Saturday, October 15, 2016

Swede Hollow -The Swedish slums in Saint Paul, Part 1

In the swedish consiousness the typical Swedish Emigrants to USA are often symbolized by swedish author Vilhelm Moberg main characters in his novel series The Emigrants.
In the books the young hardworking farmer couple Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson  immigrates to Chisago county,Minnesota to create a better future in the 1850thies.

What few realise is that this image is only part of the thruth. Most swedish emigrants came to USA to settle in larger or smaller cities. The swedes also got their fair share of prejudices,racism,disease and slums. On of the slums that some of the swedish emigrants lived in was Swede Hollow on the East side of Saint Paul Minnesota. Situated between Payne Ave. and East 7nth Street on the border between Railroad island and Dayton's Bluff the area is now a park a green area but until 1956 it was one of the poorest parts of St. Paul.

 The area is located in the lower part of Phalen Creek Valley a narrow gorge about1,2 kilometers long surrounded by 20-30 meter high cliffs . in its bottom flows a stream Phalen Creek. The area has several springs and caves .The stream soon attracted industries to the surrounding area. Several breweries primarely the large Hamm Brewerey.its large buildings and its owners Theodore Hamms magnificent residence was right next to the ravine.  A railroad line to Duluth went through the valley.

 The area´s first inhabitants were non swedish trappers and ,loggers and odd job workers who lived there in the 1840-thies. the Swedes began to settle in the area in the 1850thies and came to dominate it for fifty years. They called the area Svenska Dalen (Swedish Valley) but it soon became known under its unofficial name Swede Hollow (Swedish hole)

Swede Hollow, looking north from East Seventh Street before creek was enclosed
1912-1915 courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society [1]

By the end of the 19th century Swede Hollow was an place where poor immigrants could find cheap accomodation when they began their life in USA It also was a stepping stone werethey  could reside for some time until they could  "move up" both socially and geographicly   to more more social-established areas in the city .it was also a refuge for those who went through hard times and needed a place to pull themself together . it was a slum and many remained poor diseases flourished and child mortality was high.

Swede Hollow was not devided into street,blocks and lots. The only street in Swede Hollow meandered along Phalen Creek. .The houses and shacks were self build  and build  close together were there were  place left . Some inhabitants  kept small animals as chicken out of necessity. The residents took their water from a well  and used the creek as their sewer. Some of the residents built their outhouses on piles over the brook

In 1881 the swedes got new neigbours when a group of Irish moved into the valley..The Irish area became known as Connemara Patch .The Irish lived downstreems Phalen Creek from the swedes and sometimes got the dirt from the swedish outhouses.the relationships between the groups was tense.

At the start of the 20tcentury as more of Swede Hollows swedish residents became more socially established.They bagan to move up from the valley and into more established neigbourhoods in immigrant groups began to settle in Swede Hollow .First italians later poles and other East europeans.After World War one the area became home to newly arrived Mexicans.

After word War two the city authorities began to see the area as a burden.In 1956 it "discovered" that the sanitary conditions in Swede Hollow was unfit without access to municipal water and sewers.
Despite protest from local residents,they were evicted . On november 2 1956  the Saint Paul Firedepartment set the remaining empty houses on fire. in 1978 the area begame inagurated as a park Swede Hollow Park.