The Edina Historical Society and the Heritage Preservation Board sponsored free tours of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Minnehaha Grange Hall and Cahill School on Tuesday. Here is one highlight from the tour.
Founding members of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Edina clearly wanted to honor the past with the design of their new church building in 1938. The almost 75-year old building looks like it has always stood at the corner of Wooddale and 50th Street in part because it is based on a medieval church in Wales, Old Radnor Parish Church.
One would almost be surprised if Country Club residents hadn't built a church steeped in old Episcopal traditions. What did surprise (delight, intrigue) me was the inclusion of Edina history in the church.
Take a look at this section of one of the church's beautiful stained glass windows:
Yes, it depicts Minnehaha Grange No. 398, which originally stood at the St. Stephen's site. The 1879 building was moved after Samuel Thorpe purchased the land as part of his Country Club District development. Doesn't the stained glass image look remarkably close to the photo below of the building when it stood at 50th and Wooddale? [Please ignore the slightly distorted angle of the window. I am height challenged.]
I think it's interesting that relative newcomers to the community chose to honor its past in a medium traditionally reserved for the sacred not the secular.
The church, built during the Depression, was originally built with clear glass windows. As the congregation raised enough funds, they purchased stained glass windows, created by nationally acclaimed Connick studios in Boston, MA.
Thanks to parishioner Keith Freedy and Larry Reynolds, Minister of Worship, for their great information on the stained glass windows, and to architect Chuck Liddy of Miller Dunwiddie for leading the tour at the church.
The United States was on the brink of war in June 1941, but the local newspaper focused on simple pleasures, like fishing, golf, pets and horses.
The Town Crier started as The Crier in 1930, a monthly newspaper for the Country Club District. In 1941, the name changed as well as its format. Instead of focusing exclusively on Edina, it broadened its scope to the surrounding suburbs and changed from a newspaper to a glossy lifestyle magazine.
News stories might get a passing mention, such as the "Taxpayers' Headache" story (left). But the real focus was on feature stories with great photography.
I love the older newspaper when I do historical research, but you can't beat the magazine version for pure entertainment.
The photos of the fishermen (fisherboys?) caught my attention because I often see kids on the creek still today. I also think some of those youngsters probably still live in Edina. Judging by the year and the age of the "young lads" (I'm guessing 8 to 10 years old), those fisherman probably graduated in the early 1950s.
The story reads: "Some people say fish aren't smart, but the small army of Edina lads who turned up on Minnehaha Creek to open the season on that warm afternoon in May claim they are -- plenty. Herbert Anderson, Bill Wood, Tom McMahon, John Covell, David McGarvey, Herb Groettum, Chase Milsop, Jerry Dostal and Bobby Hale.... say that the fishes' spies, sunning themselves on the bank, saw their party coming, zoomed back into the water, and then scurried up and down the creek at top speed, warning the finny gentry not to make suckers of themselves by biting. Not even Johnny Rossiter, up in the tree above, untangling his line, got a bite.:"
The war might not have featured prominently on the Town Crier's pages, but there were subtle references. In the "Taxpayers' Headache" story, the final line bemoans the tripling of taxes but adds "feel sorry for yourself if you like, but remember the people of Europe are not eating." I even think the boys' description of the fish as spies shows that they were attuned to the war, if only through popular radio shows of the day.
In the end, the war could not be ignored. The Town Crier ceased publication in 1941 or 1942, most likely after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when the United States was fully engaged in World War II and resources for printing lifestyle magazine were scarce.
Cover of April 1941 Town Crier
I don't know when the last issue was published because our Town Crier collection is incomplete. If you have some tucked away that you can donate, please contact me.
Assignment Edina: I'd love to do a "Then and Now" exhibit, featuring historic photos and a photographers' take on the same scene today. Here's your assignment should you choose to accept it: Take a photo of boys (or girls) fishing on the creek today and send it in. (Or shoot a modern day scene of any Edina historic photograph, either from our collection or your own family photo album.) If you'd like to work on this exhibit, please call the museum at 612-928-4577 or email me.
If you ever find yourself free during museum hours, stop in and flip through the Town Crier (and its predecessor The Crier). It's great entertainment... and all free.
The Crier, the monthly newspaper for the Country Club District from 1930 to 1941, provides a great record of the early years of Edina's historic neighborhood. The first July 4th parade. The neighborhood's plans to secede from Edina. The first police officer hired.
But in addition to "hard news," The Crier covered things like weddings, births, vacations abroad and parties at home. Whether residents went downtown to see a play or next door to visit with the neighbors, the news was reported in the paper's Society section.
See just one page (of almost three pages) of Society news in the 16-page publication below.
Researchers chuckle at some of the mundane things reported. Some characterize the Society news as a snooty upper class practice, but in fact, many small town newspapers had popular Society columns. Granted, a farm town newspaper might report on quilting bees instead of "canapes and cocktails" but newspapers across the country carried society news.
Big city newspapers might assign a reporter to write about lavish parties or weddings of the area's movers and shakers, but small town newspapers relied on the public to send in their own news. If you wanted people to know about your social life, you sent in a few sentences to the local paper.
In other words, the Society column was a lot like Facebook, with a little more restraint. (No photos of drunk people at college parties, for example.)
Society news provides a more complete view of family members for genealogists, who discover their parents' or grandparents' interests and accomplishments. Whether they were on the honor roll at college or belonged to the women's club, their news was reported in The Crier.
Because the Country Club resident had some famous residents, the Society news makes for some interesting reading for even non-relatives. Read about the Odells, makers of Burma Shave, or about the Lilleheis, reknown surgeons, or the Bridgemans, who owned the ice cream shop chain.
Thanks to a meticulous Edina Historical Society archivist (not me), the names are easy to find. We have a card catalog (remember those?) of names and the issue date and page where they appeared.
You're welcome to come in during regular museum hours and browse The Criers, or look up your relatives. If you or your family lived in the Country Club during the 1930s, you're almost guaranteed find something, even if it's only a few lines about a vacation or party.
"A picture is worth a thousand words..." The adage proves true with this photo, which I've already written about once here when a closer look at this photograph of the Country Club District showed bridge footings in Minnehaha Creek which led to all sorts of questions about that bridge and whether there ever was a bridge on Bridge Street.
The same researcher who pointed out the bridge footings later commented that developer Samuel Thorpe's sales office could be seen in this photo as well. Can you tell where it is? Yeah, me too. I needed a little help. See the building by Wooddale School? That, he told me, was the sales office for the Country Club District.
As far as I knew, Thorpe Brothers real estate company, established in 1885, was based in downtown Minneapolis. But it made sense to me that the company would set up sales offices in the towns where they were selling lots in new developments.
With every else going on getting ready for our exhibit opening, I didn't think much more about it until another researcher was looking at Country Club District sales brochures. See the tract office on the bottom left?
Here's a closer look:
You can see Wooddale School and its tall chimney in the background. I have to say, this sales office seem like quite the Taj Majal of tract offices. Thorpe apparently wanted his sales office to reflect the "character and beauty" of the development he was selling.
They are, by definition, temporary, closing up shop when most of the lots are sold. The Thorpe sales office is long gone, but I don't know if it was moved or demolished. If you know, please comment here or email me.
The sales brochure also shed some light on the Bridge Street question, but the document is too big for my scanner. I'll write Part II of the saga when I have the photographic evidence available to back up my claims. But --- I just can't wait to say this -- I was right. (The three most beautiful words in the English language might be "I love you," but I'm also very fond of "I was right.")
This photo is definitely worth 1,000 words... of explanation. Stay tuned for the next chapter!
Nancy Wallace Wild drew this map of her world as she saw it in 1922 when she grew up on 50th and Halifax in Edina. Instead of boutiques at 50th and France, there was a blacksmith. Where movie-goers now line up to see art films at the Edina Theater, farmers came to drop off their milk at a creamery. Where the bank parking lot is today, the Wallace home graced an expansive lawn several feet from the dirt 50th Street. (Long-time residents may remember the Wallace home, which served as Edina's first standalone library in the 1950s and 60s.)
In a few short years, the rural village Wild describes would change dramatically when Henry Brown's cattle pasture would transform into upscale homes of the Country Club District, which was platted in 1924. The "new Edina School," (which residents now refer to as Wooddale School) would replace the much smaller 1888 brick school on the other side of the creek.The Grange, a meeting hall for a farm organization, would move to make way for St. Stephen's Episcopal Church at 50th and Wooddale.
I love this map because it shows in detail an Edina that no longer exists and as no properly surveyed map could. No other map would designate a "big hill for sliding" or a "bag swing," things that rank as significant landmarks for kids, but not so much for official mapmakers.
I did learn from her map that the area had a block factory, which appears to be on 49 1/2 Street, then just wheel tracks behind the Wallace home. Wild describes it in Allie, her 1997 memoir about her sister, not because it was an important Edina industry but because it was a gathering spot for children.
"What normally would not be considered a playground was the block factory and its two sand pits, located a short distance from our house, accessible by way of the wheel tracks behind our property. Its main attraction was the huge, flat stacks of finished cement blocks of finished cement blocks. The stacks, three or four parallel to each other, must have been about 100 feet long, a fourth as wide and 10 or 12 feet high. They served as our play 'palaces.' To get on top we just had to find a place of unevenly stacked blocks, places also where secret inner stairways formed, and climb up, often scraping ourselves on the rough cement but not minding. Once up there we could walk and run along the flat, slightly uneven surface, always on the lookout for the 'holes' where the inner stairways were. The two nearby sand pits provided another kind of sport; we made running leaps into the sand, leaving many a shoe or sock behind. Even the factory itself had playtime possibilities, like climbing the conveyor belt and then sitting on the side of the square funnel at the top and peering down to where the loose sand blended with the powdered cement. That was scary!"
Wild isn't the only one who drew a map of their childhood haunts. I will include more child's eye views of Edina in upcoming blog posts as well as in our upcoming exhibit, "Growing Up in Edina."
Assignment Edina: Draw a map of your own childhood landmarks. Who were your neighbors? Where did you play? How far did your world extend - could you bicycle miles away or did could you only go as far as you could hear your mother's whistle to come home? I'd love to see what you come up with.
From time to time, a visitor asks, "Did Bridge Street ever have a bridge?"
Good question. As you can see by the above map, Bridge Street does not cross Minnehaha Creek. If there is no bridge, why the name? Did the street once have one?
When I was first asked the question, I had just started at the Edina Historical Society. Because our paper files don't have an easy finding aid to answer this question (unfortunately we can't type "Bridge Street" into a search engine and come up with 42,000 web pages with the answer), I asked a few long-time residents for information.
They quickly pointed to this photo of the Browndale farm.
Henry Brown operated the Browndale farm, famous for its shorthorn cattle, in what is now the Country Club District of Edina.
Although Brown made his home in Minneapolis, he did entertain in Edina. His house was on one side of the creek, and his barns on the other, with the bridge in between. That bridge was thought to be the predecessor of Bridge Street.
It made sense at the time. I now think that story is the stuff of suburban legend.
Let me explain with a photo. Take a look at this photo below taken after Brown's land was developed into the Country Club District.
Now take a closer look. I have to admit, I hadn't taken a careful look at this photo until a regular researcher, a fan of aerial photography, pointed out the footings of a bridge in the creek. See the two lines in the creek just off the driveway on the creek side of Edgebrook Place?
To help you out, I labeled a few landmarks. (You're welcome.) Although this photo dates from the 1930s, it looks essentially the same as it does today with a few changes: Wooddale School is now Wooddale Park, Sunnyslope has yet to be built, and more houses fill the Country Club District.
Henry Brown's home was located at the Edgebrook Place loop, according to author Jane King Hallberg, who interviewed contemporaries of Brown for her 1988 book Minnehaha Creek: Living Waters: "Henry Brown's home near the creek and the mill was an especially nice place. It had a big front porch to the east and a porch on the south side, also. It faced Browndale Avenue, which was 'dedicated,' or laid out, by Henry Brown and the farmhouse and farm yard were in the semi-circle formed at present by Browndale and Edgebrook Place..."
The bridge footings in the picture must then be from the old Browndale farm; they're not close to lining up with today's Bridge Street. So the mystery remains: was there another bridge that gave Bridge Street its name?
I think it's likely the Bridge Street was intended to cross Minnehaha into the Sunnyslope Addition, which was developed later. For some reason, the bridge was never built. My guess is that neighborhood residents didn't want to encourage traffic through their neighborhood. After all, they opposed extending Bridge Street into the White Oaks neighborhood. "Opposed" might be too gentle of a term: a Country Club resident reportedly stood with a shotgun at the east end of Bridge Lane in White Oaks to bar trucks from coming through, according to a story in the city's Spring 2001 quarterly newsletter About Town. Author Joe Sullivan wrote: "Eventually, an agreement allowing limited, temporary access for vehicles was reached, but only for construction on Bridge Lane. Even today, there is only a narrow walkway -- much too narrow for automobiles -- connecting Bridge Street and Bridge Lane."
(Check out the east end of Bridge Street and you can see how it narrows after Arden Avenue.)
That's my best guess, anyway. Ignore my hypothesis though, for now, until I have more evidence to prove my claim -- I don't want to start another suburban legend.
What do you think? And, more importantly, do you have any facts to support your claim? Contact me or comment here.
Note: For more information on Brown, see the St. Louis Park Historical Society web page on the Browndale neighborhood. While much of the information came from us, SLP wrote up the nice, concise summary.
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