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RIVER LIFE
Minneapolis Journal 4/5/31

Minneapolis Journal 4/5/31

See entire Adieu, River Flats article.

“[The story of the Bohemian Flats] reminds us that the development of industry and commerce is sometimes possible only by sacrificing the picturesque non-conformity of our ancestors.”
-John T. Flanagan.

Different perspectives paint a cloudy picture of life at the Bohemian Flats. Was the community a squatter’s domain or a respectable neighborhood? A peaceful Old World haven or a dump plagued by flooding and disease? A temporary place to live or a permanent home? Could it be all of these?

Beginning in 1922, residents were systematically evicted from their homes to make way for ‘progress,’ the coal docks and barge terminal planned for the riverfront. By now, many of the families living in the Bohemian Flats had been there for decades and were unwilling to give up their homes. John Medvec, who had lived in the community since 1885, led a group of residents in challenging their eviction. Though they were ultimately unsuccessful, their attachment and sense of pride for the Bohemian Flats must have been extremely strong to compel them to navigate a foreign court system in a language that was their second tongue.

The Bohemian Flats changed immensely after the evictions, with coal piles, oil drums, and railroad tracks dominating the landscape until the 1990s. Today, the area is a public park with little historic interpretation. How might we better remember the community that once flourished under the Washington Avenue Bridge?

Timeline


1923

When the residents of the Bohemian Flats were faced with eviction, Minneapolis Mayor George E. Leach visited the neighborhood and promised to help save the community. Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, June 1, 1923.

When the residents of the Bohemian Flats were faced with eviction, Minneapolis Mayor George E. Leach visited the neighborhood and promised to help save the community.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, June 1, 1923.


1923

A group of residents challenged C.H. Smith, the owner of the Bohemian Flats, over their evictions.   Medvec’s signature is seen on the upper right. Is it shaky because he was nervous? Or is it a sign of the limited education of many Bohemian Flats residents?
Court records courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.


1931

Following the evictions, newspaper headlines read “Sorrow Smites Colorful River Flats” and “Law Invades River Flats to Tell Quaint Residents They Must Abandon Homes,” the articles lamenting the loss of a unique and picturesque community. Courtesy of Minneapolis Journal, March 11, 1931. Courtesy of Minneapolis Journal, March 11, 1931.

Following the evictions, newspaper headlines read “Sorrow Smites Colorful River Flats” and “Law Invades River Flats to Tell Quaint Residents They Must Abandon Homes,” the articles lamenting the loss of a unique and picturesque community. Courtesy of Minneapolis Journal, March 11, 1931.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Journal, March 11, 1931.


1940

At this time, only fourteen of the houses, located further up the bluff, remained at the Bohemian Flats. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

At this time, only fourteen of the houses, located further up the bluff, remained at the Bohemian Flats.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.


1955

These aerial photographs show the Bohemian Flats during its time as a municipal barge terminal. Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

These aerial photographs show the Bohemian Flats during its time as a municipal barge terminal.
Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

These aerial photographs show the Bohemian Flats during its time as a municipal barge terminal. Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

These aerial photographs show the Bohemian Flats during its time as a municipal barge terminal.
Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.


1984

Archaeological testing for the West River Parkway project uncovered artifacts, including ceramics (above,) associated with the Bohemian Flats. These objects provide a glimpse of life at the historic neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hines.

Archaeological testing for the West River Parkway project uncovered artifacts, including ceramics (above,) associated with the Bohemian Flats. These objects provide a glimpse of life at the historic neighborhood.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Hines.


1990

A view of the Bohemian Flats from the Washington Avenue Bridge as the barge landing and coal docks were being dismantled. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.

A view of the Bohemian Flats from the Washington Avenue Bridge as the barge landing and coal docks were being dismantled.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.


2007

By the early 2000s the Bohemian Flats was a public park and was used to store and study the debris of the I-35W Bridge following its collapse in August, 2007. Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 2, 2008.

By the early 2000s the Bohemian Flats was a public park and was used to store and study the debris of the I-35W Bridge following its collapse in August, 2007.
Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 2, 2008.


2011

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have annual festivals to celebrate people of Slovak, Czech, and other Eastern European heritages. Shown here are Slovak dancers competing in St. Paul’s Czech-Slovak Festival. Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Daily Planet, September 25, 2011.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have annual festivals to celebrate people of Slovak, Czech, and other Eastern European heritages. Shown here are Slovak dancers competing in St. Paul’s Czech-Slovak Festival.
Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Daily Planet, September 25, 2011.


Today

University of Minnesota students envision a new future for Bohemian Flats Park. Their design was created based on conversations with community stakeholders, the Minnesota Historical Society, and University of Minnesota staff. What will the future hold for the Bohemian Flats? Image courtesy of Stephanie Hatten, Alex Boyce, Matthew Unzeitig, and Phyllis Hejl.

University of Minnesota students envision a new future for Bohemian Flats Park. Their design was created based on conversations with community stakeholders, the Minnesota Historical Society, and University of Minnesota staff. What will the future hold for the Bohemian Flats?
Image courtesy of Stephanie Hatten, Alex Boyce, Matthew Unzeitig, and Phyllis Hejl.

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.