Cedar-Riverside: From Snoose Boulevard to Little Somalia
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.
Locations for Tour
Trinity Lutheran Congregation
New Riverside Cafe
Community Peace Gardens
Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque
Brian Coyle Community Center
African Development Center
Tour PostscriptTour made possible by Augsburg University's Presidential Innovation Grant
Jacqueline DeVries, History Department, Augsburg University
Kirsten Delegard, Historyapolis
Christy Mattingly, Augsburg University