Map Quest

Kenny man collects 150 years worth of maps that chart the march of humanity through Southwest Minneapolis

Collecting antique maps of Minneapolis has been Bob Gosselin’s hobby since 1996. The oldest of his approximately 40 maps are from 1839, and his anthology runs through the 1850s to all the way to 1997.

Individually, they are quaint documents of what Minneapolis once was. Collectively, they are mile markers tracing the history and economic development of the city — especially of the Kenny neighborhood where Gosselin resides.

Gosselin’s Sunrise Drive home was built in 1953, but the 51-year old researcher did not move in until 1986. Over the years, the history of the Kenny neighborhood (located between 54th Street and the Crosstown Highway, and Highway 121 to Knox Avenue South) captivated his interest. Since books about Kenny’s history are scarce, he made it his mission to collect original documents that detail its emergence.

"For me, this was a hobby," Gosselin said. "I was not studying this as a historian or a geologist. I’d speak to one person, and they would suggest that I talk to another friend with maps and knowledge of the area. I basically followed a trail to see how this community has changed over the years."

Gosselin has been spent his career with Physical Electronics, a Chanhassen-based company that does research with electron microscopes. He said research comes naturally to him and that he collected the maps to offer the community a guide to get a better feel for the neighborhood.

His maps are from the Minneapolis, Richfield and Hennepin County historical societies. Others came from the downtown public library, the University of Minnesota map library, Edina’s Southdale Library and Washburn Library, 5244 Lyndale Ave. S. He was able to photocopy most of the maps, but he bought many of them. Other sources included city surveyor’s reports, state archives and abstracts. Recently, he’s been able to get others from the Internet.

His 1839 map, written by U.S. Army Lt. James Thompson, focuses on the uninhabited region that was the Ft. Snelling Military Reservation at the intersection of the Mississippi River and what was then called the St. Peter’s River (now known as the Minnesota River). The area that was to become Minneapolis is noteworthy only because of its mill at St. Anthony Falls. Southwest’s Chain of Lakes – Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Cedar Lake — were already named on that 1839 map.

Gosselin’s 1860 map shows the city of Ft. Snelling with an urban grid of almost 300 square blocks. But though such a city was plotted, it never materialized. Civilization moved to the St. Anthony Falls area because of the mills’ economic activity and became the city of Minneapolis.

His map from 1868 lists the actual names of the people who owned Southwest land. Gosselin’s own Kenny neighborhood is easy to identify because of its location north of Grass Lake; J.H Richardson, Robert Townsand, Joseph Fogg, Richard Thompson owned the majority of the property, mostly dairy farms.

His 1886 map shows the Kingfield neighborhood and the Lyndale neighborhood emerging, but not Tangletown, Kenny and Fulton. Development in Linden Hills and the Uptown area is well established. His 1894 topographical map shows the city of Minneapolis beginning to creep south to Lake Harriet but no further.

It is not until 1913 that maps start to show residential development south of 54th Street. When Richfield resident Peter Peterson sold his land to the city of Minneapolis in 1912, the Mill City extended its southern border from 54th Street to 62nd Street, encompassing the Windom, Kenny and Armatage neighborhoods.

Peterson’s land was subdivided into lots but was not to be developed for another 40 years, in World War II’s aftermath, when the Baby Boomer generation was being born and their families needed housing.

Gosselin’s collection of aerial photos from a University of Minnesota archive beginning in 1930 and progressing through the 1940s and 1950s to current times illustrate the progression of the Kenny neighborhood. All were all photographed early May, following the snowmelt, but before emerging leaves, to get the clearest view of the area.

One aerial photo shows that Grass Lake, the shallow body of water at the city’s southern border, dried up around 1934. In 1940, it was still dry, and one can detect that the lake bottom was cultivated with crops by local farmers. An aerial photo, taken in 1950, shows that the lake has partially returned. By 1956, it is a complete lake again. Goesslin said old-timers and historians have told him the lake’s waning and waxing was drought-related.

Gosselin presented his material at a booth at the Kenny Neighborhood Festival on July 22. He said people showed a lot of interest in trying to find out what existed on the site of their current homes years ago. He said he’d like to display his information at a school, community center or Web site, and hopes the Kenny Neighborhood Association (KNA), or someone else in the community, will take him up on his offer. He suggests interested parties contact KNA at 392-4477, [email protected] or www.kennyneighborhood.org.