If you want to research the history of your house or neighborhood, you can look through a number of public records like old maps, aerial photos, city directories and more. However, some of the most interesting records are in private collections, tucked away in scrapbooks and family photo albums.
I'm always happy when people share those private family photos with the public. Morningside residents, especially those living on the one-block long Alden Drive, should get a kick out of these photos from the Parsons family photo album. The Parsons were among the first residents in the neighborhood and helped document its history as it happened.
Janet Parsons Mackey recently sent these photos to us, with the following descriptions.
Here are three photos from my grandmother's (Clara Parsons) album.
The first one is labeled "Alden Drive," 1910.
The second one is their first house on Alden Drive. I think it was built on the upper flat part.... I don't think they had houses on the lower part until later.
The third one, labeled "when the vines had grown" in my grandmother's handwriting, is a house I can't identify. If one of you can do so, please let me know!
To answer those questions, I dug a little in our files. We happen to have quite a bit of information about Mackey's grandparents, Clara and E. Dudley Parsons, Sr., because the Parsons family were influential in Morningside's early development. The family dates back to Mackey's great-grandfather Rev. Henry Parsons and his wife Sarah, who helped establish Morningside's first church, now called the Edina-Morningside Community Church. Henry and Sarah owned five lots near their house at 4232 France Avenue.
Soon they were joined by son E. Dudley Parsons, Sr., and his wife Clara, when he got a a teaching job in North Minneapolis in 1907 (according to the Winter 2006 issue of About Town). The couple soon purchased seven lots, amounting to some 3.5 acres, near E. Dudley Sr's parents and built a house at 4220 Alden. From the street view image from Google maps (below), I believe the house with the vines is that house.
What do you think?
The bones of the house are the same, but the location is barely recognizable just over 100 years later. What was once a little farmstead is now part of the suburban landscape.
Instead of being surrounded by fellow homeowners, the Parsons "pastured cows and raised chickens and gardened vegetables to provide a significant part of their subsistence," according to the About Town story. “We used to cut all of the wood necessary to cook with and for winter heat,” Dudley Jr. remembered. “[And] we sold milk to the neighbors. I delivered the milk in shiny tin pails with tight-fitting covers.”
Mackey's grandmother Clara helped bring about the transformation from farm to suburb. Like many homeowners in Morningside's early platting, the Parsons bought their lots with an eye for future development. Many Morningside housewives sold off lots and built homes one by one to add income to the family coffers. While the husband worked in the city, the wife often served as designer and general contractor on the housing projects. Clara wrote in her letters how much she enjoyed the work:
The great joy about the building on the lot is that I do like to build and am right now having such fun getting bids from contractors. ... I talked with another contractor, this is going to be good. They each say they know just how it should be done and the other fellow doesn’t, but believe me like Johnny who can show the smallest figures is the man who gets it. This last one seems to know his business, he said “I’ll make specifications and tell you exactly what I will do and if any one is smarter than I am let him have it.” Another one is coming at 5:30 I wonder what he is like. Jensen was over this morning and Alm last evening. (undated letter to son E. Dudley Parsons, Jr.)
Unlike many post World War II neighborhoods that developed all at once, often with identical floor plans, Morningside developed piecemeal as lots were sold off by the original homeowner. I think part of the charm of the neighborhood is that houses from different styles and eras stand side by side.
While I'm fairly confident that the third photo is of 4220 Alden, I can't figure out the other two photos without additional research. Because of the neighborhood transformation with more houses, remodels, teardowns and lots of trees, it's difficult to match up the houses from the first photo. One of my volunteers is going to walk the neighborhood to see if he can find the addresses.
Soon the suburban landscape will change again, as many of the small bungalows and farmhouses built in the early 1900s are being torn down and replaced by larger homes. In fact, 4220 Alden recently sold to a developer and may be slated for demolition. The current homeowner graciously allowed Janet Mackey to walk through her grandparents' home when she visited earlier in June. She also had an opportunity to see their second home at 4210 Alden Drive built 1928. The house still stands for now.
Even though they had a hand in the transformation, the Parsons still mourned the loss of the having cows in the backyard and space all around them. E. Dudley Parsons, Sr., wrote to his son Dudley about his mixed feelings:
Just a little while ago, I went into the yard of our former residence on the hill and looked about at the trees I planted and stood on the old well platform and recalled our pumping so many thousands of strokes to fill our tank in the attic – and came away sad at the thought of leaving it to strangers, even though it seemed to pay us to do it at the time. ... Maybe I’m wrong about it as your mother thinks I am – but I can’t help the feeling of sadness.
From her and her husband's letters, we know that Clara Parsons built and designed what she called "cottages" at 4224, 4220, 4218, 4216, 4214, 4212, 4210 (their final home), 4202 Alden Drive as well as 4207 W. 42nd Street. She may have built more.
Do you have information and photos about your Edina home? Please share them with us! Email me or call me at 612-928-4577 to chat or comment here.
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