WENGT XII: June 8, 2019
A presentation at the Minnesota History Whatever 3 at the Swedish Institute, co-sponsored by the Minnesota Independent Scholars’ Forum, Minnesota Association of Local History Museums, Mixed Blood Theatre, Twin Cities Public Television and Minnesota Association of Museums.
West End Neighbors’ Garden and History Tour
By Joe Landsberger
Twelve years ago a group of gardeners decided to put on a garden tour to do their part in building our immigrant working class neighborhood’s reputation—West 7th or the West End, one of Minnesota’s first neighborhoods. Local, small businesses made all possible with their advertising in the guide book.
Historically the neighborhood is unique: it was founded as an extension of Fort Snelling and American control of Dakota lands. However the West End was not habitable: basically swamp and bog on a plateau with bluffs that restricted access to the Mississippi River—a vital necessary regional transportation link. In the early 1800’s it was initially referred to as the Gran Morain (a glacial debris field), the Great Woods, and later Peasant Valley reflecting the humble origins of its first settler immigrants of mostly three European groups: Bavarians, Bohemians, and Swabians of Baden-Württemberg.
Early census records were historically interesting: Bavarians were German, Bohemians were Austrian, and Swabians were Prussian. This identification changed in census records about the time of the first World War to better reflect their origins—and repression of Germanic people.
Immigrants literally developed “cultural” communities in the West End, initially as legal squatters: they drained the swamps, built impressive commercial buildings along “old Fort Road” or West Seventh Street, Randolph and Jefferson Avenues, and developed farms that served the emerging city-folk of downtown St. Paul. Working and rural class professions reflected their humble origins, but also emerged toward service industries within their communities.
Six years ago the garden tour committee decided to focus on one neighborhood within West Seventh to highlight individual neighborhoods and to make the “tour” more accessible and not so geographically broad. Four years ago we built on this concept and I researched and wrote the histories.
In 2019, the gardens and history of the neighborhoods of Jefferson Avenue to Fort Snelling, between West 7th Street and the Mississippi River were featured. The free garden and history guide of 70 pages was distributed free the day of the tour, Saturday June 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A digital historical scavenger hunt took place and the plant sale was a wonderful way of local gardeners sharing their surplus! All were welcome at 974 7th St West to start our tour!