By Jackie Mosio

Highland Park can lay claim to being the birthplace of Saint Paul, according to local historian Dave Bredemus. A settlement known as Old Rum Town sprang up in the 1830s across the Mississippi River from Fort Snelling. It was located near the present-day intersection of Mississippi River Boulevard and Elsie Lane. Old Rum Town was notorious for selling liquor to soldiers at the fort, so U.S. officials extended the military reservation around the fort and drove the settlers out. The settlers (and liquor traders, including Pig’s Eye Parrant) moved downriver to found what became Pig’s Eye Landing and later the city of Saint Paul.

“I’ve always felt the history of Highland doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” Bredemus said. “The city has been greatly impacted by Highland.”

That impact will continue with the redevelopment of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant as Highland Bridge, a 122-acre village of new businesses, institutions and up to 3,800 homes and apartments.

History continues to be made in Highland, but many sources for that history are slipping away. To ensure the preservation of the neighborhood’s history, the Highland Heritage Project partnered with the Friends of Highland Arts and applied for a legacy grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Under the direction of Annice Gregerson of the Highland Heritage Project, several longtime Highland residents have already been interviewed and their memories recorded. “It’s important that we carry out these interviews,” Gregerson said. “Two of our interviewees have since died. Fortunately, we were able to capture their stories as part of our history.”

Annice Gregerson and Judy Korlath Hildman interview longtime Highland resident Mary McCarte (center), who lives in one of the original model homes that showcased houses built by the Bisanz brothers.

Ruth Kremer remembered winters in the 1930s when neighbors would flood a vacant lot at the corner of Ford Parkway and Fairview Avenue. “We’d go skating there at night. It was heaven,” she said.

Tom and Lois Soderberg live on Bohland Avenue in a structure that is believed to be one of the original Bohland family farm homes. Tom’s parents bought the house in 1945 after renting it for a few years. He remembers when the Ford plant manufactured military transport carriers during World War II. “I’d watch the carriers being tested on a track on the grounds of the Ford property,” Tom said.

Jane Thames and her husband built their first house on the 1800 block of Saunders Avenue. She recalled many of the stores from the early days of Highland Village, such as Shapira’s Gifts, the Emporium, Cook’s, Power’s and Cole’s. Jane was raising 10 children, so she didn’t get out much, but occasionally she would meet her friends at the Ben Franklin store in Highland Village. “It was inexpensive, and the quality was good,” she said. Jane and her husband were among the early parishioners of Saint Gregory’s Catholic Church on Montreal Avenue and sent their children to Saint Gregory’s School. They also started an early organization for developmentally disabled children and their families.

The Highland Heritage Project is documenting the neighborhood’s businesses and how they contributed to local development along with many civic groups such as the Highland Park Women’s Club, which has been in existence for over 90 years.

The Highland Heritage Project’s mission is to gather, document, preserve and honor the neighborhood’s legacy. “We want to hear the stories of the generation of Highland Park residents who came here in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s,” said member Judy Korlath Hildman. “I hope we can generate excitement about how important it is to have them help us bring to life that era of Highland Park.”

Mary Dempsey moved to Highland Park in 1937 when her parents built a house on the 1700 block of Pinehurst Avenue. “There were no houses south of Hillcrest Avenue then,” she said. “I rode my bike with the boys, and we played all the way down to the river.”

Brian Krasnow, a retired neurologist, grew up on Pinehurst Avenue, moved away when he married, but returned to the area in the 1970s. According to him, at one time there were four delicatessens in Highland—Stone’s Deli, Highland Deli, Ben’s Deli and, still operating, Cecil’s Deli. As a teenager, Krasnow had a role in the Edyth Bush Theatre’s production of Kiss and Tell. The history of the Edyth Bush, now an office building on Cleveland and Eleanor avenues, is also being documented as part of the Highland Heritage Project.

The Highland Heritage Project’s mission is to gather, document, preserve and honor the neighborhood’s legacy. “We want to hear the stories of the generation of Highland Park residents who came here in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s,” said member Judy Korlath Hildman. “I hope we can generate excitement about how important it is to have them help us bring to life that era of Highland Park.”

“I’m eager to see what we’ll discover about Highland,” said Colleen Zuro-White of the Friends of Highland Arts, “especially stories that reveal connections to Native Americans and Jewish, Russian and African-American residents.”

There is much to be explored, discovered, shared, questioned and resolved. Highland Park had been Dakota land. How was it transferred to the pioneer families who farmed it? What can we learn about the impact of the Ford plant on nearby housing?

Local residents and business people are invited to participate in the Highland Heritage Project by contributing stories, photos and other memorabilia, volunteering in a variety of capacities and offering suggestions about whom to interview. Perhaps you have a friend or family member who has moved away but is a part of Highland’s history. Please contact us and we will figure out a way to contact them.

For more information, call Jackie Mosio (612-396-3644), Annice Gregerson (612-275-1521) or Judy Korlath Hildman (651-
485-3973) visit highlandheritageproject.org or email hhp@highlandheritageproject.org.

A resident of Highland Park, Jackie Mosio is cofounder of the Highland Heritage Project.

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