Updates, history, and content from neighbors in and around the Wedge
From the Hennepin County Library archives:
The February 1984 edition of the Wedge newspaper. In this edition, the paper celebrated the neighborhood's centennial, putting Lowry Hill East at 136 years-old today. Here is the text from the article, written by Trilby Busch:
A centennial is a notable milestone in the life of
a community. Several generations have been born,
schooled, nurtured and sustained, many buildings
have been erected—and destroyed—within its
boundaries. To the people in that community the
passage of one hundred years of community life
gives a sense of identity, continuity and solidarity
quite unlike that of communities built within
European settlers arriving in the area in the
1830's found open prairie where Wedge houses
now stand and an ill-defined swamp where Lake
of the Isles now lies. With the landscape devoid of
trees and buildings one could clearly discern the
rocky ridge now known as Lowry Hill. In 1839
settler R. P. Russell, the man destined to become
the first developer in the Wedge, arrived in town
from New England.
In 1871 Russell moved his original 1850's homestead claim shack and small frame Greek Revival
house from what is now the West High School site
to their present location on the southeast corner of
Bryant Avenue and 26th Street. The reason for the
move was to clear the Hennepin Avenue site so
that construction of Russell's big brick house
could begin the next year.
At that time Russell's Out Lots were platted
between 26th and 28th Streets, Lyndale to
Hennepin, to the south of the relocated houses.
These "out lots" were not, however, platted as
standard city lots; the area was still distinctly
agrarian, dotted with scattered clusters of farm
Two significant changes came in 1884, one
precipitating the other. "Streetcar Man" Thomas
Lowry expanded his horsedrawn streetcar lines
into the area, running a double track down
Lyndale Avenue, turning west onto 27th Street,
then south onto Dupont Avenue and coming to an
end in a turntable at 31st Street. In 1881 Lowry's
friend and legal client William Windom
anticipated this move and began platting land
adjacent to the planned streetcar. "Windom's Addition" of lots (?)
development was created between Lvndaie and Hennepin Avenues and south
Lake Street. Other landowners
realizing the critical importance of public transportation access to the development of a residential subdivision, quickly followed Windom's example. By the time the horsecar lines arrived in
1884 much of the Wedge was platted and ready for development.
Thus in a remarkably short period of time a
nondescript stretch of prairie farmland south of
the burgeoning city of Minneapolis became a
suburban subdivision of lots and streets.
Because the new streetcar line passed to the east
of Lowry Hill, where Lowry's 9-year-old French
Second Empire mansion stood in aloof magnificence, horsecars to the new area bore the designation "Lowry Hill East." At this point Lowry Hill was not a neighborhood, but the undeveloped hillside behind Lowry's house.
During the 1870's the population of the city of
Minneapolis grew from 18,000 to 47,000. The
1880's brought an awesome boom to the area: in
the first half of this decade the city's population
nearly tripled, reaching 129,000 by 1885. Lowry
Hill East was one of the new middle class
suburban neighborhoods built to house the rush of incoming residents.
The city itself in 1884 would scarcely be recognizable to today's resident (not to mention how
mindboggling today's city would be to the 1884
resident). A century ago the city had only three
bridges across the Mississippi for public use: the
"upper bridge" (as it was commonly know) at
Plymouth Avenue, the grand Victorian
"suspension bridge" at Hennepin Avenue and the
"lower bridge" at 10th Avenue. Some major
street names were different, having not yet been
renamed to honor city fathers: LaSalle Avenue
was Vine, Pillsbury was Williams, and Lowry
Avenue North was Fern.
The downtown area was beginning to take
shape as a city, complete with massive brick and
stone edifices. In 1884 Minneapolis first modern
department store, the Glass Block at Sixth and
Nicollet, was completed. The elegant West Hotel,
designed by the gifted architect Leroy S.
Buffington, opened on July 21, 1884 (it would fall
to the wrecking ball 56 years hence). The Lumber
Exchange and the old Great Northern railway
depot were under construction. Also in 1884
government engineers were putting the finishing
touches on a 16-year-long undertaking, the
building of a bypass channel and a concrete apron
across the river at St. Anthony Falls.
But perhaps the most distinguished structure
built in that year was not a building at all, but
"Jim Hill's Folly,M a stone arch railroad bridge
spanning the Mississippi below the falls. The
Stone Arch Bridge, constructed for the then-
princely sum of $690,000, over the years became
and still remains one of the city's best known
In 1884 Minneapolis's 8 wards were governed
by an oligarchy that made success in commerce
synonymous with success in politics. George A.
Pillsbury of the prominent milling family^was
both major and president of the chamber of
commerce; street railway developer Thomas
Lowry served as head of the park board. Lowry's
friend and local hero William Windom, first to
plat the Wedge, was at that time a U. S. Senator.
A century ago both salaries and prices reflected
a dollar with far more buying power than its
modern descendant. The city engineer made an
annual salary of $3,500; the city attorney made
$1,800. The chief of police earned $1800, less than
the fire chief at $2,200. Accordingly, a modest
worker's house could be constructed for under
The trendy woman of the 1880's (and we must
assume that there were a few in this booming,
sprawling prairie city) wore softly shaped and
draped ankle-length dresses made fashionable by
Lily Langtry, Oscar Wilde and other arbiters of
taste amon England's decadent "Aesthetic" set.
These flowing garments, made up in bright or
pastel colors, were the late Victorians' fantasy of
what Grecian robes looked like.
Fashion in domestic architecture was also
imported from England. The English Queen Anne
style-asymmetrical in shape, lavishly embellished
with details, clad in siding of various shapes
and/or materials-was popularly employed by
American builders, who adapted the style to
locally available materials and crafts. In
Minneapolis the vast majority of Queen Anne
buildings, especially the more modest versions,
were of wood.
1884 was also the year the city inspections
department began issuing building permits, so it is
relatively easy to date construction from that year
on. City records show that among extant buildings
in Lowry Hill East roughly 20 were constructed
pre-1884. In 1884-7 building permits were issued
for houses in the neighborhood; in 1885 - 14
permits, and in 1886 - 41 permits. The smallest
number of permits drawn in that decade for
houses now standing was 5 in 1889.
All of the houses built by permit in 1884 were
located along the southern and eastern boundaries
of the neighborhood, close to the new horsecar
tracks. School principal-cum-builder Charles H.
Buell erected two Queen Anne cottages at a cost of
$2,000 apiece at 2521 and 2023-25 Aldrich Avenue
South. Like many builders of the day, Buell built
the houses on speculation—the result of a
flourishing housing market. Long-time farmer-
resident George Tullock also built two worker's
houses on speculation for $1,500 each at 2645 and
2649 Colfax Avenue South.
It was common practice then, as it is in many of
today's suburban developments, for a speculating
builder to buy up more than one lot in a given
area, then to build two or more houses simultaneously, spreading the development process out over
several years. Buell and Tullock were apparently
doing small-scale versions of this practice. They
are typical of the numerous residents of many
trades and professions who capitalized upon the
critical housing shortage of that decade.
Just around the corner from Tullock's houses
C. L. Mayhem (we wonder if he really was so
menacing) was building a $1,200 worker's house
at 2638 Bryant. And over on Dupont and Aldrich
Avenues more grandiose, plans were being
On the northwest corner of 27th and Aldrich
brickmason J. G. Hall was using his craft to concoct a lovely pressed-brick Queen Anne house.
Although Hall lists the cost at a nominal $1,500,
2658 Aldrich Avenue South is clearly not a run-of-the-mill worker's house. In its handsome,
enduring materials, in its carefully applied details
we find a house fit for a discerning upwardly-
mobile homeowner of a century ago, the buyer
that Hall undoubtedly wanted to attract.
The most distinguished house on the 1884
permits is the fashionable Queen Anne residence
at 2701 Dupont Avenue South. The house displays
an almost-prototypical vernacular Queen Anne
design, with its shingled gables and multiple-light
windows. Yet it also suggests the influence of the
American Shingle Style, then rising to fashion on
the East Coast.
Constructed by Frank Gryglia at a cost of
$7,500, this house is by far the most expensive
dwelling on record built that year in the Wedge.
Its substantial pricetag shows that Lowry Hill East
was developing as a neighborhood for people of
comfortable and more-than-comfortable means.
By the close of 1884 nearly 30 houses probably
stood in the area known now as the Wedge or
Lowry Hill East. The streets were muddy and
rutted, the neighboring lots were open pastures
and fields, and the trees were mere saplings, but
Lowry Hill East had made the transition from
undistinguished parcels of land to a platted,
populated urban neighborhood.
This small but significant passage we celebrate
this year in marking the conclusion of the first
century of urban life in our neighborhood. Today
nearly 7,000 people live in the Wedge. It has
grown from a cluster of 1880's suburban houses to
a densely-populated urban neighborhood,
comprised of stores, houses, apartment buildings,
offices, parking lots, a small park, and paved
streets. We should pause, if only briefly, to look at
the century-old houses in the Wedge and reflect
upon what they were, what they are-and how they
define and enrich the neighborhood they