After how much I enjoyed the Minnesota Historical Society's Summit Avenue tours, I wondered if other Twin Cities organizations offered similar excursions. Late last summer I discovered Preserve Minneapolis, a group dedicated to identifying and preserving the city's historic architecture. A big part of its mission also includes creating educational opportunities for the general public: A couple of months ago, I attended my first event with the organization: the regular Breakfast with a Preservationist event, held every other month at the Mill City Museum. (A Happy Hour with a Preservationist event is held in months that don't feature the breakfast discussion!)
In addition to these year-round events, Preserve Minneapolis also coordinates more than two dozen walking and biking tours around Minneapolis each summer. When I first read about the tours last summer, they were all sold out, so as soon as this year's schedule was available, I chose my first one: the "East Hennepin: Behind the Scenes" walking tour of Northeast Minneapolis.
An excerpt from the website's description of the tour:
"The bustling commercial district surrounding East Hennepin Avenue has hosted many names throughout the years, but everyone knows its unforgettable landmarks: Surdyk’s, Nye’s, Kramarczuk’s, Historic Main Street, and Our Lady of Lourdes Church. . . . The last decade has brought dramatic change and the area around East Hennepin is now considered one of the trendiest and most exciting places in Minneapolis to eat, shop, and live. Fortunately, the area has managed to maintain its old-world flavor to this day. Join us for a “behind-the-scenes” history of the busy streets, unique businesses, and colorful people that have shaped this popular walking neighborhood."The tour was set for a Sunday morning that happened to feature an ominous forecast. I drove over to Northeast in steady rain that turned into an on-and-off rain for the first part of our tour before the clouds cleared out by the conclusion. (Rain isn't a problem for the tours, but they are cancelled if there's lightning.) Lots of umbrellas in the early stages made for a spread-out group, especially since there were about 18 of us on the tour.
One of the tour's overarching themes was the neighborhood's layers: different cultural influences shaped by immigration waves, businesses and storefronts that ebb and flow and change. I was aware of the neighborhood's strong Eastern European heritage, but I didn't know that the neighborhood includes the city's oldest church, which was founded by French Canadian settlers and continues to connect to its deep French heritage.
That's Our Lady of Lourdes Church, its steps and doors with the fleur de lis symbol visible in this picture of our group (in the rain):
As we walked along the route, covering about 10 blocks, many of our stops included explanations of the layers of businesses and history that preceded a given space's current occupant. As promised in the tour description, the guides also talked to us about longstanding, well-known and well-loved Northeast institutions such as Surdyk's liquor store, Nye's Polonaise Room and Kramarczuk's Sausage Company.
Across the street from modern condominiums, the interesting give and take between old and new continued: the tour ended in Chute Square at the Ard Godfrey House - per that website, the oldest surviving frame home in the Twin Cities. It's a space I've run by many times and always wondered about its history.
One of the tour's memorable highlights was our knowledgeable guides: two longtime Northeast residents that made the tour richer and stronger because of how much they love their neighborhood. The 75-minute tour was a great introduction to the area that also showed me how much more there is to learn about the neighborhood, its intricate history and its current era of development. It was only my first Preserve Minneapolis event - but if that was representative of the others, I'll be back for more.