The Swanson Farm

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The Farm up on the Hill by Ken Swanson

The Swanson Farm
I have the privilege of sharing with you a story of where I grew up. It isn’t a heroic story, or a love story. However, it is MY Burnsville story and will give you a look into why I am now a member of the Burnsville Historical society. You will get a glimpse into a time gone by and explains how things came to be, in that part of Burnsville. This story takes place at the northwest end of Crystal Lake...

Under the shadow of Buck Hill, on the east side of highway 35 was a farm. Located on a hill at what is now the intersection of Crystal Lake road and Portland Avenue. This farm spanned almost the entire length of shoreline from the public boat launch to what is today called Tyacke Park. Going north, the farm followed Portland Avenue until it almost reached what is now Southcross road. While I was growing up, it was 52 acres yet, in earlier years it was more than double that. With the Holman’s on the east side and Mr. Day on the west, it sat tucked away on a hill from those passing by on Crystal Lake road. Those of you, who remember Crystal View Inn, will remember this farm across the street. With its long driveway up the hill and big apple trees across the front yard.

It became the Swanson farm when my grandfather and grandmother, Earl and Bertha (Lena) Swanson, began renting it in the late 1930’s. During the depression, the land had fallen into the hands of Ferdinand Ruhr, a banker in Rosemount. Earl and Bertha saw this as an opportunity to venture out on their own from my great grandfather’s farm in Lakeville. Earl rented the land from Mr. Ruhr until it was finally purchased in 1956. Earl also plowed streets in the winter to help make rent. He used his tractor to keep Crystal Lake road as well as what is now Chicago Avenue clear for motorists.

Ken Swanson
When Earl and Bertha moved onto the land, they brought with them their only child, Kenneth (my father). While Kenny was growing up, he learned at a very young age, how to farm and the meaning of hard work. He would share stories with me of how low the water line was on the lake due to the dust bowl years. He would walk cattle 100-150 feet further from today’s shoreline just so they could drink and graze. It was so low, the lake actually looked more like ponds joined together rather than one lake. Then, one summer evening, a storm came that was so strong it caused my father to take cover under his bed. It was after that one storm my father remembered the drought coming to an end. The lake soon rose to the level we see today.

Kenny left school after the 8th grade to help his father. They grew corn and beans as well as raising cattle and chickens. While Kenny’s friends were attending high school in Rosemount, he was learning the ability to fix things. Soon Kenny was the ‘go to’ guy when neighbors needed motors overhauled or some other repair. He, and Eldon Kohls, was always on the lookout for parts so that something new could be built. As he got older, Kenny worked in Lakeville building ovens. However, his passion for fixing things led him to become Chief Mechanic for Dakota Electric Association in Farmington.

The farm life wasn’t all work. As a kid, Kenny would visit his cousin Gerald (Bud) Gramsey who lived on the farm at the east end of Crystal Lake. Oftentimes, Kenny and Bud would play in the corn fields. That is until one day Kenny got lost and many folks had to go looking for him. The corn had grown too high and he could not find his way out of the field!

When Kenny was older, he naturally spent a lot of time out on the lake. He owned a boat and did a lot of water skiing. He enjoyed this with his nephews Floyd and Lloyd Holman. His other prized possession was a 1956 Studebaker Silver Hawk. He was known to drive a carload of friends up to Lake Street, in south Minneapolis, as it was quite the gathering spot back then. The trip was always good for an evening of laughs and watching drag racing.

The homestead on the farm had 2 houses, the original farm house, which was next to the windmill, and a smaller 2nd home where the hired help would stay. With the long breezeway porch facing the lake, this smaller dwelling became a favorite place to stay in the summer. When Earl passed away in 1960, the summer home was converted into a 4 season home and Bertha moved into it. Also in 1960, Kenny built the house that now sits at 321 Swanson Circle. It was originally built to face Crystal Lake which explains why it sits the way it does today. This is the last remaining building from the Swanson farm.

Also on the farm was the hay barn, 2 cattle barns, a machine shed, large chicken coop and a milk house. Kenny remembered the hired hands harvesting ice off Crystal Lake. The blocks would be hauled up the shore to the milk house and packed in saw dust. This would keep the milk cool for most of the summer.

In 1962, Kenny married Lois Vasicek. Lois lived on the south side of Crystal Lake with her parents and sister. One day, when Lois’s father needed a tree cut down, Kenny’s name was given as someone who could help. Kenny & Lois had their first date soon after. It was a boat ride around the lake. After the wedding, they moved into the home that Kenny built and their first child, Kevin (me), was born in the summer of 1963.

Kenny quit farming in 1964. He harvested beans up to the time his second child, Melanie, was born in mid November. After farming, Kenny turned to boarding horses in the one remaining livestock barn as a way to make use of the land. Many neighbors kept their horses there. Once in awhile, due to a downed fence, the neighborhood would have horses galloping down the street. Kenny would then get a phone call and a posse was assembled to herd them back to the pasture. In 1965 Bertha passed away, leaving the second home empty. Kenny used it as rental property for a few years then, as a storage building and play house for the kids. Many memories were created as kids across the neighborhood played in the old Gray House.

It was also in 1965 that the last building was added to the farm. Lois’s mother, Caroline Vasicek, had purchased a mobile home when Lois’s father had passed away. Lois wanted her mother closer and the Township allowed the mobile home to sit on the farm.

Due to health issues and rising taxes, Kenny sold the land to Raymar, Inc. in September of 1978. It was a busy summer as all the buildings had to be emptied and taken down, including the large barn. An auction was held in October of that year so that all the farming implements, tools and furniture could be sold. Even the wood from the barn was sold as it was a hot commodity at the time.
The Swanson Farm in Winter

Raymar, Inc. requested, and the city approved, that the new street, where the Swanson home currently sits, be named Swanson Circle. Cementing into history, that something existed on that spot before asphalt and homes. Out of the 52 acres sold, Kenny kept 3 lots. They were; 321 Swanson Circle, where the house he built in 1960 now sits. 311 Swanson Circle, where the first farm house, windmill and milk house sat. As well as, an empty lot behind the house on Crystal Lake Circle. He spent his retirement here until his death in October 0f 2012. His wife, Lois, of 50 years realized that keeping so much space was more than she needed. She now lives in a 55+ community in Burnsville, still under the shadow of Buck Hill. My sister Melanie lives in Lakeville and I am in St. Louis Park.

If you ever stop at Tyacke Park, launch your boat from the west end of Crystal Lake, or pass by Swanson Circle while driving along Portland Ave, you now have a glimpse into what it looked like before all the homes and streets were built. And, how a part of Burnsville has transformed over the past 75 years.

Kevin Swanson, Treasurer of the Burnsville Historical Society