If you think whining kids in the back seat and bumper-to-bumper traffic are unbearable, author Frederick Johnson provides a reality check just in time for your Memorial Day road trip. Our guest blogger has spent many hours at the Edina History Museum with his research for his book Suburban Dawn: the Emergence of Richfield, Edina, and Bloomington. Not only is Fred a great guy (and I'm not just saying that because he's doing my job today - thanks Fred!), he is a talented writer: Suburban Dawn and his previous book Richfield: Minnesota's Oldest Suburb were both honored by the American Association for State and Local History.
Eliza Grimes in her later years
By Frederick Johnson
Here’s a message to present day travelers who bemoan the troubles of traveling cross country with children: Read the story of Edina settler Eliza Grimes.
Eliza Gordon married well when she wed Jonathan Grimes in 1843. Jonathan was a well-born Virginian and a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) when he and Eliza met in Indiana. An abolitionist with a hatred for slavery, Jonathan had left the south to start a new life in the Midwest. He and his Hoosier bride built the first frame house in southwestern Indiana’s Clay County and began a family. Life was good until the early 1850s when ambitious promoters and politicians began developing the Wabash and Erie Canal, a water link between Indiana and Lake Erie.
Jonathan Grimes in his later years
The waterway cut through their farm and created terrible problems for the family. They suspected a stagnant, malarial lagoon left by canal builders was behind the fevers that plagued Jonathan and also afflicted their children. Then, in 1854 the fever again swept through the Wabash valley, creating an exodus of the afflicted. Many headed for Minnesota, the fledgling northern territory nationally publicized as a health preserve. Promoters of Minnesota trumpeted claims that malaria and consumption (tuberculosis) were unknown there.
In 1855, the Grimes’ first-born son drowned in the canal, and fever, once again, threatened Jonathan’s life. When seven-month-old daughter Anna also became ill, the desperate couple decided to head to Minnesota, hopeful of a climatic cure for their misery. But they knew the route to the remote northwest was by Mississippi River steamboat, with the nearest port, Galena, tucked in the northwest corner of Illinois some 260 miles away. The only way they could reach Galena was by taking wagon roads.
Eliza Grimes faced an incredible challenge. With her husband too ill to sit up, she would need to drive their wagon on the long, arduous trip while tending her three children—two boys, 6 and 2, and the dangerously ill infant daughter. This formidable woman gathered supplies for the trip and placed a mattress in the bed of the wagon for Jonathan and little Anna. With all on board, she headed for Galena.
The Grimes did possess resources for the journey—money, education, and strength of character—but success depended upon Eliza. The trip would test her mental and physical reserves, as well as large measures of courage and determination. The dauntless Eliza managed to get everyone to Galena in a week’s time. There she loaded them onto a steamboat headed for Minneapolis. The fare for the remaining 400 miles to their destination was about six dollars per person. The family’s grim situation began to improve, both Jonathan and Anna began feeling better, and Eliza’s load began to lighten.
The Grimes family found that Minnesota agreed with them. In 1858 Jonathan and Eliza learned of a flouring mill for sale on Minnehaha Creek and, along with a partner, bought Waterville Mill, the future Edina Mill. Later, they bought land to the northeast of the mill and ranked among Edina’s leading citizens.
Modern Morningside residents may not be familiar with the Grimes family, but they will recognize their home and the street that bears their name. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Grimes home west of Grimes Avenue was built after the family had achieved some success with their business Lake Calhoun Nursery. This drawing of their home appeared in their letterhead.
The Grimes' journey would take about 11 1/2 hours today by freeway, shown above. By wagon on rutted roads, Eliza got her family from their home in Indiana (we don't have the exact location) to Galena, IL, in a week. They took a steamboat up the Misssissippi to Minneapolis where they stayed while her husband Jonathan recovered. The rowdy city environment (see previous post) prompted them to seek a quieter life in the country. They bought the mill in Edina and lived nearby in what is now the Morningside neighborhood of Edina.
For further exploration:
For more information about the book Suburban Dawn, see Johnson's web site. A limited number of books are still available for purchase at the Edina History Museum.
Find out more about the Grimes family and the development of the Edina neighborhood and Linden Hills area. Attend a May 25, 2011, walking tour sponsored by the Edina Historical Society and the Linden Hills Historical Society.
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