by Kristin Kaspar, Guest Columnist
Native Americans had a major trail from Lake Calhoun to Shakopee that ran through what is today Hopkins. The hill where the old South Junior High stands, today known as Raspberry Ridge, used to be twice as tall and was used as a landmark along the trail. Native peoples would camp near what is today Burnes Park on their travels through the area.
This area was not as wooded as it is today. It was prairie wetland with few trees, mostly oaks and shrub thickets.
The first settlers to arrive in 1852-53 were from the New England area and Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic). They used the same Native American trail from Lake Calhoun to travel to this area and settled here most likely because it was a half-way point between Minneapolis and Lake Minnetonka, as well as close to the expanding mills at Minnetonka Mills. On early maps, Shady Oak Lake is called “Lake Peshek” in honor of an early Bohemian settler.
Prior to the arrival of the Minneapolis Threshing Machine company in 1887, there was no “Mainstreet” as we think of today. People lived on modest farms and traveled to Minnetonka Mills or Minneapolis for their provisions.
Women played an important role in early Hopkins. Among the first land claims in the area were ones placed by Mary Draper Gordon in 1852 and Belinda Hamilton before 1855.
The first practicing physician in Hopkins was Dr. Catherine Burnes, who was doctor to the community for 25 years beginning in 1886. Our second postmaster was Florinda Hopkins, who was appointed by President James Garfield in 1882.
In 1862 the Burnes School was built and children began attending school on a more regular schedule. Before that various settlers taught children in their homes or in the Hopkins family’s granary. The school was slated to be preserved, but was destroyed by the 1925 tornado.
Hennepin County approves the building of a Poor Farm, which is opened for occupants in 1865. Many of the people are sent to the farm for such ailments as a sore leg, laziness, consumption, old and feeble, intemperance, mental derangement and extravagance. The farm was located between today’s 169 and Fifth Avenue South, between about Fifth and Seventh streets south and was open until 1953.
Between 1871 and 1881 three railroads built lines through Hopkins: the Minneapolis & St. Louis (two lines), the Hutchinson Division of the Great Northern, and the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul and Pacific (C.M.&St.P).
These new lines made it easier to travel west to Hopkins, and by 1893 the population had reached 1,105.
In 1887 the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company moved to Hopkins from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Lured to Hopkins by the railroads and the promise of 40 acres for free if the company could open and employ 100 workers by 1888, at least one foreman’s family lived in the under-construction factory during the winter of 1887-1888, charged with supervising the construction.
Formerly producing a separator run by horsepower, MTM produced its first steam traction engines to replace horses by 1889.
Between 1892 and 1894 there were two post offices in Hopkins. One, “Hopkins,” was in the eastern part of Hopkins, near what is today the Depot Coffee House. The other, “Bushnell,” was at Ninth and Mainstreet. Eventually the Hopkins post office was moved to 7th and Mainstreet, and the two were merged together under the “Hopkins” name.
From 1893 until 1928 Hopkins was named the Village of West Minneapolis. It was named after the West Minneapolis Land Company created by the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company. The land company purchased large tracts of land, then subdivided them into lots for sale to the public for new houses and businesses.
In 1897 there were two telephones in Hopkins, with a third being installed at Smetana Drugstore for public use.
The first streetcar service from Minneapolis to Hopkins was completed in 1899. There were two cars with long benches running the length of the car, and they picked up passengers at about Sixth Avenue and First Street North.
Hopkins residents used the line to travel to Minneapolis to attend shows at the theaters and do business. On return trips the cars were often so overloaded with passengers the men would get out and push the cars up steep inclines.
Kristin Kaspar is a museum consultant for the Hopkins Historical Society.