Category Archives: Background Report #1 — History

Seward History

Before this project, I had no idea there was a neighborhood named Seward in Minneapolis. In fact, I was unaware of quite a few of the neighborhoods. I was born and raised in the suburbs of St. Paul so to me Minneapolis had only Uptown, Downtown, Dinkytown and Northeast and everything fell under just those categories. Seward is located southeast of Downtown and is defined by a triangle of land that is bordered by Hiawatha Avenue, the Mississippi River and Interstate 94.

Before my partner and I visited Seward, I did some digging around on the internet about the neighborhood and how it came to be. I was a little taken back when I figured out that Seward is actually one of the oldest neighborhoods in Minneapolis. The history of Seward starts at the first rapid expansion of the city in the late 19th Century. Seward developed rapidly after the main commercial thoroughfare and cultural cornerstone was created: Franklin Avenue. Along with that, growth emerged with the construction done in 1870 to the Iowa and Minnesota Division of the Milwaukee railroad. According to LIVE MPLS, By 1930, Seward was a fully functioning and developed city.

As the years passed on, the neighborhood of Seward began to deteriorate. Community members soon realized they would need to work to renew the neighborhood for the future. In 1960, the Seward Neighborhood Group (SNG) was formed to build the first school-park facility (SNG.com). Due to the success of the SNG, the efforts encouraged more activism with the residents. In 1970, the community became politicized during the urban-renewal period in Minneapolis, mobilizing to ensure National Historic Preservation status for the small working-class homes that lined Milwaukee Avenue.

Milwaukee Avenue low income housing today:

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One of the most prominent stories from Seward’s history is of the Milwaukee Ave housing. Around 1880, when the neighborhood was growing and the flow of people were consistently making Seward their home, Seward needed low-income housing for new immigrants. The street was originally an alley with the street name of 22 1/2 Avenue (Wikipedia). The street kept the ‘1/2’ until 1906 when the residents petitioned it to be changed because they felt like they lived in an alley and didn’t matter to the community as a whole. The petition passed, thus the name Milwaukee Avenue emerged. By the time World War 2 was over, the houses on Milwaukee Ave were plummeting into disrepair. Many of the houses didn’t have plumbing or electricity and the upkeep was neglected during the Great Depression. The city wanted to completely wipe out all of the houses and rebuild but the community of Seward protested against it. The community formed the Seward West Project Area Committee (PAC) in order to save the homes. They argued that the homes held significant value and needed to be preserved for Seward history. The PAC won and the houses were all repaired and restored instead of demolished. The Avenue is now only bike and pedestrian friendly, cars are prohibited.

As far as history goes, the Seward neighborhood swings on the side of uneventful. Being that it is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Minneapolis, I found it incredibly challenging to find a whole lot on the history of Seward. Today, the neighborhood still remains one of the most politically liberal communities and the residents share a level of passion for their community that is indescribable.

“What changes does the future have in store for Seward? Only time will tell. The beginning of the new century has already seen a new influx of immigrants who have brought their energy, imagination, and diversity to the neighborhood, and the next several years will see the introduction of a light-rail line that will run along the neighborhood’s west side. Whatever happens, Seward is sure to remain a unique place for people to live, work, and play.” – The Seward Neighborhood Group. After my brief visit and information digging, I couldn’t agree more with that statement.

http://sng.org/history.html (Seward Neighborhood Group)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milwaukee_Avenue_Historic_District (Wikipedia)

http://www.livemsp.org/neighborhoods/minneapolis-neighborhoods/111-seward/206-seward (LIVE MPLS)

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A Resilient West Side Lives and Breathes Multiculturalism

Surrounded by streams of magnificent murals, Spanish architecture, and traditional Mexican mom-and-pop shops while standing in the heart of District del Sol, it’s hard to imagine that the people of St. Paul’s West Side have a troublesome past with repeated relocations. Given the diversity and prominence of so many immigrant groups within the area, these periodic inner-city cultural migrations are almost ironic considering the historical diaspora of the West Side’s current residents.

Shifts in culture came from the very beginnings of the St. Paul West Side. Situated just across the Mississippi River from downtown and running to the very edge of the city at Annapolis Street, this land originally belonged to the native Dakota people before the signing of treaties in 1851, as explained in the West Side tour guide. Finally becoming a part of St. Paul proper in 1878, the Twin Cities Daily Planet notes that the lower region known as the Flats soon attracted a, “vibrant, multicultural, immigrant community that thrived on St. Paul’s Mississippi flood plain.”

A Spanish Mural from the West Side

According to Live MSP, the initial French Canadian, German, and Irish foreigners saw an influx of Jews starting in the 1880s. Economic advancement and a Jewish immigration rate that slowed to a crawl with World War I coincided with a growing Mexican-American population throughout the Flats. Unlike a number of migrant Chicano seasonal workers seen in other parts of the nation, this location allowed for the booming community to fill the summer labor lost to WWI on sugar farms to the south while still able to obtain winter work at nearby meatpacking plants (Nelson & Lyons, 2006).

Not everything was always so positive, though, as the low-lying area was prone to frequent flooding and the entire expanse housed only lower-income families (Nelson & Lyons, 2006). Still, even with the bluffs acting as a real-world separation from the more affluent sectors of society, immigrants living in the West Side had a permanent place to call home…Or so they thought.

Neither flooding nor poverty would be the demise of this once Latino-dominant West Side subsection. Rather, a city initiative to redevelop the Flats forcibly relocated each and every resident by obliterating the infrastructure with hopes for a fresh and economically flourishing start (Nelson & Lyons, 2006). Of course, the unfortunate side-effect of this controversial plan meant an important prosperous community needed to find a new neighborhood of their own. Many experienced discrimination and racism for the very first time, with one man recalling the memories to the Daily Planet: “I really didn’t even know I was different from anybody until I moved off the flats area and experienced…prejudice.”

Cinco de Mayo in the West Side

Fortunately, the Mexican-Americans found West Side solace in the area now known as the District del Sol. Purposefully planning the district’s development with splashes of Hispanic influence, this haven for a large Latino population is home to cultural “anchors” (as the Daily Planet describes them) like the Our Lady of Guadalupe and Holy Family Churches, the long-time and family-owned businesses of El Burrito Mercado and Boca Chica, and the historically-significant Neighborhood House (Nelson & Lyons, 2006). Recently redesigned as the Wellstone Center, Neighborhood House was created in 1897 by a team of Jewish refugees with the purpose of supporting fellow Russian Jews seeking to escape discrimination. The site has since expanded its physical and active presence to reach all people in need, regardless of race or ethnicity. More information is readily available from the Wellstone Center’s website.

The very first St. Paul Neighborhood House

With such a rich and dynamic past involving a multitude of multicultural people, it’s easy to forget the other side of the story. Despite first impressions into the West Side’s historical research, the area was not completely comprised of Latinos and Jews. In actuality, the bluffs provided the perfect place for the more wealthy inhabitants to build remarkable residences in an architectural style that still stuns to this day. You need only to set foot on the Upper West Side and look out toward downtown to realize the reason behind the high-income clifftop settlements.

Beautiful downtown St. Paul

Others may argue, but Historic Saint Paul declares that, “No site offers better views of downtown Saint Paul than the bluffs of Prospect Terrace.” Like ancient lords watching over their kingdoms, the Ramsey County Historical Society describes how successful industrialists could literally look out over their labor force living and working on the lower land. Although a less distinct division today, Anthony Yoerg, a German who ran one of the most successful breweries in the city, likely did just this from his fabulous home atop the bluffs, a structure situated precisely in line with his own brewery along the limestone caves below (Nelson & Lyons, 2006).

Although it’s faced a few problems in the past, St. Paul’s West Side exudes a uniqueness not seen in most other cities, let alone neighborhoods. With so many sights, sounds, people, and places to experience, it only takes one quick trip to the area for you to never want to leave. Stay awhile and listen as the ever-changing history unfolds.

References

Almli, M. (2011, February 07). Videos feature history, culture of St. Paul’s West Side flats and District del Sol. Twin Cities Daily Planet. Retrieved from http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2011/02/07/videos-feature-history-culture-st-pauls-west-side-flats-and-district-del-sol

Live MSP. (2012). West Side. Retrieved from http://www.livemsp.org/neighborhoods/st-paul-neighborhoods/85-west-side-/137-west-side-

Nelson, P., & Lyons, L. (2006, June 1st). Tour Saint Saul: West side. Retrieved from http://historicsaintpaul.org/files/westside.pdf

Ramsey County Historical Society. (2012). Profile of Saint Saul’s historic West Side neighborhood. Retrieved from http://www.rchs.com/neighborhoods/westside.htm

The Wellstone Center. (2012). About us / history. Retrieved from http://www.wellstonecenter.com/aboutUs_History.htm

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