Historic Contexts Study

The Heritage Preservation Board in 2000 completed a Historic Contexts Study of the community. The study summarizes the history of significant areas of Edina. Among them:

Edina Mills: Agriculture and Rural Life (1857 to 1923)
Cheap land and the promise of the waterpower resources of Minnehaha Creek attracted Euro-American pioneers to Edina in the 1850s. The basic pattern of settlement in the Edina Mills neighborhood was derived chiefly from New England and the Old Northwest and thus from an Anglo-American (Yankee) as well as from a Middle Western background. Grain milling was a traditional rural industry and the Edina Mill reflected an important trend in the economic development of southern Minnesota; the mill’s decline was due to lowered local demand for flour and the westward shift of the “wheat belt” out of Hennepin County by the 1880s. The distribution of early settlements was somewhat compact because of the economic advantages of the Edina mill site (the settlers’ Yankee heritage also included a preference for wooded home sites and agglomerated rural neighborhoods), but the familiar pattern of dispersed family farmsteads was in place by circa 1870. Because the environment was well adapted to traditional Midwestern farming practices, much of the landscape was given over to fields of grain and fodder crops, with extensive pastures for livestock. The application of mechanization to farming increased agricultural production but was accompanied by a steady reduction in the number of farms and farmers. Periodic economic depressions and farm crises also produced shifts in population, building, construction and land use. Improvements in transportation technology (first railroads, then highways) made Edina part of the greater Twin Cities “milk she” and dairying, along with truck farming, eventually became the dominant farm operations. The decline of agriculture after circa 1920 in response to increasing urbanization was a major trend in the history of the Edina Mills neighborhood.

Important local trends include the changing Edina farmscape; the economic impact of grain milling; the blending of rural and urban architectural and landscape forms; the impact of wealth and leisure on the changing countryside; and the career of Henry Francis Brown.

The Cahill Settlement: Edina’s Irish Heritage (1850s to 1930s)
The contributions of the different ethnic stocks to the cultural heritage of western Richfield Township and later the Village of Edina were varied. Most of the nineteenth century settlers were native born Americans, but there was a sizable foreign-born contingent dominated by emigrants from Germany and the British Isles. Yankees and Scots are credited in particular with forming the ethnic flavor of Edina Mills, which was in fact really not so much unlike other rural hamlets founded in Minnesota during the mid-nineteenth century. In contrast to Edina Mills, Irish immigrants provided a greater proportion of the initial settlers in the southwestern part of Edina, where a distinct rural farming neighborhood known as the Cahill settlement coalesced between the 1850s and 1870s. The Roman Catholic religion dominated life and culture. Settlement and land use reflected the predominant Midwestern patterns; despite the twentieth century emphasis on suburbanization, agriculture remained an important element in the landscape of the Cahill community until the 1930s.

The Cahill settlement’s historic identity rests on its ethnic heritage and rural character and its Irish cultural imprint is not visible in the physical characteristics of buildings and structures. The historic resources which are associated with it are highly fragmented and there is no longer any neighborhood cohesion. General contextual themes include: agriculture, architectural history, education, ethnic heritage, religion and social history.

Morningside: Edina’s Streetcar Suburb (1905 to 1935)
The rapid development of electrified street railway transportation in the early decades of the twentieth century caused the older Twin Cities metropolitan core to expand, star like, into the surrounding countryside. The streetcar broke down the relative isolation of Edina’s rural neighborhoods and enabled country folk to participate in the social, economic and cultural life of the city. More importantly, the trolleys also took city dwellers to the countryside to visit and later to purchase homes. Along the streetcar line between Minneapolis and Lake Minnetonka, farmland was subdivided and converted to suburban residential use in the Morningside neighborhood after 1905.

Important local trends reflected in historic resources of Morningside include: the process of land use change related to new transportation technologies (streetcars, later automobiles); the architectural history of the bungalow house form; and the social history of urban fringe communities.

Country Club District: Edina’s First Planned Community (1921 to 1950)
The Country Club District epitomizes Edina’s transformation from a rural village to a commuter suburb. It was Edina’s first real estate development platted and landscaped as a single-stratum community for financially well-off (upper-middle income) urbanites and it was built around the automobile -- although it was within the service are of the streetcar system, the success of the Thorpe Bros. Development depended almost entirely on commuting by personal motor car to successfully combine rural solitude with urban comfort. It was also a planned community – individual houses’ high architectural design values, as well as their relationship to each other and their environment, reflected conscious decisions made during the original conception and planning of the subdivision. A decade before most other Minnesota communities passed zoning laws, the developers of the Country Club District adopted measures to restrain property owners from using their property in ways that would cause injury to others or to the community and these covenants formed the framework for Edina’s first zoning ordinance. The early efforts at land use planning also helped to earn Edina the reputation for being one of the Twin Cities area’s ritziest suburbs.

Important themes and trends reflected in the historic resources of the Country Club District include: the design and construction of suburban houses; the career of Samuel Thorpe and the activities of Thorpe Bros. Reality; landscape architecture and urban design on the “crabgrass frontier”; and the evolution of the suburban business district around 50th and France.

Southdale: Shopping Mall Culture (1955 to 1974)
Southdale Center merits recognition as a historic resource despite the fact that it is less than fifty years old. The first enclosed shopping mall in the country, Southdale Center represents an important aspect of Edina heritage, though one which has not been heretofore viewed from an historic preservation perspective. It has significant associations with a notable American architectural firm (Victor Gruen & Associates) and a major regional retailer (Marshall Field’s, formally Dayton’s) and reflects diverse themes and trends in postwar society, such as the evolution of the postindustrial culture of mass consumption and the attendant innovations in retailing, of which the suburban shopping mall may have been the most revolutionary.

Important cultural and historical themes include the effects of rising levels of urbanization, the increasing technological sophistication of suburbanites and the postindustrial economy.

Country Clubs and Parks: The Heritage of Recreation, Leisure and Sport (1910 to 1974)
Parks and golf courses are cognates of suburbia. Edina has a heritage of recognition and sport that dates to the early twentieth century and reflects important trends in American social and cultural history.

General contextual themes include: the development of leisure activities and sports (particularly golf); the place of parks, trails and other recreational facilities in community planning and development; local and regional trends in parks design and landscape architecture; and the cultural ecology of suburban open space. The individual historic properties define the physical boundaries of this study unit.

Minnehaha Creek: From Wilderness Stream to Urban Waterway (10,000 B.C. to A.D. 1974)
Minnehaha Creek is both a natural resource and a cultural resource. The stream was born at the end of the last ice age, sometime between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago and provides a multi-layered record of the interactions between humans and the environment. In prehistoric times it provided an attractive resource procurement area for Native American hunting and foraging parties; early settlers exploited its waterpower resource for mills. It has been important regional attraction since the mid-nineteenth century, when the falls near its outlet to the Mississippi River was immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha.” Within the city limits, the picturesque setting frames suburban cottage residences, parks, picnic areas and scenic vistas. Although much of the winding waterway corridor in Edina has been developed into manicured parklands and residential yards, there are scattered natural areas along the banks of the steam. Historic resources include a potentially wide range of vernacular and designed landscape features, as well as prehistoric and historic archeological deposits which document changing land uses and perceptions of the waterway’s usefulness.

© 2016 City Of Edina, Minnesota