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.
These men are Odd Fellows.
Note the capital letters. They are not odd fellows, but Odd Fellows as in the "International Order of Odd Fellows," a fraternal organization that dates back several centuries.
These men belonged to the local chapter, Golden Link Lodge No. 167. According to the St. Louis Park Historical Society, it "appears to be a consolidated Lodge that covered the entire metropolitan area, since officers were from Minneapolis, St. Paul, Mound, and Spring Lake Park."
The headquarters of this group was at 4388 France Avenue in Edina, the building located in the northwest corner of 44th and France. In this circa 1950s photo, Hawkins Confectionery and Morningside Grocery & Meats also occupies the building.
This is the current Google maps street view of the building. Although there have been some updates over the years, it still looks much the same as it did when it was built in 1918.
Here's a closer look at the Odd Fellows sign above the door to the stairway to their second floor meeting hall.
Not only did the Odd Fellows meet here, but the rest of the neighborhood also found uses for the space. As Dudley Parsons, Sr. wrote in his Feb. 27, 1920 "Morningsider" column in Lake Harriet News:
"The Odd Fellows’ Hall on France Avenue and 44th Street is a community center of increasing usefulness. Not only are the lodge meetings and social functions held there but regular Saturday afternoon dancing classes, neighborhood parties and entertainments, and the service of the Morningside Church and Sunday School. The Hall is equipped with kitchen accommodations and has a stage for amateur dramatic performances. There is a commodious reception room and there are two other rooms available. The Hall is occupied nearly every night in the week."
It was here in 1920 that Morningside residents met to discuss seceding from Edina, and later where the Village of Morningside council held its meetings.
The organization itself was "known affectionately as the 'Oofs,' wrote Parsons in his November 19, 1936, column, noting the importance of the lodge in creating a sense of neighborliness. "For a quarter of a century it has been gathering weekly – and sometimes oftener – two score of the neighbors in pleasant social business and pastime. I suppose that fully a hundred families have been represented in these gatherings – lodge meetings, lectures or dancing parties. It is very doubtful that ever a member of these families is ill or unfortunate without the intelligent sympathy of the others, and many an hour of pain and grief has been lessened in its intensity by the comfort of this ministration. I am the right person to say this because I have never been a member of any lodge..."
According to Minneapolis Tribune stories, the Golden Link Lodge met in other cities prior to 1920. Their name is listed in local phone directories until at least 1967.
Were you an "Oof," as Parsons would say? Did you go to one of the dances or other community gatherings in the meeting hall? Please share your memories with us by commenting here or emailing me.
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.
This is the second post in a series on the history of neighborhood names in Edina. (See the first on Morningside here.) The City of Edina has formed a Neighborhood Identification Steering Committee to determine neighborhood names and borders. For more on that group, see the city's Name Your Neighborhood Blog.
City's blog icon
I've booked a hotel room on Lakefront Avenue and never glimpsed water. I've seen a Pleasant View Road without one. And, I've noticed, many flower-named streets don't have blooms lining the boulevards. Let's face it, many streets and neighborhoods don't live up to their names.
White Oaks neighborhood in Edina does. White Oaks actually has white oaks. The woods, marsh and hilly terrain in the area north and west of 49th and France give the neighborhood a character much different than its neighbors: Country Club District to the west and Morningside to the north.
I don't need to give you the borders of the neighborhood; you can easily guess them by looking at the Google aerial view (below). Surrounded by a grid of streets, White Oaks is distinct with its winding roads and woods.
When Samuel Thorpe purchased land to develop the Country Club District in 1922, he reportedly was not interested the wooded, hilly land to the east because it was much harder to develop than the level open fields of Browndale Farm on the banks of Minnehaha Creek.
This map depicts how Nancy Wallace Wild recalled the area when she was growing up on 50th Street before her neighborhood was developed.The "big hill for sliding" and the swampy area made great play areas for children, but not great residential lots.
By 1936, construction equipment had advanced enough that J. Frank Ecklund, a Sears Roebuck executive who dabbled in real estate, purchased the land for development. He made a key decision: instead of leveling the hills and clear-cutting the trees, he created a plan designed to "preserv(e) the area's rugged topography, mature trees and natural feel," according to History of the White Oaks Neighborhood.
In 1940, Ecklund and his wife Catherine (Kay) took further steps to ensure that the open meadow and lowlands remain natural. First, the Ecklunds encouraged the creation of a non-profit volunteer-based White Oaks Improvement Association (WOIA). They then deeded 3.5 acres circled by Meadow Road and 48th Street to WOIA for a park and also deeded 1.5 acre marsh near the Sunnyside Road entrance to the Village of Edina with the stipulation that it remain undeveloped.
In 1986, when an empty lot adjacent to the marsh was slated for development, the neighborhood rallied with a "Save the Marsh" campaign. They raised $20,000 to purchase the property from the developer, and the City of Edina contributed another $20,000 to preserve the land.
At the neighborhood association's 50th anniversary in 1990, Kay Ecklund was honored for her "preservation and foresight in the development of one of the earliest and most beautiful plattings utilizing natural rugged topography and trees." The White Oaks Improvement Association continues to plant trees.
Photos of the neighborhood from our collection show the rolling terrain and trees. Look behind the children in the photograph below and you'll see the mature trees in the new neighborhood. This photo was taken in 1941 (about five years after White Oaks was platted) of residents Mary MacPhail, Richard E. Larson, Margaret Schimer and Phillip Larson. As you can see, the trees provided plenty of leaves for play.
The Schimer family's first house in White Oaks was at 4704 Townes Road. Pictured here in 1939, the land has towering trees in the front yard.
Would you rather live on 43 1/2 Street or Morningside Road?
E. Dudley Parsons, one of Morningside neighborhood's first residents, thought Morningside Road just sounded better than 43 1/2 Street. "It seemed to me that this was a most clumsy designation for a thoroughfare," he recalled in 1938 for his "The Morningsider" column in the Hennepin County Review.
Because of his efforts, the roadway that was platted as 43 1/2 Street in 1905 was renamed Morningside Road in 1911 by the Edina Village Council.
Here's the strange part: there was no 43rd Street in Morningside, then or now. So why wasn't the road just named 43rd; why include the 1/2?
Parsons answered that question in an oral history interview: "On the original plat of Morningside there was proposed a 43rd Street that was to run through the area from France Avenue to Wooddale, just along the edge of the slope. The street, however, remained only 'theoretical.'"
As you can see by the Google map below, Morningside does have fairly long blocks, comparatively speaking. Forty-Third Street was intended to run mid-point of Alden Drive and Scott Terrace (as a continuation of 43rd Street in Minneapolis), but was never built, most likely because the hilly topography wasn't conducive to putting a street there.
"There was no 42nd Street at all during the early period," Parsons also noted. "Alden Drive ended in a pile of sand, in fact right below our house."
St. Louis Park also designated the street as Morningside Road, but it strangely called the short street just south of Morningside Road 43 1/2 Street.
Note: Thank you to researcher Dan Lapham, who found the Parsons column while reading through the Hennepin County Review newspapers and brought it to my attention. The newspapers are housed at the Hopkins Historical Society.
Search this blog:
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:
Thank you, your message has been sent
Support this blog!
Help us bring you Edina history with this web site by becoming a member or donating today. Click on the link to our GiveMN.org site to make a donation with a credit card. The Edina Historical Society is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that depends on contributions to continue operation.