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RIVER LIFE
Minneapolis Tribune 2/28/97 Expand Article.

Minneapolis Tribune 2/28/97

See entire Minneapolis Tribune article.

Five river flats communities once dotted the banks of the Mississippi between St. Paul and Minneapolis. Flooded each spring and crowded with dilapidated housing, these areas provided homes to some of Minnesota’s most recent immigrants who often only stayed until they could afford better housing.

Esri, HERE, DeLorme, MapmyIndia, OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS user community.

Esri, HERE, DeLorme, MapmyIndia, OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS user community.

East Side Flats

See Living with the Mississippi : East Side Flats.

In Minneapolis, there were two small communities on the east side of the river. The southern end was home to mainly Irish and Scandinavian families, evicted by 1903 to make way for a public park, while the northern end was mostly occupied by Scandinavian immigrants. This small community went mostly unnoticed by the rest of the city and was home to the same handful of families for decades. Today, the I-35W Bridge sits over the northern cluster, while the southern end is a grassy park.

The East Side Flats beneath the Minneapolis Western Bridge in 1895. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The East Side Flats beneath the Minneapolis Western Bridge in 1895. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Beneath the I-35W Bridge. Photo courtesy of Bethany Khan.

Beneath the I-35W Bridge. Photo courtesy of Bethany Khan.

Bohemian Flats

See Living with the Mississippi: The Bohemian Flats

Memorialized in a 1941 Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration, the Bohemian Flats was one of the most famous river flats communities. It saw waves of Scandinavian, German, Czech, Irish, and Slovak settlers, the latter being the most dominant ethnic group for over thirty years. The majority of the community was evicted in 1931 when the land became a municipal barge terminal and coal dock. Today, it serves as a park and provides a docking point for riverboat tours.

The Bohemian Flats and the Northern Pacific Bridge in 1880. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Bohemian Flats and the Northern Pacific Bridge in 1880. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Bohemian Flats Park and Washington Avenue Bridge. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The Bohemian Flats Park and Washington Avenue Bridge. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Upper Levee

See Living with the Mississippi: Upper Levee

Once referred to as “The Bohemian Flats,” the Upper Levee became St. Paul’s Little Italy after the first wave of Czech and Slovak immigrants were evicted from the levee in the late 1800s. The Italian residents withstood the poor living conditions at the levee for years until they were finally forced out by floods in 1959. Today, the land has been raised, allowing the construction of a new apartment complex there. A model of the neighborhood serves as a reminder of the past at Cossetta’s on West 7th Street.

A postcard depicting Little Italy. Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

A postcard depicting Little Italy. Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Apartments at Upper Landing. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hines.

Apartments at Upper Landing. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hines.

West Side Flats

 See Living with the Mississippi: The West Side Flats

The Lower West Side has been referred to as the Ellis Island of St. Paul, a stopping point for many new immigrants to the city. Originally inhabited by the Mdewakanton Dakota, French Canadian, Irish, and German settlers joined in 1851. In 1882 a train arrived in St. Paul carrying over two hundred Russian Jewish refugees fleeing the persecution of Czar Alexander III. Eastern European Jews continued to arrive, taking ownership of the West Side Flats. Later, they would be joined by Syrian and Lebanese immigrants. Beginning in the 1930s, the early immigrant groups were replaced by Latino immigrants, mainly migrant workers from Mexico. The community was demolished in the 1960s to make way for an industrial park, though not without a fight from the many groups who called the flats home.

Flooding at the West Side Flats in 1952. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Flooding at the West Side Flats in 1952. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Riverside Industrial Park today. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hines.

Riverside Industrial Park today. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hines.

Swede Hollow

See Living with the Mississippi: Swede Hollow

Named for its original Scandinavian inhabitants, Swede Hollow was also home to later waves of Italian and Latino immigrants until it was burned down by the St. Paul Health Department in 1956 due to sanitation issues. The southern end, referred to as the Connemara Patch, provided a home for Irish immigrants brought to rural Minnesota by Catholic Archbishop John Ireland in a failed attempt to relieve suffering in the Connemara region. Unable to adjust to farm life, many took factory jobs in the city instead. Today, Swede Hollow is a celebrated public park maintained by the community group Friends of Swede Hollow.

Swede Hollow in 1910. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Swede Hollow in 1910. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Swede Hollow Park in 2008. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Swede Hollow Park in 2008. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

See the Exhibit Pages of Each Panel

  1. “No Place Like Home”: Remembering the Bohemian Flats
  2. Navigating Changing Identity in a New Country
  3. “A Squatter’s Domain”: Life on the Banks of the Mississippi
  4. “High Waters on River Flats”: Living on the Mississippi River
  5. “The Laborer’s Lot”: Poverty, Employment, and Social Programs
  6. “Adieu, River Flats”: The Eviction and Legacy of the Bohemian Flats
Contact Us!
Send us a note at rvrlife@umn.edu to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.