Lifetime resident Tom Balcom points out historical and present-day highlights of Washburn Park


Today’s Tangletown neighborhood used to be known as Washburn Park, and the high school, library and historic water tower still bear evidence of the family that transformed the space from farm fields.
Local historian, Tom Balcom, has lived in the area his entire life, and does walking tours through Preserve Minneapolis. The 2022 tour was held on Tuesday evening, July 19, and about 20 people spent 90 minutes on the 1.5-mile walk. He believes that local history is not about yesterday; it’s the context for where we live today.
“I’m proud of the place I live and I like to tell people the history of it,” said Balcom.
“One hundred and twenty years ago, this was all farmland. Then the city marched out. I don’t think people have too much of a sense of that.”
The tour began at the Washburn Library, where the Washburn water tower could be seen through the trees. Down the hill to Minnehaha Creek is where the Richfield Flour Mill used to sit. There are no known images of the flour mill. In the 1860s, there was a general store, blacksmith shop, and meat market on Lyndale. Post World War II photos show a chow mein restaurant, an auto body shop and the Boulevard Twins, a movie theater and bowling alley. It later became the Red Owl supermarket, and is now Kowalski’s. (View images in online photo gallery at www.swconnector.com)
The original stone arch bridge spanning Minnehaha Creek on Lyndale was torn down in 2010 and rebuilt, making space for a trail underneath so people don’t have to cross the busy street.
In 1886, this area was part of Richfield township, pointed out Balcom. It was annexed by the city and privately platted in 1887, in part, due to milling executive and Soo Line Railroad founder William D. Washburn. He was among the wealthiest men in Minnesota in the 1880s. He founded the Pillsbury-Washburn Milling Company, which later became the Pillsbury Company, and was eventually absorbed by his brother Cadwallader Washburn’s firm, General Mills.
The well-known landscape architect, Horace Cleveland, designed the original plat of the 110-acre parcel, with winding streets that followed the natural depressions of the land. A real estate brochure by H.E. Ladd & Co. praised Washburn Park as a place “where the men of business can get away from the noise of the city and the inconvenience of small lots and crowded neighborhoods.” Washburn Park was deemed a “retreat” along Minnehaha Creek. It included the land between the creek and 48th St., from Lyndale to Third Ave. The price of the one-quarter to three-quarter-sized lots ranged from $900 to $5,000.
Harry Wild Jones built the first house in the neighborhood at 5101 Nicollet Avenue South, a shingle-styled Norman chateau that he called “Elmwood.” The architect came to Minneapolis from Boston, and left his mark on the city. Among the other buildings he designed were Butler Square and the Lakewood Cemetery chapel. His Rustic Lodge was never built.
Another notable residence, 408 W. Minnehaha Parkway, was owned by the Thayer family. Frank Lloyd Wright was a friend of the Thayers, and designed a bay window on each side that was added during a home expansion. “Frank said he enjoyed visiting here,” observed Balcom.
Charlie Brown cartoonist Charles Monroe Schulz was born at home at 919 Chicago Avenue South #2, and grew up in St. Paul’s Highland Park. He owned a home in Tangletown at 112 W. Minnehaha Parkway from 1955-58 prior to moving to California. Balcom remembers a time when Schulz attended a school event where he drew sketches of his Peanuts cartoon characters. “It was nice to have him in the neighborhood,” he said.
A drawing he drew on an interior house wall after the birth of a daughter that had been wallpapered over was carefully removed by the Schultz Museum a few years ago, pointed out Wade Johnson, who attended the walking tour with neighbor Mark Karraker.
“We’re both big history buffs,” said Johnson. In researching their houses, they’ve learned that around 1903, some roads were added in the neighborhood and others removed.
There are three public triangles in the neighborhood. About a hundred neighborhood houses were removed when Interstate 35W was put in, and the majority were torn down. The freeway is now the eastern border of Tangletown.
The stories about plane crashes in the neighborhood at the tower are not true, observed Balcom. A plane did crash at Dupont and Emerson in 1950, however. In trying to land in a blizzard, it clipped a flag pole at Fort Snelling and came down four blocks away from the Washburn water tower near Minnehaha Creek.

William D. Washburn served as the president of the Washburn Memorial Orphanage Board of Trustees. Located where Justice Page Middle School currently sits at Nicollet and West 50th, the orphanage needed water. In 1893, a brick and stone watertower was constructed at on the hill that is now 401 Prospect Ave. Water was pumped from Minnehaha Creek to the tower, and then piped to the orphanage.
By the 1920s, the 120 children at Washburn orphan asylum had dropped to about 10, and the orphanage was closed. The building was razed and a school built.
The city of Minneapolis purchased the water tower in 1916 and connected it to the city’s water supply. It was inadequate in the 1920s, and was also razed.
The tower that replaced it in 1932 was designed by Harry Wild Jones, who collaborated with engineer William S. Hewitt and sculptor John K. Daniels, fellow local residents.
It is known for the eight hooded knights stretching up the sides of the tower to eight eagles that stand atop the evenly spaced pilasters. The sculptures cost $1,800, and the overall cost of the tower was $85,000. It rises 110 feet. At the base, the walls are 24 inches wide narrowing to 18 inches halfway up.
The new tower held nearly eight times more than the original tower at 1,350,000 gallons. As a new historical plaque at the tower states, “It utilized modern hydro-engineering methods for the waterworks while incorporating reinforced concrete construction and external ornamentation.” It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The tower was used until 2005. It is currently empty.

The largest concentration of Lustron homes is found in Minneapolis, pointed out Balcom. There were only 6,000 built in the country.
Six Lustron houses are on the 5000 block of Nicollet Avenue, just south of Justice Page school: 5009, 5015, 5021, 5027, 5047, and 5055. Three additional Lustron houses are at 4900 and 4916 Cedar Avenue in South Minneapolis and 2436 Mount View Avenue in Bryn Mawr.
Each of these pre-fab homes was built in just 1.5-2 days following World War II. “This was a big deal for the housing market,” said Balcom. However, the trades didn’t seem to appreciate the construction method and the style, and the Lustron company was forced into bankruptcy, said Balcom.
“I have a special interest in hearing about this stuff,” said Stevens Square resident Angela Anderson, who is a local real estate agent and finds the Lustron homes fascinating. She pointed out that you may pass a place a hundred times, but not notice something until you take a walking tour. “The idea of being a tourist is you can learn things – little things you learn that you’d never know otherwise.”


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  • MinnieHaha

    I think there are a few errors. I'm pretty sure the orphanage was a separate building west of Washburn and Ramsey schools that was torn down in the early 1960s. The house facing 50th Street as you drive east, just after Nicollet, has remarkably stayed pink for many decades with, even I think different owners. The founder of Mars Candy lived in Tangletown, as have many other achievers. It is a refreshing district in a gridiron land.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2022 Report this