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Ramsey Co. Historical Society Wants People To Document Green Line

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(credit: CBS) Kim Johnson
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)The Green Line opening is just the newest chapter in the rich, storied history of University Avenue.

Minneapolis and St. Paul were connected in 1890 with the creation of the street car system, according to Chad Roberts with the Ramsey County Historic Society.

“The original cars were drawn by horses,” Roberts said.

He says it didn’t take long before street cars dominated how people in those days got from one point of the Twin Cities to another.

“We have 500 hundred miles of track at one point. You could go from White Bear Lake to Lake Minnetonka,” Roberts said.

The cars might have moved slower than today’s light rail, but riders appreciated their reliability.

“You knew where it was going to be and you knew it was going to be on time,” he said. “We’re talking at the peak of use, every three minutes you could catch a street car.”

And the busiest stretch was University Avenue, that vital link connecting two bustling cities. As stops were created along the route, business boomed.

“It used to be the only direct route. You could get there other ways, but it was the main drag and everything was on University Avenue. Car dealerships, bars, restaurants,” Roberts said. “The coolest places to go were on University Avenue.”

But popularity of street cars took a toll with the rise of the automobile.

“People wanted the freedom and so ridership really fell,” he said.

By the 1950s, buses replaced street cars, but people weren’t sad to see them go. They tipped over the cars and even lit them on fire.

“What were they going to do with all these street cars? There’s hundreds of them. So they’d knock them off the tracks and destroy them,” he said.

In the decades that followed, University Avenue has gone through its share of booms and busts. But there are hopes that the Green Line will bring back what street cars once did for life along the corridor.

“We’re running through neighborhoods that … went through a period of decline. But we’ve seen a lot of new investment from immigrants and businesses, and so the light rail coming through is going to help all of those,” Roberts said.

Historians say the opening of the Green Line could be the beginning of University Avenue’s next rise, something we could read about in history books.

“This is one of those opportunities we have in the present to know something happening today is gonna have a dramatic impact going forward, so we’re documenting that,” Roberts said.

That’s where the Ramsey County Historical Society wants your help. They’re asking Minnesotans to help document the story of the Green Line.

Participants are asked to keep a journal, take video, paint, draw or even create a dance that embodies the feeling of the day and film it.

The works created will be exhibited in downtown St. Paul’s Landmark Center next June on the one-year anniversary of the line opening.

Prizes will be awarded, and first place gets $500. Click here for more information.

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