This is Southdale... before Southdale. Photographer Chester Fredon took this shot just as construction was beginning at the site, at 66th Street and France Avenues. The photo caption reads "March 16, 1955 Looking west at east side of tenant & Dayton's, Dayton's Southdale Project."
I enlarged just one small corner of the photo to see what was in the background for a visitor researching her family farm, then located just north of Southdale site on 66th Street. The Bove' family's truck farm doesn't quite appear in the photo, unfortunately. We figure it's behind the big pile of dirt on the left side of the photo. However, we had to wonder about the two-story building on the right.
I know. This is not why she came in. This did not pertain to any project I am currently working on. But we were curious. The building looked like a hotel to us, when we knew there were no hotels in that area.
We consulted a large aerial photo of the area taken in 1951, which showed a long building with a circle of small buildings in the rear (just north of 66th). We didn't get any answers from the reverse directory in the phone books for that period. (Not that surprising. In those days, some farmers still didn't have phones, and some businesses listed themselves only in the Minneapolis phone directories.)
Fortunately, Frank Cardarelle, a life-long Edina resident and a land surveyor, happened to drop in and he had the answer: Ben-Twin poultry farm. Frank went to Edina schools with the Benson twins in the 1940s and even worked there as a kid. Yes, that hotel-looking building housed the chickens and there were additional chicken coops out back.
Frank had an additional piece of trivia: the Benson twins' father owned the Covered Wagon, a famous Western-themed restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.
As it happened, the researcher had brought along a news clipping of her ancestor John Bove', who was featured because he killed a "chicken-stealing" wolf. The undated clipping from an unknown newspaper (at left) reported that after several chicken thefts in the area, Bove' followed the trail from the hen house until he sighted the animal and shot it.
"The wolf is the first to be shot this season at the city limits where wolves are rarely found at this time of year," the article stated. "Bove' today collected a $15 bounty from the County Auditor Al P. Erickson. Chicken raisers have given him an informal vote of thanks."
Although it seems shocking today, the state paid a bounty on wolves until 1956. Wolf population fell so dramatically that by 1974, killing a wolf could result in a fine of up to $20,000 or up to a year in prison or both.
As we talked with others at the museum that morning, we found out that a large commercial flower field was located north and east of the poultry business and the Peterson dairy farm operated on France Avenue just west of the mall.
You can see why scoffers questioned building a shopping mall "in the middle of nowhere," but in just a few months, the wide open farmland was filled with suburban homes, retail businesses and the Southdale medical center. If you have information or photos about any of Southdale's former neighbors, please contact me.
Constable George Weber with children -- and a chicken. Photo by Dick Palen.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently covered a small controversy in the western suburbs on whether or not a family can raise a few chickens in their backyard. The names and dates have changed, but the story played out the same way in Morningside more than a century ago.
In 1905, people moved to Morningside, Edina's oldest residential neighborhood, to get away from the city. The large lots in a farming community seemed perfect for "suburban farmers" to plant gardens, raise bees, a few chickens and, in some cases, a goat or two.
Not everyone wanted livestock in the neighborhood, and the Village Council dealt with the controversy for years. Still, the Depression kept the Village from acting too harshly against chickens, which kept neighbors in eggs (and sometimes meat) during lean times.
Chickens were an accepted part of Morningside life, as this photo shows. The legendary Constable George Weber is shown talking about World War I with neighborhood children, one of whom mysteriously holds a chicken.
Suburban farming seemed to be a rule rather than an exception in the early days. The Minneapolis Journal, described the farmer on the streetcar, not tractor (although even then, chickens roused some mixed emotions.)
From the April 2, 1911 issue:
"The seeding of lawns, painting of houses, how best to make the garden, and whether the house would look best if the shrubbery on the vacant lot next door were burned away, make up the conversations these mornings in the city-bound streetcars. Also there sits in a corner of the early car a man who reads intensely a book entitled: Six Dollars Profit Per Hen Per Year. Ah, ha! The man who sits behind him and has visions of a garden full of juicy tomatoes, peas that will burst the pots for richness, beans that will boil into delectability, and corn that in the fall will send its wavy stalks so high that he can have his picture taken standing alongside a stalk to send to his married sister who lives in a Chicago flat, scents danger. How far away does the man with the chicken book live? He waits until he turns. Then he recognizes him and breathes easier. The chicken man lives three blocks away and probably no chickens would come that far to scratch up a garden."
When I put together a Morningside exhibit a few years ago, I wanted to have a live chicken for the exhibit grand opening party but I couldn't find any local poultry. Although some chickens were rumored to still be in the neighborhood, their owners apparently didn't want to be outed. So, I had to "import" a chicken from a friends' farm out of town.
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