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.

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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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.

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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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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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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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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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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Upper Post of Fort Snelling: Quartermaster’s Shops

A building boom took place in this area of the fort when the Department of the Dakota moved its headquarters to Fort Snelling in 1879. Building 63 was originally constructed to house the Quartermaster’s Shops for this new area of the post, but soon became the Post Exchange. Originally lit with oil lamps, electricity was added in the 1910s. In 1926 it was converted into eight sets of apartments for non-commissioned officers and their wives. These one bedroom, one bathroom apartments had hardwood floors throughout and were heated by a fireplace and small wood stove. Each apartment was approximately 700 square feet.

Building 63 is the most recent to be razed. Prior to demolition, an array of obvious structural problems went unheeded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Serious problems, such as gaping holes in the roof and voids in the joints between exterior bricks were documented as early as the 1990s. By 1998, a survey of the building found that, “Brick work on the [outer] walls does not use common bond construction, using instead metal ties between the withes. These have rusted through and the outer withe of brick has collapsed in a section of the east wall.”[1] Recommendations to stabilize and mothball the building fell on deaf ears until it was too late. By the next documented survey of the building in 2006, the center section of Building 63 had entirely collapsed. The following year, even more of the building had toppled, leaving only a small, two-story section at the northern end standing. That section of the building held on proudly until a bulldozer tore it down in 2010.

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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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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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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.

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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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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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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