Murphy Square

From Mni Sota Makoce to an American settlement

Explore the origins of Cedar-Riverside through the history of Murphy Square.

Murphy Square, the green space in the center of Augsburg's campus, is Minneapolis' oldest city park. One of Cedar-Riverside's first European-American settlers, Captain Edward Murphy, donated it in 1857. During its first few decades, it served as a public pasture where cows and other livestock occasionally grazed. In 1871, Murphy donated land adjacent to the park for Augsburg Seminary's new campus. A few years later he planted trees and constructed a fence around the park, but it wasn't until 1883, when the Minneapolis Park Board constructed walkways, that Murphy Square took shape as a public park.

This small piece of land-3.33 acres-represents a complicated transition from being part of the historic home of the Dakota people to becoming an American settlement that would attract thousands of immigrants and migrants, including Augsburg's Norwegian immigrant founders. Captain Murphy, a second-generation Irish American, moved to Minnesota in 1852 to join his brother in an emerging settlement on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. Since the area was part of the Fort Snelling Military Reservation, Murphy applied to the Secretary of War Department for permission to be on the West Bank and eventually claimed about 80 acres of land, amounting to most of what became Cedar-Riverside. He secured his claim with the construction of a house on the river bluffs and making the land "productive" through farming, raising cows and developing fruit orchards. He defended his claim against other squatters and in 1854 went to Washington D.C. to gain legal title to the land. Like fellow settlers of his generation, Murphy looked out from spaces like Cedar-Riverside and saw vast tracts of land that were "unoccupied," and ripe for "improvement."

But this land was not unoccupied or unused. Generations of Dakota and Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) had worn paths through its woods to camp, hunt, fish and tap maple trees. They held ceremonies at sacred places such as St. Anthony Falls and the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, and traded with European explorers, voyageurs and American military personnel. The area that became Minnesota was largely home to the Dakota, and they called their homeland Mni Sota Makoce.

Land treaties in 1837 and 1851 forced Dakota to cede most of their lands in Minnesota. The U.S.-Dakota War in 1862 forced a majority of Dakota out of Minnesota and exiled them from their homeland. Not much physical trace of these early inhabitants remains in Cedar-RIverside. The sugar orchards have been replaced with highways and high-rises, concrete and college campuses.

Historical narratives of Minneapolis usually emphasize the contributions of people like Edward Murphy and other early settlers (most with the legal status of "squatter") who "occupied," and "improved" the city. Murphy is remembered as a "fair and civic minded" man who donated most of his land to neighborhood institutions, including Augsburg.

The history of Murphy Square reminds us that this land was once Mni Sota Makoce and for many Dakota it remains so. Its transition to becoming the center of Augsburg's campus was more complicated than this serene patch of green space may indicate.

Images

Murphy Square, 1888

Murphy Square, 1888

At the center of Augsburg's campus is Minneapolis' oldest city park: Murphy Square, donated by Captain Edward Murphy in 1857. At the time the area was mostly prairie and swamp with a few dirt roads connecting it to an emerging downtown Minneapolis to the west, and Fort Snelling to the south. For most of its early existence Murphy Square was a cow pasture and local settlers' cows would wander through it to graze. In 1873, Murphy helped make some improvements, including planting trees and constructing a fence. In 1883, the Minneapolis Park Board created walking paths so the park could be used for human enjoyment. Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives | Source: "Morton Hall from Murphy Park at Augsburg College," 1888 View File Details Page

Murphy Park, 1905

Murphy Park, 1905

Murphy Square has become the center of Augsburg's Campus. It has provided a welcome bit of green space for students and neighborhood residents living in Cedar-Riverside for over 150 years. Young members from the neighborhood enjoy the park in 1905. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "Murphy Park, Minneapolis," 1905 | Creator: Photographer: Sweet View File Details Page

Murphy Park, Minneapolis, ca. 1946

Murphy Park, Minneapolis, ca. 1946

Residents in the neighborhood enjoy a game of cards and conversation at Murphy Park. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "Men playing cardsz at a picnic table in Murphy Park, Minneapolis," ca. 1946 | Creator: Philip C. Dittes View File Details Page

Murphy Square, 1972

Murphy Square, 1972

An Augsburg student enjoys a quiet place to study in Murphy Square and finds herself on the cover of the Augsburg Echo. Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives | Source: Augsburg Echo, November 3, 1972 View File Details Page

Survey of Fort Snelling, 1839 and Mni Sota Makoce

Survey of Fort Snelling, 1839 and Mni Sota Makoce

This is one of the earliest maps that shows the Fort Snelling military reservation and Mni Sota Makoce. In 1805, American explorer Zebulon Pike negotiated a treaty on behalf of the U.S. Government with local Dakota tribes to establish a military outpost near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. Fort Snelling was completed in 1819, the military reservation extending from the confluence of the rivers to St Anthony Falls. Civilian settlement was prohibited until 1854, but that didn't stop people from squatting on the land and building houses (including Edward Murphy). Notice that "sugar orchard" is marked on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where Cedar-Riverside is today. Dakota traveled through this area to tap maple trees, as well as hunt and fish. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "Map of the Fort Snelling Military Reservation / as surveyed by Lieut. James L. Thompson in October and November, 1839" | Creator: Lieutenant James Thompson View File Details Page

Dakota Sacred Places

Dakota Sacred Places

Cedar-Riverside lies between two sacred sites for the Dakota people in Minnesota. To the south lies the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. This area is called Bdote and is the site of origin for the Dakota people. To the north is St. Anthony Falls, or Owamniyomni, which was believed to house sacred beings, the power of Haha Wakpa. This engraving shows what St. Anthony Falls looked like in the late 18th century before dams and bridges were built. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: Travels Through The Interior Parts of North America, In The Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 by Jonathon Carver, 1778 View File Details Page

Edward Murphy

Edward Murphy

Murphy was among the first European American settlers in Minneapolis. He arrived in 1852 from Illinois and established a land claim of about 80 acres in what is now Cedar Riverside. Murphy purchased some of the land from another squatter, Joseph P. Miller, but he claimed possession of the land by squatting on it, building a house, managing livestock, running a small farm and a fruit tree orchard. In 1854 the area was opened for civilian settlement and he was soon joined by settlers. Most of Cedar-Riverside was platted by 1860. Murphy was very active in the development of early Minneapolis: he donated Murphy Square long before a park commission was even established and later donated land for Augsburg Seminary. His homestead was purchased by the Sisters of Mercy who established a hospital there which later became St. Mary's Hospital. | Source: Isaac Atwater, History of the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1893, Volume 1 View File Details Page

Murphy's Land Legacy

Murphy's Land Legacy

On the left side of this painting is the emerging settlement on the west bank of the Mississippi River. This area would become known as Cedar-Riverside. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "View of St. Anthony, Minneapolis and St. Anthony Falls," ca. 1857 | Creator: Edwin Whitefield View File Details Page

Early Immigration Routes

Early Immigration Routes

One of Captain Edward Murphy's enduring contributions to the Cedar-Riverside area was the creation of a steamboat landing on the river flats in 1858. In fact, he earned his title of "Captain" when he ran the "Falls City," the first of his fleet of steamboats. They helped transport people and products to the emerging city of Minneapolis, and were a critical part of the transportation infrastructure until railroads became established. Some of the early newcomers to arrive via steamboat were Norwegians, Danes and Germans, the first immigrant communities to make Cedar-Riverside their new home. Many had made their way to other cities on the Mississippi River and then took the steamboat to Minneapolis. Image courtesy of Hennepin County Library | Source: "Steamboat 'Minneapolis' at the landing near Washington Avenue," 1869 View File Details Page

Street Address:

Murphy Square Park, 801 22nd Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55415 [map]

Cite this Page:

Anduin (Andy) Wilhide, “Murphy Square,” Augsburg Digi-Tours, accessed November 19, 2017, http://digitours.augsburg.edu/items/show/3.
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