Edina has renamed one of its parks to commemorate members of a prominent Black family who in the late 1860s were among the first settlers of the area that later became the city.
The Yancey family, headed by Beverly Claiborne, “B.C.,” and his wife, Ellen, grew potatoes and later berries on land just west of where City Hall stands at Eden Avenue and Hwy. 100.
B.C. helped start Edina’s Minnehaha Grange, a fraternal group for farmers, and was the recorder for the 1888 vote that created the Village of Edina when it seceded from Richfield Township. Ellen Yancey, who was also active with the Grange, founded the city’s first PTA.
Now Garden Park, 19 green acres in the city’s northeastern section, will be known as Yancey Park following a unanimous vote Wednesday by the City Council.
“In a city that has a reputation for maybe not being the most inclusive at times, I think this is an extremely important part of our history that needs to be told,” said Jasmine Stringer Moore, a member of Edina’s Human Rights and Relations Commission.
The commission was charged with finding a park that was appropriate for renaming. They narrowed the list to Garden Park and Wooddale Park before nixing the latter, where remnants of the former Wooddale School were incorporated into the park’s design.
Garden Park “had great naming ability because it currently is named after a subdivision,” a city memo said. Officials also liked that the park is widely used.
Nevertheless, there was some disappointment that the chosen park wasn’t closer to the Grandview area where the Yanceys’ 68-acre farm once stood. That property is bordered by W. 48th Street to the north and Hwy. 100 to the east, and there isn’t a logical park there to name for the Yanceys, said Heidi Lee, Edina’s race and equity coordinator.
Peter Sussman, who has served on the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission and on planning committees for the Grandview area, said he had mixed feelings about Garden Park’s selection. He wanted to see the Yancey name connected to their land, he said.
But Sussman added that renaming Garden Park “fills a gap” in acknowledging an important founding family. “This is not a family where you have to invent a significance,” he said. “They had a certain drive and commitment to community.”
Lee said the city plans to erect a plaque at the park to share the Yanceys’ story, and city officials said they may consider naming a future building or street after them. One possibility would be a community center in the Grandview area.
“I think there are some opportunities in the future and I want us to really, seriously consider it when we get there someday,” said City Council Member Mike Fischer.
Saying thank you
The Yanceys were one of several Black pioneer families who lived in Richfield and Edina between the end of the Civil War and the early 20th century. Though the exact number is hard to pin down, estimates from various sources range from three families up to 20.
Local Quakers and Unitarians may have played a role in settling Black families in Minnesota, and it appears the broader community accepted them.
B.C. Yancey was born a free man in Ohio in 1828 and fought as a Union soldier during the Civil War. After he was discharged in 1865 for a disability, he moved to Minnesota as a widower with five children.
That’s where he met and married Ellen Maria Bruce, who was born in Washington, D.C., in 1832 and may have worked at the White House as a cook. Several sources say Ellen also was born free, though the record is unclear. The couple had two children together, Charles and Ellen Mae.
B.C. served on the Edina village council, was active in the Minnesota Horticultural Society and elected justice of the peace. Ellen was very involved in the Edina Church. The Edina Historical Society has seven diaries belonging to them.
“Wether pleasant and thawing. Tilled West in afternoon after Mill job — got out at 3. Pleasant evening singing and talking,” reads one of B.C.’s entries from 1900.
“What’s unique about the Yanceys isn’t their wealth, but their position,” said Sussman, who began advocating for their recognition a decade ago.
Bob Moore, an Edina Historical Society board member, said their success as farmers was notable. “They hobnobbed with the finest pioneers of Edina. They were just a highly respected couple,” Moore said.
B.C. died in 1905 at the age of 76 or 77, and Ellen died in 1915 in her early 80s. They’re buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in south Minneapolis.
Some local historians say the Black population in Edina was shrinking at the time and link their exit to growing racism, since Edina’s Country Club area, which developed in the 1920s, was off limits to Black and Jewish homeowners. Others say Black residents just moved on.
As for the Yanceys, at least one descendant lived in Edina into the 1960s. Others moved to western Hennepin County or other states, Sussman said. He doesn’t know of any Yancey descendants in Edina today.
The park’s renaming will inform people that there were “huge contributions from people of color” in Edina more than a century ago, Lee said.
Stringer Moore teared up when she received an e-mail saying the name change was official. She sees herself in Ellen and would love to see a school named after her, she said.
“As a Black female, I believe in the power of representation and of telling our stories,” she said. “This is a small way to acknowledge this family and say thank you.”