smaller version, seven corners comm study map 1917, nationalities, library

“Variety is one thing we do not lack”: Seven Corners in 1917

Published January 13, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This map of the Seven Corners neighborhood was created in 1917 by Minneapolis librarian Josephine M. McPike, who had been directed by her superiors to do a community study of the neighborhood surrounding her reading room at 300 Fifteenth Avenue South. In a style familiar to fans of Calvin Schmid–who twenty years later would create hundreds of these types of maps of the Twin Citie…s for the statistical tome titled Social Saga of Two Cities –McPike used this map to illuminate residential patterns in the Sixth Ward, which was one of the most densely populated and diverse in the city.
The map was part of a larger report compiled by McPike, who was trying to ascertain “the needs of the neighborhood, and to what extend and how well we are meeting them.” But there was nothing perfunctory about her report, which included information gleaned from “newsboys, grocers, readers coming to the library, chance acquaintances.” She used “all excuses, such as overdue books, etc, visits to children’s parents on some pretext” in order “to gain the confidence of the residents and find out as much as possible of the district.”
Her seemingly benign mission met roadblocks at every turn since the “foreigner who has little knowledge of English and of American ways” is usually “unduly suspicious and sometimes hostile.” McPike reported being accosted by residents with shouts of ” ‘Spotter’, ‘Spy’, and ‘Detective’!”
The cheerful neighborhood librarian was undoubtedly viewed by residents of the immigrant neighborhood as an agent of the new Minnesota Commission of Public Safety. Organized on April 16, 1917, days after the United States entered World War I, the Commission was charged with maximizing the war effort on the home front. According to the Commission, Home Defense meant the persecution of labor radicals and immigrants. “It goes without saying that a state which has the right to use its strength to crush its foreign enemies can also protect itself against those at home whose behavior tends to weaken its war capacity,” the Commission explained.
It would have been the residents of Seven Corners–McPike’s neighborhood-who would have come under the greatest scrutiny. Controlled by  Socialists, it was one of the most diverse in the city. “In the immediate block of which Seven Corners Branch is a part, there are congregated three Scandinavian families four Jewish ones, two Bohemian, four negro, one Indian and one Roumanian family,” McPike explained.  “On the corner a Scandinavian Lutheran church holds services, and each Friday night at sundown the Orthodox Jewish church next door chants its rituals into our library windows. Variety is one thing we do not lack.”
Map is from the 1917 Seven Corners Library Community Study, Seven corners branch, branch library collection, Hennepin County Central Library. My thanks to historian Andy Wilhide, who first showed me this collection.
charles samuelson in front of Samuelson's, seven corners, mhs

When Cedar-Riverside was “Snusgatan”

Published January 2, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

Minneapolitans love to reminisce about the counterculture years of the West Bank/Cedar Riverside neighborhood. But for most of the neighborhood’s history, small immigrant businesses like the Otanga grocery store–which was destroyed in yesterday’s fire–have dominated the commercial landscape. Here we have a photo from the 1890s that shows Charles Samuelson standing in front of his store in Seven Corners. The sign at the front reads: “Har Talas Svenska” (Swedish spoken here) and “Alla Slags Skadinaviska Tidningar Till Salu Har” (All types of Scandinavian Newspapers for sale here). Samuelson was obviously catering to the residents of the immigrant-dominated neighborhood. In addition to newspapers, he stocked tobacco, candy, fruit and sodas in his store at the corner of Cedar and Washington Avenues.

“Snusgatan” or Cedar Riverside was the commercial center of the Scandinavian immigrant community at the turn of the twentieth century. New arrivals settled in boarding houses in the neighborhood, patronizing stores like Samuelson’s, where they were not expected to have a mastery of English. The neighborhood stood in close proximity to the city’s industrial zone, making it easy for new immigrants to walk to jobs in the mills.  And after work, new arrivals could socialize in the neighborhood’s myriad dance halls, saloons, theaters and meeting halls. “Att ga pa Cedar” (to walk on Cedar) became shorthand for “to get drunk.” As immigrants started families and became more established, they tried to move out of the neighborhood. Scandinavians usually aspired to move into South Minneapolis, where they built large neighborhoods of working-class homes.

I’m guessing that both Charles Samuelson and the owners of the popular Otanga Grocery would have been equally perplexed by the media antics of the Electric Fetus music store, which staged a “naked sale” in 1972.

Photo is from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

map of bohemian flats, Bohemian Flats book, WPA

Bohemian Flats

Published October 10, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This map shows the Bohemian Flats in 1904, another lost world that is invisible to modern Minneapolitans.  An ethnically-mixed enclave on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Bohemian Flats was a neighborhood of small houses and shanties 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 Bohemian Flats were described –with great nostalgia –in a slim volume put out by the Writers’ Program of the New Deal Era Works Progress Administration. This account casts the neighborhood on the flood plain as a “happy, peaceful society united by generous neighborliness and . . colorful rites and customs.” Upon  publication, this characterization drew criticism from one Bessie Douglas, who had worked in the Flats as a Sunday school teacher for Westminster Presbyterian Church in the 1880s. Douglas presented a grittier vision of the Flats, describing how she could not visit her students without a male escort and police protection. The neighborhood was hardly idyllic as drunken fights and knifings were common among the residents, who included large numbers of prostitutes and alcoholics. Annual floods of the settlement prompted the city to clear the area of homes in the 1920s, prompted residents to riot. By the 1930s-when the work was being done on the WPA history of the Flats–most of the homes were gone and a barge landing had been constructed where the neighborhood once stood. Most recently, the site of the old Bohemian Flats was the depository for the wreckage from the collapsed 35W bridge. This map is taken from the WPA history of the Bohemian Flats, which was first published in 1941 by the University of Minnesota Press.