If you want to research the history of your house or neighborhood, you can look through a number of public records like old maps, aerial photos, city directories and more. However, some of the most interesting records are in private collections, tucked away in scrapbooks and family photo albums.
I'm always happy when people share those private family photos with the public. Morningside residents, especially those living on the one-block long Alden Drive, should get a kick out of these photos from the Parsons family photo album. The Parsons were among the first residents in the neighborhood and helped document its history as it happened.
Janet Parsons Mackey recently sent these photos to us, with the following descriptions.
Here are three photos from my grandmother's (Clara Parsons) album.
The first one is labeled "Alden Drive," 1910.
The second one is their first house on Alden Drive. I think it was built on the upper flat part.... I don't think they had houses on the lower part until later.
The third one, labeled "when the vines had grown" in my grandmother's handwriting, is a house I can't identify. If one of you can do so, please let me know!
To answer those questions, I dug a little in our files. We happen to have quite a bit of information about Mackey's grandparents, Clara and E. Dudley Parsons, Sr., because the Parsons family were influential in Morningside's early development. The family dates back to Mackey's great-grandfather Rev. Henry Parsons and his wife Sarah, who helped establish Morningside's first church, now called the Edina-Morningside Community Church. Henry and Sarah owned five lots near their house at 4232 France Avenue.
Soon they were joined by son E. Dudley Parsons, Sr., and his wife Clara, when he got a a teaching job in North Minneapolis in 1907 (according to the Winter 2006 issue of About Town). The couple soon purchased seven lots, amounting to some 3.5 acres, near E. Dudley Sr's parents and built a house at 4220 Alden. From the street view image from Google maps (below), I believe the house with the vines is that house.
What do you think?
The bones of the house are the same, but the location is barely recognizable just over 100 years later. What was once a little farmstead is now part of the suburban landscape.
Instead of being surrounded by fellow homeowners, the Parsons "pastured cows and raised chickens and gardened vegetables to provide a significant part of their subsistence," according to the About Town story. “We used to cut all of the wood necessary to cook with and for winter heat,” Dudley Jr. remembered. “[And] we sold milk to the neighbors. I delivered the milk in shiny tin pails with tight-fitting covers.”
Mackey's grandmother Clara helped bring about the transformation from farm to suburb. Like many homeowners in Morningside's early platting, the Parsons bought their lots with an eye for future development. Many Morningside housewives sold off lots and built homes one by one to add income to the family coffers. While the husband worked in the city, the wife often served as designer and general contractor on the housing projects. Clara wrote in her letters how much she enjoyed the work:
The great joy about the building on the lot is that I do like to build and am right now having such fun getting bids from contractors. ... I talked with another contractor, this is going to be good. They each say they know just how it should be done and the other fellow doesn’t, but believe me like Johnny who can show the smallest figures is the man who gets it. This last one seems to know his business, he said “I’ll make specifications and tell you exactly what I will do and if any one is smarter than I am let him have it.” Another one is coming at 5:30 I wonder what he is like. Jensen was over this morning and Alm last evening. (undated letter to son E. Dudley Parsons, Jr.)
Unlike many post World War II neighborhoods that developed all at once, often with identical floor plans, Morningside developed piecemeal as lots were sold off by the original homeowner. I think part of the charm of the neighborhood is that houses from different styles and eras stand side by side.
While I'm fairly confident that the third photo is of 4220 Alden, I can't figure out the other two photos without additional research. Because of the neighborhood transformation with more houses, remodels, teardowns and lots of trees, it's difficult to match up the houses from the first photo. One of my volunteers is going to walk the neighborhood to see if he can find the addresses.
Soon the suburban landscape will change again, as many of the small bungalows and farmhouses built in the early 1900s are being torn down and replaced by larger homes. In fact, 4220 Alden recently sold to a developer and may be slated for demolition. The current homeowner graciously allowed Janet Mackey to walk through her grandparents' home when she visited earlier in June. She also had an opportunity to see their second home at 4210 Alden Drive built 1928. The house still stands for now.
Even though they had a hand in the transformation, the Parsons still mourned the loss of the having cows in the backyard and space all around them. E. Dudley Parsons, Sr., wrote to his son Dudley about his mixed feelings:
Just a little while ago, I went into the yard of our former residence on the hill and looked about at the trees I planted and stood on the old well platform and recalled our pumping so many thousands of strokes to fill our tank in the attic – and came away sad at the thought of leaving it to strangers, even though it seemed to pay us to do it at the time. ... Maybe I’m wrong about it as your mother thinks I am – but I can’t help the feeling of sadness.
From her and her husband's letters, we know that Clara Parsons built and designed what she called "cottages" at 4224, 4220, 4218, 4216, 4214, 4212, 4210 (their final home), 4202 Alden Drive as well as 4207 W. 42nd Street. She may have built more.
Do you have information and photos about your Edina home? Please share them with us! Email me or call me at 612-928-4577 to chat or comment here.
Photo Friday is back, after a too-long hiatus while I tried to catch up on cataloging a huge backlog of donated artifacts and photos. More about that on Monday.
Today, let's take a look back at a photo donated in 2001 of an earlier Edina. I'm guessing this dates from the 1950s, but you car aficionados may be able to get more specific. (I can't tell a 1958 Oldsmobile from a 1960 Ford, but I know many of you can.)
Any guesses of this photo's location? For those who grew up in southwest Edina, this question is a no-brainer. But the rest of you might have more difficulty, since the area looks (almost) nothing like this today.
Take a good look.
Give up? It's the intersection of Cahill Road and 70th Street, the heart of the Irish Cahill settlement dating from the 1850s.
First settled in the mid-1850s, the Irish Cahill community almost immediately built a church, school and store at this important crossroads. Nearly a century later, the same institutions stood at the same corners (although some in newer buildings.)
Cahill School was built in 1864. Although a modern brick Cahill School was built in 1948, the pioneer era school still was used for kindergarten classes until 1958. The school stood vacant for more than a decade, until it was restored in 1969 and moved to Tupa Park. Today, the Edina Historical Society runs living history programs in the historic building.
Hugh Darcy's son Moses built a general store across the street from Cahill School. Destroyed by fire in 1918, the store was rebuilt on the same site. From 1944 to 1965, retired Edina teacher John Cameron owned what was then called "Cahill Grocery" in the phone book, but was more commonly known as Cameron's Store by neighborhood residents.
St. Patrick's Church, not pictured, served the community at the southwest corner of the intersection. Although the church was also destroyed by fire, the congregation rebuilt a new church at the same corner.
By the 1930s, Protestant families had moved into the predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood and, by all reports, felt welcome. They held services at Cahill School until they built Calvary Lutheran Church in 1938. Both churches have since moved. The old St. Patrick's church is gone, but Calvary's first church still survives as a single family home and the only reminder of a bygone era.
I like this photo because it shows an important crossroads, both the physical location and the moment in time. By the late 1960s, new retail and housing had transformed the formerly rural landscape forever.
The Edina Historical Society co-sponsored a walking tour of western Morningside and Browndale Park on Tuesday (July 10). I love walking tours. Let me count the ways. Here are just a few reasons:
1. The people. Oh, I know. Historic walking tours focus on houses, but I love talking to the people who show up:
People who grew up in the neighborhood. People who live here now. People like Burt Grimes, whose ancestor Jonathan Grimes owned nearly all of Morningside in the late 1800s. People like Kate Q. who grew up in one of the first homes built after Grimes' property was platted.
2. The publicity. Forty people walking down the street captures the entire neighborhood's attention -- much more so than a 40-person event inside a building. I felt like our tour guides were the "Pied Pipers" of history, as their talk brought people out on their lawns to hear about the history of their home and neighborhood. On past walking tours (with cooler temps), our tour group grew as more and more people joined in.
3. Special access. This beautiful house is partially obscured by hedges and tall catalpa trees (built by Grimes as a horticultural experiment to introduce non-native shade trees.) With permission from the current owner (an Edina Historical Society member), our tour walked onto the private yard to get a closer look at the private residence of Browndale Park developer George Dartt.
4. The great outdoors. Let's face it, history work often means sifting through research files and cataloging and cleaning dusty old artifacts. Walking through a beautiful neighborhood on a sunny summer evening makes a nice change of pace. I've read about George Dart's home here in the historic Minneapolis Tribune, but seeing the showcase home in person adds another dimension of knowledge.
5. The partnerships. We worked with the Edina Heritage Preservation Board on the tour. Architect Peter Sussman (light blue shirt below) from the HPB Board led the tour....
... along with HPB consultant Bob Vogel (baseball cap below).
St. Louis Park Historical Society provided research materials and support as well. The Morningside Neighborhood Association and the Edina-Morningside Women's Club helped publicize the event. Everyone brought a different area of expertise, and I loved hearing their perspectives.
5. Spontaneity. This lovely home was not a scheduled stop on the tour, but the owner happened to be outside and graciously answered our questions. During the last tour, one homeowner provided an abstract to their property. Another offered lemonade.
I suppose I could have categorized each one of these reasons under the first one: "the people." While walking tours do focus on houses, people really make the difference between a good tour and a great one. Thank you to those who led the tour, provided information, allowed us access, participated, and spread the word.
We're working on future walking tours. If you would like to be put on our event email list, please email me with "walking tours" in the subject line.
1. Morningside name
A couple of readers commented on the history of Morningside's moniker. (See Neighborhood names: Morningside.)
Kim Ode wrote, "I'd never seen that phone book logo and, while I figured there was a Scottish component to Morningside, I've always considered us as living on the 'morning' side of Edina, being the first to greet the sun!"
I like that. I also love that Morningside, appropriately enough, has a "Sunnyside Road" running through it.
Mollie Kennedy-Harper wrote, "Some of us occasionally refer to Morningside as 'Nordeast' Edina." Good one! (although I wonder what the Minneapolis Nordeasters would make of that.)
2. Mystery mansion in Morningside - Parbury house
I wrote about the alleged haunted mansion in Morningside more than two years ago, and it still prompts a few emails and comments, which I always enjoy. But I was especially excited to receive an email last week from an actual Parbury.
Michele Parbury wrote, "Yes, I am a Parbury, if only by marriage. My husband is the grandson of the owners. His father was raised in this house and that is his dog, Chrissy. I was so excited to find your story! I know they left sometime in the late 60's to build a home on Bull Shoals Lake in Protem, MO (near Branson)... I'm going to call my father-in-law right now!"
Michele sent me her email and we hope to exchange some information about the house, pictured here.
We also have some photos of people who we think are Parbury family members. Isn't this a sweet picture of Helen Josephine (Parbury?) and her grandpa?
3. Wooddale dancers
Susie Paplow's essay of Growing Up in Edina: Dancer's life formed at Wooddale School brought back memories for another Wooddale dancer.
Helen Akers wrote, "My goodness! What a surprise! My brother sent me this link. I attended Wooddale from K thru 5th, which would be 1958 thru...1965? I also was in the dance recitals in 1960, 61 and 62. Does anyone remember the name of our dance instructor? I can picture his face but not his name. Our principal was Van Sarff. Kindergarten was Ms. Bemis. Fourth grade was Mrs. Blashfield I think. Third...Mrs. Spalding? I remember Mr. Kenyon also. Science I think. We played jacks on the front steps of the school...I loved that school. I remember the carnivals also and yes, the school did seem to transform into a magical place!"
I have heard about Ms. Bemis from many generations of Edina students. Someday, I'll have to figure out how many decades she taught at Wooddale School. While I can't tell you that today, I do know she was a much beloved teacher, based on the reminiscences of our visitors.
4. Growing Up in Edina
Several class reunion groups have made the Edina History Museum's "Growing Up in Edina" exhibit part of their activities. Take a trip down Memory Lane yourself. Visit us free during regular museum hours, Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon. The display will be up until at least October.
I'm pondering the next exhibit now. I would like to say I'm "working on" the project, but I haven't moved past the thinking stage yet. I do know that the exhibit will celebrate Edina's Quasquicentennial (125th birthday) in 2013. This part of my job is very fun (and a lot of work for one person.) I could use some talented volunteers to help brainstorm and create the display. Email me or call me at the museum (612-928-4577) to find out more.
Happy Monday, everyone!
Meet Charles Reynolds and family. They're the proud homeowners of the first house built on France Avenue in the newly platted Morningside neighborhood. Built in 1905 at 4300 France Avenue -- back when France Avenue was a dirt road -- the house still stands today. (See Google maps image below)
The house was included in our recent walking tour of Morningside, co-sponsored with the Linden Hills History Study Group and led by Peter Sussman. Because the porch is now enclosed, I didn't immediately recognize the Reynolds' house, although I had seen the photo many times and written about it for our 2005 Morningside exhibit.
I love the original photo because it includes the family: a young couple and their first child, who grew up saying she was the first child born in Morningside, according to Sussman. It would be hard to prove or disprove the girl's claim, but it seems likely.
Do you have a photo of your family standing in front of your house? We have one of my husband and me standing by the Edina Realty "SOLD" sign at the curb with the house in the background. I don't have one that includes our children, who were born later. I'll have to remedy that and take a family photo this weekend, even though my kids might roll their eyes and wonder why.
My answer, which you would think they would have memorized by now, is: you'll appreciate this some day.
I know this because so many visitors come to the museum looking for their childhood. They love seeing our photos of the house they grew up in. Once they see the image, they remember things like the huge front tree started out as a tiny seedling or the garage had yet to be built.
But one thing is missing from our photos. The city Tax Assessor files show the houses: the bricks and mortar, and often even cars in the driveway but usually no people. A few of the older photos in our collection, like this one of the Reynolds family, show residents with their homes.
Do you have a great photo of your family at your Edina home? I'd love to see it. Call me at 612-928-4577 or email me to tell me about yours.
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Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
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