Fool’s Gold and Gas Lines



The Veterans of Foreign Wars organized a post here on March 28, 1931, with 60 charter members. George Donalds was the first Commander, followed by H. P. Billmyre, Joseph Smith, W. R. Ambrose. An Auxiliary to Post 494 was formed June 24, 1931, with 19 members. It was called the Hugo Hartig Post, in honor of Dr. Hugo Hartig who was State Commander of the V. F. W. organization at the time of his death in 1925.

Mrs. R P. Billmyre was first Auxiliary President. Both Post and Aux. iliary are active, patriotic organizations, with a program designed to promote better care for the disabled veterans, their children, and good fellowship among the members.

About this” time, there was a lot of digging for gold north of Crystal Lake Hill, where Highway 52 runs today. Someone had planted “fool’s gold” there to entice people into buying stock in his company, implying that this was the tip of a large vein.

By 1931, the business group was called the Robbinsdale Business Men’s
Association and Frank Gfroerer was president. He owned the Robbinsdale Grocery which he had purchased in 1920 from Irwin Russ and Allan MacDonald.

Frank Gfroerer’s Robbinsdale Grocery on West Broadway

Perhaps a good description of the “helpfulness to others” spirit during the depression years was described by George Christensen of the American Legion describing the Post’s activities. The Post served as the clearing house for the unemployed. The men were sent out on community clean-up jobs, clearing snow from skating rinks, school playgrounds and village sidewalks, and pulling weeds and clearing vacant lots for gardens. The Post put up $1,500 with $1,000 from the Village, 50 men were given two months’ work turning the south shore of Crystal Lake into a park. From various fundraisers, they took care of 150 families in need from October until March when the funds ran out.

In 1932, four money raising pancake breakfasts were held at Schaefer’s Grove near Twin Lake. “”Chef “”Raleigh Torrey and his crew served bacon, sausages, eggs and pancakes for “four bits” . You had to bring your own utensils. This helped raise money for other projects.

The beginning of the eleven-mile Belt Line was planned and would be completed in 1935 with the additional stretch in Robbinsdale opened two years later. The concept of the highway belonged to highway engineer, Carl Frederick , a one-legged German engineer who came to the United States during World War I to avoid the draft. He was familiar with Germany’s fabled Autobahns and wanted a “belt line” to circle Minneapolis to facilitate north-south traffic. He prevailed upon Governor Olson directly for a half million dollars of WPA money and supervised the work. Highway engineer Bill Crawford said, “Because of Graeser’s early design_its width, its interchanges—we have been able to convert Highway 100 to a freeway with minimum expenditure.” The lilacs that were removed for the roadbed were replanted along the sides and the new belt line became known as Lilac Way. Graeser, who lived at 4225 Unity Avenue North, also wanted large, grassy parks by the road and according to an assistant L. P. Pederson, Graeser supervised the building of Graeser Park  in Robbinsdale in 1936. The stone for tables and benches came from a quarry south of the Mendota Bridge  1939-1940 Highway 100 was extended across Twin Lake.

Graeser and Highway 100 overpass


Gas lines started coming into the village and Gus Urban was the first homeowner to install gas for heating. His home, built in 1906 had been moved to 4137 Lakeland. By 1931, many homes were connecting to the sewer system. “The only public place for which a sewer connection permit has been issued is the Sacred Heart School. George Nash will do that work.”

In December, Robbinsdale turned down another proposal for annexation to the city of Minneapolis. It was the seventh time in as many years that supporters of annexation had failed to muster the necessary votes.

This post is part of a series based on the book Robbinsdale Then and Now by Helen Blodget.