Did you ever imagine that the road you are now driving on used to be an Indian trail, a stage coach path or one of the pioneer’s foot trails? Well, it may have been.
Throughout history, roads have served as corridors of settlements, and when the first settlers ventured away from river banks in search of farmland, they began a road system that has expanded ever since. Even before Minnesota became a state, roads were being built by the army, stage drivers and the settlers themselves.
One of these roads, known as the Territorial Road, ran from Minneapolis through northwestern Hennepin County and into the central part of the state. Today, the Territorial Road is still an important corridor of traffic in the county. Its eastern end is West Broadway in North Minneapolis. After leaving the city it was called County Road 81 (or Robbinsdale Road, or even Crystal Lake Road) but is currently named Bottineau Boulevard and runs in a northwesterly direction through Robbinsdale, Crystal, Brooklyn Park and Osseo. Shortly after it crosses I-94, the road there skirts Maple Grove and Dayton before passing through the Hassan Township and out of the county. (The portion between Robbinsdale and Champlin became known as Jefferson Highway before 1920.)
Examination of this road corridor tells us that thousands of people drive it every day and find it unremarkable, except for the large number of traffic lights. Before interstate highways, this roadway was one of the major commercial and transportation arteries in the county. The old commercial district on West Broadway looks much the same as it did in the 1860s when streetcars brought shoppers to the district. Further out County Road 81, going through Robbinsdale we see how the advent of the automobile changed the patterns of shopping and mobility through the county. The early roads followed the contours of topography as they wended their way from settlement to settlement. Today’s highways shape the terrain to their needs and towns tend to grow toward the highways.
With a trend in the growth of Hennepin County, increasing auto and truck traffic created pressure for better, wider, smoother roads between Minneapolis and other parts of the county. As suburbanites–who often worked in downtown Minneapolis–became more numerous, smaller communities gradually became swallowed up in the expanding metropolis.
Yes, time does take its toll–mostly for the better, but think how fun it must have been to race over those old roads on horseback or by horse and buggy! We now know the names of the roads our relatives took to come over for Thanksgiving. Oh, by the way, if you should see a young boy along the side of the road with a lot of groceries and a couple turkeys, tell him to hurry on home–it is Thanksgiving, and I want to get the turkey in the oven!
Note: Road facts taken from an article by Pat Nunnally of the Minnesota Historical Society.