The farmhouse that stood at the corner of 169 and 93rd goes down to make way for interchange
Ruth Fischbach of Osseo and her siblings used to joke that Grandpa Peter wasn’t too far from jail each night.
According to the family’s oral history that was true – he slept in the back bedroom in the northwest corner of the house, which was the old Osseo jail.
“The story is they took part of the jail from Osseo to start building,” said Ruth’s mother, Nellie Fischbach of Brooklyn Park, who turns 93 on April 9.
Members of the Fischbach family don’t know exactly how old the farmhouse was, but they say it was built by Leo and Fannie Wolter, Ruth’s great-grandparents.
It stood on the northeast corner of Highway 169 and 93rd Avenue in Brooklyn Park.
Until last week.
On March 17, a power shovel leveled the original farmhouse and other structures to make room for a freeway interchange, expected to be complete in the fall.
Despite efforts by the family to save the farm, Nellie was forced to sell the land. In early February she moved off the property, where she had been living in a second house towards the east, which she and her husband Wayne built.
Nellie said the farmland was in the family more than 100 years. But Leo and Fannie Wolter weren’t the first to own it. They appear to have acquired the land sometime near the turn of the 20th century.
Darryl Sannes of the Brooklyn Historical Society said the area was originally settled primarily by French Canadian families and about 14 families from Michigan between 1853 and 1855.
Sannes said an 1873 map of region shows the Fischbach farmland belonged to someone with the last name “DeSotelle.” An 1898 map specifies it was owned by George L. Smith.
Based on census records, Sannes concluded Peter Fischbach purchased the land from his wife’s father in the 1920s.
That fits with the account of Phyllis Blesi of Fridley, who was born to Peter and Lulu Fischbach in 1932. One of 14 children, she was born in the original farmhouse and remembers growing up there.
Phyllis vaguely remembers a time before the house had electricity. She more clearly recalls coming home from school one day when she was about 12 and finding her family had its first telephone.
“It was on the wall, of course,” she said. “It was a wooden thing.”
The phone connected to a line shared with neighbors. Phyllis’ family knew a call was for them if the phone gave one long ring followed by one short.
Going “into town” in those days meant Osseo – Brooklyn Park was mostly potato farms and didn’t incorporate as a village until 1954. County Road 30, or 93rd Avenue, was a dirt road. Going shopping at Montgomery Ward in St. Paul was an all-day affair, and only happened once or twice a year.
Phyllis remembers her parents constantly doing projects around the house.
“Mother was either papering or painting,” she said.
Her parents put in cabinets, added a front porch and changed the windows. The house far surpassed its humble beginnings as a jail.
The house itself also survived many natural catastrophes, though other parts of the farm weren’t so lucky.
Phyllis estimates she was about 8 when lightning struck the barn.
“It killed one cow,” she said. “The fire burned the barn down completely.”
So the family rebuilt the barn.
“I don’t know how long a period it was then before the tornado came through and knocked that barn down,” Phyllis said. “… That must be when they built that warehouse,” she said, referring a concrete structure that stood on the property until it was demolished with the house.
According to Ruth a tin shed on the property was knocked over by a tornado or gust of wind three times. She can remember six or seven tornadoes coming near the farm in her lifetime. She has nightmares about them.
“So many times we’d run for the basement,” Ruth said.
But she watched one tornado from the porch.
“We watched it hit Osseo and rip off the whole roof off the elementary school,” she said.
But the farm didn’t only attract natural disasters. For several years a flock trumpeter swans would come land in the swampy area at the back of the farm.
“There were so many,” Nellie said. “It was really something. Now they’ve got 610 running through there. That’s progress.”
Nellie has been inconvenienced by progress more than once. The farm, once about 80 acres, shrank to about 30.
Nellie and Wayne raised seven children in the second farmhouse. But that house used to sit where Highway 169 is now.
When the highway came, they had the house lifted and moved to the east side of the original farmhouse. They lived in the house while it was raised off the ground and used a ladder to get in and out.
Like many in the area, Nellie and Wayne farmed potatoes. Ruth remembers the farm as a place with frequent guests, and her father hired local boys in the summer.
Wayne died in 1982, but his sons, Peter and Charles, continued growing potatoes a few more years.
Then Charles successfully raised and sold sweet corn until last year. Not anymore.
“I don’t even know if I want to drive by there now,” Phyllis said.
“One by one the farms have been eaten up,” Nellie said.
Even a plot of farmland to the north (which was not owned by the Fischbachs) where the a corn maze has been planted the past few years is slated for development in the coming years.
The Fischbachs feel their farm provided a connection to the past for the whole community, and they don’t think they’ll be the only ones to miss it.
“Everybody reminisces about it because everybody was out there,” Ruth said. “I’m sure everyone will miss that farm being there because it was like the last anchor.”