At the turn of the 20th century, the reaches of Southwest Minneapolis were called “country estates in the city” and lots of people raised their own chicken eggs. The house at 4639 Humboldt Ave. S. was home to an energetic chicken fancier named Harry Fletcher, who raised the birds in his backyard. His breed of choice was the Orpington. That breed comes in several colors, and his focus was on the orangeish Buff Orpington. It is known for being a good combination of layer and meat producer.
In March of 1904, Fletcher advertised his Buff Orpington eggs for $2 for 15, or $3 for 30. In 1904, a dozen eggs to eat cost only about 16 cents. Fletcher’s eggs were for hatching and he promised that infertile eggs would be replaced for free. If you had no setting hen to hatch the eggs for you, he would sell you one of those, too. His eggs came from “good big birds” weighing 7–9 pounds. In March 1905, Fletcher advertised eggs for hatching and sold pullets (hens under age 1) and cockerels (young roosters).
In the early part of the 20th century, competitive chicken raising was an important activity, with regional, statewide and local exhibits. Today, a chicken fancier may attend the Minnesota State Fair and admire hundreds of unusual, appealing chickens. Back then, smaller towns had their own shows, each about the size of today’s poultry exhibit at the fair. Fletcher’s birds regularly won ribbons at poultry shows as far away as Chicago. One of Fletcher’s birds, Harriet, had her likeness captured in a photograph that appeared in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune in January 1913.
Fletcher’s most accomplished chicken was a hen called Zudora. She was a Buff Orpington, of course, and won first place in the 1915 Minnesota State Poultry Association’s annual show. Among at least 1,100 entrants, she was a blue ribbon winner, hatched of blue ribbon parents. Zudora the chicken was named for a 1914 silent film serial about a mystery-solving heroine of the same name. The serial was originally shown at the New Grand Theatre at 621 Hennepin Ave., and today it can be watched on YouTube. Impressed with her marvelousness, the Mutual Film Company intended to give Zudora the chicken a silver leg band.
Fletcher’s day job was as a printer at the Minneapolis Journal. He lived to be 94 years old and died in 1970. His World War I draft registration says he was of medium height, slender build and had grey eyes and dark brown hair. He and his wife, Lillian, moved from Southwest Minneapolis to Excelsior in 1928. It is not known if the chickens went with him.
Karen Cooper is a researcher at Hennepin History Museum. She is interested in Minneapolis lives and places nearly forgotten. If you would like to know your Southwest house’s history, you can locate its picture in the museum’s photo collection and send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.