The History of Columbia Heights
You can now read Columbia Heights: Bootstrap Town, A Social History by Irene Parsons online here.
The Village of Columbia Heights was formed on March 14, 1898, when it separated from Fridley township. With 1696 acres, 100 citizens and 20 houses, paths became roads, traffic patterns emerged and a city began.
In 1892, the Minneapolis Improvement Company Northeast held a naming contest with 2,281 names submitted. The name of Columbia Heights was chosen, and Olive Louise Thornbergh received a $150 prize in gold. Fairview Park was the runner-up selection and Hazel Heights was the third choice. (Below: naming contest advertisement from 1892.)
On July 21, 1921, the Charter of the City of Columbia Heights was adopted and the city was formed. City parks of Prestemon, Gauvitte and McKenna were all named for members of this first city council. Ava Ostrander, first woman elected to the council in 1924, also has a park named for her.
The original Fire department was built in 1919 on 40th Ave and 7th Street. An addition to this facility was built in 1942 with W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration) funding and another addition was built in 1959.
1940 - City offices moved to the "field house" now known as Murzyn Hall.
The current City Hall was built in 1961, remodeled in 1973 and then a major expansion in 1978 gave the fire department its current facility.
Bruce Nawrocki was elected Mayor in 1965 and served continually to 1986. He was reelected and served as council member 1990 to 1994. During those years a new municipal garage was built and city hall was enlarged. An addition to city hall includes the current council chambers, the exterior hall entrance to the chambers and the elevator.
In 1978, a major expansion of City Hall gave the Fire department its current facilities. Also added were an elevator and council chambers on the west end of the existing building.
Lincoln Funeral Car
One of Lowry's promotions for bringing people to Columbia Heights was his acquisition of the Abraham Lincoln funeral car in 1905. He brought it to Columbia Heights where he used it for a time as a sales office and curiosity. He planned to preserve it as an historical artifact. The car has been extensively researched by Columbia Heights resident, John Hemak.
The car was originally built in Alexandria, Va., for Lincoln's use. The pullman car was designed to pull heavy loads, and was outfitted with an office, sleeping quarters, sitting room and parlor. It carried Lincoln and his son, Will, to their inter-ment in Springfield, Ill. A snow-fence was erected around the car at its site on 37th Ave. at Quincy St. but people climbed over the fence and stripped the car of wood and anything else they could get off for souvenirs.
After Lowry died in 1909, heirs to his estate donated the car to the Minnesota Federation of Women's Clubs, which planned to preserve it at the Sibley House museum. Unfortunately, the funeral car burned in a grass fire which charred over 10 blocks in 1911.
The field house was built in 1939 by the W.P.A. and was later renamed Murzyn Hall for John Murzyn Sr., who served as the City's Park Superintendent from1947 to 1979. It is the center of the parks and recreation activity and is located at the northeast corner of Huset Park.
By the time parks were considered, most of the high ground was taken, leaving low lying areas for parks. These areas were filled in and parks developed.
Huset Park was the first Columbia Heights park and was originally called City Park. It was renamed for a Lutheran minister, Elmer Huset of First Lutheran Church and city manager for a time. He went to the state legislature and secured 60 acres for the city in 1939 for $10,000. About 30 acres of that land became park and the other acres became industrial land. The Jefferson pavilion building was constructed in 1959 on the eastern portion of Huset Park.
Only 3.50 square miles, Columbia Heights is home to 14 parks.
Columbia School (shown below) was built in 1894 at 41st and Central. In 1911, the south portion of the school was built. This building was razed in 1967.
Oakwood School was built in 1915 and closed as a public school in 1974 and became Oak Hill Baptist Church. The site is now home to Prodeo Academy, which opened its doors for the 2020-21 school year.
Silver Lake School built in 1922, closed in 1981, and became the new home of First Lutheran Church.
In December of 1926, Columbia Heights High School on 41st Ave between Jackson and Van Buren became the first high school in Anoka County. It became the Columbia Heights Junior High School in 1961 and in 1981 it was sold to the Northwestern Electronics Institute and operated as a technical college until NEI merged with Dunwoody in 2002.
The City purchased the vacant building and land, and demolished the building in 2004, clearing the way for the Public Safety Building, which was built in 2009.
In 1961, the current high school was built on 49th near Johnson St., along with Highland elementary.
In 1965, Central Middle School, which is now known as Columbia Academy, was built on the south side of 49th Avenue near Jackson St. as a Junior High school.
Silver Lake Beach
The property surrounding Silver Lake was mostly privately owned and had a privately run beach. In 1920, when a man drowned in the lake, the lake was dynamited in an attempt to find the body. This destroyed many of the natural springs, and water levels dropped greatly.
A pipe was laid to the lake from the Minneapolis reservoir since it was felt this was too valuable a resource to allow it to become a swamp. Apparently, some of the springs have reactivated and with storm run-off, the lake levels have remained adequate without additional pumping of water into it.
The town was to be served by the Central Avenue Electric Car Line on the east side, and the Electric Street Railway would be extended when and where needed. Thomas Lowry later extended a double streetcar track on Central Ave. from 29th to 40th Avenues, and a single track along 40th Ave. to 5th St. in 1916 (abandoned in 1954.)
This public transportation established the intersection of 40th and Central and the stretch of land from Central west to 5th St. as the nucleus of the budding town, as planned by the Minneapolis Improvement Co. NE. A five-cent fare was the cost of a streetcar ride. Before the 1890s, streetcars were powered by horses and mules, and the grassy slopes of Columbia Heights provided pasture for many of the animals which pulled streetcars in Minneapolis.
The original farmhouse of John and Mary Sullivan, (built circa 1863) is still at 5037 Madison St. and continues to be a single-family home.
Information for this page was pulled from Columbia Heights: Bootstrap Town, A Social History by Irene Parsons, along with newspaper articles.
For any changes or edits, please contact Will Rottler with the City of Columbia Heights here.