Category Archives: From the Collection

Neither Rain nor Snow nor Poison Ivy: Life as a Rural Mail Carrier in Hennepin County

Did you know that rural Hennepin County was served by one of the nation’s few female mail carriers for nearly four decades? Elizabeth Titus of Robbinsdale carried this box with her for the duration of her 38-year career in Hennepin County. On rural routes, customers depended on their carriers to do much more than only deliver the mail; specialized boxes like this one were designed to serve as a miniature, portable post office, with slots for stamps and supplies, and room to hold cash collected from customers.

Elizabeth started her career as a mail carrier during World War I,  a time when the post office was forced by labor force shortages to consider women for more positions. She started out as a substitute, often delivering wartime news – both reassuring and sometimes heartbreaking – from loved ones far away from home. Eventually she got her own permanent routes, covering an approximate 1,000 miles each month.

Working as a rural mail carrier was a job filled with both joys and challenges. A farm resident herself, Elizabeth was familiar with the rigors of rural life. In addition to delivering the mail, she at times helped put out fires or capture errant cattle!

The note on this stamp box, written by Elizabeth herself, says it was put into service in 1918. At that time, Elizabeth delivered the mail using a team of horses. Eventually she switched to a truck, although for many years horses remained the most effective way to navigate the mud and snowdrifts sometimes found on Hennepin County’s more rural roads.

The stamps in this box are marked Route 11. During the 1940s and early 1950s Elizabeth was delivering mail to approximately 460 families – and increasingly, businesses — along rural Route 11. The stamps shown here are for the Reinhard Brothers, 4301 Highway 7 in St. Louis Park.

The worst part of her job? According to Elizabeth, it was poison ivy.

“You can shovel away snow,” she told the Minneapolis Morning Tribune in 1946, “you can work from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next day during Christmas, you can get through in spite of mud, loads of chicks, turtles, and catalogues but very seldom can you escape that ole debbil poison ivy.”

She retired in 1953, splitting her time between her home in Robbinsdale and her new husband’s home in Michigan.

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A Fantasy in Iron

This section of ornamental ironwork was harvested from the wreckage of the demolished Metropolitan Building, 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue South, in downtown Minneapolis. It was created by August Malmsten and Andrew Nelson who, in 1878, began a blacksmith business on the banks of the Mississippi River overlooking St. Anthony Falls. The business expanded rapidly, providing machinery repair services to the surrounding flour and sawmills, and supplying steel for the booming building trade in and around Minneapolis.

By 1884 the Malmsten and Nelson Company had become the Crown Iron Works Company. The company became the leading fabricator of structural steel, ornamental iron, and bronze and aluminum metal work. In 1888, at the height of what became known as Minneapolis’ “Golden Age” of architecture, Crown Ornamental Iron Works was commissioned to create an extravaganza of ironwork to dress the atrium of the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building. Twelve stories of bronze-trimmed, cast, and wrought iron, in the art nouveau style, at a cost of $167,000, was created in the Minneapolis plant, located at 113-117 2nd Avenue S.E. The remnant seen here was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Wayne Murphy, former Director of the Robbinsdale Historical Society.

Metropolitan Building interior

In 1890 the doors opened to one of the most significant, not to mention stunning, pieces of architecture in Minneapolis history. Designed by E. Townsend Mix, for Louis Menage, the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building was born of light filled glass, breathtaking Art Nouveau filigree iron work, green New Hampshire granite, Red lake- Superior sandstone, and Italian marble, and was crowned with an open- air roof garden and observation tower. 8,000 illustrious guests attended the grand opening.

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The first tenants included forerunners to Pillsbury, Wells Fargo, and the Soo Line railroad companies, as well as one of Minneapolis’ first African American Restaurant owners, Jasper Gibbs. It was the most prestigious business address in Minneapolis. In 1905 The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company bought the building, it has since been known as the Metropolitan Building.

The onset of urban renewal in the late 1950s set in motion discussions of the razing of the Metropolitan Building. The movement to save the Metropolitan was impressive. It was led by Robert Bliss, University of Minnesota professor of Architecture. In September  1961, Sidney Simon, Director of the University Gallery, Martin Friedman, Director of the Walker Art Center, and Carl J. Weinhardt, Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, issued the following joint statement at their museums, accompanied by an exhibition of documentary photographs of the Metropolitan Building:

“Photographs such as these may soon be all that will remain of this important architectural monument. This magnificent pioneer skyscraper originally known as the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building was designed by E. Townsend Mix and constructed between 1888 and 1890. This building made audacious structural use of steel, concrete and glass. Its fanciful design motifs are characteristic of the turn of the century. The principles involved in the cantilevered balconies with their translucent floors and light filled court are completely consistent with those found in the best recent architecture”

Ninety days later, demolition of the Metropolitan Building began.

 

A Large Coffee, Please

This monumental coffee pot shaped coffee grinder is crafted of cast iron and aluminum. It was manufactured by the American Duplex Company of Louisville Kentucky. The grinder offers several features or settings for achieving the desired grind, and ultimately, the perfect cup of coffee.

This grinder was used at Hawkinson’s Red and White grocery store, located at 4306 Upton Avenue in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The Hawkinson family had owned, and operated, grocery stores at 2716 W. 45th St. and at 4429 York Avenue, in Minneapolis, as early as 1910. In 1925 they moved to the 4306 Upton Avenue location. By 1950, Roy and Stella Hawkinson had become a part of the Red and White food store chain, which was established in Chicago in 1925, and quickly spread across the country. The chain was formed to allow small independent grocery stores to carry the Red and White brand, and compete with the large chains, which were already beginning to overtake the neighborhood corner store. The Red Dot logo was instantly recognizable on signs and awnings of small stores everywhere. By 1957 there were seven Red and Whites in Minneapolis.

The chain is still in business, and although most of the stores have been replaced by large supermarket chains, you can still see the famous red dot logo on small stores across the United States. Hawkinson’s closed their doors in 1980.

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Please Pass the Mustard

This unmarked pressed glass cruet set was used at the Russell Hotel and Coffee Shop, located at 14-18 South Fourth Street in downtown Minneapolis. The set consists of a glass caddy with stainless steel handle and four glass condiment containers.

For its time, this is a comparatively simple cruet set, practical, and appropriate for use in a busy hotel restaurant/coffee shop. By 1913, when this one was used, cruet sets, along with tableware, and table settings in general, had reached extremes in design and embellishment totally eclipsing any suggestion of practicality. “More is More” was the ideal. Many sets consisted of ten, even twenty condiment containers created in elaborately cut crystal and sterling silver, as well as a dizzying array of miniature serving implements for transporting the condiment from the bottle to the plate.

These elaborate affairs were most often relegated to a sideboard or buffet. Every truly well-dressed table or sideboard, though, was incomplete without a generous selection of condiments, preferably served from a fine cruet set.

This caddy was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Harriet Lycken of Minneapolis.

About the author

Jack Kabrud is curator at Hennepin History Museum.

A Warm Stone for a Cold Hennepin County Winter

Though foreign to us today, warming stones like this one have been used for centuries, and they have been made from all kinds of stone. Soapstone, however, was preferred for its ability to heat up quickly, retain the heat, and radiate it for long periods of time. For this same reason, Native Americans used soapstone to carve vessels for cooking and keeping prepared food hot.

Warming stones like this one were truly efficient and multi-functional. This one incorporates a rotating iron rod for ease in handling and use. Warming stones were generally kept near a fire or a stove, ready to be heated up at a moment’s notice for warming the bed, warming one’s feet, or wrapped in furs or woolen blankets and placed in a carriage or sleigh.

Though soapstone is highly resistant to heat damage, this example bears the hallmark of many years of continuous use. It is worn smooth at the edges, and a large piece has broken from one corner.

This warming stone was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Carl A. Herrick, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota from 1925 to 1952.

About the author

Jack Kabrud is Hennepin History Museum’s curator.

Voices of Norway

This banner, made for the Norse Male Chorus in 1886, showcases stunning embroidery in shades of yellow, gold, green, and ivory, on a backing of ivory cotton. The central design is a classical lyre surrounded by a circlet of oak leaves and acorns.

The origins and history of the Norse Male Chorus of Minneapolis has been a challenging and illusive quest. The common consensus is that the Norse Male Chorus of Minneapolis evolved into the Norwegian Glee Club of Minneapolis. The search will continue.

The story of the creator of this outstanding embroidery is, however, well documented. The work comes from the hands of Pauline Fjelde. Pauline Fjelde was born in Norway in 1861. Her artistic gift was evident as early as grammar school where she began to paint and draw. She perfected her embroidery skills, and distinctive style, working at home with her mother. Before coming to America, in the mid-1880s she taught needlework in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Upon her arrival in Minneapolis she began embroidering textiles for Mrs. Snodgrasse’s Art Rooms, located at 16-17 Sidle Block, in downtown Minneapolis. By 1893 Pauline and her sister, Thomane, branched out on their own. They opened a needlework studio where they specialized in design and embroidery of garments, parade banners, flags, and linens. In 1893 Pauline and Thomane were commissioned to embroider the first Minnesota state flag!

Author Bio

Jack Kabrud is the curator at Hennepin History Museum.

The Hostess with the Mostest: Harriet Shepardson’s Pink and Silver Evening Gown

By Jack Kabrud, Hennepin History Museum curator

This dress, a classic 1920s fantasy of white and pink chiffon heavily embellished with sparkling silver metallic embroidery, silver tissue leaves, and silver bead flowers with a pink and silver nosegay at the shoulder, was owned and worn by Harriet Shepardson.

Ms. Shepardson was the wife of Professor George Shepardson who organized and served as head of the electrical engineering department at the University of Minnesota. She attended many university events on her husband’s arm, and her role as hostess was officially recognized and codified when University President Cyrus Northrop asked her to serve as official hostess at university events.

President Northrop specifically mentioned that she would be a wonderful asset because of the beautiful gowns that she frequently appeared in. Harriet Shepardson continued in her role as hostess long after President Northrop’s 1911 retirement. She wore this gown in 1923.

The gown was donated to Hennepin History Museum in 1963 by Mary K. Shepardson.