Brownie Lake Long Ago

As we look forward to improvements at Brownie Lake later this year and in 2013 I find it informative to look at photos of the area long ago. Of course the construction of the Prudential Building (now housing Target offices) next to the lake in 1954 changed the lake environs considerably. (See a photo of the building under construction here.) But the lake is also hemmed in by a freeway that keeps expanding on the north and a railroad/trail corridor that keeps shrinking on the south.

An undated photo labelled “Brownie Lake with Cedar Lake in the distance.” (C. J. Hibbard & Co., MPRB)

This photo puzzles me, however. If it is Brownie Lake what is the trestle on the near side of the lake in the photo?  I’ve never seen that before. Can anyone enlighten me?

Charles J. Hibbard, 1916 (Minnesota Historical Society)

The back of the photo bears the stamp of C. J. Hibbard & Co. Charles Hibbard was an active photographer in Minnesota from about 1899 until his death in 1924. Those dates establish the range of years in which the Brownie Lake  picture above could have been taken.

Hibbard wasn’t directly associated with parks, although many of his photos were taken in parks, but he deserves an entry of his own here some day. Based on the photos I’ve seen he was the preeminent photographer of the city. He chronicled many places and events in Minneapolis and the state. The detail and composition of his photos are remarkable.

Both of the photos below were taken at the intersection of Theodore Wirth Parkway and Highway 12 (I-394). In the first photo, a bridge is being built to carry Wirth Parkway traffic over the new four-lane highway. This photo shows the early stages of the construction of a wider highway. Notice how narrow Highway 12 was. Trees and telephone poles hug the edge of the road.

Highway 12 and Glenwood (Wirth) Parkway, 1949 (MPRB)

The second photo, also labelled as being shot in 1949, shows the progression in road building. Today’s I-394 is, of course, much wider than the four lane highway shown here. The wetland at the north end of Brownie Lake has also been filled in.

Highway 12 expands and eats into Wirth Park, 1949 (Minneapolis Star Journal, Minnesota Historical Society)

Expansion of Highway 12 into I-394 eventually took more of the parks. On the other side of the ledger, however, the wide swath of railroads in the upper third of the photo have been converted partly into bicycle trails.

David C. Smith

2 comments so far

  1. on

    Hi there David. I think the Hibbard photo description seems accurate. You can see he Hwy 7 grain elevators(Belco-burned in 1977 and likely the Peavy as the first poured concrete test silo on the right) in the distance and with Cedar Lake’s location, I would see this as looking south from the future Eloise Butler area. The trestle would be part of Superior Blvd to Wayzata. This photo does give an indication of the vast earth moving to come as this road was enlarged/improved over the years. I seem to recall that Hibbard (or possibly a brother) had an early home near the south shore of Harriet. I agree with you as to the quality of his work. Dan Lapham Hopkins

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