A world under the bridge

Published May 16, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

This photo was take sometime in the early twentieth century to show the foundation of one of the many bridges spanning the Mississippi River. No offense to the bridge historians out there–it’s interesting to me at this point because it shows a few members of the community that lived under the bridges in Minneapolis. This photo provides us with a glimpse of what was known as the Bohemian Flats, an ethnically-mixed enclave on the banks of the Mississippi River. A neighborhood of small houses and shanties, the community was constructed by new immigrants who were either unwilling or unable to pay the urban rents demanded in the rest of the city.

Underneath the Washington Avenue bridge, down a wooden staircase from Seven Corners and Cedar-Riverside, these newcomers built a world that was removed from the rest of the city. Each morning, the male inhabitants of this neighborhood climbed up the cliff to work as day laborers or in a nearby lumber and flour mills. During the day these low-lying flats by the river were the territory of immigrant women and young children, who helped to support their families by scavenging wood, construction materials and other debris from the river. Residents supplemented scant wages with ambitious vegetable gardens that were nourished by annual floods that inundated the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was demolished in the 1920s. This photo comes from the public works collection at the Minneapolis city archives. Date unknown.



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