As the summer winds to a close, and students head toward either school or virtual learning, we once again offer a few educational activities for the entire family that use our Northeast Minneapolis neighborhoods (and the Northeaster) as a classroom.
Exploring the history of Northtown Yards
Trains are fun to watch, no matter your age, and the Northtown interpretive plaza overlooking the BNSF Northtown railroad yards offers something for the whole family.
The platform at St. Anthony Parkway and California St. provides a view of BNSF’s Northtown yards, multiple tracks and sidings, with parked and moving trains. To the east are the intermodal shipping container transfer facilities of Canadian Pacific’s Shoreham Yard, and to the south, downtown Minneapolis. The shiny Malt One grain elevators holding wheat, oats, barley and rye are also to the east, and the mustard seed grain elevators of Viterra to the west. The St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, completed in 2017, provides additional views of the yards to the north and south. There is parking on the east side of California Street, just south of the plaza.
Safety first: Walking on tracks and in railroad yards is dangerous and illegal. Impress upon chldren/teens of all ages the importance of staying off the tracks and out of the yards, and model this at all times.
Younger children can count the cars and engines on the tracks, name their colors and those of the shipping containers stacked on either side of the yards, or read the letters on the railroad logos. Older children can read the interpretive panels on their own, or the family could read through them together. Below are some questions that can help focus the discussion on how the area and community has changed over time, and the ways in which the railroads serve and drive industry.
Prairie to brickyard: the landscape
What natural features were present in 1858 around the Northtown Yards and the St. Anthony Parkway bridge? What types of vehicles traveled along the Red River Trail – which was where Marshall Street is now – and what did the vehicles carry? How did transportation change by the 1870s?
What substances were rich in the soils and what could be made with those substances? How had the landscape changed between the mid-1800 early 1900s? Which natural feature disappears quickly with “civilization,” according to the botanist? What one native species of tree along the banks of the Mississippi is still present today?
Read about the farms that were in the area in the mid-to-late 1800s. From what countries did the farmers come?
River, railroad, and industry
What type of soil made the area good for making bricks? Where were the brickyards, and in what ways were the brickyards served by the railroads? And what other building material was processed along the river? What led to the closing of Minneapolis sawmills?
What year was the Riverside Station electric-power plant built? What was the fuel at the plant? Why was the plant needed – why was there a growing need for electricity, and what did Minneapolis General Electric do to further encourage that need? What is the fuel at the plant now?Building a community in Northtown
From which countries did many people who settled in the area come? How many different nationalities are listed? Where did many of them work, and what types of transportation made it possible for them to get to their jobs?
Northtown and the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge
How many bridges have been in the place of the current St. Anthony Parkway Bridge? When were they built? The panel mentions “grade separation.” What does that mean and why it is important over a railroad yard? What is the name of the type of bridge structure of the most recent bridge and the one before that?
Building Northtown’s Railroads
What two industries were closely tied to the railroads? What two resources did investors want to reach with the railroads? What needed to be built before the trains could connect to the west from Minneapolis? Who was known as the Empire Builder and why was he called that? What were the three main commodities transported by the railroad in the 1890s? In addition to freight, what else did the railroad transport?
More activities: As you drive and walk around Northeast, point out railroad bridges and underpasses, and grade-level crossings. Use the link below to get a map of the railroad routes and follow them through your neighborhood. https://www.dot.state.mn.us/ofrw/maps/MetroRailMap.pdfDrive east across the parkway bridge on St. Anthony Parkway, through Columbia Park, for a better view of shipping containers. Follow it to Central Avenue, and take a left. Across from 30th Avenue, a break in the trees along the berm between the sidewalk and the fence provides a good look at the CP Shoreham Yards Intermodal Terminal and the transfer operations as shipping containers are lifted between trains and trucks.
Northeast cultures through food
If you did the railroad activities, you learned about the different nationalities that settled in Northeast up through the end of World War II. Now explore the different cultures represented by the restaurants and grocery stores on Central Ave. in Northeast and Columbia Heights. Take a long walk or several short ones and explore. Make a list of the restaurants and stores, take pictures of them, and write down what nationalities or cultures they represent. Are there any words foreign to you? Write them down to look up later. If menus are posted, check them out. Look up the restaurants, the words, and the foods of the cultures/nationalities when you return home.
If you are able to, get take out from different ones and sample as many foods as possible from those you choose. Have the kids pick the ones that interest them the most.
What substances were rich in the soils and what could be made with those substances?
How had the landscape changed between the mid-1800 early 1900s? Which natural feature disappears quickly with “civilization,” according to the botanist? What one native species of tree along the banks of the Mississippi is still present today? Read about the farms that were in the area in the mid-to-late 1800s. From what countries did the farmers come?
Learn more in the Northeaster archive: Read more about the Tibetan owner of the restaurant Momo Sushi: Local Tibetans Focus on Future in Northeast, p. 1, May 1, 2019; Shoreham Roundhouse Gone, August 21, 2019 p. 1; and Oil and rail: Disasters waiting to happen, March 6, 2019 p.1.
Below: The train yards and the interpretive exhibit near the parkway bridge and photos of some suggested restaurants to sample. (Photos by Karen Kraco)