When it came to uncovering Eden Prairie’s past, Ernie Shuldhiess was quite the detective.
Sifting through old newspaper articles on 200 rolls of microfilm, the longtime Eden Prairie resident unearthed a treasure trove of historic anecdotes chronicling the city’s early days.
The result of his labor? Two books authored by Shuldhiess on Eden Prairie history.
His first, Eden Prairie Book of Days, features a short nugget of Eden Prairie history for each of the 365 days of the year. Shuldhiess once described it as a whimsical account of Eden Prairie’s history told in a light, coffee table style.
The second, Picture This Eden Prairie, is a photographic trip through time, from pioneer children wading in Purgatory Creek to an artist caught adding his handiwork to Graffiti Bridge.
He handpicked the collection from about 1,400 photos he digitally archived for the Eden Prairie Historical Society.
“He loved Eden Prairie’s history,” said Kathie Case, president of the Eden Prairie Historical Society. “He loved the early people. He cared a lot about the people.”
A natural storyteller
After finishing Eden Prairie Book of Days in 2003, Shuldhiess invited me to his house on Lake Riley. Our conversation was the basis for an Eden Prairie News article I wrote publicizing the book.
Shuldhiess was neither a writer nor a historian by trade. (He had worked in electronics). But he could spin a yarn with a thrill for drama and a historian’s eye for detail.
For instance, he noted that he still had a paper he wrote on local history for his Eden Prairie High School English class. Shuldhiess graduated in 1966.
“I got a B-plus,” he boasted.
Some entries in his first book are funny (March 5, 1968: “While hauling a manure spreader, Lawrence “Shooty” Shutrop is hit by a CNW train at the Riley Lake crossing. Shooty and the tractor were OK, but there was you know what all over the place”).
Others are sad (August 14, 1864: “John McClay is wounded in Civil War, reported missing in action, never returned to Eden Prairie”).
“I’m a storyteller, as you can tell, right?” Shuldhiess said then. “I’ve learned in life you’ve got to have a sense of humor to survive.”
Honoring his legacy
Besides writing two books and electronically archiving photos, Shuldhiess created the Historical Society’s first website. Both of Ernie Shuldhiess’s books are available for purchase through the Eden Prairie Historical Society.
“If you got to our (current) website (edenprairiehistory.org), we have a dedication to him,” Case said. “We told his family that we would always have the website dedicated to Ernie in honor of him starting it.”
A park bench at Riley Lake Park honors his memory with a small plaque. It is in the general vicinity of where his house and his parents’ house once stood.
“We also thought it would be important to dedicate a bench to Ernie down at Riley because he loved it there,” Case said.
“Every morning, he would sit there and feed the squirrels. He did have a pretty great spot.”For more Eden Prairie history, visit the Historical Society museum, EP City Center, 8080 Mitchell Road, Mondays 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. or by appointment at 952.949.8580