When Bloomington celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding earlier this year, the city recognized "Century Families" whose lineage in town stretched back 100 years or more. Three of those families were the Ponds, the Harrisons and the Pahls, whose descendants still live in Bloomington.

Their stories remind us that long before people gravitated to old Metropolitan Stadium for football and baseball games or to the Mall of America in Bloomington, it was open land and the frontier that drew pioneers from the East Coast and places like Canada, Ireland, Germany and England.

The Ponds/St. Martins
If Bloomington had royalty, Steven St. Martin  would be a blue blood.

His maternal great-grandfather was missionary Gideon Pond , who came to Minnesota in 1834. His paternal forefathers were the French-speaking St. Martins, who moved to Minnesota from Quebec around 1850.

The retired math teacher just shrugs and smiles when asked what he thinks about living in the community his family helped found. While the 81-year-old sometimes speaks to school children and others about Pond, he said he’s “no ancestor worshipper.”

In fact, St. Martin’s memories of growing up in the Pond House, an 1856 structure made of bricks cast from clay on the property near the Minnesota River, aren’t so different from those of others who grew up on a Minnesota farm in the 1930s.

“Dad was a farmer with a little dairy and some market gardening,” St. Martin said. “He cultivated his half of grandfather’s land. About 20 acres was tillable.”

The farm produced sweet corn, berries and asparagus, among other crops. Little Steven ran around barefoot in overalls in the summer and had tons of cousins to play with along dusty Pond Road — now 104th Street. There was good reason for that: Great-grandfather Gideon had raised 16 children in the brick house, seven borne by his first wife, who died of tuberculosis; three who became Ponds when he married a widow, and six children from the new union.

When St. Martin became a teacher, his father was chairman of the school board. St. Martin is a lifelong member of Oak Grove Presbyterian Church , which Gideon Pond founded in 1855. St. Martin remembers at least 25 Ponds in the congregation when he was young. He met his wife, Audrey, in church when they were kids.

While St. Martin said he knew he didn’t want to follow his father into farming, he tends a half-acre garden in the back yard of the house where he and Audrey have lived for 55 years. Five of their six children live in the Twin Cities area, though only one is in Bloomington.

Family heirlooms include Gideon Pond’s diary, which has been passed down to a son, an organ that’s at least a century old and a small desk St. Martin used when he was a boy. Audrey babies plants that were passed down by the St. Martins, including a fern and an oxalis. She said her children have refused to take them for fear of killing them.

The Pond House is now owned by the city of Bloomington as a park and history site. The St. Martins go there every Memorial Day for a family picnic.

“We still think of it as our house,” Audrey St. Martin said.

The Pahls/Fausts
Greg Faust  loves rhubarb. Each summer, he and his wife Denise cut stalks from their back-yard plants and make five or six rhubarb pies with an old family recipe that features a custard and nutmeg filling and a special crust. Unwilling to let the season pass, they freeze rhubarb so they can make two or three more pies over the winter.

Faust’s mother and grandfather and perhaps his great-grandfather grew the same rhubarb decades ago. In the 1930s and early 1940s, the Pahls  of Bloomington were known as the “rhubarb kings” of the Midwest, growing plants in root cellars in the dead of winter and shipping 80 tons of rhubarb each winter to places like Chicago, Kansas City and Des Moines.

They were a sprawling German family, established in this country by brothers Tobias and Franz, who immigrated to Minnesota around 1860. Descendants of the brothers bought land in Bloomington sometime between 1885 and 1895. By the early 1900s,
Faust’s great-grandfather Frank was farming 180 acres in the area around Lyndale Avenue and 83rd Street.

They grew a variety of crops for market, but Frank Pahl hit the jackpot when he decided to use his father’s German method of forcing rhubarb to fruit in winter. He and his brothers dug 5-foot-deep, 20-by-60-foot root cellars, planted 3-year-old rhubarb plants in November, opened the roofs and allowed them to freeze and go dormant. Then the cellars were covered, heated and artificially lit.

After six weeks, the crop was ready for harvest. Faust said the five Pahl brothers produced as much as a ton of winter rhubarb for sale each day.

Faust, 47, is too young to remember those days, but he said his deceased mother Ruth, a granddaughter of Frank, had a hand in the operation in the 1940s.

“After they quit the winter operations Mom took some of the original plants and always had it with her at various homes,” Faust said. “I have ancestors of that original rhubarb. It’s regular rhubarb with the Pahl touch.”

Faust, who works for HealthPartners and grew up in north Minneapolis, moved back to Bloomington after he got married in 1994. His mother was interested in genealogy and Faust continued that work. He said he thinks about his relatives all the time when he drives through Bloomington, past Pahl farmland that now is covered with houses and restaurants.

“I have some pictures, but I do wonder what it looked like then,” he said. “I’m proud that they had all that land and farmed there.”

The Harrisons/Stanfords

Paging through William Harrison’s little diary, a reader imagines the writer as a tight-lipped young man who didn’t waste words or paper.

In February 1873, in what must have been a calamity for his family on the frozen frontier, an unattended candle burned the Harrison home to the ground. William’s diary entry for the day simply reads: “House burned.”

Later, he used the soft, tan leather book to keep track of daily events in 1877, when he was in his 20s:

Jan. 20: Went up to the ferry got a load of wood.

Jan. 21: Stayed at home.

Jan. 22: Went up to the ferry for wood.

Jan. 23: Hauled wood.

Life wasn’t always so duty-filled. Sometimes William went fishing or to church. Once a flock of sheep followed him into church, walking up the aisle.

The little book now belongs to Elizabeth Stanford , who is the third of four generations of Harrison descendants to live in Bloomington.

The first Harrison to move into Bloomington was William’s father Joseph, who was born in Ireland and brought his family to Bloomington via Canada in the 1850s. Stanford, who is William’s granddaughter, lives on a wooded cul-de-sac not far from where her ancestors settled.

Born in 1931, Stanford remembers growing up in the area around Humboldt Avenue and 102nd Street, with chickens and a cow in the front yard. Wagon-wheel ruts left by the stage coaches that ran regular routes from Fort Snelling decades earlier were visible in parallel depressions in the yard. Once she found the china heads of old dolls in the garden. And she always wished she could find the cannon ball from Fort Snelling that her ancestors had played with in the winter, rolling it on the ice of a local pond.

Stanford was a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines until she got married, which in those days forced her to quit her job. Except for a brief time living on Long Island in New York — she hated it — she has lived her entire life in Bloomington.

A widow now, she has her children nearby. Son Lee lives in the Bloomington house William Harrison built in 1917 as a retirement home. Daughter Lisa and her husband live in the house her mother grew up in, and are raising two kids who are fifth-generation Bloomington residents.

“I married a Bloomington boy and we stayed in Bloomington,” Lisa Stanford said. “The crazy part is how near to each other we all are.

“I’m proud. I just feel blessed to have roots here.”