The Interstate 35W@94 project team continues to partner with public historians Denise Pike and Greg Donofrio, whose research on freeway planning in the 1950s and ‘60s focused on the construction of I-35W and its impacts on the surrounding community. We’ve followed along on their research thus far. They continue to uncover more information from archives and the community, and we’ve got an update from them here—
Q: What are some of the most interesting discoveries of this research?
Greg Donofrio: There have been many, but here are just a few that are intriguing to us and which we want to know a lot more about:
- Published research about the history of 35W suggests that there wasn't much community opposition to the freeway's initial construction. What we're finding is that this isn't true. For example, we've found a petition signed by 600 South Minneapolis residents in 1957 opposing the freeway's route and the way that the state was acquiring properties in advance of construction. It may be true that opposition to the freeway took different forms than it did elsewhere, in Prospect Park in Minneapolis or Rondo in St. Paul, for example, and that it was therefore less visible to previous historians. So, we want to know more about what opposition to the freeway looked like in South Minneapolis.
- The freeway clearly created a major physical division in the community, separating one side from the other. We want to talk to people who have experienced this to learn how the freeway changed the neighborhood, and what it's been like to live with that physical divider.
- We know from reports and newspaper reporting throughout the years that the freeway has been a source of pollution--sound, air, and soil, as well as a visual intrusion. But we know less about how people experienced this on a personal level, and what they may have done to fight against this pollution over the years.
- Many hundreds of people were displaced by the freeway- we're still trying to determine how many, though we now know in which archive we can look to find all of their names. But we have very little idea where they went and if they found other neighborhoods and communities in which they wanted to live.
Q: What is the remainder of your research focused on?
GD: Our project has several goals:
1) Build a digital archive about 35W that includes oral histories, photographs and other documents that enable people to understand the freeway from a community perspective.
2) Create a public exhibition from these materials that reflects diverse community experiences of the freeway, with stories and insights from the perspectives who those who lived through it and with it, expressed in their words, not ours
3) Host a series of public events such as discussions, walking tours, and other inclusive opportunities to learn about the Freeway and its impacts with and from people in South Minneapolis.
To date, we have searched for and collected historical documents to shed some light on the history of the freeway, such as newspaper articles, photographs, reports, letters and memos. But most of what we have found represents the perspectives of those who built and planned the freeway, or who supported its construction. Community perspectives are not well documented in existing archives. So, we are now turning our focus to talking to people who have stories about 35W, and who maybe have their own historical photographs and documents in their attics and family albums that could provide a very different perspective on the freeway from within their communities.