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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