Cedar-Riverside: From Snoose Boulevard to Little Somalia

Tour curated by: Anduin (Andy) Wilhide

Cedar-Riverside, a neighborhood just east of downtown Minneapolis, has been a major entry-point for newcomers to Minnesota for over 160 years. This area was once part of Mni Sota Makoce, the historic homeland of the Dakota people who moved through to hunt, fish and tap the maple trees that once grew along the Mississippi River. Since its origins, Cedar-Riverside has long been one of the city's most densely populated and diverse neighborhoods.

In the 1850s, the area attracted migrants from New England and the mid-Atlantic states. Over the next fifty years they were joined by waves of immigrants in search of new opportunities--Norwegians, Danes, Swedes, Finns, Irish, Germans, Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Swiss, Canadians, French and many others. These newcomers helped build Minneapolis. They ran businesses and worked in construction, in domestic service, in the millinery trade and in the lumber, milling and brewing industries. They started social and cultural organizations. They lived in single- and multi-family homes, apartment buildings and boarding houses in an area that stretched from the Mississippi River flats on the east and north, to Tenth Street on the west and Eighth Street on the south. This was the old Sixth Ward of Minneapolis.

In 1910, the Cedar-Riverside population peaked near 20,000. Over fifty percent were Scandinavian and the neighborhood became a cultural center for Scandinavian communities in Minneapolis. It gained a national reputation for its Lutheran religious institutions, including Augsburg Seminary. It also was a popular site for Scandinavian music and vaudeville. Dance halls, saloons and bars proliferated in Cedar-Riverside because it was located within the city's liquor patrol limits. Many of these places catered to Scandinavians and European immigrants. Two German breweries operated on the river flats. Cedar Avenue earned the nickname "Snoose Boulevard" (Snusgatan) for the Scandinavian snuff (snus) that was spit on the street after nights of revelry.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African Americans, Russian and Romanian Jews, as well as small numbers of Italians, Chinese and Japanese, joined Scandinavians and Eastern Europeans. Like earlier immigrants, they worked in local industries, set up their own businesses, shops and organizations, and added to the diverse mix of people in the neighborhood. Jews tended to cluster south near Franklin Avenue; African Americans lived west of Cedar Avenue, where I-35W is now. The river flats had been a distinct area since the 1870s, and while they were home to many communities, the nickname that endured was "Bohemian Flats" for the Slovak and Czech residents who lived there.

By the 1960s, many of these first generation immigrants and their descendents had moved to other parts of Minneapolis. Those who stayed were joined by newcomers: hippies, college students and radical activists from around the U.S.. They established a counterculture community, claiming a "People's Park," establishing a "People's Pantry" and earning Cedar-Riverside a new nickname as "Haight-Ashbury of the Midwest." Having moved into the neighborhood because of its older, affordable housing, many fought urban renewal projects that would have destroyed that housing and ended up preserving many of the historical buildings that you see on Cedar Avenue.

Today, Cedar-Riverside is sometimes described as "Little Somalia" because of the many Somalis who live here and who built the mosques, malls and restaurants that now line Cedar Avenue. Some residents prefer "Little United Nations" as a more accurate representation of global connections in the neighborhood represented by the Oromo, Ethiopians, Turks, Iraqis, Vietnamese, Koreans, Ecuadorians, Eritreans and other newcomers from Africa, Asia and Latin America who have moved into and through the neighborhood since the 1970s. In 2010, Cedar-Riverside had 7,000 residents; over fifty percent were East African. Many came to the U.S. as refugees escaping civil war and conflict in their homelands. Some were directly relocated to the Twin Cities, while others chose to move here for family connections, employment, educational opportunities and access to social services. Many work in nearby education and health institutions, while others run businesses and organizations. To commemorate these communities, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Streets west of Cedar Avenue were recently renamed Oromo Street, Somali Street and Taleex Avenue.

From the Dakota to the Somalis, this neighborhood has played host to an extraordinary flow of migrants, immigrants, refugees, students, activists and other newcomers. This history of diversity is what makes the neighborhood a unique place to live, work, and learn. For some this was a place of transition; for others it became a place to call home.

This tour will introduce you to some of the people, places and institutions that shaped the history of immigration, urban change and diversity in Cedar Riverside.

Tour made possible by Augsburg College Presidential Innovation Grant

Thank you:
Jacqueline DeVries, History Department, Augsburg College
Kirsten Delegard, Historyapolis
Christy Mattingly, Augsburg College

Locations for Tour

In 1871, Norwegian immigrant Reverend August Weenaas and a small group of his students moved to Cedar-Riverside from Marshall, Wisconsin. They were in search of a permanent home for Augsburg Seminary, which included both high school and college…

On Augsburg's campus, at the intersection of 21st Avenue and 8th Street South, is the "New" Old Main. This was the center of campus for most of the 20th century and while it continues to host classes and student activities, most…

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…

Trinity Lutheran Congregation is one of Cedar-Riverside's oldest institutions. It was left "homeless" in 1966 when its building was razed to make way for I-94, but its roots go back to 1868. The story begins when Norwegian and Danish…

At the turn of the 20th Century Bohemian Flats was filled with hundreds of immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe. Slovaks, Irish, Swedes and Czechs (Bohemians) were the largest groups, but Norwegians, Poles, Germans, Hungarians, Austrians and…

For more than a hundred years, Cedar Avenue has hosted immigrant entrepreneurs who created and sold the food, clothing and goods of their home cultures. They have played a central role in making Cedar-Riverside a welcoming place for newcomers and…

On Saturday nights in the early 1900s, thousands of Scandinavians, Czechs, Slovaks, Irish, Germans and other Minneapolitans would come to Seven Corners looking for a good time. They came to dance, drink and socialize in the bars, halls and theaters…

Dania Hall was the cultural and entertainment center of Cedar-Riverside for almost 100 years. It was built by Society Dania, a fraternal organization organized in 1875 to help young Danes coming to America. By 1885 it had raised funds to purchase a…

Do you play football or basketball? Have you ever been on stage? Do you like to hang out with your friends in the neighborhood? Pillsbury House offered youth and adult clubs, concerts, theater performances, choirs, festivals, dances, and a large gym…

In the 1960s and 1970s, new arrivals in the neighborhood included students, scholars, hippies and activists from the Twin Cities and across the U.S. who enjoyed the cheap rents and an emerging counterculture community. Many of these new residents…

You can’t miss it: Riverside Plaza, the large, concrete structure with the colored panels, is a high-density apartment complex with 11 buildings, over 1,300 units and nearly 5,000 residents. It’s a distinctive landmark that for many has come to…

In the late 1980s, an oasis of peace emerged from tragedy. A Korean mother, mourning the loss of her daughter, started gardening under a nearby freeway as a way to deal with her grief. More Koreans joined her, finding peace of mind and a connection…

This unassuming two-story tan brick building on the bustling thoroughfare of Cedar Avenue reflects a major shift in immigration in Cedar-Riverside-from Scandinavians and Europeans to East Africans. In 1998, Somalis opened their first mosque in…

Hundreds of people pass through the Coyle Center’s doors every day. Neighborhood residents go there for work, to get connected to job opportunities, attend ESL classes, get help with their homework, meet with community organizations, volunteer,…

The brightly colored green and orange building on Riverside and 20th Avenues is a beacon of hope for many aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs. It houses the African Development Center which provides business and home loans for African, Asian and Latin…