Cedar Avenue: the gateway to happiness


Newly arriving immigrants from Scandinavia drifted to the Cedar Riverside area and Snoose Boulevard in the 1880s and ’90s. Cedar Avenue at 5th Street had Dania Hall, a settlement house for Scandinavians where they could speak their native tongue and find jobs and lodging. Most immigrants came out of rural poverty and were anxious to find work to pay back the friends and relatives that had loaned them money for passage into the new world.

The early part of the nineteenth century had seen the final collapse of feudalism in Scandinavia. Grazing and pasturelands had been held in common. Whole villages used these lands communally. No one got rich, but everyone lived comfortably. Then, with the advent of capitalism and the importance of private property, the common lands got sold, and eventually a few wealthy landowners drove the others out. Those without land had no option but to go to America, where they heard the government was giving away good farmland. When they arrived they would try to find work so they could get enough money to buy tools and land. It turned out that the land wasn’t exactly free.

The most popular Swedish vaudeville entertainer was Olle i Skratthult. His most popular song was Nikolina.

That was the steamship line’s propaganda to sell tickets and James J. Hill’s posters to get farmers to locate on the railroad line. And, actually, the land belonged to someone else. Native American tribes were tolerant up to a point, but when treaties were broken, their livelihood destroyed and allowances cut, they rampaged and killed many Northern European settlers that were now living on their lands. Thirty-eight Santee were executed in Mankato on December 26, 1862. Most of the rest of the Native American population was deported to South Dakota. That put an end to the Indian Wars in Minnesota, and Northern European immigration to Minnesota began in full stride.

Dania Hall

Most immigrants came from rural areas, and they had the dream of owning their own farm. Most Swedes came from Smaland in Southern Sweden, where the farms grew more rocks than crops. Many found work in the City and decided to stay. They never forgot their dream of the farm, and the first and second generations felt a special closeness to the Old Country, but they found they could make a comfortable living at a trade in the City.

The path to prosperity lay along Cedar Avenue. You could measure how successful you had become by the distance from your home to Snoose Boulevard.

Dania Hall burned to the ground a few years ago, and the Gustavus Adophus Hall followed that fate a few years later. The Danish American Center at 42nd and Cedar is for sale. One of the last reminders of the Scandinavian heritage of South Minneapolis is Jon Ericsson Elementary School, named after the first child born in the New World to Lief Ericsson.

Cedar Avenue, from Snoose Boulevard to Swede Town in South Minneapolis, has always been the pathway to prosperity, and that has come to mean the gateway
to happiness.