Walking All the Streets of Eastern Minnehaha

One can’t avoid the “Cult of Hiawatha” in the southeastern portion of Minneapolis, and so I once again found myself in a neighborhood named for one fictional Indian (Minnehaha) bounded by a highway named for another (Hiawatha), all of which was supposed to somehow make people feel better about living on the land of real Indians.

Aside from its name, Hiawatha Avenue’s major significance for this walk is that it constitutes a diagonal boundary unsuited to pedestrians. This helps explain why even though the neighborhood’s streets are generally on a grid, my route in the eastern half was rather complex. On the route map, the blue lines, indicating portions walked only once, form three distinct loops. Most are in a main loop starting and ending at the corner of 40th Avenue South and 54th Street East. However, there are two smaller subsidiary loops, each of which is joined to the main loop by purple connectors walked twice, first on the way to the subsidiary loop and then back at its conclusion. And, as usual, there are some red spurs that were walked forward and then immediately back.

Choosing photos to include is hard. In the initial block north on 40th Avenue to 53rd Street, and in the 8 blocks east on 53rd, I found all sorts of single-family houses interesting to look at in the February sunlight. But maybe they were too ordinary? I also spotted a small plastic ball, perched enigmatically at the mouth of a storm drain, perhaps revealed by the erosion of the snow. But maybe that was too idiosyncratic?

Once I reached Minnehaha Avenue, some multi-unit housing entered the mix, including two condo buildings straddling Minnehaha at 53rd: Olin Crossings on the west and Minnehaha Place on the east.

Minnehaha Place, 4824 53rd St. E.

Not that the housing itself is all that I found interesting. For example, in the course of my first subsidiary loop, I rounded the corner from 53rd Street East onto Riverview Road and encountered a striking fence of salvaged doors.

Fence of Doors, 5300 Block of Riverview Rd.
5362–5368 Riverview Rd.

After completing that southeastern mini-loop, I crossed back over to the western side of Minnehaha Avenue and proceeded north to the small commercial node where Minnehaha, Hiawatha, and 47th Avenues and 52nd Street all more or less converge. One of the buildings that caught my eye there was the 1926 storefront where the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute is now headquartered. We could sure all use some “transform[ation of] psychological trauma into nonviolent power with positive, productive alternatives to revenge” including “truth-telling, conciliation, and repairing harm for healed, just relationships.”

Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute, 5200 47th Ave. S.

Just south of there, a bungalow much like many others in the neighborhood stood out because of the way its recently repainted exterior caught the winter light.

5258 47th Ave. S.

This area also has some duplexes, such as this one a block to the west.

5219–5221 46th Ave. S.

Wrapping around from the northward traversal of 46th Avenue to the westward traversal of 52nd Street brought me back to the same commercial node I had previously seen. Agrarian Seed And Garden stands across 52nd Street from the Peacebuilding institute, but with an address on Hiawatha Avenue rather than on 47th Avenue, reflecting the complex geometry here.

Agrarian Seed and Garden, 5152 Hiawatha Ave.

The house on the corner of 52nd Street East and 43rd Avenue South looks like two houses of different eras smooshed together. The building permits show that the red siding is on a 28×26 foot portion from 1941 that had an address on 43rd Avenue, whereas the blue and (faux) stone siding is on a 25×46 foot portion from 1960 that includes the present entrance and attached garage on 52nd Street.

4221 52nd St. E.

At the western edge of this day’s region, I walked only alternate blocks of 40th Avenue, leaving the others for the other half of the neighborhood. As a result, you’ll have to wait until the next installment for the main sanctuary portion of Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls. Although equally modernist, it makes an interesting contrast to the boxy segment on 41st Avenue shown here. So stay tuned.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls, 5212 41st Ave. S. (from 52nd St. E.)

A block north of the church and on the opposite side of 40th Avenue, a house with a polygonal tower caught my eye in part for that reason (especially with its circular windows), but also because I suspected it might be older than most of the homes in the neighborhood. And indeed, the permit index dates it to 1888.

5100 40th Ave. S.

The newer houses surrounding this one aren’t the result of equally old houses having been torn down and replaced, or at any rate not predominantly so. An atlas from 1898 shows that this house was one of only a few at the time, scattered among many empty lots.

Area Surrounding 5100 40th Ave. S. in 1898

I took 51st Street three blocks east to 43rd Avenue, where I turned back south. Along the way, I passed an intriguing collection of decorated bicycle handles sticking out of the snow—alas, not satisfactorily photographable. Earlier in the walk, on the southeastern mini-loop, I had encountered an equally photo-resistant installation of bicycle wheels at the corner of 54th Street and Hiawatha Lane. So apparently the use of bicycle parts as a medium for found-object sculpture is a trend across the Minnehaha neighborhood.

In the 5200 block of 43rd Avenue South, a house distinguished by the “support your local artist” sticker on the mailbox also featured an unusually sophisticated bench on the boulevard.

Boulevard Bench, 5228 43rd Ave. S.

Once I reached 54th Street, I turned west for two blocks, then retreated back to 42nd Avenue for my next northward pass. On the northeast corner of 54th Street East and 42nd Avenue South, a building that clearly was once a service station (from 1958, as it happens) is now serving some new role—but I wouldn’t have known what that role was without the sign on the corner of the lot. Indeed, reading “off-leash ART BOX” only went so far in enlightening me. I was imagining an open studio for visual arts, but an online search revealed the space is used by Off-Leash Area, a producer of “original interdisciplinary performance work.”

Off-Leash Art Box, 4200 54th St. E.

Walking north on 42nd Avenue all the way to the hairpin turn onto the Hiawatha Avenue frontage road, and then rounding that bend, allowed me to see more single-family and duplex houses in a variety of 20th-century vernacular styles. But it also brought me to the most significant open space of the walk, the Nokomis East Gateway Garden where the frontage road reaches 50th Street:

Gateway Garden was designed pro bono by the landscape architecture firm of colberg|tews to resemble a Monarch butterfly wing when seen from an aerial view. Planted in October of 2010 using all native plants, indigenous to the region including a Bur Oak to represent the Oak Savanna found in this area centuries ago. The Met Council provides the site and additional support. Gateway Garden is maintained by neighborhood volunteers. Everyone is welcome to volunteer and visitors are encouraged.

Nokomis East Gateway Garden, 4224 50th St. E.

Across on the south side of 50th Street, adjacent to a Blue Line station, is The Tipsy Steer Hiawatha, where I enjoyed huevos rancheros in tostada form.

The Tipsy Steer Hiawatha, 5000 Hiawatha Ave.
Huevos Rancheros at The Tipsy Steer Hiawatha

After lunch, I took the second of the route map’s purple connectors a block south on 43rd Avenue and then two blocks east to 45th Avenue for the slender loop around 45th and 44th Avenues. Coincidentally, just as I began that purple connector, I spotted a Queen Anne house from 1890 that had some trim of a similar color.

5018 43rd Ave. S.

On 45th Avenue, a sign informed me that I had “now entered the Jurisdiction of Silly Walks” and was to “commence silly walking immediately.” I’m bad at being silly, bad at selfies, and bad at any kind of videography. So be warned: the attached video is a bad video-selfie of a bad silly walk.

Jurisdiction of Silly Walks, 5300 Block of 45th Ave. S.
A Bad Selfie of A Bad Silly Walk

A lot of single-family houses are built from standard plans, often as “spec” (speculative) houses built to be sold to any ready buyer, rather than designed to reflect some specific homeowner’s desires. But that’s even more true of duplexes. As a result, walking through Minneapolis, one sees each of several common duplex plans repeated many times over. That just makes it even more interesting when one runs into an instance of a more unusual duplex style, as in the 5200 block of 44th Avenue South.

5205–5209 44th Ave. S. (1946)

At the hairpin where 44th Avenue turns into Hiawatha Avenue, there’s an old Italianate house. How old? I don’t know. It’s almost certainly old enough that it lay outside the city limits of Minneapolis at the time it was built, i.e., prior to 1887. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were even from the 1870s.

5028 Hiawatha Ave.

Once I was back to 43rd Avenue, I made a point of taking a picture of one of the newer houses (from 1967), just to illustrate that each period has its own distinctive style. By happenstance, it turns out to be due west of the pre-historic Italianate. This one is a bi-level with a tuck-under garage, and its details include a trapezoidal window over the front door paralleling the roofline—something I’ve seen in other houses from the 1960s.

5029 43rd Ave. S.

Finishing up the main loop, I encountered a tricycle on a porch roof, colorful birdhouses, L♡VE poles and a 1920 bungalow that stands out as more Prairie School than Craftsman in style.

4001 49th St. E. from 40th Ave. S.
Birdhouses, 4000 Block of 49th St. E.
L♡VE Poles, 4924 41st Ave. S.
5227 41st Ave. S.

Editor’s Note: Max Hailperin is walking each of Minneapolis’ 87 neighborhoods, in alphabetical order. He chronicles his adventures at allofminneapolis.com, where the original version of this article was published March 25, 2022. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.

All photos are by the author.

Max Hailperin

About Max Hailperin

Max Hailperin's personal project is allofminneapolis.com. Minneapolis has 87 neighborhoods, including the three industrial areas. Some he knows well, others he has not yet entered. However, he has committed to explore all of them on foot: every block of every street in every neighborhood. He is working through the neighborhoods alphabetically, from Armatage to Windom Park, so as to focus in one area, then hop to somewhere else.

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8 thoughts on “Walking All the Streets of Eastern Minnehaha

  1. Liam

    I have a memory that the ‘Fence of Doors, 5300 Block of Riverview Rd.’ is protest art. From what I recall, the doors were from the houses torn down to make way for the proposed ‘Hiawatha Freeway’ that got stopped at the turn of the century (but not before some damage was done). I have been unable to find any articles to back this up, but I am sure someone on this site will know!

  2. Bruce BrunnerBruce Brunner

    Love the message you picked up from the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute building as the founder convinced me to buy the building so she could house their headquarters there. You can check it out at MNpeace.org- thanks Bruce

  3. Donna Minter

    Max, thanks so much for highlighting Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute in your article. We have trained over 11,000 people since 2010. We welcome all to join us at our trauma-informed, racial healing and equity, resilience-oriented, restorative justice-focused online and in-person programs. You can learn more at http://www.mnpeace.org. Take care and happy walking!!

  4. Judy Gleiter

    I am new to the neighborhood and have noticed all the things you talk about on my many walks. Thank you for sharing. The Art Box is no longer used by Off Leash. I went to a production there in 2019 and it was good. I believe it is a dance studio now.

  5. Pete Barrett

    I’m very upfront about being the dumbest guy I know. And because I have kids, I’m used to being told I’m wrong. But I’ve lived my entire existence in Saint Paul and I’ve never heard that Minihaha is an native American, fictional or real. I recall the name means “laughing waters”, inspired by the sound of the falls. This rings true, given that “Minnesota” means something like “sky tinted waters”.

    Now, I’ll let wiser folks chime in.

    1. Max HailperinMax Hailperin Post author

      I take the focus of the question to be whether “Minnehaha” is a name for a human (albeit fictional) or a waterfall (or perhaps a general category of waterfalls that fit the same description). The answer is both — much as Peter is both a name for a person (many people, actually) and a word denoting a rock. Each of these names has an origin story. For the name Peter, it is given by the Bible’s John 1:42 — Jesus naming his disciple, Simon the son of John, telling him that he will now be called Peter, or rather the equivalent word for “rock” in Aramaic; it became Peter once translated into Greek. Likewise, for Minnehaha, the naming story is in Longfellow’s poem:
      “With him dwelt his dark-eyed daughter,
      Wayward as the Minnehaha,
      With her moods of shade and sunshine,
      Eyes that smiled and frowned alternate,
      Feet as rapid as the river,
      Tresses flowing like the water,
      And as musical a laughter;
      And he named her from the river,
      From the water-fall he named her,
      Minnehaha, Laughing Water.”

      Note that Longfellow should not be taken as an authority on the Dakota language. Other sources indicate that the “haha” ending means waterfall rather than “aughing, so that the name actually means Water Waterfall rather than Laughing Water. Longfellow was presumably influenced by the English onomatopoeia for laughter and his vocation as a poet, not a linguist or anthropologist.

      The question is whether in the context of this part of Minneapolis, it makes sense to think of the neighborhood as named for the “dark-eyed daughter” in Longfellow’s poem, who in turn was named for the waterfall, or alternatively to think of the neighborhood as directly named for the waterfall. Each has an element of validity. I prefer to draw the connection to the daughter based on the context of being surrounded by Hiawatha, Nokomis, Keewaydin, Wenonah, etc.

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