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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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. 

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.”

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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?

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...

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.

Continue reading...