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RIVER LIFE
Minneapolis Tribune 4/12/22

Minneapolis Tribune 4/12/22

See entire Minneapolis Tribune article.

“As soon as the water got too high the women would go out in boats and start paddling around. I remember wishing, when I was young, that I could live down there so I could be right in the mess.”
– A Minneapolis housewife remembering the floods, 1941.

Living in the Bohemian Flats may seem picturesque, but the proximity to the Mississippi River created unique problems. Annual flooding caused many residents to seek shelter on higher land, taking refuge with friends or family. Some even camped in the abandoned Noerenberg Brewery.

Many of the houses did not have foundations and risked floating away in the floods. One family, too large to find temporary lodgings, remained in their home and continued cooking, sleeping, and enjoying the vantage point as the house floated down the street.

As the water retreated, families returned to scoop sand and debris out of their homes, repair any damages, and settle in to begin anew.

Though residents of the Bohemian Flats could obtain drinking water from natural springs, these were often contaminated by flooding. Carrie Finstrom’s pump became the main source of water for the entire community. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Though residents of the Bohemian Flats could obtain drinking water from natural springs, these were often contaminated by flooding. Carrie Finstrom’s pump became the main source of water for the entire community.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

 

During the spring floods, people were able to row boats down the flooded streets. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

During the spring floods, people were able to row boats down the flooded streets.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

 

Perched on the banks of the Mississippi, the community was dubbed “Little Venice” during the spring floods for its canal-like streets. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Perched on the banks of the Mississippi, the community was dubbed “Little Venice” during the spring floods for its canal-like streets.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

 

Living on the river’s edge was dangerous and presented many challenges for families trying to keep roofs over their heads. Sights such as this half submerged home would not have been uncommon during the flood season. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Living on the river’s edge was dangerous and presented many challenges for families trying to keep roofs over their heads. Sights such as this half submerged home would not have been uncommon during the flood season.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

“Life at the Dump”: Health and Sanitation at the Bohemian Flats Minneapolis Tribune 4/26/9

“Life at the Dump”: Health and Sanitation at the Bohemian Flats
Minneapolis Tribune 4/26/9

See entire “Life at the Dump”: Health and Sanitation at the Bohemian Flats Article.

“[There is] much poverty and suffering ….Most of the homes so squalid that the word home used in their connection is a bitter irony, [they] are [instead] wretchedly built shanties.” -Josephine McPike, Seven Corners Librarian, 1917.

The Bohemian Flats was home to some of the worst housing conditions in the Twin Cities.

The City of Minneapolis used the land beneath the Washington Avenue Bridge as a city dump after being banned from dumping waste directly into the river. This created hazardous conditions for the residents of the Bohemian Flats, providing the community with an unbearable odor, contaminating drinking water, and causing outbreaks of disease. The city dump occupied this space until 1889; by then, a squalid lifestyle had become associated with the image of the Bohemian Flats.

This 1899 map shows sanitation systems throughout Minneapolis. The sewer line does not extend to the Bohemian Flats. Map courtesy of the Borchert Map Library.

This 1899 map shows sanitation systems throughout Minneapolis. The sewer line does not extend to the Bohemian Flats.
Map courtesy of the Borchert Map Library.

Students from the Bohemian Flats were prohibited from attending school during the periodic outbreaks of diseases, such as diphtheria, measles, and scarlet fever. Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, November 20, 1900.

Students from the Bohemian Flats were prohibited from attending school during the periodic outbreaks of diseases, such as diphtheria, measles, and scarlet fever.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, November 20, 1900.

See the entire Diptheria article.

As the Mississippi flooded, it carried away debris and garbage from Bohemian Flats and the city dumping areas. Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, May 26, 1892.

As the Mississippi flooded, it carried away debris and garbage from Bohemian Flats and the city dumping areas.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, May 26, 1892.

See entire Goodbye Dump article.

Garbage litters the banks of the Mississippi River. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Garbage litters the banks of the Mississippi River.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

The tightly packed neighborhood was susceptible to disease, flooding, and poor sanitation. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

The tightly packed neighborhood was susceptible to disease, flooding, and poor sanitation.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

“Murder on Bohemia Flats”: Crime and Vice Minneapolis Tribune 6/30

“Murder on Bohemia Flats”: Crime and Vice
Minneapolis Tribune 6/30

See entire “Murder on Bohemia Flats” article.

“Inebriety is common among them, unfortunately too common for the happiness and welfare of their families. The complex conditions of the new life, unemployment, sickness, and the dire rising of the river, bring about in many cases a desperation, resulting only too often in utter intemperance and cruelty.”
-Josephine McPike, Seven Corners Librarian, 1917.

A high crime rate was one of the reasons many people avoided the Bohemian Flats and much of the crime and violence was attributed to excessive alcohol consumption. Even after the breweries closed or relocated in the 1890s, a number of bars remained in close proximity to the neighborhood. Social institutions believed the bars to be a source of temptation for the Slovak immigrants. However, it is likely that the discrimination faced by Slovak immigrants led to damaging stereotypes.

The Heinrich Brewing Company, on the south end of the flats, employed German residents from the Bohemian Flats until the 1890s. Print courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Heinrich Brewing Company, on the south end of the flats, employed German residents from the Bohemian Flats until the 1890s.
Print courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

1892 atlas view of the Noerenberg Brewing Company and its close proximity to the Bohemian Flats neighborhood. Map courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

1892 atlas view of the Noerenberg Brewing Company and its close proximity to the Bohemian Flats neighborhood.
Map courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Newspaper articles about violent crimes associated with the Bohemian Flats blamed pervasive poverty and alcohol abuse. Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune.

Newspaper articles about violent crimes associated with the Bohemian Flats blamed pervasive poverty and alcohol abuse.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune.

See entire Two Men Badly Slashed article.

Newspaper articles about violent crimes associated with the Bohemian Flats blamed pervasive poverty and alcohol abuse. Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune.

Newspaper articles about violent crimes associated with the Bohemian Flats blamed pervasive poverty and alcohol abuse.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune.

See entire Gives Wife Fatal Blows article.

The Northern Pacific Bridge was still being constructed in this 1880 photo of the Bohemian Flats and the surrounding industrial complexes. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Northern Pacific Bridge was still being constructed in this 1880 photo of the Bohemian Flats and the surrounding industrial complexes.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Black squares mark the numerous bars along Washington Avenue in 1917, just blocks from the Bohemian Flats. Map courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Black squares mark the numerous bars along Washington Avenue in 1917, just blocks from the Bohemian Flats.
Map courtesy of the Hennepin County Library. 

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.