Finding A Home in Cedar-Riverside
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 programs. Norwegian immigrants and city leaders saw Augsburg as a potential anchor for Minneapolis' growing Norwegian community and welcomed them to the neighborhood by providing land and financial support.
When they arrived, Augsburg faculty and students found themselves in what was still a mostly rural area. Lands west of the Mississippi River had been opened up for American settlement in 1854. The City of Minneapolis was organized in 1867 and joined with St. Anthony in 1872. By then, there were about 13,000 residents in the city. Much of the landscape was still prairie grass and swampland. A few dirt roads connected Cedar-Riverside to downtown Minneapolis to the west and to Fort Snelling Military Reservation to the south. As one early Augsburg student recalled, "On the south side there was not a single house so far as the eye could see, except a decrepit, uninhabited hut." On campus, students relied on a horse for transportation, a cow for dairy products, and a pig as a garbage disposal.
Augsburg faculty and students welcomed this rural atmosphere-in fact many had come from farms, either in Norway or other Midwestern states. While they saw themselves as part of an emerging Minneapolis, city life was not always to their liking. By 1910, Cedar-Riverside's population had grown to 20,000 and the area now included numerous small businesses, factories, breweries, hospitals, churches, synagogues, and single and multi-family dwellings. Norwegians were one of the largest immigrant groups in Cedar-Riverside, giving Augsburg the sense of having found its permanent home. However, the neighborhood also had become a popular entertainment district, drawing thousands of revelers to the bars, dance halls, and theaters along Cedar, Riverside and Washington Avenues. Many Scandinavians frequented these bars; some owned them. As one Norwegian-American recalled, '"a ga pa Cedar," (go down on Cedar) meant "to tank up."
But a significant proportion of Scandinavians also participated in temperance campaigns throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries--none more enthusiastically than Augsburg faculty and students who embraced a pious lifestyle. Choral music, intercollegiate debate and street speeches were some of the ways Augsburg joined in the crusade against liquor. Augsburg's anti-liquor stance made it unpopular with some of its Norwegian neighbors. Temperance campaigning was one way the Augsburg community made an impact in its immediate vicinity, but also subjected the Augsburg community to a degree of cultural isolation.
By the 1920s, Augsburg's leaders considered relocating the campus to Richfield, an emerging suburb of Minneapolis. A variety of reasons were offered for this move to "Augsburg Park." Long-held concerns over the number of bars and dance halls in the area, along with the recent departure from the city center of many Scandinavians to South Minneapolis in search of better economic and residential opportunities, were part of the argument. Deploring urban "blight" and "undesirable" new arrivals in the neighborhood were important reasons as well. A desire to return to a more "rural" environment and an emerging need to accommodate an expanding student population (including female students after 1922) also figured in, as did pending decisions on what to do about building improvements on the existing campus.
Augsburg bought parcels of land in Richfield and over the next two decades there was intensive debate on whether to leave Cedar-Riverside. However, in 1946, the Board of Trustees voted to remain in Cedar-Riverside, partly because of campus improvements already underway and a lack of funds for building a new campus in the suburbs. When Cedar-Riverside became part of a large urban renewal plan, Augsburg took advantage of the opportunity to acquire "slum" property adjacent to its campus. This later led to campus expansions that were controversial because old housing was replaced with new, private campus buildings.
In 1949, the City of Richfield bought Augsburg Park, leaving Augsburg to develop a vision of itself as an urban college where students would have a unique opportunity to learn beyond the classroom by engaging in a dynamic neighborhood. In the 1960s and 1970s, President Oscar Anderson encouraged students and faculty to get more involved so they could help address challenges facing cities, some of which were in its own neighborhood. Augsburg's liberal arts curriculum became increasingly dedicated to community service, which helped it overcome its earlier reputation as an isolated seminary. A Social Science Research Center was created. Programs like the Metro Urban Studies Internship Program encouraged students to gain experience outside of the classroom, and the Professors of the City program attracted professionals in business, education and government. Augsburg began to distinguish itself as the only private liberal arts college in Minneapolis.
In 1963, Augsburg Seminary left to become part of Luther Seminary, and Augsburg's main focus became its liberal arts curriculum. While drinking and dancing were still discouraged, attitudes had changed by then, and, so too did students interaction with local bars. Students began to leave campus to enjoy some of the old liquor establishments that remained in the neighborhood, like the Triangle Bar, Viking Bar, and Cesar's. There they could hang out with friends enjoy an emerging folk music scene (including performances by Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan).
Augsburg continues to value its urban location and community engagement in Cedar-Riverside. Since 1990, the Service Learning Program has connected thousands of Auggies with their neighbors through educational, social, health and political activities. The Campus Kitchen program at the Brian Coyle Community Center serves meals daily to hundreds of neighborhood residents. Augsburg students help Korean elders at the Community Peace Gardens. Recently, Augsburg College and the Cedar Cultural Center partnered up for a grant funded project called "Midnimo: Music for Unity, Campus and Community," to showcase Somali music and to bring together Somali musicians who have been displaced by the civil war in their homeland.
Today, Auggies come from all over Minnesota, the United States, and around the world. Some of their Cedar-Riverside neighbors from East Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America have become Auggies as well.