Tag Archives: 1880s

Flour Power: Party Edition

At 7:30 in the morning, more than 1700 milling employees and their family, friends, and supporters, gathered in Minneapolis, picnics in hand, to board special trains that would carry them to Lake Minnetonka for the fourth annual Head Millers’ Association picnic.

The city’s flour mills were shut down for the day so that all employees had an opportunity to join in the festivities. It was an opportunity to celebrate the growth of milling in Minneapolis. Like any such celebratory event, it included plenty of speeches, as well as a baseball game, music and dancing, a banquet at the Hotel Lafayette, boat rides, and – what else? — flour sack races.

The picnic was covered extensively in the local newspapers, where it was proclaimed “the most successful picnic ever given at Lake Minnetonka.” In the words of a particularly enthusiastic journalist at the Sunday Tribune:

“Whether it was the efficient management, the absence of dissipation and the real pleasure unmixed with dissipation at these gatherings, or because the custom was inaugurated by a class of men to whom Minneapolis feels she owes her marvelous prosperity and rapid advancement, or whether both combined at once,the occurrence of the millers’ picnic was a season for a general turning out on a grand gala day, and each year the number participating has increased, and yesterday occurred the greatest and the best of them all.”

-Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, June 22, 1884

This miniature flour sack invitation now resides in the permanent collection at Hennepin History Museum, a reminder a fantastic summer day at the lake many years ago.

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Minneapolis Hosts the Woman’s Relief Corps

Long before women won the right to vote in 1920, women were given the opportunity to vote in small-scale local elections through organizations like the National Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC). This ballot box was used by the women of the WRC to discreetly vote for the acceptance, or rejection, of a new candidate hoping to gain membership.

With the lid to the ballot box closed, votes were secret and each member cast either a white or black marble to indicate how they felt about the new candidate. If the box was full of white marbles the candidate was accepted, if it contained black marble the candidate was “blackballed,” or rejected from membership.

2017.0531.008 open

Founded in Massachusetts after the Civil War in 1879, the WRC began as a “secret” organization that served as auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and established Posts throughout the county. Women who had remained loyal to the Union were eligible to obtain membership regardless of race or where they lived during the war.

On July 22, 1884 Minneapolis hosted the Second National Convention of the WRC, establishing  the state of Minnesota’s headquarters in parlor No. 1, of the luxurious West Hotel located of Fifth and Hennepin. According to the Journal of the Second National Convention, “parlors were filled” by local members as well as National officers and delegates from abroad.

Author Bio: Olivia Schiffman is a volunteer at Hennepin History Museum. She has her Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, History, and Music from Hamline University. She currently works for the City of Hugo, digitizing records and compiling research on the cities one room schoolhouse, as well as the Minnesota History Museum, researching the history of underrepresented communities at Fort Snelling.

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.

Metropolitan Building c 1890s.jpg

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.

 

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.

From Luxury to Lot: The West Hotel

The history and demise of the West Hotel and the Tiffany urn that was created to honor the founders

The West Hotel was known to be a destination of luxury in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was built with funds of Charles W. West, and subsequently, he gave the new world-class hotel to his nephew and then manager of the Nicollet House, John T. West. Charles West spent an exorbitant amount of money building the hotel with ornate detail and making it particularly extravagant for visitors. As a result, the building became well known, and was the perfect addition to the then new state’s aspirations for success. The opening night banquet and celebration in November of 1884 was highly anticipated, although sadly approximately two months before the evening, Charles West died.

Silver urn

This large urn stood in the West Hotel’s lobby before coming to Hennepin HIstory Museum. 

Even after the death of Charles West, the building of the hotel continued and opening night was still a major success. It was a night of recognition and appreciation to the two people who made the building possible, Charles and John West. Around 500 guests attended the ten dollar a plate banquet, and many famous Minnesota leaders were among them. This large silver ceremonial urn, believed to be by Tiffany & Co. Silver,  was given to John West who accepted it in honor of Charles West. The 5,000 dollar urn was made in New York specifically for Charles West as a thank you gift from the city of Minneapolis.

Following the opening night banquet, the hotel started off with success as many wanted to experience the extravagance of the West Hotel. In fact, the West Hotel hosted the 1892 Republican National Convention, and famous people such as Winston Churchill and Mark Twain were among the hotel’s visitors. However, after the hotel caught fire in 1910 and more competitors popped up in the area, the hotel lost its luster. In 1940, its owners  decided to raze the building to make way for a parking lot.

West Hotel selling off goods in 1940s

Auctioning West Hotel items before the building was razed. 

The West Hotel ceremonial urn features an image of Charles W. West and the West Hotel as it looked in 1884. The cup sat in the West Hotel for guests to view. It was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Nathaniel DeLue Jr., who acquired the urn after the hotel closed.

Author Bio

Lindsay Simmons is an art history and museum studies graduate student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She is currently an intern at Hennepin History Museum working on the museum inventory project. She spent the summer assisting in rehousing and cataloging some of the museum’s 15,000 objects. This urn was one of the first objects she cataloged for the collection. She enjoyed researching this object as it is an important piece in HHM’s collection, and as a resident of Minneapolis, she finds learning about the history of the city fascinating.

Resources

West Hotel, Minneapolis

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part One.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 3 (Fall 1978): 3–9.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Two.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 4 (Winter 1978-79): 13–21.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Three.” Hennepin County History 38, no. 1 (Spring 1979): 3–11.

Harvest Festival Parade

Harvest Festival Parade 1891

On September 23, 1891, Minneapolis celebrated the plentiful harvest and the industrial might of the Northwest with the Harvest Festival Parade. The celebration was planned after a bumper crop that followed several years of economic hardships for farmers. The parade was advertised in the Minneapolis Tribune as “over 25 miles of gorgeous floats and splendid industrial displays.” Organizers widely advertised the event and it drew attention from around the country.

The parade, itself, was quite the sight to behold.  It winded its way down Nicollet Avenue to 10th Street onto Park Avenue. The Minneapolis Tribune on September 24, 1891 claimed that the parade drew 300,000 spectators with over 100,000 from outside of Minneapolis. The floats represented numerous industries from the theaters to electricians, newspapers to lumberjacks. The Minneapolis Tribune described the sight of 500 retail meat dealers “attired in their white aprons and caps” riding their horses as “one of the finest displays of manhood and horsehood Minneapolis has ever seen.” These riders and hundreds of floats held the crowds’ attention for over 3 ½ hours. Without a doubt, the event was considered a huge success for Minneapolis.

This image from HHM archives shows the Gardeners’ Float with the unidentified queen waiting to begin the ride down Nicollet Avenue.

From the Archives: 25th U.S. Infantry at Fort Snelling

Many people today have heard of the famous African American Buffalo Soldiers, but did you know that the Buffalo Soldiers were based here in Minnesota during the 1880s?

This photograph, part of Hennepin History Museum’s archival collection, shows a group of men from the 25th U.S. Infantry. The 25th Infantry was an African American regiment then based out of Fort Snelling. These soldiers were among the “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term referring to the United States’ segregated African American Army regiments. The soldiers shown here were musicians and NCOs (non-commissioned officers).

Army historians describe the time spent at Fort Snelling as “the most uneventful in the regiment’s history,” and suggest “the soldiers probably spent more time practicing, drilling, and parading than ever before.” Meanwhile, in contrast, Hennepin County was changing rapidly around the Fort; the city of Minneapolis was one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation during this period, and the downtown skyline was changing and expanding rapidly.

In 1888, the 25th was transferred from Minnesota to Montana.

In July 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 mandating the integration of the armed forces and promising “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

Sources

Historic Fort Snelling 

“Buffalo Soldiers.HistoryNet 

Executive Order 9981

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, A Historic Context for the African American Military Experience. 1998.