Minneapolis: 1858

Published March 21, 2016

It’s map Monday. Today, we are going back to the 1850s when Minneapolis was little more than a muddy village. Although the city saw a surge of development during the second half of the decade, it was still a far away from the industrial metropolis it would become. The population in 1858 was a meager 4,238 residents. The roads were dirt tracks. There was no fire department. Sewage flowed into the streets, and most city blocks existed in name only.

This was a transitional period for the “Village of Minneapolis.” Although St. Anthony was still the larger town, Minneapolis was rapidly closing the gap. The main draw of Minneapolis over its sister city across the river was the shared headrace canal constructed in 1856. This waterway enabled any mill along the canal to harness the power of the falls. The economic potential of this canal drew in industrialists from around the country. By 1858, “the town site of Minneapolis and [its] water power,” was making the pages of the Washington D.C. Evening Star. As new mills popped up, new residents moved into the city to work them. By the beginning of the next decade, Minneapolis was an undeniable boom town.

The map above offers a snapshot of Minneapolis as it began its transformation from farming village to industrial powerhouse. Drawn by Orlando Talcott in 1858, his “Building Map of Minneapolis” shows a city on the rise. Considering Talcott ran a local land agency when he was not moonlighting as a cartographer, the presentation of the city as a boom town makes sense. Talcott had a vested interest in making Minneapolis appear like a good investment, and he constructed his map to make that argument. The margins are full of detailed depictions of notable local landmarks like the Nicollet House. The price tag—the Nicollet cost $50,000 to build—is also prominently displayed. The legend proudly proclaims that more new buildings went up in 1857 than in all previous years combined, with the “ratio of new to old buildings” an impressive 5:4.

Yet the neatly ordered streets and economic boasts populating the map only tell part of the story. The rough origins of the city are notably absent. The cartographer depicts the new mills, hotels, and mansions built in the city—not the saloons and tenement houses.

This application attempts to offer a more nuanced take on Minneapolis. By exploring Talcott’s map, we can examine the things he chose to omit as well as depict.

The mapping application was built in collaboration with the Borchert Map Library. The 1858 map used in the application was provided courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum. Other sources include: “History of the City of Minneapolis” by Issac Atwater,  Zalusky’s “Early Theater or the History of Entertainment in Minneapolis” and the Washington D.C. Evening Star.

clarence miller map from sumner library, north side map, daniel bergin

Sumner Field: A Tale of Two Maps on the North Side of Minneapolis

Published July 14, 2014 by Daniel Bergin

It’s Map Monday. Our guest blogger today is Daniel Bergin, Senior Producer at Twin Cities Public Television and the director/producer of “Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis.” First broadcast in 2011 on TPT’s Minnesota channel, this documentary about the history of the enclave known as the “Northside” was co-produced by TPT and the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). Bergin writes here about two maps he found while researching “Cornerstones” and what they can and cannot reveal about the city’s near North side.

Maps can present context, scale and scope.  But it often takes the voice of the people to provide a meaningful ‘legend’ to interpret what cannot be conveyed in the abstract representations of a map.

In producing “Cornerstones,”  I came across two different maps that provide better understanding of this storied section of the city.  But it was the voices of the people that helped me understand what these maps conveyed and what they obscured.

Both maps show Sumner Field, an area of near North Minneapolis that has been reshaped several times in the last century and a half.  This multi-block area’s built environment and landscape has evolved from ramshackle, immigrant housing to the pleasantly manicured and landscaped community that is today’s Heritage Park.

A common element throughout this evolution, however, is the green space known as Sumner Field.  This approximate area is seen in both of these maps.

sumner field before construction, photo 1, side 1

Sumner Field, before construction, c. 1930s. From the collection of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections, uncatalogued newspaper photos. Thanks to Rita Yeada for digitizing.


The map at the top was hand-drawn creation by Northsider Clarence Miller. His graphic curio is on display at the historic Sumner Branch library. Sumner Field is the center of this brilliant layman’s map.  One gets the sense that this meticulously crafted folk-artwork is as much a quilt as it is a map.

Miller’s map shows Sumner Field before the area was bulldozed to create a federally-funded housing project during the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. Sumner Field was the first federally-funded housing project in the city of Minneapolis. This map shows the new development as imagined by planners and promoters:

sumner field homes, promotional brochure map from daniel bergin

This overhead view–taken from a promotional brochure for the new development–provides a sense of the multi-dwelling units, their relationship to each other and the footprint of the development.  What the map does not show is the human geography of the new development, which was designed to be segregated by race. As University of Minnesota professor Kate Solomonson explained, there were “particular parts of Sumner Field Homes that were for African Americans, another section, a larger section, for what they called ‘mixed whites.’”

Neither map illuminates the racial boundaries that were seen as necessary for social order in the city that would become known as a bastion of racial equality under mayor Hubert Humphrey after World War II.

Nor do they convey how Sumner Field ultimately broke down racial barriers. In an encouraging testament to the power of place, Janet Raskin, a daughter of the Jewish North Side, explained how the park served as a commons for all Northsiders. “We had white, we had the park, and we had Afro-American,’ And we all played together in the park.”

For more about the history of Sumner Field and north Minneapolis, click here to watch Cornerstones.

Both maps are from the collections of the Hennepin County Library.


smaller version, aerial map, u of m, 1938, franklin avenue and 35W

Minneapolis from the air, 1938

Published June 2, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. Each week we try to find a map to share with you, my dear readers. This week I’m cheating, a little. This image is from the Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota but it’s not a map. Instead, what we have here is  a 1938 aerial photo of the area around Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis. This image is one of hundreds you can peruse through Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs online, a site created by the University of Minnesota libraries that allows viewers to sort photos according to date and location.

These aerial views are invaluable historical sources that function like a cross between Google Streetview and historic plat maps. They allow viewers to see Minneapolis from the air at different points in the twentieth century. This 1938 photo shows the Whittier neighborhood in Minneapolis before it was bisected by the interstate freeways of the post-World War II period. On the bottom left side of the photo is Fair Oaks Park, once the grounds of the palatial Washburn mansion, demolished by the Minneapolis Park Board in 1924. Today, Fair Oaks Park stands across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is not visible on this photo.  Several blocks north is Stevens Square. Our view on the left side is bounded by Nicollet Avenue.

Minneapolis began making aerial images in 1922, when the city first hired pilots to fly small airplanes–with cameras mounted on the bottom–in a grid pattern over the streetscape. The images were updated every decade. The resulting collection –held in the Borchert Library and the Tower Archives at Minneapolis City Hall–allows viewers to trace the way the city changed over time.

The city of Minneapolis recently transferred its aerial photographs to the Borchert, which will soon digitize these images and add them to the online collection. Click on this link to get the aerial photos site, where you can click on individual images to zoom in and out.


smaller version, liquor raid map 1928,survey of police department

“The sale of alcoholic beverages never really stopped in the Gateway . . .It probably never even paused”

Published April 14, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This diagram shows liquor raids in Minneapolis during 1928. The data for this info-graphic was collected at the height of Prohibition, eight years after the Volstead Amendment banned the sale and consumption of liquor in the United States.

This map was published as part of a Minneapolis police survey compiled in 1930 by August Vollmer, who was known as the father of American criminology. As chief of police in Berkeley, California, Vollmer developed systems of record-keeping and training that were adopted throughout the United States.

This diagram shows police liquor raids clustered in the old Gateway neighborhood on the banks of the Mississippi River. This was the heart of the liquor patrol district. Enshrined in the city charter in the 1880s, this ordinance required bars and liquor stores to be concentrated in select parts of town, with the rationale that police could more easily control liquor-fueled crime if all of these types of businesses were in one place.

A constitutional ban on alcohol did little to slow the consumption of liquor in the Minneapolis Gateway. “Drinking  and the sale of alcoholic beverages never really stopped in the Gateway,” historian David Rosheim concluded in his history of the neighborhood. “It probably never even paused.”

After the Volstead Act, Gateway saloons were converted into “soft-drink bars,” which supposedly limited their offerings to sandwiches and soft-drinks. The Salvation Army was the first to open this kind of establishment; it was probably the only one in the neighborhood to limit its patrons to root beer. Most Gateway soft-drink bars made their money from moonshine and prostitution. And they came under the control of local bootleggers, who worked with the police department’s Purity Squad to ensure they could operate without interference. This system of payoffs was described by Paul Ferrell, who described the Minneapolis Gateway of the 1920s in his memoir Michigan Mossback. Ferrell does not paint a flattering view of the Mill City.

Vollmer’s liquor raid map does sheds little light on the actual consumption of alcohol in Prohibition-era Minneapolis. At best, it illuminates which establishments were late on their required payments to the Purity Squad.

The liquor patrol limits were rescinded in 1974, though it is still difficult in Minneapolis to get a liquor license or serve liquor outside of these historic limits.

Map is from the Minneapolis Police Survey, which is held in the Hennepin County Special Collections at the Central Library.