Minneapolis and St. Paul consistently rank among the top cities for "most literate." We read. A lot. I suspect that part of the reason are weeks like this past one -- with below zero temps, wind chill advisories, snow, sleet and slick roads. What better thing to do than curl up in a blanket with a book?
While the rest of America has been reading 50 Shades of Grey or perhaps the Lincoln biography, I have tried to catch up on history reading for the museum, such as this memoir From Danmark to America: The American Dream recently donated by a former resident Paul A. Thompsen.
Paul chronicles his family roots in Denmark and the hardships his immigrant "parents endured so that we could have greater opportunities that weren't available to them in the old country," Paul wrote in a letter to the Historical Society.
On Dec. 29, 1937, when Paul was two years old, his parents bought a farm in the Cahill district of Edina. "Our farm sat just below the highest point on Valley View Road which provided a beautiful view of the valley and rich farm land. The southernmost property line was at the intersection of Antrim Road and Valley Road. The location of the house and farm buildings was about where Lois Lane and Valley View Road intersect today." (See Google map.)
Here's an aerial of the farm in 1947, courtesy NETR Online Historic Aerials. You can go to the web site and zoom in, as well as look at the development of the land throughout the years.
The Thompsen farm, located in the Irish Cahill community, became a gathering spot for Danish immigrants living in the metro area. Every June, the Thompsens hosted the annual Fugle Skydning festival, which commemorated bird hunting. One year, the shooting drew the attention of Edina police who "tried to confiscate the guns to halt the shooting but when they found out all the action was on our property with safety precautions observed, they had to apologize and leave," Paul wrote.
Paul included some great photos of the farm, his one-room Cahill School and classmates, and family gatherings.
I enjoyed Paul's descriptions of life on the farm, which didn't have electricity until 1941.
At the same time, the Thompsens installed an indoor bathroom for the first time with running water, a toilet and a bathtub. "No more outhouse, thank heavens!" Paul writes. "Prior to electricity, we had to the pump house to draw the water, about 125 feet away. Then we had to carry the water to the house for drinking, cleaning or bathing."
On Aug. 1, 1942, a lightning bolt struck one of the barns, filled with 5,000 bales of hay, and set the building ablaze. The Hopkins and Edina fire trucks had to drive to Nine Mile Creek about a half-mile away to keep refilling their tanks. They could do little but prevent the house from catching fire, and two barns burned to the ground.
Despite the setback, Thompsens rebuilt and paid off the farm in 1944, and Paul's father "considered becoming a gentleman farmer." Within a few months, however, he was feeling unwell and sought out a chiropractor. He died at age 56 after climbing the stairs to his first appointment.
Paul was just nine years old, with three older sisters. Although the family tried to continue farming with the help of hired hands, the farm was sold in 1946 and the family moved to 5255 France Avenue in Minneapolis.
I enjoyed the memoir as much as any bestselling novel. The self-published book isn't for sale, but can be read during regular museum hours at the Edina History Museum.
Paul now lives in San Diego and when he called recently, he (like every warm weather transplant I have ever met) asked about the weather, "It's 70 degrees here... what's it like in Minnesota?" This week, I'd have to say, "Good reading weather."
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