Some of them are places that people in the north metro visit, pass or travel along every day. Some are more obscure. But well-known or not, they all have elements of history in them, through the people whose names they bear. Here’s a look at some of the names behind the places, and the people behind the names.
John P. Murzyn Hall
As a child, John Murzyn Jr., a longtime public works employee in Columbia Heights, loved to accompany his father on evenings and weekends to check on the city’s parks.
His dad, John P. Murzyn Sr., a park superintendent in the city for more than 30 years, paid attention even to the smallest details, always making sure the concession stand wouldn’t run out of candy or pop. “It made me want to do this kind of work. My dad was a big inspiration,” the younger Murzyn said.
When his dad retired in 1979, the building once known as the field house, which is used for all kinds of community events, was re-christened as the John P. Murzyn Hall.
“I don’t have words to say how much it means to me. Not too many people can say that a building is named after their dad,” the younger Murzyn said.
Columbia Heights Mayor Gary Peterson said John Murzyn Sr., who died in 1999, “took care of the building like it was his own house.” In an indirect way, there was a connection: Murzyn Sr.’s father, Albert, helped build the original 1939 building, which has since been added on to, Peterson said.
Considering how well used the hall is, it seemed like a fitting tribute, the mayor said.
“He was an excellent park superintendent,” he said, adding, “Everyone loved him.”
Greenberry Chambers Park trail segment
The mile-and-a-half long segment, which opened to walkers and bicyclists in August of 2009, is dedicated to Blaine’s first permanent resident, a freed slave by the name of Greenberry Chambers.
The trail stretches down Lexington Avenue from Edgewood Road to Interstate 35W, near the present-day Centennial High School. This comes close to where Chambers’ farm once stood, said Stephen Lee, a Circle Pines resident who wrote a book that touches on the subject, titled, “Circle Pines & Lexington, Minnesota: History of the 1800s to 2000.”
Lee began digging into Chambers’ life in his spare time after a reference in a history book piqued his curiosity. He said he gets “weepy” just thinking about all that the man went through.
Chambers and his family traveled by steamboat to the swampy area of Blaine Township from Kentucky after he was discharged from the Union Army during the Civil War, in 1865. That was after Chambers had sustained a serious injury, Lee said.
Chambers had to track down his family members and had to leave behind two of his five children, whose whereabouts were unknown.
In Blaine, other people had tried and failed to cultivate the less-than-ideal land, but Chambers stuck with it. “For a bit, their farm was one of most prosperous in Blaine Township,” Lee said.
Given Chambers’ deep connection to the area, “The school ought to be named the Chambers School,” Lee said, adding, “What great lessons his story can teach to kids about the courage of rising out of slavery.”
Even though the Cooper family no longer lives at Coopers Corner at Highway 65 and 237th Avenue, it’s still a landmark of sorts.
Linda Mundle, an Isanti resident whose grandmother was Ruth Cooper Gardner, said the name often comes up when people are giving directions. “Someone might say, ‘Oh, turn left at Coopers Corner,’ ” she said.
The corner owes its association largely to James Cooper, an Irish immigrant who, in 1855, was drawn to the area for the “good land and hunting,” she said.
After building a house on the corner, Cooper retrieved his family in Pennsylvania. Moving involved a three-month journey by covered wagon, Mundle said.
Before long, Cooper had started up a post office in his home, for which he was the postmaster. Later on, he opened a general store on the corner.
By the time the railroad came through, the area known then as Bethel Township was booming, with more businesses springing up, she said.
A story that has been passed down in Mundle’s family is that Cooper came up with the town’s name. Bethel was a biblical reference, she said.
But other families may tell a different version of the story. “It depends on whom you talk to,” she said.
Little remains of Coopers Corner today, though the intersection has a gas station/convenience store called Cooper’s Corner Store to carry on the family name, Mundle said.
Maple Grove, Minneapolis
Bottineau House, Bottineau Library
In Minnesota’s early territorial era, Pierre Bottineau “was a rock star” guide.
All kinds of prominent people turned to Bottineau to lead expeditions in the 1800s, according to Bill Walker, cultural resources program coordinator for the Three Rivers Park District.
“He was someone you hired if you wanted to plot a new townsite, somewhere off the grid,” he said.
Bottineau had a hand in founding a number of communities. As such, his name can be found in a number of places, on everything from the library in northeast Minneapolis to a planned transitway. “He appears to have been everywhere in his lifetime,” Walker said.
That’s why his 1854 house is of interest, he said.
Last Saturday, Bottineau’s newly renovated house, located at the Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, opened to the public as a museum.
The house, which has been moved five times, was probably the first wood frame structure in the north metro, Walker said.
It took many years and the construction of a highway to get to this point. In the past, the house, which historians rediscovered in the 1970s, had served as farm storage and a granary. “The newest public history site is probably also the oldest,” Walker said.
Bottineau was never home long, so instead of period furnishings, the place is filled with interpretive exhibits.
Soon, the museum hopes to start up related outdoor activities, so people can learn by doing.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.