"Monday Mashup" is a roundup of reader comments with a few observations of my own.
The recent essay by John Reid, Streetcar days in Morningside, elicited some memories for Carole Whalen Wenborg, who wrote:
I was a Bluebird and, later, a Camp Fire Girl in St. Louis Park for several years. We used to have streetcar parties that were great fun. For a price we could rent a streetcar, fill it up with friends and food, add a battery powered phonograph and a pile of 45's and we were good to go. For an hour or more we were transported around town in a mobile party room, dancing and eating. Of course, there were adults on board and I believe they enjoyed themselves as much as we junior highers. Such fun!
I hadn't heard about the mobile streetcar parties before. Thanks for writing, Carole!
Daniel G wrote:
Wonderful article. I've been researching the early history of the streetcar in Edina, and it's easy to get focused on dates, corporate names, mile markers, and other "facts and figures." I thought this was a fascinating and refreshing perspective on how the streetcars affected real people. Thanks for posting it! (BTW, that TCRT streetcar now in San Francisco turns around at a loop right near my house).
Yes! Accurate dates and data are important in historical research, but memories really show how the culture was affected by historical events. I'd love to see your research when you're done, and in the meantime, here are some more fun memories from Edina residents, who wrote essays for our "Streetcar Memories" exhibit in 2004, 50 years after the last streetcar ran in Edina.
In the mid 1930s, our family rented a farm house on what is now North Street. The back yard abutted the streetcar tracks. The house is still there. It has been upgraded, and is now very charming. To the west of the house was a dirt road that runs along Minnehaha Creek. It didn’t have the name at that time. My Dad would catch the streetcar at Brookside Avenue to go work in a machine shop off East Hennepin Avenue. He was a machinist and worked long hours during the Depression. On the return home, he always sat on the left hand seats. Mother would send us out in the back yard to see if Dad was sound asleep leaning against the window. We would know then that he would be going all the way out to the end of the line in Hopkins and he would be about a half hour late for dinner.
– Tom Divine, Edina
Friday nights in the fall the high school football games were played at Nicollet Field and the Selby-Lake cars were loaded to the gills with kids. I remember jumping out the window to get out of paying my token when we got to Nicollet. I really did it because I thought it was daring and a sort of wild thing to do. We girls didn’t have much imagination about being wild in those days.
– Kathleen Wetherall, a former student at St. Margaret’s Academy in Minneapolis
ROCKED TO SLEEP
On many a late winter afternoon, I would be riding home on the streetcar in the early darkness. After a long day at the U and trying to read some assignment for the next day – I would succumb to the carbon monoxide fumes and fall asleep. More often than not, I’d miss my stop at 43rd and Upton only to be awakened by the conductor at the end of the line, which was 54th and France. At that point, the only alternative was to put another token in the fare box and ride back to my stop hoping I hadn’t missed supper.
– Joe Sullivan, Edina
Note: You may know Joe Sullivan as the author of the great history features in the City of Edina's quarterly publication "About Town."
A MEN'S ONLY STRONGHOLD
When the 1950s started and I was nearing the end of grade school, there was a streetcar way to mark the passage to manhood. More and more I would pass by empty seats to stand on the back platform. It was a men’s only stronghold where guys of all ages would lean against the circle of windows, smoking, talking and importantly hanging out. At the time, I had no idea that this culture, along with the whole experience of trolley, was about to be uprooted.
– Tom Clark of Edina
It would not come as a surprise to me if ten years of my first 20 were spent on the Como-Harriet streetcar. (It was not known as a trolley!) Travels to church, downtown, the ‘U’ for the Youth Symphony Series, the state fair and college. At least twice a week trips were the norm for a one-car family who lived two miles from the end of the line.
Never to be forgotten were trying to get the seat with the heater on the floor during the winter, the open back platform for the smokers and the clink of that 10 cent token hitting the silver dome in the coin counter.
– Mary Westerberg Fenlason, Edina
Summer and winter we went about our business in any weather. I love to think about the ride along the “freeway” by Harriet and Calhoun in summer when the Motorman would open the throttle full bore. The car would rock and the wind felt so good on a hot night. That was air conditioning of the day.
I even used the car to go from home to home on my Public Health rotation during nursing school. That was COLD to wait for the car as we didn’t have such nice warm clothes as we have now. Wool in the wind offered little protection. In winter, the car was warm and welcoming after the wait on some corner.
– Lila Borst Larson, Edina
WAITING IN BELLESON’S
In 1933 we moved to Morningside about a block west of the Westgate Theater site. There we had a choice of services with the Como Hopkins running along its own right of way on the South side of 44th Street, the Como-Harriet to 54th and France coming down France Avenue and the Como Harriet ending at its own loop just east of 44th and France.
The favorite place to wait for the streetcar was initially inside (or just outside) the front door of Lars Belleson’s Country Club Market.
This store was the forerunner of the Country Club Market chain formed when Lars sold out to go into the haberdashery business on 50th Street. We could see the Como Hopkins coming far enough in advance to run across the street if it arrived first.
– James Grunnet, Edina
Did these stories prompt any memories? We'd love to hear from you. Please comment below or email me. Happy Monday, everyone!
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 . . . .
It's about this time of year that we get a call or two from someone digging up their flower garden and finding a spike or railroad tie in their yard. How did it get there?
Was there a dump on their property? Or did a railroad once run across their land?
Actually, for residents living around 44th Street, the archeological treasures are more likely from the Como-Harriet streetcar line, which took passengers to points throughout the Twin Cities. The route ran as far as Lake Minnetonka to the West and White Bear Lake to the East and all points in between. Edina's Morningside neighborhood developed as a "streetcar suburb" when it was extended to Edina in 1905.
Sadly, the streetcar quit running in 1954 and homes were built on top of the route and right of way. Now that more than 50 years have passed, new residents don't see any evidence of the once popular form of travel - until they plant a rose or tulip bed and discover pieces from Edina's past.
Want to find out more? Check out a couple of great books by Aaron Isaacs: "Twin Cities by Trolley" and "The Como-Harriet Streetcar Line: A Memory Trip Through the Twin Cities." Both are packed with photos and maps. Our gift shop sells the Como-Harriet book (see Gifts); both are in bookstores and are available at Hennepin County Libraries as well.
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