Burnsville in the 1960s and 70s

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by Marcia Marshall

During the winter of 1963 my husband and I began looking for a new house. Our family was growing and our home in North St. Paul was getting too small. My husband worked in Hopkins, quite a drive from North St. Paul, and the Minnesota Twins were in Bloomington! We spent winter weekends looking at existing housing in the south metro area. My husband also stopped to look at houses on his way home from work. One evening he arrived home and announced that he had stopped by a new development in Burnsville and thought that instead of buying an existing home, we should build a new one.

Two young businessmen, Clyde Pemble and Bruce Thompson had formed a company called Pemtom and they were building homes in an area along Highway 13 not far from the Minnesota River. The development was called River Hills. I still have the brochure that my husband brought home on that day. The slogan on it reads: “River Hills - Key to the Home You Will Never Outgrow.” Taxes were low, less than we had paid on our small two bedroom home in North St. Paul. Roads, municipal sewer and water were in and paid for, and a neighborhood school, Sioux Trail Elementary, was soon to be built within sight of our home. We were on board!

We were the first family to move into our cul- de-sac. Fifty one years later, we are the only original owners in our circle! We became residents of our home in River Hills on November 30, 1963. Much of the interior work on the house remained to be done since President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated eight days earlier, and the people of the United States had watched transfixed as events unfolded in the Nation’s capital. Many did not go to work during that time.

Our first winter in Burnsville was an interesting one. One big question was where to shop for groceries? We found that there was a grocery store, Sullivan’s Supervalu, in a shopping center called Jet Plaza, later this became Valley Ridge Shopping Center. I had never been to Burnsville before we started looking at houses in River Hills, and I often became lost trying to find County Road 5, where Sullivan’s was located.

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Before long we became familiar with our new community. We visited the old library at Colonial Ridge Shopping Center frequently and mailed letters at the old post office near Highway 13 on 12th Avenue. Burnsville saw much growth during the next fifteen years. Neighborhoods developed and within them neighborhood schools were built. By 1976 Independent School District #191 included Burnsville High School, two junior high schools (Metcalf and Nicollet) and eight elementary schools: Rahn and Cedar (both located in Eagan), Sioux Trail, William Byrne, Gideon Pond, Vista View, Edward Neill, and M.W. Savage (located within the town of Savage). Sky Oaks Elementary School opened its doors in January 1978, and was the “new school” in Burnsville.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, several new shopping malls were built in Burnsville, each having a grocery store. Sioux Trail Shopping Center, located at Highway 13 and Cliff Road, had a Penny’s Market, a number of clothing shops, and a four screen theater, as well as a variety of other shops. Cobblestone Court was built at Nicollet and County Road 42. Sullivan’s South, Cole’s Children’s Barber Plus, and St. Paul Book and Stationery were among the stores that were located there. Diamondhead Mall was a two-story shopping mall, and housed the Red Owl Grocery Store. It would later become the Burnsville High School Senior Campus, and Burnsville Senior Center/ Diamondhead Education Center. Sullivan’s Supervalu also built a free-standing grocery store on County Road 11, just off of Highway 13. It was called Sullivan’s East.

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Many of our favorite restaurants are no longer in Burnsville; places like Benjamin’s, Shakey’s, and T Butcherblock. Also gone is the Lucky Twin Drive In Theater, formerly located at Nicollet and Highway 13, but by the end of the seventies Burnsville had a beautiful new library and a new and modern shopping center – Burnsville Center. Dayton’s, Powers, and Sears were all anchor stores there. Nearby in Apple Valley, the Minnesota Zoological Garden had been completed. There was a lot to see and do in our community!