West Riverside School Near Cambridge

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

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

The Fire Relief Houses of Pine County

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

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

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...