Golden Valley turns 125

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2011 - 11:18 PM

Built on agriculture, Golden Valley, which is celebrating its 125th birthday this year, has seen its pigs and cows give way to corporate headquarters.

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A statue of Christian Ewald kept watch over the old dairy.

Photo: Star Tribune File, Star Tribune

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Golden Valley, the corporate home of international food giant General Mills, was best known for other reasons when it was a rural burg in the latter half of the 1800s.

Farmers from Golden Valley would drive their wagons south to what was then the dirt-road metropolis of Minneapolis, stopping at hotels and restaurants to fill open wagons with reeking garbage to feed to their pigs. The problem was they had to haul it north again -- right past people's homes.

"Minneapolis didn't like it and asked them to stop," said Don Anderson, secretary of the Golden Valley Historical Society. "They didn't stop."

Pigs, dairy cows and the biggest greenhouse west of the Mississippi River are all part of Golden Valley's past. Today about 20,000 people live in the city, which this year is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Events are being held throughout the year, including a bus tour of historic places, an old-time music festival, a dinner tribute to people who have lived in the city for at least 75 years, and creation of a Golden Valley Hall of Fame. The city has been collecting items for a time capsule and will have its first-ever volunteer day, hoping to establish an annual tradition where people devote a day to improving their community.

"A lot has changed in the last 25 years -- we have a lot of new residents -- and we just decided it would be appropriate" to have a big celebration, said Marshall Tanick, an attorney and Golden Valley resident who is chairing the anniversary committee.

"It's a milestone year."

First big business: Farming

In many ways, 21st-century Golden Valley is a corporate town, home to the headquarters of not only General Mills but also Allianz Life Insurance Company. Honeywell has a major plant there as well, and other major institutions in the city include Courage Center and the Animal Humane Society.

But when Irish, German and Scandinavian immigrants moved there in the 1800s, agriculture was the economic driver.

Ewald Brothers Dairy, still remembered for its iconic signs featuring enormous three-dimensional Guernsey cow heads, had part of its operation in Minneapolis and part in Golden Valley. The firm, established in 1886, initially had its herd in south Minneapolis near Hiawatha Lake but had to move when the Minneapolis Park Board bought the dairy land.

Ewald and his sons "herded their cows through Minneapolis all the way to Golden Valley," Anderson said. He said the Ewald dairy, which bought milk from other dairy farmers as well, was the first in the region to use glass bottles and to pasteurize milk, which the dairy sold initially from horse-drawn carts and later from refrigerated trucks. When Ewald went out of business around 1980, one of its iconic giant cow-head signs went on display at the State Fairgrounds.

Where Courage Center sits now was Hart's Greenhouse, which Anderson said was the biggest greenhouse west of the Mississippi in the 1920s. The business mostly raised flowers.

People displace cows

In the 1930s, houses began to pop up in the Tyrol Hills area along Wayzata Boulevard. Many of the home builders were doctors at the University of Minnesota, just 10 minutes away. Homebuilding sped up after World War II.

But parts of Golden Valley were still considered the boonies in the 1950s, when General Mills began building its new headquarters near the intersection of what is now I-394 and Hwy. 169. Anderson said the city offered to extend the sewer line out to the company campus if the firm contributed $100,000 to a new City Hall, which it did. The company had to offer incentives to lure urban employees out to the new location. At the time, I-394 was a two-laned Hwy. 12, and public transportation didn't go out that far.

"It wasn't that far, but it seemed like a long way," Anderson said.

What the historical society hasn't pinned down is the exact origin of the city's name. Stories abound.

Anderson believes the most credible tale involves an early settler named Virner, who farmed on the land where the Golden Valley Country Club is now.

"That story has him walking up this high hill and looking down into the valley and seeing a yellow plant," Anderson said. "Some say it was wild wheat, others say it was daffodils or dandelions. He allegedly said, 'This is my golden valley.'"

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

  • MORE INFO

    For more on Golden Valley's 12th anniversary celebration, go to www.goldenvalleymn.

    gov/events/125/index.php .

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