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How many children does it take to move an old, decrepit house six miles? The answer, Minneapolitans learned back in 1896, was about 10,000.
Two years earlier, a Minneapolis Journal reporter had tracked down the oldest wood-frame house west of the Mississippi and proposed to have the city’s schoolchildren team up to move the structure from its temporary address, 324 16th Av. S., to Minnehaha Park, where the Stevens House would be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The newspaper solicited donations, added its own money and bought the house, then organized the move with the support of the Park Board, the school board, the mayor and the streetcar company. On May 28, 1896, about 10,000 first- through 12th-grade students got a day off from school to handle the big job. In seven relay teams, they latched onto ropes and helped 10 horses pull the house down Minnehaha Avenue to a spot outside the park.
You can imagine the mayhem: Thousands of largely unsupervised schoolchildren, armed with free trolley passes, loosed on the city. This story, from the competing daily, the Minneapolis Tribune, was buried on Page 5. It captures the spectacle beautifully — without once mentioning the Journal.
|The Journal illustrated the front-page story with a cheery drawing.|
SCHOOL CHILDREN MOVE THE OLD
The First Residence Built in Old Minneapolis Given a Final Site at Minnehaha Park – Enthusiastic Thousands of Grade and High School Pupils Join Hands in the Event – Rivalry Between the Central and South Side Schools Breaks Out in a New Place – Seven Relays Change About at the Task – Addresses Delivered at the Park.
Color-coded badges like this identified members of each relay team and allowed the children to ride the trolleys for free all day.
Eight thousand school children from the grades and nearly 2,000 high school students took a long pull, a strong pull and a pull altogether, and after several hours of pulling landed the historical old Stevens house within the sound of the Laughing Waters of Minnehaha yesterday.
It was a gala day in the public schools and every student who was old enough and strong enough was given an opportunity to assist in the event, before the first house ever built in Minneapolis had finished its long journey of some six miles, and had reached its last resting place, there to remain until its timbers have rotted with time. Its final home is peculiarly fitting, as there are blended together in one story two histories, that of the first Indian and the first white man within the lines which now comprise the limits of Minneapolis.
The program passed off smoothly and successfully, and the thousands of people who crowded along the line of march cheered in enthusiasm as the homely, decrepit old house was pulled along the historical Minnehaha road.
The 10,000 pupils did not all pull at once. They were divided into seven relays, each successive division being taken to their respective station in trolly cars, and arriving just in time to take up the long ropes as they were dropped by the preceding relay. Two or three of the relays were somewhat late, owing to the crowded condition of the street, and the delay made the house arrive at the falls somewhat behind schedule time.
Yet for an affair of such magnitude, there were few unpleasant incidents and no accidents. Sergt. Martinson and eight officers from the South Side police detail looked after the children with painstaking care, and prevented any serious mishap.
House-mover Pratt had already hauled the historical old building to the place of starting, at Sixteenth avenue south near Fourth street, and was in waiting at 9 o’clock for the first relay of children. With him were several linemen and electricians, who traversed the route to guard against accidents from wires.
Working in relay teams, thousands of schoolchildren — with help from 10 horses — pulled the Stevens House nearly six miles.
At 9 o’clock the corner named was surrounded by a great throng of shouting eager school children, all anxious to take hold of the big ropes which stretched out for 400 feet in front of the house. Every one was promptly on hand, and Supt. Jordan, of the public schools, and city officials looked anxiously for Col. John H. Stevens, whose hands fashioned the old building nearly a half century ago. But the sad intelligence was soon received that the venerable citizen, and the pioneer of the city, had been stricken with paralysis as the result of the excitement, and would be unable to attend. A committee was sent to offer condolence to the stricken man.
But the children knew nothing of the sad occurrence and were impatient to start on the novel journey. Contractor Pratt appeared in time with 10 strong horses and hitched the teams to the trucks. At a given signal a bugler from the state troops, clad in full regimentals, stepped between the lines of happy children and blew a merry blast. It was the order for “forward march,” and there came a tremendous strain on the ropes. The old house shook for a moment, lurched a little, and then smoothly began its long journey. A lust cry went up, which was taken by the spectators and repeated for a half mile along the line of march.
The first relay consisted of 1,100 children from the Clay, Jackson, Peabody, Corcoran, Irving, Greeley, Washington, Madison and Motley schools. They pulled the house to Franklin and Minnehaha avenues, where the ropes were dropped and a rush made for waiting trolley cars.
With equal impetuosity the second relay jumped into line, and after a short pause the house was off again. This time the Longfellow, Rosedale, Clinton, Whittier, Bryant, Sumner and Lincoln schools were pulling and tugging at the rope. Everything went smoothly, and at Twenty-sixth street the relay gave way to another from other schools.
At this point there was something of unexpected interest. Waving their school flag in triumph from the gable window of the old building the lads from the South Side High School shouted their school yell and BAD DEFIANCE TO ALL COMERS.
At this point the Central High School scholars were billed to relieve the South Siders, and consequently surrounded the building.
The Minneapolis Journal devoted much of its front page to the big move, featuring a fanciful illustration of children pulling the house — and the sad news of a killer tornado in St. Louis. [Click on the image to see the full front page.]
The spirit of school rivalry broke out, strong and bitter. The South Siders refused to surrender the fortress and flaunted their banner from the window in spite of all entreaties and orders. Contractor Pratt could not oust them. Supt. Jordan could not oust them, and finally Sergeant Martinson called for a detail of police and made a rush for the house. But the South Side lads were still game, and did not give up until several had been made to feel the force of police authority. Then they made a break. As they dashed from one door the Centrals entered by the other, and their banner was soon flying from the gable amid vociferous cheers. The South Siders were chased up the street by a detachment of Centrals, and for a moment it looked as if the rush would result in some bruised heads. However, good nature was restored and again the house started on its way. There was no hitch in the proceedings, and at 1 o’clock the house had passed the Minnehaha Driving Park. As each relay finished its work it was carried to the park, there to await the formal ceremonies in the afternoon.
The site for the building had already been prepared and the house was hauled to it rather late in the afternoon. The entire distance covered by the different relays was about four miles.
AT ITS DESTINATION.
The house arrived at the park a little after 3 o’clock. Here the proceedings were delayed, owing to a shower of rain, and it was not until 3 o’clock that the house was brought to the spot that it will occupy in the years to come. An impromptu platform was erected in front of the old doorway, from which the speeches were delivered in the presence of the many that gathered around.
Ald. Frank B. Snyder, who was born in the house, presented it to the city.
“It is both fitting and proper,” said the speaker, “to glorify the relics of by-gone days. I remember the house as it stood amid the lilac bushes beneath the foliage of overhanging trees on the green banks of the Mississippi. Many changes have come since then, and the old landmark was swept away. The old house has no commercial value, but only stands as a monument of the past. Old Home! I greet you. You are endeared to me by memories of the past. For many years you have been an outcast, forsaken, neglected, almost forgotten, I rejoice that at this late day, there has come to you, as to an old man, a second childhood: that henceforth as of old, you will nestle on the green banks of a flowing stream, beneath the foliage of overhanging trees, and that you will again feel the mist and hear the roar of the falling waters. Mr. Mayor, in behalf of the children who have brought this old building here, I now transfer the first house build in minneapolis, to you, by delivering the key, to have and to hold, for the use of the public, from this time forth, forever.”
The Stevens House in 1894, before the big move.
Mayor Pratt accepted the house in the following words:
“Honorable President of the City Council — I have the honor and pleasure, on behalf of the city of Minneapolis, to receive from you, representing the press and the school children of this city, this historic house — historic, because it was the first house built upon the site of our great and beautiful city.
“It has been a silent witness to a transformation more marvelous than any conjuration of Aladdin’s lamp. Forty-six years ago it stood alone on the border of a trackless prairie, on the west bank of the Mississippi, on the very spot that is now the center of the industrial and commercial life, not only of a great city, but also of that vast tributary region of which we are the metropolis. Forty-six years ago, a solitary house, hundreds of miles from any railroad; today, a railroad center , whose gigantic arms reach from sea to sea.
“Then it stood in a region inhabited only by savages. Now, in their place, are churches, schools and thousands of Christian homes. …”
[His honor waxed on for several more minutes, quoting a passage from Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" and praising the city's "wonderful progress" before, at last, introducing the parks commissioner, Prof. W.W. Folwell, who waxed on for several minutes himself, finishing with a call to greet the old home "with a mighty hurrah."]
The hurrahs were given with a will, after which the South Side High School brought out yells for the different personages who had each taken party in the exercises.
Minnehaha Falls in about 1895. (mnhs.org photo)
As each relay was released, the children took the next car and rode to the falls. They had all been given souvenirs that insured them a free ride, and soon the part was one mass of children. They were everywhere. There was not a spot in the large park that they did not visit; the falls, looking down at the water as it struck the waters below; down through Longfellow Glen they thronged like so many “Brownies.” At the Soldiers’ Home they made themselves perfectly at home, and here they received a cordial welcome, and were shown everything that could be of interest. They had all taken lunch baskets, and by noon the who park was a large picnic ground. Many of them became so absorbed in the different things that were to be seen that they paid no more attention to the old house after they were once at the park. Many, however, became so interested in the old landmark that they followed every move it made, lustily cheering it as, creaking, it slowly moved towards its last resting place. Many of the children began to leave as soon as the exercises were over, but it was nearly dark before the last little curiosity seekers, tired, turned their footsteps homewards to seek their beds and dream of how the little fairies had drawn the old Stevens house out to Minnehaha Park.
Here’s what the Stevens House looked like in 1900, nestled in its new surroundings near Minnehaha Falls.
At 8 o’clock last evening the railway gave an exhibition of fire works at the Falls, which in effect has never been equaled in this part of the country. The falls itself, was the object worked upon, and the result was more than human mind can comprehend without seeing it. Colored lights were placed on the rocks immediately behind the falling water, at the sides and at the bottom. Calcium lights were thrown on the water, giving the falls the appearance of a sheet of fire, and increasing the volume about six times. Fully 1,000 Japanese lanterns were strung through Longfellow glen, thereby adding to the romantic beauty of the whole.
HANDLED THE CROWD WELL.
The Twin City Rapid Transit Company deserves considerable credit for the manner in which it handled the school children yesterday. The scholars were all given badges which entitled them to free rides in the cars and the youngsters improved their opportunity all day long. Not content with riding to Minnehaha Falls and back, they put in extra time riding about the city, some traveling on as many as five different lines.
Altogether the company carried about 10,000 children. Nearly all went to the Falls after they were through pulling the Stevens house, and the majority remained there until late in the afternoon. The time limit was supposed to be eight o’clock, but there were many children who did not leave the Falls until after that hour. The rain in the afternoon helped out wonderfully, as it started the crowds toward the city, and there was not such a crush later on as there would have been but for the rain. The company had no trouble in handling the children and there were no accidents.
CRITICISM FROM VARIOUS SOURCES.
John H. Stevens, shown here in his twilight years, built the house in 1849 near what is now the Federal Reserve Bank building in downtown Minneapolis.
Yesterday’s event did not pass off without certain criticisms from various sources, and for various reasons. There were many parents who objected to sending their children out on such an excursion through anxiety lest something should happen through the day, and yet they felt as if they were called upon to do so on account of the way in which the matter had been put before the public. There were mothers who have no children, but who are interested in educational matters, and who think that there are enough holidays for the children, without an extra day being given them. If such an event was to take place it was their opinion that it should take place on some regular holiday instead of breaking in on the regular school routine. Then the park commissioners and the park policemen objected to the way in which the children took possession of the park and everything in it. There was no such thing as controlling them, and they ran over everything in sight. It would have taken a small regiment of policemen to have kept that throng in check.
STRICKEN WITH PARALYSIS.Col. J.H. Stevens Temporarily Overcome by Excitement.
Col. John H. Stevens, whose continued good health, although he has arrived at a very advanced age, has been a pleasing commentary on the salubrity of Minnesota’s climate, suffered a slight stroke of paralysis yesterday. He passed a restless night, being in a somewhat excited state of mind presumably on account of the popular demonstration in connection with the moving of his first Minneapolis home. Early in the morning, shortly after arising, he was afflicted with a paralytic stroke which for a time prostrated him completely, rendering him powerless to move a muscle in the entire right side of his body. His physician was called and rendered prompt assistance, and within a short time his condition was considerably relieved.
Have you read "Canoeing With the Cree," Eric Sevareid's engaging account of his 1930 canoe trip from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay? Sevareid, 17, and a 19-year-old friend paddled more than 2,200 miles that summer. They caught fish, shot rapids, ate pemmican. They mingled with Indians and slept under the stars.
A few decades earlier, another 17-year-old boy from Minneapolis set out on a canoe adventure that was nearly as ambitious and just as likely to inspire others to pack up a canoe and head north. Bruce Steelman submitted this account to the Minneapolis Tribune:
|Bruce Steelman intended to take photos, but his camera got soaked early in the trip. Thank goodness the Minnesota Historical Society has scores of images from that time and place. Here, an Ojibwe family paddled Lake Vermilion, the starting point of Steelman's 1,100-mile journey. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)|
Three Boys Cover 1,100 Miles on Lakes and Rivers in Five-Week Trip.
Range Waters and Rainy River Country Explored – Rare Experiences.
They Come Down Mississippi From Bemidji – Outing to Be Repeated.
Bruce C. Steelman, 119 Thirty-third street west, his brother, Clyde, and Loyd Sherman have returned to Minneapolis after a canoe trip of 1,100 miles on the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota. Some of the places visited have seldom been visited by white men. The boys plan to repeat the trip some time.
Bruce Steelman tells the story of the voyage as follows:
“Loyd Sherman, my brother, Clyde, and myself had long planned to take a canoe trip. We shipped out two canoes and supplies to Tower, Minn., on July 16. We stocked up with bacon, salt pork, navy beans, flour, corn meal, rice and everything that generally goes with a camping outfit. We started from Minneapolis, where we all live.
“We arrived at Tower at 11 a.m. the next day. Early in the afternoon we launched our canoes and pushed out from shore in Vermillion [correct spelling: Vermilion] lake. Crossing the lake we entered the river of the same name and passed through Crane lake, Sand Point lake, Namekan lake and some smaller bodies.
“At the outlet of the Vermillion river we pitched our tepee. The owner of Hunters’ lodge there advised us to ship one of our canoes back, because there were many portages to make, but we went on with the two canoes.
“The first day out from there we made five portages. One of the canoes got away from us and was swept down the rapids. It turned partly over and filled with water. We lost all our ammunition, part of our clothing and some of our grub. Loyd rand down stream and headed off the canoe, jumped into the stream and towed it to shore. Our camera was soaked and this prevented us from taking many pictures along our trip as we had intended doing.
“At this point we decided that one canoe was plenty and were sorry we had not followed the advice of the man at Hunters’ lodge. The next morning Loyd and I started back with the smaller canoe to the foot of Vermillion lake and shipped it back home.
“My brother was to go down stream a little farther with the large canoe and the supplies to a small creek. Though we had never been there we thought we could easily find him. After getting the canoe off our hands we started back overland to join Clyde. We found the creek, but Clyde was not there. As we had spoken of no other meeting place we did not know what to do. We made a search of the surroundings and found an old boat, which we got into and went back to our camping place of the night before. He was not there. Night was coming on and we had nothing to eat with us and no gun. In the meantime a strong wind came up and a heavy shower, which drenched us to the skin in a few moments.
Had No Dry Matches.
“We had no matches that were dry and we could not start a fire. It was now dark. We groped around and found a windfall, pulled off some boughs, made a bed and remained there all night. At the break of day we got out and started back in the boat. The morning was bright and the warm sun felt good to us. We had not gone far when we saw three moose only a few yards away. They trotted off briskly.
“After a search of a couple of hours we found Clyde and the supplies. We were more anxious to find the latter than the former, for our appetites were pretty keen. The waves had driven Clyde ashore and we had passed him.
“In a few days we had reached the Rainy Lake river, after making about 18 portages, two of which were over a mile long.
“Up to this time we had caught wall-eyed pike weighing up to seven pounds and plenty of northern pike. We had also seen a number of deer.
“At our first camping place on the Rainy Lake river we were besieged with timber wolves. We kept up a pretty high camp fire and they kept their distance, but hung around most of the night. When daylight came they had disappeared and we saw nothing more of them.
“We saw many Indians along our trip, but as they could not talk English they could not benefit us much. They have some fine birch bark canoes which we could have bought for from $3 to $10.
“We started up the Rainy lakes and could not make over about seven miles a day, as it was showery for about three weeks. We had to use our compasses, for we could not tell the islands from the mainland. Part of the time we camped on the Canadian side. Some nights we camped on islands when we thought we were on the mainland. Moose seemed plentiful on the international boundary. Fishing was most excellent.
|The Mississippi River below Lake Bemidji in about 1910. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)|
“The trip through the lakes was very interesting as the shores are very rocky and covered with timber. There are scarcely any white men up there, but Indians are everywhere to be found. We traveled by moonlight a great deal, for the nights were calm while the waves rolled nearly every day. We lost our way many times on these lakes and were several days reaching International Falls, where we camped for a few days.
“We shipped our canoe and luggage to Bemidji, Minn. Here we launched our canoe in Bemidji lake, the outlet of which flows into Cass lake, and after passing this lake we went down the river to Lake Winnibigoshish. The Mississippi is so shallow up there that we were aground every little while and we had to work like galley slaves to get along.
“From Bemidji to Minneapolis by the river it is over 500 miles. We found but few whites along the river clear down to Aitkin.
"We were almost out of supplies and could get but little from the Indians. When we were almost ready to land at home we came very near losing our whole outfit in a log jam. We landed Friday evening at the Union station, Minneapolis, at 7 o'clock. All we had left of our provisions was salt and pepper and a little rice.
"The trip cost us about $40 apiece, not counting our experience."
|Cooling off in Cass Lake in about 1910: Steelman didn't report seeing any bathing beauties like these while crossing the big lake. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)|
Here a nameless Tribune reporter spins a ghost story worthy of any campfire. The scene is set near an abandoned graveyard in northeast Minneapolis, undoubtedly Maple Hill Cemetery, the city’s first, established in 1857. Over the next 30 years, about 5,000 bodies were buried there.
The cemetery fell into disrepair in the 1880s. Plots were cheap—just $8 or $9 according to an 1889 Tribune story—and recordkeeping was shoddy at best. Some remains were buried no more than two feet deep. Neighbors feared that the poorly maintained burial ground was a health threat and began a campaign to have the remains moved and the cemetery closed. By the time the story below was published in 1899, the removals had already begun and burials ceased. But with no source of funding, most of the remains and markers remained there untended for years. The grounds were “loaded with rubbish and so neglected that many of the caskets are exposed to view,” the Tribune reported.
In April 1907, the Tribune reported that Maple Hill Cemetery was in "deplorable condition." Rain had washed away sand at the western edge of the cemetery, exposing caskets to view. And children playing baseball had broken grave markers to pieces for use as bases.
The city’s Park Board took possession of the land in 1908 with the idea of restoring a portion of the cemetery and reserving 10 acres for a children’s park. A playground was established there in the summer of 1916, but the adjoining cemetery was still largely a mess. By that fall, the neighbors had had enough of the eyesore: under cover of darkness, about thirty men hitched up three teams of horses and cleared the land of debris and headstones, dumping the markers in a ravine on the west side of the property. Eight men were implicated in the “Maple Hill Raid,” but only two faced vandalism charges and they won acquittal at trial.
Soon after the raid, the Park Board removed most of the remaining markers, and Maple Hill became firmly established as a park. A skating rink, a warming house, horseshoe pits and other amenities were added. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts gathered there for activities. The park’s hockey teams enjoyed success in citywide competition. In 1948, it was renamed Beltrami Park, after the Italian-American explorer of the 19th century. But signs of the park’s past are still visible to this day. At least two small gravestones can be found amid the grass and trees on the park’s northwest side, not far from a monument to 46 Civil War veterans who were buried there.
Weird Adventure of a Young Woman While Walking Near a Cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis.
"Help! Help! The ghost will get me!" shrieked Ida Olson, last evening, as she rushed up to a pedestrian who was walking in Central avenue, near the abandoned cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis.
The girl, who is a domestic, was frightened so badly that it was impossible for her to talk in a coherent manner, and for time it was feared she had been driven insane by fright. She declared that while walking past the old cemetery with Ole Johnson, her sweetheart, a white object had arisen from one of the neglected graves, and, with an unearthly yell, had pursued them.
|Reminders of Beltrami Park’s past as a cemetery remain to this day.|
Ole, she said, had deserted her at the first sign of danger, and had left her to her fate. She was sure the object she had seen was a ghost, and she declared with equal firmness that it was the ghost of a man with horns, for she had seen the horns on his head, and had noted further that he wore a long white beard. Several times while telling her story she became hysterical, and it was with difficulty that she could be induced to continue.
John Adams, employed in the Columbia Heights mills, was the man whom she accosted on the street, and he at once took the girl into a drug store, where her story was related. At first it was thought Ida had been drinking, but there was not the slightest smell of liquor on her breath, and she was evidently badly frightened. While she was talking her sweetheart entered the place, and cried with joy at seeing the girl safe and sound.
Johnson, who is a laboring man, and a fairly intelligent appearing young fellow, told a story quite similar to that related by the girl, except that he said he had, instead of running away from the ghost, run towards it, in an endeavor to find out what it was.
Searching Party Formed.
Several persons were in the drug store at the time, and they at once formed a party and paid a visit to the old cemetery. As the abiding place of the dead was approached the courage of John disappeared, and he lagged behind. The girl, on the contrary, was fairly brave, now that there were other persons near by, and she led the party to the place where she said the ghost had appeared.
The spot from which the figure had arisen proved to be a slight depression on a mound, and the crushed down leaves and dead grass showed that a body of some sort had lain there. The adventure was becoming serious, and two or three members of the party did not venture as far away from their companions as they had done before the depression was found.
An extended search of the locality was made, but not trace of a ghost or anything looking like one could be found. Just as the party was about to give up and return to Central avenue a gasp of horror burst from the lips of Johnson, and he sank to the ground in a heap. A short distance away, only just visible in the dim light, was a white figure, with horns and a long white beard, just as Miss Olson had said.
Strange Sounds Heard.
As the little party looked a sound that cannot be described came from the object, followed by a silence that was painful in its intensity. For a moment no one moved or spoke; then one of the more adventuresome members of the party started in the direction of the ghost, carrying a revolver in his hand.
“Speak or I’ll shoot,” he called, as he scared the object.
There was no response, and again he repeated his command. This time the object moved a trifle and seemed to advance toward the party. As the man with the gun was about to fire there broke upon the silent night a plaintive:
Then a large white goat, with a beautiful pair of horns and a magnificent bunch of gray whiskers, walked up to the men and began nosing around as if expecting to be fed. The reaction was too much for the party, and the various persons laughed until they cried. Meantime Johnson had disappeared, and Miss Olson was sent to her home in University avenue northeast.
The goat, it was learned later, has been pastured in the old cemetery and the surrounding locality during the last summer, and he has been in the habit of sleeping around in any old place, and of going up to passers-by and asking in his dumb way for something to eat. Who the owner of the goat is could not be learned.
Be sure to catch Kim Ode’s marvelous piece on the canoe craze of the early 1900s in Minneapolis. “At one time,” she writes, “the number of couples cuddling in canoes grabbed headlines, spawned park police patrols and saw metaphorical lines drawn in the sand about naughty boat names such as Kismekwik, Skwizmtyt (sound it out) or Kumonin Kid.”A Tribune story from 1912 lists more of the names declared by the Minneapolis Park Board to be unacceptable:
Owners to Be Notified at End of Season to Rename Craft.
|Canoes packed with paddlers packed Lake Calhoun in about 1912. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
|The gents in this postcard from about 1912 seem nice enough. But wearing a tie instead of a life jackets shows poor judgment. Am I wrong, ladies? (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
Twelve-mile-long Bassett Creek once meandered unfettered through marshlands from Medicine Lake in Plymouth to the Mississippi River near Nicollet Island. In the late 1800s, developers began filling in the wetlands near the river, but the homes were prone to flooding, and, thanks to widespread dumping of garbage upstream, the creek became little more than an open sewer. After the spring floods of 1913, described in the Minneapolis Tribune story below, the Legislature approved funding to divert the creek into a storm sewer. By 1923, the final mile and a half of the creek was underground.
|This image, taken from microfilm, accompanied the Tribune flood story. The caption provided no address or names, only this: "Preparing to move."