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Minneapolis in Hennepin County, Minnesota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
 

Building the Corridor

The CM&StP Grade Separation

 

— Midtown Corridor: CM & St P Grade Separation Historic District —

 
Building the Corridor Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By McGhiever, June 22, 2021
1. Building the Corridor Marker
Inscription.  A Grade Separation Campaign
As part of its westward expansion, the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad (CM&StP) built its Hastings and Dakota line across south Minneapolis in 1879-81. The tracks crossed what was then the city's southern edge, where the construction of houses, schools, and churches on former farmland was just beginning to shape new neighborhoods. Horse-drawn streetcars first linked this edge of the city with downtown Minneapolis. By 1890 the lines had electrified and greatly expanded.

Between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun and Cedar Avenue, about 50 streets crossed the tracks, creating many hazards for pedestrians and streetcar and wagon passengers. After 1900, automobiles were sometimes involved in collisions at the crossings.

Community leaders campaigned for relief from the hazards, and grade separation was the solution. The noisy, complex task of constructing nearly three miles of grade separation—including 37 bridges,—began in 1912 and was completed in 1916.

The Trench
The grade separation stretches from Humboldt Avenue near the lakes to East 28th Street near
Building the Corridor Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By McGhiever, June 10, 2022
2. Building the Corridor Marker
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Cedar Avenue. The railroad tracks were placed in a trench approximately 22 feet deep. An earthen embankment lined most of the trench, with stretches of concrete retaining walls and the walls of some adjoining buildings forming the rest of the edge.

Railway engineer F. G. L. Hunt oversaw the survey, excavation, and construction. He wrote:
Probably the most serious trouble came through encountering irregularities of quicksand at varying depths, from 8 to 16 feet below the surface; this sand was considerably finer than the ordinary sand and as distributed in beds of varying depth, directly above a strata of clay...
CM&StP Railway Engineer's 29th Street Track Depression Notebook, 1917


Concrete plants and derricks lined the corridor, and much of the fill removed from the site was hauled to a freight yard at Bass Lake, nine miles away. Temporary bridges for streetcar traffic were constructed, but pedestrians had to cross the cut on narrow bridges during the excavation process.

[Caption:] Temporary bridges spanned the construction area at Bruer Brothers Lumber near Lyndale Ave. S.

The Bridges
[Caption:] Trench construction, looking east at Portland Ave. S., 1912

Workers poured each of the 37 concrete bridges
Marker on the south side of the Midtown Greenway image. Click for full size.
Photographed By McGhiever, June 10, 2022
3. Marker on the south side of the Midtown Greenway
on site. The typical historic bridge has three spans, with the bed supported by concrete, double-arched piers. Concrete parapet railings cap each bridge wall, with the construction date pressed into the abutment. In some places, a concrete and iron fence also lines the trench. The trackage was removed for the construction of the Midtown Corridor.

[Caption:] Historic bridge and trench components

Railroads or Boulevards?
That we should forever suffer this inexpressible nuisance to desecrate the residential part of our city is not to be thought of with patience.
Minneapolis Journal, February 16,


A century ago, the uncomfortable mix of railroads, industries, and houses did not escape public notice. In 1908, the Calhoun Improvement Association successfully campaigned against proposed coal yards and promoted the Minneapolis Park Board's creation of The Mall. Others supported an even more ambitious—but never realized—parkway plan stretching from Lake of the Isles to the Mississippi River. Real estate dealer C. N. Chadbourn proposed abandonment of the tracks and a reroute south of Lake Hiawatha. The rail corridor was to be transformed into a broad, landscaped boulevard fronted by "stately residences, beautiful homes, and spreading lawns." This missing link in the city's chain
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of parks was intended to provide a direct route to St. Paul. As constructed in 1912-1916, the grade-separation project was designed to make the railroad more compatible with the surrounding residential area, but industry continued to locate along the corridor for decades.

Engineering for Industry
A slice of the corridor in 1914, showing Twin City Separator, Acme Tag Manufacturing, and Bruer Brothers Lumber. Lake Street Businesses, many houses, and the new Walker Branch Public Library also were part of the area.

When the grade separation began in 1912, grain and feed elevators, ice, oil and coal companies, lumberyards, and a variety of manufacturing plants were among about 20 industries and businesses already established along the tracks. Many of these industries provided the essentials of everyday urban life, such as coal and ice, while others shipped most of their products to regional or national markets. Long before clean-air regulations, manufacturing plants were built next to houses and apartments, and the mixed zone of industrial use extended about a block, especially to the north. To the south, Lake Street was becoming a busy retail and transportation corridor.

The proposed plan required more than $1 million and also involved relocating city sewers. The construction years were filled with public debate and
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with lawsuits from adjacent industries. The railroad, prepared to assist industries in reengineering their buildings to accommodate the trench, installed a third track to allow easier switching to the main rail. Some industries reengineered only after the trench was complete, making construction more expensive.

The Cornplanter Lubricating and Oil Company during the reconstruction of the original building and after project completion, ca. 1917. The building is no longer standing.

The Cornplanter Lubricating and Oil Company at Third Avenue South was among industries enjoying much better facilities after the grade separation. The CM&StP engineer wrote of the company:

This plant was changed from a shabby, ill-designed oil station, costly to operate, with very limited storage room, and insignificant appearance to a large and neat, businesslike appearing installation, with adequate storage, efficient mechanical apparatus, and excellent shipping facilities as a cost of less than 30 percent of a new plant of equal facilities
CM&StP Railway Engineer's 29th Street Track Depression Notebook, 1917


Historic Corridor Industries and Businesses
Twin City Nut Food Company
2817 Bryant Ave. S.
Razed
Located about one block from the tracks, the Twin City Nut Food Company was a bakery and food processor in operation between about 1890 and 1930. The building housed several later uses including a seat-cover manufacturer. The building was razed in 1982.

Acme Tag Manufacturing Company
2840 Fremont Ave. S.
Acme Tag is the oldest business in continuous operation on the corridor. Since 1905 the firm has manufactured a variety of paper tags, labels, and cloth bags. Grain and seed tags were among early products for agricultural industries.

Baker's Greenhouse
2929 Emerson Ave. S. (at Lake St.)
Razed
Harry Franklin Baker's Greenhouse was among the small businesses not directly connected to the railroad but operated in the Lake Street and 29th Street industrial zone. Baker was born in Boston and moved to Minneapolis as a child in 1883. He first worked as an accountant, then launched his greenhouse and landscape design business in 1915. Baker became a noted local landscape designer and collaborated with architects William G. Purcell and George G. Elmslie.

Harry Franklin Baker landscape service hanging flower baskets on streetlight poles, ca. 1930

Twin City Separator Company
later Serley Sash and Door Company
2841 Dupont Ave. S.
Twin City Separator manufactured grain separators at this location between about 1893 and 1930. In 1909 the company was among several strongly opposing the grade separation in favor of elevated trakcs, but between 1912 and 1916, the company adapted its factory to the new grade separation. The Serley Sash and Door Company later operated here.

Norris Creameries
2832-2846 Emerson Ave. S.
At the turn of the century, small creameries around the city supplied grocers and homes with milk, cream, and butter. Norris, one of the city's largest, built this modern plant in 1946, after decades of operation along the rail corridor. (Another creamery, the Model Milk Company, was a few blocks away at West 28th and Nicollet.) The landscaped front yard and near one-story exterior welcomed passersby.

Lake Street Connections
W. Lake St. at Girard Ave. S., looking west, 1951.

The headquarters of the George Buzza Company (at left in 1920) at 1006 W. Lake St. was known as Craftacres. Buzza produced greeting cards, books, posters, and calendars. Part of the building was formerly the home of the Northwestern Needle Company. The Buzza tower, visible from the Midtown Corridor, contained decorated display rooms.

Lake became an important street for new- and used-car sales. The Velie Motor Company at W. Lake St. and Fremond Ave. S. is shown in 1950.


Neighborhood Connections
In 1910, photographer Edward D. Mayo captured his 2808 Fremond Ave. S. house one block from the tracks.

When constructed in 1879-1881, the Hastings and Dakota Division of the CM&StP crossed the southern, then nearly unbuilt, edge of the city. Developers had already laid out additions and subdivisions in anticipation of residential development, and by 1900 they put up many houses in neighborhoods such as the Wedge. New residents relied on convenient streetcar transportation to downtown and other points. Recreation could be found right along the corridor between Emerson and Dupont avenues at the now-razed Arena Skating Rink.

Along the Trench on West 29th Street
Looking west across the intersection of Aldrich Ave. S. and W. 29th St., in 1957. At left is a lumber shed belonging to the Serley Sash and Door Company. The Minneapolis Sanitary Ice Company is in the background. (Marker Number 3.)
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Bridges & ViaductsIndustry & CommerceRailroads & Streetcars. A significant historical year for this entry is 1912.
 
Location. 44° 57.018′ N, 93° 17.525′ W. Marker is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in Hennepin County. Marker is on The Midtown Greenway west of Bryant Avenue, on the right when traveling east. The marker is on the Midtown Greenway rail trail, just west of the Colfax Avenue bridge and the ramp down from Bryant Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Minneapolis MN 55408, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Flour, Fuel and Baseball (approx. 0.3 miles away); The Railroad and the City (approx. 0.4 miles away); First Dwelling in Minneapolis (approx. 0.9 miles away); Peavey Fountain (approx. 1.1 miles away); Fair Oaks (approx. 1.1 miles away); Minneapolis in the Age of Grade Separation (approx. 1.2 miles away); The Woman's Club of Minneapolis (approx. 1.3 miles away); Loring Park: The Devil's Backbone (approx. 1˝ miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Minneapolis.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on July 4, 2022. It was originally submitted on June 30, 2022, by McGhiever of St Paul, Minnesota. This page has been viewed 47 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on June 30, 2022, by McGhiever of St Paul, Minnesota. • J. Makali Bruton was the editor who published this page.

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Sep. 27, 2022