Marian Townsend Maxson: "Get Muddy!"
The rapid growth of the suburb of Richfield brought many challenges with it. Residents put up with dirt roads and, until the village water and sewer services became available, had to have wells dug and septic tanks installed. Freeway construction and airport expansion took homes and created boundaries. Marian Maxson and her husband, Paul, built a home on West 68th Street in 1940 and saw many positive changes during their years in the neighborhood. In a 2007 interview with Thomas Saylor, Marian Maxson remembered the impact of these improvements.
TS: Now did you have paved streets when you first moved in?
MM: No. No. Our mailboxes when we first moved out were all over on Penn Avenue.
TS: Oh, really?
MM: There was a whole great big line of them. Like a row of mailboxes. Because the mail . . . it wasn’t home delivered at all. And in fact, they couldn’t get down the roads anyway. In the spring they were so muddy, because we didn’t have any paved roads.
TS: When did that change?
MM: I don’t remember. Well, I know that when Paul was gone in the service we were having home delivered mail at that point, because the mailman would ring my doorbell when I had a letter from Hawaii, and he would pick up my mail for me and deliver it. Very kind people. But when we first moved there the mailboxes were all over on Penn and 68th Street.
TS: But you remember it was between 1943 and 1945 you remember home delivery already.
MM: Yes. Right. Right.
TS: How about those streets? Did you have tar and stone or was there—?
MM: It was tar, you know. And every year they’d come by and . . . we were kind of on a hill and every year they’d come by and cut a little bit of our bank off, you know. We thought we were going to end up on the street because our house was only 110 feet. And so they’d come along and cut the street to make it a little wider. They wanted the streets to be nice. And most streets are. Without sidewalks. We never had any sidewalks in our area at all.
TS: You still don’t, do you?
MM: No, no. Of course not. But you weren’t worried because there weren’t that many cars anyway. And people were careful. But every year when they come by to do a little street repair they’d cut a little bit more off our land. So we ended up quite high. And when the storm sewer and the sewer came by, the sewer from our house went down about twenty feet into the street because the street in front of us was so low. And I can remember when they started building the storm sewer, the water table, of course, was still high at that point. And one time the kids wanted to play there. It was so muddy and so wet there, and all the kids in the neighborhood . . . we said, “Get muddy.” And they all went and played in this mud in the storm sewer. We just took them home and washed them off with the hose.
TS: Yes. I bet you did.
MM: But they always remember that. The muddy storm sewer that went by. That was a big day when we said, “Okay, go.”
TS: So the storm sewer improvement, the water system finally came, too.
MM: And then the gas coming by made a big difference in people’s lives. We had all electric in our house. We could have a water heater, electric refrigerator and stove. So we weren’t handicapped that way except that you could not cook with gas or heat with gas.
TS: Now what about the question of water? I mean a number of people have talked about this question in the 1950s about whether to have Minneapolis water or for Richfield to have its own water system.
MM: Of course everybody had a well.
TS: Yes, they did, and that system then went away because of the question whether to tie into the Minneapolis system or for Richfield to have its own city water.
MM: Well, I don’t remember how that all happened, but I’m sure glad it did. We have wonderful water and it is well taken care of. They’ve upgraded the water plant several times. I think it’s made a difference in our lives. Not everybody could have a water softener. We couldn’t afford to have a water softener and have to take care of it every six months or so. And after the water came in you didn’t have to have those things.
TS: Now let me ask you one thing about Richfield. With Highway 62 and Highway 494, you know, you could make arguments that those have been both either good or bad for the development of Richfield as a community. What’s your take on that? How have those been good, bad or a mix of both?
MM: Well, 78th Street, which is now 494, was a paved street, the only paved street we had. And Lyndale Avenue was a paved street. And we used to call those the paved streets. If we’d go out by 78th Street, that was the paved street.
TS: Okay. So you only had one. So you could call it that.
MM: Yes. And then Lyndale Avenue originally was Old Shakopee Trail for the Indians. And over the years, of course, that got paved and sidewalks got put in. It’s cut us off, but I guess that’s the way it is. The only thing I regret is that they took so many houses from Richfield for the highways. I mean we’re losing a lot of tax base and people are losing their homes. But evidently there hasn’t been a lot of dissention about that. So people must be getting enough and feel that they can move somewhere else.
But when the highways came through, when 62 came through, you didn’t hear much about that. People just seemed to accept it that they were going to upgrade the highway and they were getting paid for their house and they’d move somewhere else. But most of those houses in our area were over on Bryant and Colfax Avenue and they weren’t really big houses. Although most of those were not tract houses. So I don’t know what the story on that is. Whether the people were just satisfied with what they were offering or maybe they were agreeable to move further out. They didn’t want to be by this big highway anyway.
TS: The end result has been that Richfield is really bounded both north and south by the highways. And then with the airport on the other side, it is sort of secluded in a way both from Minneapolis and from Bloomington by the highways kind of cutting it off. Is being self contained in a way good for Richfield in your opinion, or more of a minus?
MM: I think it’s good. I mean the street department doesn’t have enough to plow. I mean our streets are plowed really well after a snow. Everything is well taken care of. Our tax base seems to be stable. Our school system is good. Why would we want to have a bigger area to take care of?
Maxson, Marian; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer. Richfield Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2007.