Over Wide and Rushing Rivers

When Ali and I were little, Mom used to take us to see the statue of Hiawatha and Minnehaha at Minnehaha Falls. I remember feeling so inspired by the sculpture, even as a little girl, and I immediately created a love story between the two bronze figures. I’m sure my Disney-influenced brain assumed the two people were John Smith and Pocahontas. To be honest, it wasn’t until I started doing some research for this post that I realized the sculpture actually depicts two Native Americans from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s work, The Song of Hiawatha. The plaque even features a line from the epic poem, “Over wide and rushing rivers/ In his arms he bore the maiden.”

This lifelong misinterpretation of a famous Minnesotan work of art got me thinking. Not only was I unaware of the correct history behind the statue at Minnehaha Falls, but I realized I knew very little about Minnesota’s Native American history. This realization embarrassingly sunk in as I strolled through the US-Dakota war exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Society a few weeks ago. If you find yourself similarly uninformed, then I recommend visiting this detailed display of the Minnesotan war between settlers, soldiers and Native Americans. It’s enlightening, heartbreaking and left me wanting to know more. There’s also a great week-long piece on Chief Little Crow in the Star Tribune this week. The exhibit, the newspaper articles, and other nods to Native American culture are no coincidence. Minnesota seems to be making an effort to come to terms with a dark spot in our state’s past, while observing the 15oth anniversary of the US-Dakota war.

In hopes of contributing my own nod to Native American culture, I compiled a list of just a few of the Native American place-names that still exist in Minnesota today.

We’ll start with the most obvious …

Minnesota – Based on the Dakota name for “Sky-tinted Water” (Mni sota).

Minneapolis – A Dakota and Greek language hybrid for “Water City.”

Minnehaha – Translates to Curling Water, but the Dakota actually called Minnehaha Falls “Wakpa Cistinna” for little river.

Minnetonka – Big Water

Minnetrista – Crooked Water

Minneota – Much Water

Minneiska – White Water

… noticing a theme yet?

Mahtomedi – Grey Bear Lake

Manitou Island – “Habitation of Great Spirit.” This place-name surrounds the Dakota legend about forbidden love, a secret meeting spot, and a great white bear. Appropriately, you can find Manitou Island on White Bear Lake.

Hiawatha – Name of a legendary Mowhawk chief, “He Makes Rivers.” This name also appears in the previously mentioned poem, The Song of Hiawatha.

Owatonna – This city is named after the Dakota’s name for the Straight River, “Wakpá Owóthaŋna”

Shakopee – “The Six.” Chief Shakopee was given this name after his wife had sextuplet boys.

And if any of you are in Michigan or Wisconsin …

Tahquamenon – “Our Woman.” An Ojibwe legend says that the Spirit Woman roams these falls in the Upper Peninsula. She was in love with a man she couldn’t marry and threw herself over the falls.

Menomonie – or Manoominii which stands for the “Wild Rice People.” This name was given to another group of Native Americans by the Ojibwe.

The list goes on and on and each name takes some digging. I was surprised to discover that the definitions are not easy to find. I also had a hard time uncovering credible websites that were dedicated to Native American history. Although, I did find a Minnesotan author, Paul Durand, who shared my interest in this unique history that surrounds us. His book, “Where the Waters Gather and the Rivers Meet,” documents all the original Dakota and Ojibwe place-names in the area. I have yet to track down a copy, but I’m excited to take a look.

So whether you take a trip to the Minnesota Historical Society, sit down with a coffee and the Star Tribune, or just happen to notice Minnehaha Avenue as you drive by, take a minute to remember those before you and the importance of keeping history in mind.

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Homes that Made History

This past weekend, I had the privilege of throwing a party at a Usonian masterpiece. If I’ve lost you, don’t worry. Until I looked it up, I had no clue what that meant either. “Usonian” is a term used when referring to a specific type of Frank Lloyd Wright home. These homes were smaller, designed for middle-income families, without a garage and in the shape of an “L.” Most of them were built to fit on odd-shaped lots.

However, the lot that I stood on last weekend was anything but odd. It was outright beautiful! Picture a secluded, heavily wooded yard, looking out over a quiet nook of Cedar Lake. What an escape in the middle of the city! Aside from the land, the home was breathtaking. The modern architecture, mixed with the brilliant use of small spaces was a constant source of awe for party-goers. I had to keep reminding myself to prepare for the party – all I could think about was the fact that I was standing in a piece of art history.

I have to admit, my first extensive encounter with Frank Lloyd Wright was through the historical fiction novel Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. If you’re a fan of history, love stories or architecture, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s also good for triggering an interest in Wright’s amazing work that can be found across the United States. While his actions with women were a little disappointing, I have great respect and a sense of American pride for Mr. Wright. I’ve learned about Otto Wagner and Antoni Gaudi, but it’s refreshing to learn about a visionary who shaped American architecture and was born in Wisconsin.

All that being said, this beautiful Usonian dwelling, tucked in between trees and right under my nose, got me thinking. What other homes are this spectacular, let alone historically significant, in Minneapolis?

Being the need-to-know-it-all that I am, I hit the books (Mac book) and found some hidden gems right in our backyard.

Harrington Beard House, est. 1888
Architect: Harry Wild Jones
Significance: This house is important due to the locally prominent architect who created it – Jones also built the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel and the Washburn Water Tower. The family history also plays a role in the house’s significance. The Harrington Beard family was a great supporter of the arts and they opened the first art gallery in Minneapolis.

Melrose Flats, est. 1890-92
Architect: Charles Segwick
Significance: Charles Segwick was a master architect and was known for his use of strong chromatic surfaces and ornamented detail. Both of these elements can be found intact in the Melrose Flats.

Fire Station #19, est. 1893
Architect: Unknown Minneapolis Building Inspector
Significance: This fire station is historically significant on many levels. It was built during a time of great industrial growth in Minneapolis, it was one of the last fire stations to stop using horse-drawn equipment, and it was the birthplace of “kittenball”  (a game which contributed to the creation of softball).

Charles M. Harrington House, est. 1902
Architect: Kees and Colburn
Significance: This Italian Renaissance-style home was built on Park Avenue, a street that attracted Minneapolis’ wealthiest residents. The owner of the house also adds to this historical site; Charles M. Harrington arrived in Minneapolis as a poor teenager and later became president of the Van Dusen-Harrington Company, one of the largest grain firms of that time.

Swan Turnblad House, est. 1903-10
Architect: Boehme and Cordella
Significance: Some of you may know this building to be the Swedish American Institute, however it was first the home of a prominent Swedish-American immigrant, Swan Turnblad. This man made his fortune by turning the Swedish-American newspaper, Svenska Amerikanska Posten, into one of the most widely circulated Swedish-American newspapers in the United States. The 33-room house, which cost nearly $1,500,000 to construct (in 1903!), took seven years to complete.

Edwin H. Hewitt House, est. 1906
Architect: Edwin H. Hewitt
Significance: The master architect who built this house, Edwin Hawley Hewitt, was one of Minnesota’s most widely acclaimed architects. This was his personal residence.

William Gray Purcell House, est. 1913
Architect: Purcell and Elmslie
Significance: This Prairie School style home is supposed to exemplify the style of architecture perfectly. The creators, Purcell and Elmslie, were greatly influenced by Louis Henri Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright and are credited for bringing Prairie School homes to Minneapolis.

Malcolm Willey House, est. 1934
Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Significance: The Malcolm Willey House was built for an administrator at the University of Minnesota. Another Prairie School style home known for pioneering the development of the “small house.” According to Heritage Preservation Commission, this house emphasizes the interplay of space, orientation to site, and utilization of natural light perfectly. And according to some, this house is Minneapolis’ best Frank Lloyd Wright home – I’d have to see it to believe it.

White Castle #8, est. 1936
Architect: L.W. Ray
Significance: Some of you may scoff at the fact that a White Castle restaurant made my list, but there’s a cool history behind it. As I did my research, I was shocked to see this building listed as a historical site. I’ve driven by this White Castle (literally, it’s a little white castle) so many times and never realized its significance. This building was the first fast food restaurant in Minneapolis and has occupied three different locations since 1936. Only 55 of these portable castles were manufactured between 1928 and 1942, and very few remain intact.

Information and pictures were gathered from the Heritage Preservation Commission’s interactive landmark map – an easy way to make a bike tour of historical buildings in Minneapolis. Here’s to a summer of exploring!