SNG History Committee
As one of the oldest neighborhoods in Minneapolis, Seward dates back to the first rapid expansion of the city in the late nineteenth century. It was first called “Southtown, Lower Town, or Swede Town” due to its location south of the central city or the large population of Scandinavians in the area. It acquired the nickname “Hub of Hell” during the early 1900’s due to a number crime reports associated with the many bars in the area. A large section of Seward was know as “The Fairgrounds” and was the home of a series of County, State, and local fairs from 1865 to 1884. More details can be found in the book “A People’s History of the Seward Neighborhood” which is available at the SNG office and local bookstores.
The purpose of the SNG History Committee is to collect, preserve, and promote Seward’s history. They have been gathering and archiving information on the neighborhood since 1977.
In 1978, they began collecting oral histories from older Seward residents. They received training and information for this project from the Minnesota Historical Society and continued to collect these histories for the next 30 years, ending in 2008. These oral histories became the backbone of the Seward history book. They have been transcribed and are now available from the Hennepin County Library.
In 2009, the committee donated a portion—seven boxes—of the archive of historical materials it had amassed to Special Collections at the then Minneapolis Public Library in downtown Minneapolis. These materials consisted of photographs, slides, videotapes, taped interviews with transcriptions, newspaper articles, posters, and other items. This collection is available at the downtown Hennepin County Library and online. (Look for Seward Neighborhood Group Collection.pdf on the library’s site.)
In 2011, under the leadership of Dick Westby, the history committee decided to publish a book on the history of the Seward neighborhood. With a grant from the Minnesota Legacy Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society the committee developed the outline for the book and hired nineteen Seward writers, each with a distinct voice and viewpoint, to research and write specific chapters. Wendy Epstein led the committee in researching relevant historical photographs.
In 2014, they obtained a second grant from the Minnesota Legacy Fund and hired retired Journalism Professor Richard Musser as developmental editor for the project. With his help the committee improved the manuscript, revised some chapters, and developed a more chronological flow. In 2015 the committee sought feedback from three professional published historians—all were positive and complimentary in their comments.
In 2016, after a yearlong search for a publisher, Bruce Johansen suggested Norton Stillman of Nodin Press might be interested. Nodin Press agreed to publish the book and assigned the project to his production editor and designer John Toren. In 2017, SNG signed off on the project and the committee applied for a third grant from the Minnesota Legacy Fund to prepare the pages for publication.
Photo selection and permissions, caption writing, fact-checking, footnote source checking, copyediting, editing to trim some chapters, and working with John Toren on page design and layout was done by Wendy Epstein and Marilyn Matheny, with help from Dick Westby and Rick Musser. “A People’s History of the Seward Neighborhood” was printed in December 2018. The book release was celebrated on December 10th, 2018 at the Seward Co-op Creamery Café with an attendance of several hundred people.
The committee’s plans for the future include setting up an online presence to collect more stories from the neighborhood and to tell the stories that didn’t make it into the book. The committee will continue annual summer history walks to share the stories from the book. They will work to promote the book through talks at local venues. In 2020, seven more boxes of the committee’s archives were donated to the Hennepin County Library.
Past and present members of the history committee: Dick Westby, Nancy Meyer Sansone, Jean Johnstad, Betty Edlund, Clem Engen, Mary Cooper, Gail Seifert, Ben Kreilkamp, Wendy Epstein, Linda Coffin, Bruce Johansen, Burt Berlowe, Marilyn Matheny, Rick Musser, and Lisa Boehlke. Tony Korum is the current SNG board liaison.
The SNG History Committee meets on the third Wednesday of the month at 7:00 PM. To find out about the next meeting check the SNG website and upcoming meetings: SNG.org. Also sign up or update your email subscription here.
History Committee Meeting Resources and Minutes