Cafeaplis — coffe + community @ minneapolis

RePhotography Project

So my secret passion is learning how urban landscapes have changed over time. I’m not sure when it started, but I got to immerse myself in it in my Masters of Landscape Architecture capstone project in 2010. I had fallen in love with a riverfront site in downtown Minneapolis that had changed dramatically since it was first developed for industrial water power in the 1840s. Part of my analysis of the site involved finding historic photographs of the site and then re-taking a photograph from the same spot (or as close as I could get to it).

I love the results and it really helped me get a better understanding of how the site had changed.

For the past month or so, I’ve been researching and writing about the history of a former industrial area just northeast of the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus – it’s part of a much larger project that the Design Center has been working on for years. More about that later. As I’ve been researching historic photographs, I came across this really fascinating photograph of a different part of campus which shows the Mississippi River and an area historically known as Bohemian Flats. 

If you aren’t familiar with the history of Bohemian Flats, what you are seeing in the bottom righthand corner is a neighborhood that was once home to a large population of immigrants, who began settling along the river flats in the 1860s. The land here was cheap and the residents found work in the nearby breweries and mills. When the river would rise in the spring, the entire neighborhood would flood – residents took it in stride and accessed their homes by boat. The large building on the right is the Heinrich Brewery. Another brewery operated on the north side of Bohemian Flats, behind the photographer in this image. For more historic photographs, including some really amazing ones showing kids rowing boats through the flooded streets, search for “Bohemian Flats” on the Minnesota Historical Society‘s online collection.

I’ve gotten to do some historical research on this area before, for earlier phases in this project and so I’ve seen many images of Bohemian Flats, but this particular one really struck me because it’s taken from a spot I frequently pass, so it’s quite easy to grasp the extreme changes that have taken place. But I wanted to document it. So I went to the Washington Avenue Bridge and re-photographed it.

What was once a dense residential neighborhood is now park land. University buildings currently stand along both river bluffs, including near the former brewery. Far in the distance, Interstate 94 crosses the Mississippi River.

What happened between the two photographs? The two breweries joined forces in 1891 and left the area to build the Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis. Around 1900, the city of Minneapolis chose Bohemian Flats as the site for a river terminal. Eviction notices were issued to some residents starting in 1915 and by the 1930s most of the houses were gone. The flats housed a barge terminal and coal storage yard until the 1940s, until the upper locks and dams and the Upper Harbor Terminal were built upstream in the 1960s. In the 1980s, all of the infrastructure associated with the terminal was removed and the West River Parkway was extended along the Flats.

I love the stories these photographs tell. Stories of big ideas like how our relationship with the river has evolved in the past 200 years. I love that seemingly boring everyday landscapes like a riverside park hide secret pasts of immigrant neighborhoods and flooded streets. Re-photographing allows me to understand these stories better, to fix them in my mind, and to share them with others. I hope to do more.

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© Copyright 2006 Adrienne Bockheim.