight coaches departing from St. Paul each day; three to Minneapolis, one each to Crow Wing, Stillwater, Mankato, and  Hudson, WI. The last coach would follow a route through New Ulm, Faribault, and Owatonna. The coaches carried freight as well as passengers — which mean the latter were forced to hold on as best they could as the stagecoach bumped over well rutted, but poorly maintained, wagon trails. In this photo from 1898, several gentlemen from Mankato are about to board the Concord coach for St. Paul. Photo courtesy of the Blue Earth Historical Society.

Merchants’ Carnivals

Merchants’ Carnivals, like this one in Rochester in 1893, were a popular way to showcase a merchant’s wares. They were much like modern-day trade shows. Each merchant would rent a booth in an exposition hall and employees would dress up in costumes decorated only with items from their business. This carnival appears to have had a medieval theme.

Minnesota’s First Vocational School

In February 1915, students poured into the first vocational school in the state. Located in the mining town of Eveleth, this school was the first education building in Minnesota to be devoted entirely to industrial subjects. The Prairie School style building was designed by William Bray and Carl Nystrom of Duluth for around $48,000. The building was constructed of gray Menominee brick and terra cotta. The exterior featured an intricate cornice and a diamond pattern in the brick above the factory-style windows on each end of the building. A relief carving just under the cornice in the center of the school announced that this was the Eveleth Manual Training School.

The interior of the Manual Training School was functional and modern. It was thought to be completely fireproof because reinforced concrete was used for the floors and ceilings, and the  interior walls were made of light-gray brick and tile. The only material used in construction that would have been flammable were wooden floors in the corridors and lecture and drafting rooms. The building was wired for electricity throughout and was heated by a steam vacuum system. Skylights brought abundant daylight to the large drafting and woodworking rooms, as well as the electrical “laboratory”, on the second floor.

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Rathskeller Over the Rhine

German immigrant Thomas Erdel opened the Rathskeller Over the Rhine (great name!) in the late 1800s. Pictured here in 1905, the saloon stood on the corner of Second Avenue N and First Street in Moorhead. Catering to a well-heeled clientele, the saloon served European beer, and a German band played on the verandah each night in the summer. The saloon was forced to close shortly after Prohibition.

Photo courtesy of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.

Layne’s Pharmacy in New Prague

Rose Holec graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Pharmacy with the degree of Pharmaceutical Chemist in 1919. She returned to her hometown, New Prague and married fellow pharmacist George Layne. Together, they opened Layne’s Pharmacy in New Prague. George and Rose can be seen here in their pharmacy in 1923.

Photo courtesy of the New Prague Area Historical Society

Architecture of the State – The Rochester State Hospital

In 1873, the State of Minnesota was looking for a way to house an increasingly problematic group of residents —“habitual drunkards.” In order to pay for a facility to care for these individuals, the state legislature passed a bill that year that would implement a $10 tax on all liquor dealers in the state. As you can imagine, the liquor dealers were strongly opposed to the tax and appealed the fee all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the fund to build the Inebriate Asylum grew. When enough money was raised through the tax, the state purchased a 160-acre parcel of land just outside of Rochester. Just after construction on the hospital began in 1877, a more urgent need was brought to the attention of the government. The St. Peter Hospital of the Insane was becoming overcrowded and unmanageable. In order to ease the congestion, the state legislature repealed the tax and stipulated that the Rochester Inebriate Asylum was to become the Second State Hospital for the Insane. A portion of the new State Hospital was to be used to house and treat chronic inebriates, but most of the facility would house the insane.

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Wilder Public Baths

It’s hard to imagine a time when taking a bath or shower in your own home wasn’t possible, but the convenience of showering on a regular basis is a modern luxury. One hundred years ago, a great deal of working-class homes in St. Paul lacked bathing facilities. People living in rooming houses and along the Mississippi flats didn’t even have running water. Public beaches were a popular way to wash away the dirt and sweat from hard work, but they were only available in the summer. Recognizing the public need for a year-round facility for people to clean themselves, the Amherst H. Wilder Charities established a facility where anyone could have a “shower bath” — no matter the weather.

Cornelia Day Wilder was the only child of Amherst and Fanny Wilder. She grew up on St. Paul’s swish Summit Avenue, just two houses down from the James J. Hill house. As a child, Cornelia recognized her privileged position in St. Paul and decided to use it to help the poor. Throughout her life, she volunteered her time and money to help the less fortunate. Through her stories from the front lines of helping the poor, Amherst and Fanny recognized the need to provide funds to benefit people in need.

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Maine Prairie Corners: A Minnesota Ghost Town

A township of new settlers from Maine sprung up in Stearns County, Minnesota around 1856, but it wasn’t until 1858 that the small pioneer village officially adopted the name Maine Prairie. During the Dakota Conflict of 1862, Maine Prairie became the site of a small log fort, known as Maine Prairie Fort. Built in August of that year, the fort was a two level, 40’x40’ square stockade that was manned by a volunteer militia. Although there was some fighting nearby, the Maine Prairie Fort and nearby village was never attacked.

By 1865 several small business and community buildings had sprung up near the fort. A post office, blacksmith shop, cheese factory, general store, lodge hall, and three churches were erected at the intersection of County Roads 8 and 15. Residents of the little town decided to change the name to Maine Prairie Corners that same year. A short time later, a community cemetery was established just north of the town. Maine Prairie Corners became a vibrant settlement. Families began to build homes near downtown while the fertile countryside was snatched up by farmers.

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Minnesota’s Northwest Angle

At a glance, nothing peculiar stands out about Minnesota on a map. It’s when you take a longer look that you’ll notice it. Along the northern border there is a small piece of land that looks like it should be part of Manitoba, Canada marked as territory of Minnesota, and the United States. However, this piece of land is not physically connected to the United States at all, it is surrounded by Canada on three sides, and Lake of the Woods on the other. Visitors either have to travel by boat across Lake of the Woods, or cross the Canadian border at Warroad, then cross back into the United States once they reach The Angle.

The mapping oddity that gave this 123-square-mile chunk of land to the United States happened when land negotiators were deciding where the USA/Canada border should be set. The Mitchell Map was used during negotiations — it mistakenly showed that the Mississippi River originated in Lake of the Woods. Understandably, the United States wanted to make sure the headwaters of the Mississippi River remained in the United States, so the border was set at the very northwestern tip of Lake of the Woods, ran due south to the 49th parallel, and then continued west. Because of this, the Northwest Angle became part of Minnesota.

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Colonel Colvill of the First Minnesota

William Colvill — does that name ring a bell? Unless you’re a Civil War history buff, this name probably doesn’t mean anything to you yet. Perhaps he’s been forgotten because he was a good, simple man — hardworking and generous. He held fast to what he believed was right and stood up against wrongdoing. Perhaps it’s only natural for his name to fade into obscurity after so many years, he probably would have preferred that anyway, but let’s not let that happen just yet. William Colvill deserves to be remembered. 

An often overlooked bronze statue of William Colvill currently stands in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol. Thousands of people pass but it each year, yet most probably never stop to wonder who Colvill was or why he has a place of such prominence in the Capitol. However, this statue is an exact reproduction of another that is more difficult to overlook. The original statue stands proudly in the Cannon Falls Community Cemetery where Colvill is buried. It towers over all of the other graves from a shady hill near the eastern edge of the cemetery.

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The Minneapolis Industrial Exposition

Minneapolis’ most prominent citizens were shocked to learn that the Minnesota State Fair would take up permanent residence St. Paul. When the announcement was made, these citizens sprung into action to plan a fair in their city to rival the one in St. Paul. In 1885 the idea was born to create an exposition centered around industry and technology instead of around agriculture. Minneapolitans rallied around the idea that industry and technology were the future of Minnesota, and agriculture was the past.

By December 15, 1885 supporters had raised over $250,000 in public funds and began discussing where to build a modern building to house the exposition. Eventually, the site of the Winslow House Hotel in southeast Minneapolis was chosen and the hotel was quickly razed so construction could begin as soon as possible. The committee in charge of planning the exposition wanted the first fair to begin in August 1886 — so they had less than nine months to construct the building and create exhibits for the fair. The design of Isaac Hodgson and Son was chosen and the cornerstone was set on May 29, 1886 with much fanfare. The idea of the exposition and the modern building were so popular with the citizens of Minneapolis that over 5,000 people attended the public ceremony.

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Hamm’s Homes of Sky Blue Waters

From the Land of Sky Blue Waters,
From the land of pines, lofty balsams,
Comes the beer refreshing,
Hamm’s the beer refreshing.

The Theodore Hamm Brewing Company was established in 1865 when Theodore Hamm foreclosed on a struggling brewery in the Dayton’s Bluff area of St. Paul. After just a few years under his guidance, Hamm’s became one of the largest breweries in the country. Theodore and his wife Louise had six children — William, Louisa, Wilhemina, Josephine, Marie, and Emma.

While away on an extended trip to Europe, the Hamm children built a red brick home at 671 Cable Street, now Greenbrier Street, for Theodore and Louise. The twenty-room, Queen Anne style home was completed in 1886 atop a hill that overlooked the brewery. The mansion and family homes on Cable Street were all heated by steam that was piped up the hill from the brewery. After Theodore’s death in 1903, William and his family moved into the mansion and lived there until his death in 1931. The home then became a boarding house for a few years. A teenage arsonist set fire to the vacant home in April 1954. The damage wasn’t extreme, but it was extensive enough to make the home unsafe. The mansion was demolished.

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How Betty Crocker Became America’s First Lady of Food

Betty Crocker was born in a boardroom of The Washburn Crosby Company of Minneapolis in 1921. A flood of questions from the public about baking had overwhelmed the company. In a brilliant marketing move, Washburn Crosby created a personality to answer all of the inquiries individually. They combined the last name of a recently retired company executive, William Crocker, with the first name Betty because it was thought to sound warm and friendly. Next, they decided that it would be more intimate to sign responses with Betty’s name in handwriting rather than a typed valediction. Betty Crocker’s signature came from a secretary who won a contest among the female employees of Washburn Crosby. That signature is still used as Betty’s today.

In 1924, Betty Crocker acquired a voice with the radio debut of the nation’s first cooking show on WCCO radio. The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air became such a big hit that it expanded to thirteen other regional radio stations. Each station had their own “Betty” who read from a script produced in Minneapolis. The Betty Crocker School of the Air ran for twenty-four years, making it one of the longest running radio shows in history. In 1928, the top six milling companies, including the Washburn Crosby Company, merged together to form one — General Mills.

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Quinlan’s Renaissance Revival Palace

Elizabeth C. Quinlan was the cofounder of the Young-Quinlan Department Store in downtown Minneapolis. The popularity of her store was due, in large part, to offering exceptionally-made clothing and accessories to not only the elite women of Minneapolis, but also to the upper-middle class. The lower cost of ready-to-wear clothing meant that upper-middle class women could buy off the rack — thus having more than a handful of outfits for each season, and a quick and easy way to obtain the latest fashions. Quinlan’s enormous success enabled her to do many things that most women during this time could not. At the height of her success, she built a beautiful home for herself and her sister, Annie. Their Minneapolis home would become a top address on the Twin Cities movers-and-shakers circuit.

After their mother’s death in 1914, the Quinlan sisters lived in rented apartments, including 1770 Hennepin Avenue and The Leamington — a swish residence hotel at 10th and Third Avenue S.  Annie, who owned the corset shop at Young-Quinlan, and Elizabeth decided to build a comfortable home for themselves in the prestigious Lowry Hill neighborhood in Minneapolis. Together, they purchased two-and-a-half city lots on Emerson Avenue S and set about finding an architect to build their dream home. Elizabeth knew New York architect Frederick Ackerman through his wife. Ackerman was a Cornell graduate and had studied architecture in Paris for two years before earning a reputation for building beautifully private country residences.

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Elizabeth Quinlan – The Queen of Minneapolis

In an age before women had the right to vote, Elizabeth C. Quinlan was a natural entrepreneur who had a business acumen that rivaled most men of her era. Quinlan made a name for herself by buying and selling the finest ready-to-wear clothing and accessories in downtown Minneapolis. Her innovative retailing ideas were copied by merchants from coast to coast. An acute business sense and cutting-edge fashion instinct made her hugely successful, but it was her warm and witty personality that made her the queen of Minneapolis.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin to Irish immigrant parents in 1863, Elizabeth C. Quinlan started working for Minneapolis’ leading dry goods store, Goodfellow and Eastman, at the age of sixteen. Over the next fifteen years, Quinlan would go from earning ten dollars per week to becoming the store’s top-earning sales person—making more than any of her male colleagues.

While working at Goodfellow and Eastman, fate dealt Quinlan a life-changing opportunity in the form of Fred D. Young, the store’s second most successful sales person, and her close friend. Together, they dreamed of opening an exclusive salon selling only the finest silks, satins, and furs. Young said that he wanted to open a store and begin “clothing the women of the northwest in a manner to make Paris fashionistas sit up and take notice.”

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The Legend of John Beargrease

Since 1980, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon has attracted mushers from around the world. Beginning in Duluth and running 400 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior to the Canadian border, the Beargrease is one of the longest, most grueling race routes outside of Alaska. With the 30th running of the marathon starting later this month, many people are asking “Who is John Beargrease” and “Why does he have a sled dog race named after him?”

John Beargrease’s story began in a wigwam on the outskirts of the first settlement along the north shore of Lake Superior – Beaver Bay. The son of an Anishinabe Chief, Beargrease grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping along the north shore with his father and two brothers. When he was in his teens he worked on commercial fishing boats that sailed up and down the coastline. By the time he was in his twenties, a few more small settlements had sprung up along the north shore, including Agate Bay (now Two Harbors), Castle Danger, Pork Bay, Grand Marais, and Grand Portage. Since the train only went as far as Agate Bay, people along the shore had a hard time sending and receiving mail.  Since this was often the only form of communication with the outside world. Letters and packages from family and friends were extremely important. Since Beargrease and his brothers made regular trips up and down the shore trapping and trading, they began to grab the mail in Agate Bay for the residents along the shore and deliver it as they checked their traps or traded with other residents. By 1879, the brothers were making trips for the mail and delivering it all the way to Grand Marais once or twice per week.

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Lost Highway 61

History buffs and curiosity seekers revel in finding a piece of the past. Stumbling across something long-forgotten is a great way to travel back in time, even if it’s only for a few moments. Thanks to the internet, the stumbling has become easier. Over the summer, Google maps helped me to stumble across an abandoned section of Highway 61. I set off on my adventure during one of the hottest days of the year with my gps, a satellite map print-out, and my camera. A couple of hours later, I pulled off the highway with my map in hand and started off toward the farm fields. I quickly found what I was looking for; an abandoned and neglected section of overgrown concrete that was once one of the most traveled roads in Minnesota.

Highway 61 may be one of the most famous highways in Minnesota. Songs and books have been written about it, and just about every Minnesotan can find it on a map. The highway has been around almost as long as the automobile. By 1934, Highway 61 ran the eastern length of Minnesota from the Canadian border to La Crosse. Through the years, the original dirt path was replaced several times over. Each time improvements were made, straighter and safer routes were found and sections of the original road were abandoned in the name of progress.

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The Gales of November: Lafayette Shipwreck

One of the earliest victims of the big blow on Lake Superior on November of 1905 was the steamer Lafayette and her barge, the Manila. After passing through Soo, the Lafayette was caught west of Devil’s Island when the great storm started churning the lake into an uproar. After fighting the storm for several hours and traveling at half-speed, Captain Dell Wright was hoping to see the lighthouse on Devils’ Island to regain his bearings. Captain Wright’s years of experience gave him only a rough idea of his ship’s location, and he had an important decision to make.

The Brickyards of Coon Rapids

The first road through Anoka County was established in 1835 to aid those traveling between Minneapolis and Anoka. The road was commonly known as the Red River Ox Cart Trail, now East River Road and Coon Rapids Boulevard, followed the Mississippi River north before turning toward Anoka. The journey took about two days by horse or wagon and rambled through farmland, forest, and peat bogs. Along this road is where the first locally based industry in Coon Rapids was located – the brickyards. Today, barely a trace of the brickyards remain. But for the curious, a few clues can still be found.

The first brickyard in Coon Rapids was the Anoka Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company. In 1881 Dr. D.C. Dunham located a large deposit of red clay not far off of the Red River Ox Cart Trail. The company only employed a handful of workers. Even though they used the best machinery of the day, it was still an extremely laborious job. Workers dug clay from a pit by hand and used a crane to bring it to the surface. After being excavated, the clay would be transported on a on a track, unloaded, mixed with water, and then sent through a machine with rollers that would compact it into a ribbon as thick as brick. Wires were used to cut individual brick lengths from the ribbon of clay. The bricks were then piled by hand and fan dried with hot air until the outside was dry and set. Finally, the bricks were placed in a large coal-fired kiln where the brick was burned. It would take several days for the fires to temper the brick. When the process was complete, each brick weighed about 5.5 lbs.

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Secret Ruins Give Clues to an Opulent Past

Before Summit Avenue became a magnet for the state’s empire builders, St. Paul’s elite built their estates in the Sherburne Hill neighborhood (today known as Capitol Heights.) By the time construction on the State Capitol was complete, many of the 15 mansions that stood on the hill had faded into shabby gentility or been razed, leaving barely a trace of the opulent park-like neighborhood that stood above the saintly city. This area, however, still holds secret ruins that are a clue to its grand past.

Today, the Cass Gilbert Memorial Park features a banal concrete overlook that gives visitors a view of downtown from above. The view is nothing short of spectacular on clear summer evenings. This panorama was coveted by the progenitors of St. Paul as well.

In 1882 William Merriam built an imposing, Queen-Anne style home atop Sherburne Hill. Sherburne Avenue was extended to accommodate the mansion, but ended nearby in a grand cul-de-sac that became known as Merriam’s Overlook. After completing the plans for Merriam’s home, architect Clarence Johnston designed a curving stone retaining wall to match the red stone exterior of the home. Lining the edge of the hill, an ornate wrought-iron fence added elegant refinement to the wall, and a small but opulent fountain made of brass sat at the end of the cul-de-sac. A walkway and stone steps allowed pedestrians to access the outlook from Robert Street below. Elegant street lamps were added after the turn-of-the-century to illuminate the road and walkway.

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Mary Fridley – An Inconvenient Wife

You may recognize the name Fridley by having passed through the northern suburb of Minneapolis while driving along 694, or recognize it as the home to the corporate behemoth Medtronic. But, as with most cities in Minnesota, there is a pioneer family behind the name. As with many early families, if you dig deep enough there is a good chance you’ll uncover secrets, wrong-doing, or tragedy. The Fridley family was victim to the worst tragedy – murder.

Mary Fridley was the granddaughter of Abram and Betsey Fridley. Abram was a Winnebago Indian agent, lawyer, Minnesota territorial and state legislator, farmer, merchant, and land agent of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company. Holding both wealth and power, the town of Manomin was newly named Fridley Township in 1879 to honor the first territorial representative for the area. Mary’s father, David, was a grocer and land owner in what now comprises the cities of Fridley, Columbia Heights, Hilltop, Spring Lake Park, and part of Northeast Minneapolis. Mary was raised with wealth and refinement but lacked the physical qualities that would land her a husband at an agreeable age. She was often referred to as being slight, pale, and boring, but managed to hold a job as a teacher at Adams School for several years. When traveling salesman Frederick T. Price entered the picture, Mary was perhaps too eager to overlook his two previous marriages and criminal past for love. In 1907, at the age of 28, Mary and Fred were married and set up in Mary’s spacious apartment on Knox Avenue N in Minneapolis.

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The Gales of November: Mataafa Shipwreck

A gale swept Lake Superior after extraordinary high pressure began to fall on November 27, 1905. Snow, ice pellets, freezing temperatures and mountainous seas caused havoc all over the big lake. The most spectacular accident claimed the Mataafa.

The ore-laden freighter departed Duluth, towing the consort barge James Nasmyth, in the late afternoon of November 27, only to be attacked on the open lake. After a futile battle with the elements, the Captain of Mataafa decided to turn back and seek shelter. He managed to turn his freighter and the trailing barge, but trying to bring both through the port entry in these conditions was unwise. As a result, the James Nasmyth was left at anchor on the lake to ride out the storm.

On the run for the harbor entry, Mataafa got caught by the current and was pushed off course. The hull hit bottom, smashed the pier and soon lost power. The ship and all on board were at the mercy of the wind, waves, and current; it was driven aground and broken into three pieces.

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Demolished Homes of the Mayo Brothers

William J Mayo was the older of the two Mayo brothers who, along with five partners, founded the not-for-profit Mayo Clinic in Rochester. William was the more serious of the two brothers and was often described by one word — brilliant. William married Hattie Damon in 1884. Together they set out to build themselves a new home. They found a large lot with a number of mature trees that they both loved at 427 West College Street. There was already a modest home on the property, so before they could build they had to demolish it. Their new, Queen Anne style home was completed in 1888. A broad porch graced the front with a gazebo at the corner. The exterior was painted conservatively — pale yellow with white trim. The home featured modern conveniences such as gaslights and running water. 

William and Charles spent most of their lives together, so after William married and moved from their parent’s house, he offered Charles a room at his new home. Charles continued to live with William and his family until he married and built his own house next door to William. When Charles and his wife moved away from College Street, William and Hattie moved as well. They built a newer home further up College Hill. They sold this property to Kahler Corporation who demolished it in 1918 to make way for a building of luxury rentals, The College Apartments.

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Who Killed Ruth Munson?

On Thursday, December 9, 1937, the badly burned body of Ruth Margaret Munson was found in the southwest corridor on the second floor of the Aberdeen Hotel in St. Paul. Munson and two friends were laughing and happy as they danced and listened to the orchestra for four hours at the Ace Box Bar, 2360 University Avenue, the previous evening. So what happened to Ruth between 12:30 a.m. when she left the bar, and 7:00 a.m. when her body was discovered?

St. Paul’s Oakland Cemetery

Under the cover of darkness, the living and the dead would come together to Jackson Woods. Here, the living would offer their final goodbyes to their loved ones before burying them in an unmarked grave under a canopy of old oak trees. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Jackson, his wooded paradise on the northern edge of St. Paul had become a popular burial site for those who couldn’t afford a proper burial or lacked ties to a local church. By 1853 Mr. Jackson had petitioned the city to allocate funds to purchase property that could be used for non-sectarian burials.

That same year, a group of prominent citizens gathered the money needed to buy a 40-acre parcel of oak savannah with gentle rolling hills just to the north of Jackson Woods to be used as a city cemetery.  Promoters of this new cemetery boasted that the site was so remote that there was little chance that “the hum of industry would ever disturb its rural quiet.”1 As the cemetery slowly developed, and more land was purchased, Chicago-based landscape architect Hoarce W.S. Cleveland was retained to fashion the cemetery into the rural garden design that was popular for cemeteries at the time. In 1873, Cleveland took the rectangular tract of land, 80-acres at this time, and designed an open curvilinear plan that did not try to change the nature of the topography, but enhance it and maximize its beauty. Winding pathways followed the natural contours of the land and groves of giant oak trees offered visitors a sense of serenity and comfort.

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Wonderland’s Glass Castles

At the turn of the 20th century, urban amusement parks were a popular form of communal entertainment. Throughout the country, parks modeled after Coney Island in New York were popping up in most major cities. Attractions varied from city to city, but most featured a roller coaster, carousel, an aerial swing for thrill-seekers, a dancing pavilion for couples and teenagers, flower gardens and picnic spaces for families, and an electrically lit tower that could be seen for miles to guide crowds to the park.

Mr. Weatherball

When the Weatherball is glowing red, warmer weather’s just ahead.
When the Weatherball is shining white, colder weather is in sight.
When the Weatherball is wearing green, no weather changes are foreseen.
Colors blinking by night and day say, precipitation’s on the way.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1982 Minneapolis lost one of its most enduring landmarks, the Weatherball, which was perched atop of the 14-story Northwestern National Bank building at 600 Marquette Avenue. The Weatherball was a fixture in the sky for 33 years and could be seen from 15 miles away at night – there was no excuse for weather-cautious Minneapolitans to be caught unaware. A sing-along advertising jingle made the forecast easy to remember. Red meant warmer weather ahead, white meant colder, if it was blinking there was probably going to be some precipitation moving in, and green mean that you could expect more of the same.

Unveiled with great fanfare on October 7, 1949, it was hailed as the tallest lighted sign between Chicago and the West Coast. The base of the sphere sat 367-feet above the street and was the topmost feature of a 78-ton illuminated sign that flashed “NW” in 30-foot letters, followed by “BANK” in 13-foot type. The Weatherball was illuminated by 1¼ miles of neon tubing and built to withstand winds of up to 140 miles-per-hour. In fact, it survived hurricane-force winds just three days after it began operating.

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Tangletown’s Guardians of Health

The Washburn water tower sits on a hill in the heart of the Washburn Park (commonly known as Tangletown) neighborhood. It is  surrounded by winding city streets and picturesque south Minneapolis homes. It is hardly forgotten – quite the opposite really. An online image search will load hundreds of images from numerous vantage points, photos from every season, black and white, color… it’s all there. However, for me, this is a perfect representation of something which is often forgotten – a beautifully designed municipal structure.

In the early 1930s the City of Minneapolis decided to replace the aging water tower originally on the hill with something larger to accommodate the growing population south of the city. Upon hearing this, three notable professionals from the neighborhood decided to lend their expertise in designing and engineering the new tower. Their idea was simple – if the community needed a larger water tower, and it was going to be in their backyard, why not make it a work of art? Why not take a functional public structure and turn it into into a community treasure?

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Taconite Harbor – Lake Superior’s Once-Upon-A-Time Town

In 1957, trucks loaded with prefabricated homes rolled along Highway 61 toward a new building site just south of Schroeder. By 1990 the homes were leaving the same way they arrived.

In the 1950s, business at the Erie Mining Company was booming. Taconite pellets harvested from mines in Hoyt Lakes were sent by train to the company’s loading docks, which were designed to be the fastest loading in the world, along the shore of Lake Superior. From there it would be sent by ship to Detroit to make automobiles, or to the steel mills further east. Each year an average of 10 to 11 million tons of taconite pellets were sent out of this facility.

Twenty-two tidy three- or four-bedroom homes arrived in 1957 to line the two streets nestled between Highway 61 and Lake Superior. Each home was built in about two hours. A fire hall and community center were erected around this time as well. Although the area was technically part of Schroeder, the little area established itself as Taconite Harbor.

For $400 down and $100 per month, workers at the nearby loading dock and power plant could settle into the quaint bungalows which were painted in pastel colors. Ornamental trees and shrubs were planted, and backyard gardens were tended with care. A playground, baseball field, and tennis and basketball courts were carved out of the ample open space behind the homes. There were block parties and volleyball games in the summer, ice skating and hockey games in the winter. For a while, there were as many as 74 kids in this small neighborhood. Families flourished here.

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Elegant Dining on the North Shore

If it weren’t for a sign announcing that you’ve arrived in Little Marais, you may just speed through this little resort town on your way north on Highway 61. Scandinavian fishermen settled in the sleepy town during the late 1880s, but by the 1920s tourists began motoring their way up the north shore – looking for accommodations as they went. Small resorts and gas stations popped up along the route.

Originally built as a rustic log store, the Little Marais Store was a popular stop for basic provisions. It was transformed twice after that; first into a grocery store and gas station with small rooms for travelers looking for a good nights sleep, and later into a lovely white clapboard inn with an elegant dining room and housekeeping cabins along the lake shore. It was renamed the Little Marais Lodge and Store.

The white clapboard building with its charming green shutters soon became a popular destination for couples on their honeymoon. The refined structure stood out among the rustic accommodations that populated the North Shore at that time.  Inside, antique lamps cast a warm glow in each room and historic maps hung on the walls.  An abundance of windows, white paneled walls, and cool lake breezes gave the lodge a light, airy feel. The gabled roof added gentle sophistication of the exterior.

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The Grandest Apartment Hotel in the Twin Cities

The Aberdeen Hotel may not have been the first luxury apartment hotel in the Twin Cities, but it was undeniably the grandest of them all. Built in 1889 for $250,000, the hotel was located just three blocks from St. Paul’s exclusive Summit Avenue and catered to high-end clientele seeking the comforts of home without the annoyance of keeping house. Governor John A. Johnson called the hotel home from 1904 to 1910, and St. Paul Cathedral architect Emmanuel Masqueray lived at the Aberdeen for several years.

The main floor of the hotel featured an opulent lobby and a grand ballroom. The café offered meals by request for residents and visitors in an elegant dining room. Fourteen of the hotel’s units were available as single rooms for travelers, while the other seventy-eight were arranged as two- to eight-room residential suites that could include a reception room, kitchen, pantry, dining room, library, and a balcony. Every unit in the hotel had a private bath, which was not a common amenity at the time. For five dollars per night, two dollars more than any other hotel in St. Paul, the Aberdeen offered guests every possible convenience for comfortable family living.

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The Gales of November: Crescent City Shipwreck

Shortly after midnight on November 28, 1905 the Crescent City dropped anchor in 90-feet of water on Lake Superior. A nor’easter began to blow and the 406-foot steamer was digging in to ride it out several miles from port in Duluth.

Three hours later, a great gust of wind struck the ship’s starboard bow, pulling the anchors free from the lake bottom. Capitan Frank Rice ordered full speed ahead with the rudder hard to port, but the 60 to 70 MPH winds kept the ship from making any headway. After about an hour, Capitan Rice spotted a point of rocky bluff through the driving snow. It was alarmingly close and the Crescent City was drifting, dragging her anchors, straight for it. Rice calculated that the outcropping was going to impale his ship, so he rang the engine room for full reverse. The Crescent City slid past the rocky point and crashed into a low bluff, the ship lurched broadside, and a giant wave rolled over the entire ship. The entire crew was drenched with freezing water, but luckily none were carried overboard. Wave after wave crashed into the Crescent City and the steel hull soon broke amidships.

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It Could Have Been A Ghost Town

This time of year, many city-dwellers travel south looking to take in the beauty of the season by roadtripping down through Red Wing and Wabasha to take in the fall colors of bluff country. Many pass right by a virtually undisturbed Civil War era community that is surrounded by a State Park and the Mississippi River.

The old town of Frontenac is now located in Florence Township, about halfway between Red Wing and Lake City. If you travel Highway 61, you may have noticed the section of Frontenac known as Frontenac Station. Keep in mind that the highway replaced railroad tracks and a station of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. If you turn off the highway and head northeast on County Road 2 past the entrance to the State Park, you will run into Old Frontenac along the banks of the Mississippi River.

Brigadier General Israel Garrard traveled to the area in 1854 on a hunting trip. He was overtaken with his surroundings. Garrard began construction of a comfortable hunting lodge, which he named St. Hubert’s, in 1855. German and Swiss craftsmen working on the lodge settled in the area, storage buildings and a general store were built around this time as well to support river commerce and provide provisions to residents. Evert V. Westervelt was named Postmaster and a small village called Westervelt was on its way to becoming a resort destination.

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A Grand Estate for the Owners of Watkins

As preservationists approached Rockledge, just south of Winona, the home’s owner, Ernest L. King Jr., shuffled to the front door and yelled, “I’m tearing it down and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Mr. King had no use for the home, but didn’t want anyone else to use it either. Holding true to his word, Rockledge was razed just before his death in 1987.

In 1911 architect George Maher designed a grand, 10,000 square foot Prairie School style home nestled against a rocky cliff along the Mississippi River just south of Winona. His clients, Grace Watkins King and E.L. King Sr., were the owners of the Watkins Medical Products Company.

The entire home was a complete work of art; Maher designed all of the interior objects for the estate including chairs, rugs, urns, clocks, lamps, and even the silver service. Maher, who had worked alongside Frank Lloyd Wright for many years, borrowed from the home’s surroundings to create an earthy interior with brown, green, and orange colors throughout. Lilies also appeared throughout the home on lamps, drapes, and on the silver coffee service.

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The Rise of the Selby Avenue Streetcar Line

As the population of St. Paul grew, people began moving out of the city’s core and into quieter, cleaner residential areas west of downtown. One of the most popular areas to live in the late 1800s was the St. Anthony Hill (now known as Cathedral Hill) area. People still needed to get from their homes on top of the hill, to the offices, factories, and shops downtown, as well as into the transportation hub – Union Depot. To facilitate this, the Selby Avenue streetcar line was built in 1888 and was quickly extended to the Merriam Park neighborhood in 1890. By 1906 even more westward expansion was needed, so the Selby line merged with the Lake Street line in Minneapolis – which had just been completed the year before. In order to bring the two lines together, track was laid across the wrought-iron Lake Street bridge. At that time the bridge, originally built in 1889, was the second oldest bridge in use over the Mississippi River.

With the newly christened Selby-Lake line up and running, the streetcars were making more runs between Minneapolis and St. Paul at all times of the day. Most of the ride was steady and uneventful; people often remarked how lovely it was to ride with the gentle rocking of the car and the various things to see along the line. But once the streetcar reached the 16 percent grade of the St. Anthony Hill, the ride became slower, rougher, and there were often long backups because the counterweight system could not handle all of the cars fast enough to avoid delays – especially in the winter.

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The Metropolitan Hotel in St. Paul

Built in 1869-70, the Metropolitan Hotel once stood at the corner of Washington and Third Street in St. Paul. On June 27, 1870 proprietor Gilbert Dutcher opened the hotel in grand style. The Metropolitan was identified as St. Paul’s premier hotel for many years. Prominent local businessmen and out-of-town movers and shakers would meet at the hotel to discuss business and politics.

The Twilight Club, an informal club involving so many prominent men and exerting, without any glare of ostentation or publicity such a marked influence on public opinion that it should have honorable mention in any catalogue of the city’s valuable institutions, met at the Metropolitan Hotel from  1889 until 1893 when the club disbanded. Some say the Twilight Club shared many members with the Minnesota Club, which was founded by Henry Sibley and Norman Kittson in 1869. When the Minnesota Club grew out of its original space on Cedar Street, they began looking for a new home.

With the opulence of St. Paul society at the turn of the century, the Metropolitan Hotel began to fall out of favor with St. Paul’s elite.  Several proprietors had come and gone and the hotel was becoming dingy and catered more to the average citizen than society’s upper crust. Most knew the hotel’s days were numbered.

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The End of the Line: Wildwood Amusement Park

Take any car for Wildwood at Wabasha and 7th Streets. Fare to Wildwood, each way, 15 cents; time, 40 minutes; distance, 12 miles. Past North St. Paul and Silver Lake, with pretty farms and ever-changing verdant pictures on all sides, the line sweeps into Wildwood, the beautiful, where one may find rest, comfort, coolness, and kindred delights of the good old summertime.
– Twin City Rapid Transit Company Advertising

What’s your favorite summertime memory? Swimming? Roller coasters? Fishing? Dancing? For many young people in St. Paul, a trip to Wildwood Amusement Park on the shores of White Bear Lake would have been worth boasting about on the first day back to school.

In 1899, the Twin City Rapid Transit Company extended it’s reach to the southeastern shore of White Bear Lake. The rail line ran to and from St. Paul along present-day Lincolntown and Old Wildwood Roads. To encourage city-dwellers to ride the streetcars out of the city, they built a large amusement park. From Memorial Day until Labor Day you could ride from St. Paul to the end of the line where you would exit the streetcar, descend some steps, and enter Wildwood Amusement Park through a low tunnel under the rails. Admission to the amusement park was always free.

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The Original Plan for the Anoka Asylum

The serene group of cottages around a horseshoe shaped drive that we see today was not the first plan for the new asylum in Anoka. The original architect, Warren B. Dunnell, had a different vision for the site.

Dunnell, a Minneapolis-based architect, was probably best known as the architect of the Fergus Falls State Hospital, the State School for Dependent & Neglected Children in Owatonna, and the Metropolitan Opera House in Grand Forks. His plans for the Hospital for the Insane at Anoka in 1897 followed a modified cottage plan which specified the buildings remain rather plain with a touch of modern gothic architecture.

According to a Minneapolis Tribune article from January 10, 1897, Dunnell took in to account, no doubt due to the devastating fire in which 18 patients were burned to death at the St. Peter State Hospital in 1880, the safety of the buildings and the patients in them. His design called for the buildings to be made of brick or stone and not more than two stories high. Dunnell’s plans also proposed that the buildings be connected by a narrow, one story corridor to make each cottage feel separate – but still facilitate moving patients and staff around the complex.

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Maple Hill Cemetery

Dedicated in 1857, the rolling slopes of Maple Hill became the final resting place of early settlers of Minneapolis, and Civil War veterans. During the first 30 years, over 5,000 bodies were buried here. Without much thought to perpetual care at the cemetery, the grounds fell into disrepair.

By 1894, 1,321 bodies and 82 monuments had been moved to the Lakewood and Hillside Cemeteries. The rest were left neglected and uncared for in a now abandoned cemetery. In 1908 the Minneapolis Park Board had taken possession of the land with the intent of keeping the cemetery intact, but neighborhood residents complained that the cemetery had become an eyesore and so neglected that many caskets were exposed to view. As the debate on how to handle the cemetery raged, neighbors fed up with the inaction took it upon themselves to do something about it.

One day, the residents woke up to find the cemetery cleared of debris and most of its remaining tombstones. They had been carried away by the cart full and dumped in a nearby ditch. City officials were outraged that memorials to Civil War veterans had also been dumped. Police vowed to find and prosecute the men involved. In 1916, George T. Frost and Frank O. Hammer were arrested on suspicion of destroying and dumping the monuments, but a jury acquitted them of the charge. By this time the cemetery had been improved and became a neighborhood park. A fence was placed around the few remaining Civil War area monuments to protect them from vandalism but it was removed in the 1920s due to lack of money to repair it.

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Walker Art Center’s Idea House

An explosion of interest in domestic design took place in the early 1940s. Families were becoming interested in the benefits of open and efficient home planning and the practicality of cutting-edge features. In June of 1941, the Walker Art Center opened an ambitious exhibit to the public – a full-scale, fully functional house that would demonstrate the advantages of modern design by utilizing standard building materials and mass-produced furnishings. The project sought to show that quality design was attainable for the middle-class. The exhibit was known as Idea House I.

Over 20,000 visitors toured Idea House I. The exhibit created discussion in the community about how modern features could be integrated into existing homes. Ladies were often heard discussing the features that they were the most impressed with, and those they didn’t find very practical, at lunch counters around the city.

By 1947, the post-war boom had brought modern living to the forefront of the American dream, as well as the technology to vastly improve on amenities designed before the war. To showcase the new wave of modern design, the Walker opened Idea House II on a patch of wooded land behind the Walker, near Idea House I. It contained many innovative features such as a kitchen with stainless steel walls and electric appliances, an open floorplan in which the living and dining spaces flowed into each other, a two compartment bathroom, floor-to-ceiling windows that made the most of natural light, and the concept of a children’s apartment. Many features of this modern living house would make their way into homes built in the decades that followed.

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A Turn of the Century Trestle in Akeley

If you travel north on Highway 64 through central Minnesota, you will likely pass through Akeley. It’s is a small town of about 400 residents and nearly as many lakes. Nowadays, it’s hard to believe this sleepy community was once a lumber boom town.

Around the turn of the last century, the first logging camp went up on the east side of the Crow Wing River railroad bridge, between the Seventh and Eighth Crow Wing Lakes. In 1902, lumber baron Thomas Barlow Walker (yep, the guy that founded the Walker Art Center) built a sawmill along the southern shore of Eleventh Crow Wing Lake, which at the time was the largest in the state. Development in the area skyrocketed – a fur trading post and hotel were built on the west side of the Crow Wing River railroad bridge. By 1907 there were over 4,000 lumberjacks harvesting acre after acre of poplar, aspen, and pine forest. The Red River Sawmill ran night and day, year ‘round, cutting and planing the logs to be loaded onto rail cars and sent south.

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Scandal at Duluth’s Hardy School

By the 1880s, Duluth pioneer Luther Mendenhall had become on of the city’s most prominent citizens. The Civil War veteran came to Duluth in 1869 as an agent for the Western Land Company. His objective was to help the frontier community grow into a thriving shipping port. In turn, the growth of the city would line the pockets of Mendenhall and his investors at the Western Land Company.

Mendenhall recognized that Duluth’s natural harbor gave it an advantage that other cities didn’t have. His background as a lawyer and businessman in Pennsylvania gave him creditability in the community, and quickly brought new opportunities to the people of Duluth. First, Mendenhall helped establish the first railroads in the area and was instrumental in starting one of Duluth’s first banks—The Duluth National Bank. Mendenhall served at the first president of the bank beginning in 1882. From there he worked to establish a streetcar system and newspaper. During this time, Mendenhall was also serving as president of the Duluth Park System and had been a longtime member of the Duluth Board of Education along with several other prominent Duluth businessmen and friends.

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