Orchard Gardens

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Reprint from Burnsville 1976 Some additions/changes).

The Beginnings

by June Dille (1976)

The Master Plan for a planned community
Minnesota Orchard Gardens, as it was originally named, included part of what is now Orchard Lake. The plat was drawn up for the R. H. Benham Investment Company of Minneapolis about 1910. Mr. Benham could be called the founding father, but not the first settler.
Doc Benham's Barn

Marion W. Savage, owner of the great pacer, Dan Patch, had owned much of this property. He sold, some feel prematurely, because the future prospects and possibilities were to prove not only interesting but lucrative as well.

The area attracted a group of enterprising and imaginative hard working people. Those of us acquainted with Orchard Gardens believe the expression "salt of the earth" best described these people.

Taking Mr. Benham's dreams into consideration, Orchard Gardens was an appropriate name. Orchards, gardens, and small farms comprised the plan the Benham Company had in mind when it was platted. A hill and a valley for each land owner was apparently the deciding factor for the distribution and description of the lots. To some, who slaved over the soil, a more appropriate name would have been "Rock Gardens," but to many others it was referred to simply as "The Gardens."

Road grading being done in Orchard Gardens
In those early days the local residents found it difficult to get into the Twin Cities. A poorly graded dirt road led to the already constructed Judicial Road, which was built to connect the various villages to enable the County officials to make their way between Savage and Lakeville and on to the County seat in Hastings. It was through "judicial action" that Judicial Road came into being.

Traveling between places of business, supply centers, schools and churches was no easy venture. Horses and wagons provided the main means of hauling, although walking, according to the Orchard Gardens residents, was the primary way of getting around. It was several years later before the railroad and the "flivvers" arrived on the scene.

Once you were safely on Judicial Road and were determined to get to Minneapolis, you went through Savage, over the Minnesota River and up around what is now known as the Masonic Home, and into "town." In the winter you waited for tracks to be made by the milkman or mailman, or you just huffed and puffed your way through the drifts in the general direction you wished to go and hoped for the best.

In 1910 there existed only four or five occupied stock farms in the area. Electricity had not yet been installed. If you needed a doctor, and could get to him to let him know of the illness, the locally famous and much loved Dr. Thomas J. Gaffney would come to your aid in his horse and buggy.

About this time the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railroad was extending its line to Lakeville and points beyond. It was of great service to the later residents of the area, bringing us within commuter distance of Minneapolis. (See the "Dan Patch" Railroad.)

Mail service was provided by Eddie Kennedy, a farmer and writer who wrote for nearly all the papers in existence at that time. He and his wife Sarah built a home which was later purchased by the Benham family. As the mailman, Kennedy traveled to Savage to pick up the mail and folks all around went to his house to pick up their correspondence.

Mr. Roy (Doc) Benham's plan for the community included an orchard for each parcel of land and many people aided him in the planting of these fruit trees. There was a cooperative effort in building roads for the new project and those who worked steadily at it received 2.5 cents an hour. Many of the orchards failed because of the poor soil. A devastating fire swept through much of the area in 1914 and retarded the growth of most of the trees, but some bloomed and bore wonderful fruit and are continuing to do so today.

Since apples could no longer provide a livelihood, some residents got together to find a crop which would grow more readily in this soil. It had to be a crop which would take very little capital investment and one that would be very marketable. The farms were small and an owner had to do much of the work himself. Yellow onions were introduced and, to the relief and delight of the landowners, their labors resulted in a very lucrative product.

Onion thrips
From 1914 to 1920 the majority of families (numbering about thirty-five) were growing onions exclusively. One year they filled thirty-seven boxcars with these savory vegetables and the distribution was handled by Twin City brokers who had purchased the onions right at the field. This crop was to prove a disappointment when an infestation of "Onion thrips" practically ended the onion business in 1920. "They are an important enemy of onions, and also cabbage and cauliflower. Once the disease appeared in an onion patch, it was assumed by the growers of that era that it was useless to attempt to raise onions there again.

After the onion failures, chickens became the next means by which to make a living. The first chicken farmers started with an average flock of 300. The problems were many, but the times were such that one did not dare lose courage. They were on their own and the government was in as precarious a condition as they were. A year or so later, the "Orchard Gardens Egg Circle" was formed and numbered seventeen members. They bought feed and marketed under that name as a cooperative. The coop existed about two years, when an unfortunate decision was made to let a "commission man" handle the marketing for the group. He proved unreliable and after a "hot" discussion, the entire project was dissolved and once more it was each man for himself.

The aftermath of World War I left the nation in a severe agricultural depression. The Orchard Garden residents were not spared and the community found itself nearly bankrupt. Less than ten percent of the enterprises in the area were able to survive. A few were able to weather the economic collapse but the "exodus" to greener pastures began in earnest. Foreclosures and mortgage debts were much too common. After all the hard work in an effort to build an economically sound community, those were years of heartbreak. Bitterness, though, softened as time passed. To those who survived the hard times and to the others who came later, most remember the later years as pure fun, but it was hard work, too.

The community was beginning to change. From 1920 to 1926 Orchard Gardens was part of an incorporated Village with numbered streets laid out through the woods and along fence rows. More people were coming to Orchard Gardens who did not stake their livelihood on the land alone, but were commuting to the "cities" during the week to their places of employment and doing after-hours farming Wages in the 1920's averaged $2.50 for every nine or ten-hour day and most of those employed in the city worked six days per week.

By the end of 1926, after eleven elections and much heated discussion, the Village was dis-incorporated. The Village was bankrupt and it was a reluctant Burnsville Township which took Orchard Gardens back into the fold. To assume the financial responsibilities of a debt-laden Village was no small burden for the small community of Burnsville.

The Lake-Burn Citizens League

(Much of this was taken from an article printed in the Dakota County Tribune on May 20, 1965.)

The Lake-Burn Citizens League was originally organized in 1957 with 43 charter members. The original officers were Chairman, Martin Otto; Vice-Chairman, Fenton Brice; Secretary, R. M. Lares; Treasurer, Christina Huddleston.

The League was composed of people from the Orchard Gardens and Orchard Lake area. According to Mrs. U. G. Coram, Secretary in 1965, its purpose was to initiate and support civic policies which will insure an orderly, efficient, wholesome and friendly development of the community toward the ultimate goal of having an ideal area for homes; to disseminate information to the community concerning problems of interest; to make the association available to public officials and candidates for public office; to discuss current issues, provided that this association shall not engage in partisan politics or favor any political party.

The first sponsored activity was a swimming program beginning in 1957 with the transporting of area children to Lake Marion for swimming classes. In 1958, they initiated a Red Cross swimming class with Mrs. Elmer (Bea) Nordstrom as instructor for 91 children and 16 adults at Orchard Lake. In 1964, there were over 300 enrolled in the three-week course.

Many projects were completed through the efforts of the Lake-Burn Citizen League. They informed the area of the need for bond issues to enlarge area schools. The league aided the town board in securing a park area and beach on the southeast side of Orchard Lake. It was responsible for the county bookmobile. Later the group sponsored a rabies clinic with the late Dr. Paul Nelson, veterinarian, for three summers. The league sent welcome letters throughout the area, written by membership chairman, Arlene Schrotke. A memorial bench was placed at the swimming beach on Orchard Lake through the efforts of the group.

After a series of meetings with Mr. Lindekugl and Mr. Youll of the Central Telephone Company with the citizens group in September of 1958, Orchard Gardens was the first area in Dakota County to get extended toll-free telephone service to Minneapolis and St. Paul. The League helped start a nonprofit nursery in 1960 with Julie Ann Nelson, the first teacher. The nursery was held each year until the fall of 19 64 and provided a learning experience for 25 pre-school children. The staff included well-trained, certified teachers with Polly Nelson, Dorothy Lekson and Lil Klotz supervising the activity.

Over the years the Citizens League cooperated with the Dakota County Planning Board and with the women of the Dakota Farm Bureau. Although the League worked toward incorporation of the Orchard Gardens area as a Village, the application was denied by the Minnesota Municipal Commission due to the low tax valuation.

The 1965 officers were: Hill I. Paulsrud, president; Mrs. U. G. Coram, secretary; Ruth Allen, treasurer; Mrs. Gordon Lekson, education chairman; Mrs. C. Huddleston, park and swimming class chairman.

The Road Club

In the mid-thirties, the Road Club was organized to improve local road conditions. The club represented a degree of agreement between the commuters and the farmers that the roads needed improvement and showed a willingness to work together. The Road Club organized a dance and raised $200 which was spent on snow fences. Each fall and spring the members worked on the fences. The meetings became increasingly important as social get-togethers.

In order to direct visitors to the area, the Road Club erected an Orchard Gardens Directory sign near the railroad station. It listed the names and distances to the local residences from that location.

The only way the roads could be improved was through constant work by the members. This worked well for emergencies but was too time-consuming to keep the roads in good condition all the time. A rift between the farmers and the commuters developed when the County was asked to gravel, grade, and remove snow. The request by the commuters was made by going over the heads of the Village Council. The farmers, accustomed to doing things themselves, withdrew from the Road Club in protest. Ill will continued between the two groups for a long time.

The significance of the Road Club was not the work that was accomplished during its cooperative period but the fact that diversified groups could bank together to work for a common goal. This is the essence of what has made the Orchard Gardens area a community, then as now.

In 1968, workers began to demolish a historical landmark that since the early part of the century served the entire area as school, church and community center for any and all activities. To an older generation, it was with much regret and nostalgia that we watched it disappear. Known during its early existence as the "brick" school, it was preceded by the Silsbee School, named after the then chairman of the board, which was used from 1905 to 1915. Silsbee School was located on the southwest corner of Orchard Lake.

Orchard Gardens School

The School
On a hot day in August of 1914, a
meeting of the school board was held
 and a site near the Orchard Lake railroad station was chosen for the new
school. The land belonged to the
 Benham Investment Company as part 
of the Minnesota Orchard Gardens
territory. The exact location corresponded to Mr. Benham's plan for a 
townsite. In November of that year, excavation for the new school began at a firm price of ten dollars.

The local residents built and were responsible for the survival of the school. The problems they faced were severe, funds were scarce, but through their efforts the school became one of the finest rural schools in the state of Minnesota. In 1920, a high school department was added and continued for two years.

Arie Streefland, Sr. provided the first buses. They were horse-drawn carriages and could be converted to sleighs in the winter. The three men who drove the vehicles were Mr. Charles Huddleston, Mr. Joe Ertsgaard and Mr. Strand.

Orchard Lake School had the distinction of being one of the ten or so chosen by the State of Minnesota to become an experimental school. For a time, students sat at tables and studied in groups, rather than sitting at their individual desks for study and instruction. For many years, students, after graduating from eighth grade, attended Bloomington High School. Several years later, the students attended Farmington High School and finally Lakeville High School became the area's secondary school.

June Dille

A Railroad-Centered Time

The Orchard Valley Stop
on the Dan Patch Line
drawing by June Dille
There were originally three railroad stations serving our community. The Whittier, remembered by some as Foley's station, was located in the vicinity of the Burnsville Lumber Company, the Oakdale Station was near the "trestle" or underpass by Orchard Lake and the Orchard Garden "depot", on what is now County Road 5. The latter is the only station that still stands and the only thing that has not changed in this expanding countryside. The Orchard Gardens depot was built in 1910, by the Minneapolis, Northfield, and Southern Railroad, for commuters who used the Dan Patch line as their link with the big city. Through the years it has come perilously close to being destroyed and it is to the credit of various local residents and organizations that it has been preserved.

What a busy place it once was! Everyone used it, and for every conceivable purpose... the chicken farmers, the gardeners, the apple growers and the dairy farmers. It was used by commuters to Minneapolis to go to work, or by some simply for a shopping trip to "town." The flower growers used it daily to bring their beautiful blooms to the large stores in the city. It is said that once, 36 boxcars were filled to the brim with onions to be sold to the city markets from Orchard Gardens Station. Apples of all varieties waited for Dan Patch trains, bushels and bushels of them, to go to markets in St. Paul and Minneapolis to be shipped to all corners of the Midwest and beyond. The milk wagons once waited there, too. Later, some of us waited there for the school bus to take us to high school, first in Bloomington, then Farmington and finally to Lakeville, as the school districts changed and expanded. A man died in that station, some recall, and could not be moved until he was identified, nor did the train move until he was properly cared for. Such were the ways in those slower paced times.

All of us use the station now, as then, to direct friends and relatives to our homes north, south, east and west of that small depot. It is one of the few remaining landmarks of a bygone era and some of us hope it will remain untouched by progress.

The Orchard Lake Golf Course

The idea of a golf course with home sites was conceived by Martin H. Otto in 1958. The original plan, designed by Dolan Engineering in Burnsville, was to have had a regulation 18-hole course. At that time, Orchard Gardens was considered to be too far out in the country, and Mr. Otto was unable to convince financial sources that this would be a profitable venture. Since then, however, it has become a very popular and profitable development. Unable to develop his original plan, Mr. Otto resigned himself to a smaller project. This resulted in the present golf course and subdivision known as the Orchard Gardens Country Club. The name Orchard Gardens was chosen to preserve the historical name of the area.

Construction on the golf course began in 1964. During the years of construction, the Ottos were still raising corn, hay and soybeans on the land that was not, as yet, being used for the golf course. The first five holes on the course were ready for play in 1968. A fee of $1 enabled a golfer to play the five holes twice... 10 holes for $1. The nine-hole course was completed in 1969 and was opened to the public at that time.