We want your stories for the Edina Reads writing contest. Deadline is Oct. 1. To inspire you, here is a wonderful story from our collection.
By John Reid
We moved into the house at the corner of 44th and Grimes in the summer of 1932. Well, it wasn’t quite on the corner, since the streetcar tracks ran on a private right of way next to it. The big yellow cars would come rocketing by every half hour, on their way to Hopkins or to Minneapolis.
They seldom stopped on the inbound trip since an extra fare was charged when they crossed France Avenue - so few folks boarded at Grimes. It could have been a convenience for us, but it was the height (depth?) of the Depression and money was tight. Even the dime fare made a difference in those days. When we were really sick, we did use that stop to board to go to the doctor.
But it was wonderful to have a way to get downtown and back without a car. I was admonished to take “any Como car” to return home on my own from forays with my mother, and ventured on my own when about 11 or 12 years old. The Como Hopkins cars went by the house, the Como Harriet’s turned in the loop at 44th and France and also went on to 50th or to 54th and were turned on the wye there. From then on the downtown library, stores and theaters were accessible to all of us, car-less homemakers and kids alike.
As the winter hit in ‘32 a new phenomenon appeared. The dishes on the pantry shelves started to rattle every time a car passed. It seemed that the frozen ground transmitted the vibrations set up by the heavy cars. The cessation of the phenomenon was a good herald of Spring. The amount of the car’s weight was demonstrated when a car labeled “Oak Harriet” hit a fire truck when going uphill on Upton Ave. The fire truck was tossed on its side into a corner lot and a picture appeared in the paper of it lying there, looking helpless.
The cars had a thick concrete platform in front and back that held them on the track as they made time along the straight stretches near the lakes. Summers were wonderful, with the windows open and the smell of the flowers in the backyards along the route south of 31st. in Minneapolis. Modern light rail is far too antiseptic in comparison. When the PCC cars were put into service after the war they were very unsatisfactory; spooky silent wheels that didn’t have to nice screams on curves, curved walls and roofs that cramped the insides and the windows didn’t open! Just like a bus. I sometimes passed them up to take the next wooden car.
The same 44th and France corner without streetcars today. Image from Google maps.
We kids couldn’t resist playing with the streetcars! The “big kids” who lived there would put pennies on the track. They emerged squashed quite flat and bigger. Stones were also tried. They exploded with a loud bang when they were hit. Once the streetcar stopped and the conductor yelled about it being dangerous. Sometime about then the game of “streetcars are poison” arose. The idea was to hide so that no one on the cars could see you. The one who spotted the oncoming streetcar got points, although there wasn’t much point to the whole thing.
There was some danger to those of us who walked the tracks to get to the stores at 44th and France Ave. Otherwise we had to cross 44th street at the octagonal stop sign, and the cars often didn’t pay much attention to the kids. Using the tracks was faster, and if we didn’t hear the cars they would blast their electric horns, so no one was hit as far as I know. There were a couple of times when cars came from both directions at once when it was best to go over the edge of the embankment to avoid them.
But we did have some excitement the day a big wind blew for hours. As I came from the Morningside School towards home I could see that all of the mothers were out in the street waving things. The poles that held the trolley wire had leaned over until the wire was maybe two feet from the street! We were told to go down to Curve Avenue and cross the tracks there, where the wires were higher and Constable George Weber was directing traffic. At the Grimes crossing the cars were warned away by a lot of hand waving, but something better was needed.
Some of the Boy Scouts brought the tug-of war rope from the church, and slid it under the wire to the moms. They tied it between the posts of the “cross buck” warning signs and festooned it with towels and kerchiefs to make it visible to traffic. One woman came from the Country Club and accelerated as she approached the rope. SHE wasn’t going to stop! All of the assembled crowd yelled and her bumper hit the rope. The big timbers to which it was tied snapped, tossing the cross buck signs toward the car. She did make a panic stop with her bumper maybe an inch from the wire. She just sat there for a minute or so. We finally had to go in for dinner and didn’t see the repair crew, but the line was restored in hours.
During the Depression the “knights of the road” were seen along many rail lines, riding the rails to jobs or to warmer climes. Some of them even came to our back door, asking for a handout. Mother didn’t want to turn them away, and usually could find a job for them to do to earn lunch.
The final removal of the line was during my days at the U of M. I had an old ’33 Plymouth and didn’t use the streetcar much. Of course, if I needed a part from the dealer downtown it was very handy! France Avenue was deteriorating. The city owned it out to the middle, Edina and Morningside owned the other half, the almost bankrupt streetcar company was responsible for maintaining the areas between the tracks and, to cap it all off, it was a State highway. Each partner had others to blame and nothing was done to fix it. The potholes made it so undriveable that Edina simply widened their half into a full size road of new concrete that was entirely on Edina property. The Minneapolis half sat going further to ruin as the months passed.
To stop the streetcars the Edina road crew showed up with tools and disconnected one rail of the track, and lifted it out of place. Some pictures were taken of councilmen watching this. The cars still ran to the loop at 44th, but not for long.
The line is gone now, everyone uses cars and children are shepherded everywhere. The land used by the streetcar line was nice and flat so houses were built along the right of way. But the lots aren’t very wide!
So it seems incredible that we let this entire system disappear. Sometimes even now I dream that I am back in Minneapolis trying to figure out how to get back to Morningside. I am looking for Hennepin Avenue-and on it a big yellow trolley that was somehow saved comes by . . . .
On Mondays, I turn the blog over to reader comments and add a few thoughts of my own.
Ask for a list of famous people in Edina, and people quickly mention sports stars and other residents who have achieved national fame, like movie star Tippi Hedren ("The Birds"), novelist Judith Guest ("Ordinary People) and Twins owner Carl Pohlad.
There is another category of famous people, who may not be famous on a national level but who are (or were during their lifetimes) very well-known within our city limits.
I'm talking about people like:
I think these big fish in our small pond played bigger roles in shaping our community history than any national celebrity ever did. What do you think? Who are the people we should remember within the Edina Historical Society collections? Please comment here or email me.
A recent reader comment had me thinking about this topic. John Shepherd wrote about public servant Harold Schwartz. While I have not yet met Harold, he's a well-known name at the museum. Inevitably, visitors reminiscing about growing up in Morningside recall the man who "was the saving grace in our community," as John put it. Thanks for writing, John!
Harold Schwartz, Morningside's Public Works employee
By John Shepherd
Time to remember Harold Schwartz. I lived in Morningside, MN, from 1954 to 1965. My parents lived at 4045 Sunnyside ave. Harold Schwartz was the saving grace in our community. He took care of snow plowing, sewers, pot holes and much, much more.
When it snowed he would lift his plow blade so that the drift wasn't left in front of your driveway. When there were garbage strikes through the years, he was there to pick up the refuse. If there was a problem during heavy rains, he was there to clean the gutters and make sure that the water flowed freely.
Harold took care of the Ice rinks in the winter and made sure you had nice clean ice, that wasn't bumpy. I don't even know if he is still living, but If he isn't I am sorry I waited to long to give him his dues for the wonderful job he did for us in Morningside.
In 1966 when we became part of Edina I was very disappointed. Even though I went through all of the Edina School systems programs and played in all the sports systems, I was sorry to see us lose our Independence from the much larger and more wealthy community. It is time that we celebrate the people that made Morningside so strong and Independent.
Harold, my hat of to you and thank you for the wonderful years of SERVICE.
Who made a big impact on Edina? Share your thoughts by emailing me or commenting here. Help us make sure we gather information about the people who had the biggest influence on Edina.
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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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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