The Kohl's Farm

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There once was a farm . . . By Kevin Swanson Burnsville Historical Society

The Kohls' Farm
One of the joys of dabbling into the history of our community is listening to all the great stories long time residents tell of the early Burnsville days. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with

Eldon Kohls, a 3rd generation resident, about his 80+ years living, and working, in Burnsville.

The Kohls story all started with Eldon’s Grandfather, William Kohls. William moved to Burnsville in the 1890s and realized the need for the children to have a proper education. With his neighbors, he helped to build a school at the corner of country road 11 and 42 (now the location of Davanni’s Pizza). This one room classroom was designated as district # 94 and used for first through eighth grades.

Eldon’s father, Henry, carried on the service to the school by becoming a member of the school board. In 1941, when the school needed a new teacher, Henry drove to South Dakota to interview Ms. Rose Grange. She was hired and Mr. Kohls brought Rose back with him to Burnsville. The Kohls house was also where the teacher would grade when Ms. Grange arrived and he quickly learned that goofing off in school was not a good idea!

Rose Grange
Eldon with Kathryn Polak
Back then, it really took a township effort to have the school. In the winter, Henry Kohls and Louis Gramsey would go from farm to farm collecting wood for heating the school house. Since there was no running water it had to be hand carried to the school. Sometimes the kids would create a bucket brigade to transport the pails from a nearby farm or Lake Alimagnet. When an addition was added onto the school, neighbors pulled together to complete the work.

All the working and playing together created life-long bonds among the kids. To this day, Eldon stays in touch with classmates from long ago, including John Deshaw, Leo Martin and Jack Martin.

Children arrived to school via many different methods. Some walked, some rode horses, others were driven by car or tractor and one even had a scooter. The teacher herself would walk everyday from the Kohls farm (what is now the south west corner of Chicago Ave & Co Rd 42) to the school house. In the winter, she would need to arrive early so the school house was heated before the kids arrived. Imagine, if you can, walking on those cold early mornings, in the dark, on an unplowed dirt road to school every day!

Because Mr. Kohls was so involved in other things, there was always a hired hand to work the farm. Crops were grown mainly to feed the livestock. However, if there was a good year, any leftover was brought to the grain elevators in Rosemount. If you had wheat to sell, it was taken to Prior Lake because they gave a better price.

Milk was picked up by Eldon’s uncles who had a small milk route. Back then, milk was taken to a creamery in Minneapolis. While the hired hand was working the fields and tending to the cattle, Eldon’s mom oversaw as many as 200 chickens. After eggs were gathered, she would bring them to local grocery stores and exchange the eggs for store credit so that other groceries could be purchased.

In this photo overlay, prepared by the Burnsville Historical Society, the Kohl’s farm is revealed beneath a 2014 satellite photo.
The Kohls' Farm
Growing up, Eldon was part of the Crystal Lake conquers 4H club. This club included kids from all the neighboring farms. Showing livestock at the country fair was often the best part of being in 4H. Eldon remembers showing cows & pigs, yet never won a ribbon or a trip to the state fair.

When Eldon reached high school, many of his friends, especially the boys, stayed on the farms to help with chores. With the hired hand working on the farm, Eldon was able to attend high school. He remembers riding the bus all the way to Rosemount for classes. There were sports and dances that made high school life fun. Friday nights were spent at the St. Paul armory where wrestling matches were watched. Or, there was dancing at one of the many dance halls in the area. Eldon graduated from Rosemount in 1951. Shortly thereafter school district lines were redrawn. The little district 94 school house was closed and sold at auction to Louis Gramsey for $1,000.

At the age of 13 Eldon’s father passed away, leaving the farm to his mother, Eleanor. After graduation, Eldon began farming the land himself. The farm stretched from Chicago Avenue on the east to the Day farm on the West. County road 42 was the north boundary and the farm stretched south to the Holman & Swanson farms (approximately Southcross Drive). Free time was spent visiting with neighbors at Dolly’s Place on Sunday afternoons, snowmobiling around Burnsville in the winter or going to dances at one of the surrounding dance halls. He eventually met his wife Peggy, from Minneapolis, at the Prom Ball Room. They married and Eldon gave up farming in 1966. At that time, Eldon and his wife bought a house on Susan Lane just south of the Valley Ridge Shopping Center. They liked this particular house because it had an apartment in the basement where Eleanor could live too.

Also in 1966 Eldon was hired by Burnsville Township to work in the Public Works street department. He graded roads and worked on many other projects as the township grew into a city. Over time streets were paved. Water, sewer and gutters were installed, all the while trying to keep up with the city’s growth. It was a lot of work yet created job security. He retired in May of 1995 giving 29 years of service to the city. He remembers the first town hall and garage were located on Co Rd 5, where Ames Construction is today. This made for a very short commute to work every day! By the end of his career the facility on McAndrews road was the new home of the Public Works department.

Eldon and Peggy raised two daughters, Caroline (Eagan, MN) and Kris (Dublin, Ireland). Caroline has 2 daughters as well; Katrina and Lauren. Kris has a stepson Cade. Sadly, Peggy lost her battle with cancer in 1994 just a year before Eldon’s retirement.

Today, Eldon still lives in the same house on Susan Lane and enjoys visiting with his old school buddies. He is enjoying retirement and makes the trip to Ireland to see his daughter, and her family, when he can. He still enjoys the old time music and would probably polka dance if you asked him to.

Next time you are traveling on country road 42, and pass by Byerly’s or “The Woods of Burnsville” apartment community, think of this story and the history that has taken place there. How the Kohl’s family (no relation to the retail store) helped to start a community school and the place where some of Burnsville’s first teachers lived. Remember how 3 generations of the same family helped create a small portion of the Burnsville we see today.

I hope by sharing Eldon’s family’s story, you feel compelled to share your own Burnsville memories. Whether they are from a few years ago or many decades past, we are eager to hear your Burnsville story. [February 2015)