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RIVER LIFE

Living with the Mississippi: Working on the River

Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.

For many residents of the river flats communities, the river was not only a place to live, but also a place to work. Employment originally drew settlers to the Bohemian Flats. After the Kraenzlein & Miller Brewery was built above the southern end of the flats in 1866, a boardinghouse was to provide a home for the brewery workers, mainly German immigrants.[1] They were shortly joined by the Zahler Brewery built on the other side of the flats in 1874; this brewery quickly changed hands and became the Noerenberg Brewery in 1880, while Kraenzlein and Miller became Heinrich and Mueller in 1884. These two breweries joined John Orth and Germania to form the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company in 1890, known today as Grain Belt. When a centralized brewery was established across the river, the jobs followed, and the breweries on the flats were abandoned.[2]

"Heinrich Brewery building (Minneapolis Brewing Company), foot of Fourth Street, Minneapolis. Photographer unknown, taken in approximately 1895. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Heinrich Brewery building (Minneapolis Brewing Company), foot of Fourth Street, Minneapolis. Photographer unknown, taken in approximately 1895. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

By this time, the population at the flats had greatly surpassed the labor force at the breweries. In fact, most of the brewery employees no longer lived on the flats, as the population was changing rapidly. The majority of the community worked as unskilled laborers; the men and most children over the age of 14 were employed by the mills and factories in downtown Minneapolis, while their wives and mothers would stay home to tend to the house. Young women often worked until they were married, often employed as seamstresses or laundresses.[3]

Historically, certain industries were sometimes ethnically affiliated. In an oral history, Bohemian Flats descendant Don Pafko mentioned the local railroads were controlled by the Irish, while trades like carpentry and bricklaying were associated with Scandinavians, making it difficult to obtain these types of jobs.[4] While residents at the Bohemian Flats generally did not work in these industries, that did not prevent them from working in a diverse number of areas. Though about 75% of the people living at the flats between 1900 and 1930 were Slovak, they did not seem to favor any industry over another. Though families would sometimes work for the same company, this pattern was not reflected in the work of different ethnic groups.

“Palisade Mill on the West Side of the River in 1903.” Photographer unknown, taken in 1903. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

“Palisade Mill on the West Side of the River in 1903.” Photographer unknown, taken in 1903. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Common employers in 1880 were the Averill, Russell, and Carpenter Paper Mill on Hennepin Island and the Minnesota Linseed Oil Mill located in Cedar-Riverside. By 1890, the flour mills had become dominant, with Anchor, Humboldt, and Pillsbury Mills as some of the top employers. This concentration shifted to manufacturing companies by the 1900s, though many still worked at the mills as well.[5] Though many of these workplaces were located on the river, it was still a distant walk or trolley ride upstream for the residents of the Bohemian Flats.

This map shows a sampling of the workplaces of the residents at the Bohemian Flats between 1880 and 1920. Different industries are represented by color: mills are yellow, stores are red, manufacturing is orange, foundries are dark green, and everything else is light green.

This map shows a sampling of the workplaces of the residents at the Bohemian Flats between 1880 and 1920. Different industries are represented by color: mills are yellow, stores are red, manufacturing is orange, foundries are dark green, and everything else is light green.

Further Reading:

Footnotes:

[1] Minneapolis City Directories, 1859-1922. Found online at the Hennepin County Library website at http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/
[2] Hoverson, Doug. Land of Amber Waters. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
[3] These patterns were reflected in the United States Federal Census from 1880-1930.
[4] Donald Pafko, interviewed by Anduin Wilhide, Houses of Worship and Ethnicity Project, April 13, 2012.
[5] Minneapolis City Directories, 1859-1922. Found online at the Hennepin County Library website at http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/

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  1. Living with the Mississippi: The River as a Resource | River LifeJune 11, 2015 at 10:23 am

    […] Additionally, the river fed the flour, wool, and saw mills at the St. Anthony Falls, many of which provided jobs for the residents at the Bohemian Flats. Though the real estate at the river was some of the worst […]

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