University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Looking Back: Life on the River at Bohemian Flats

IMG_0299On a Water Walk in April, we explored a much-anticipated topic amongst our diverse group of Water Walkers as we learned about the historical immigrant community at the Bohemian Flats. Joined by Rachel Hines, a 2013 University of Minnesota graduate and Bohemian Flats expert, we gathered for our walk along East River Parkway with a great view of the river and the flats.

Often remembered as an idyllic, Old World settlement, Hines took us back 100 years to give us a glimpse into what life was really like on the historical Bohemian Flats. With 200 brightly colored houses haphazardly arranged among three main streets and a church, the flats were home to Slovakian, Scandinavian, Irish, German, and Bohemian immigrants that worked in the mills upstream. The flats were subject to crime, pollution, and garbage brought onshore from spring flooding, as well as illness passed along by the use of a communal water pump. Although far from ideal, the flats were a community and retreat from Americanization, and a place that many immigrants called home.

However, more problems began to arise in 1915 when the city of Minneapolis condemned houses on the flats to create a new terminal for barge access to the industries at St. Anthony Falls. A dispute between the city and residents carried on until 1923 when the land’s new ownership started to charge the community rent. Many refused to pay and were evicted. Those who agreed to pay rent stayed at the flats until 1931, when the remaining population was evicted from their homes.

Shortly after the last resident left, Minneapolis began mourning the loss of the migrant village. The reminiscence of hardships and setbacks seemed to diminish, leaving behind fond memories of the Bohemian Flats as a viable community that allowed immigrants to navigate a new home and their changing identity as Americans.

Want to know more about the Bohemian Flats? Stay tuned for further information about Rachel Hines’ work in upcoming blog posts.

Rachel graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Anthropology and completed her honors thesis on the Bohemian Flats. She is currently working with River Life and our partners in the The Heritage Collaborative to further study life of the immigrant communities at the flats.

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One Comment

  1. Greg GenzMay 20, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Of course I am not old enough to remember the community, but, I have always used as one of of my River anectdotes, “When I started on the River working, only poor people lived on the banks. Now, only rich people live there!”

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