At just seven homes, the Lincoln Lane neighborhood along County Road 4, just north of Smith Coffee & Café, isn’t big by Eden Prairie standards. But it’s deep in Eden Prairie history.
The families that lived there in the 1960s and beyond included Eden Prairie High School’s (EPHS) basketball coach, a future Eden Prairie mayor, and kids who would stick around to become an Eden Prairie teacher or police officer.
Evening games of “Kick the Can” were common, and the local Little League baseball program may have originated on Lincoln Lane. At one time, a few horses were kept in the neighborhood. The kids even made up their own song, “We are linked together, the Lincoln Laners …”
But, the seven, large-lot Lincoln Lane homes are soon expected to give way to a four-story, 239-unit apartment complex called The Ellie, which also has a tie to history because its name refers to Elizabeth Fries Ellet, the East Coast writer who is credited with giving Eden Prairie its name after visiting the area and calling it the garden spot of the territory.
The project is scheduled for final city council approval within 60 days; if approved, work is expected to get underway this year, starting with removal of the Lincoln Lane homes.
For those who grew up on Lincoln Lane, there’s a sadness that comes with the disappearance of a small neighborhood that was such a big part of their lives. “You just think, ‘It’ll always be there,’” said one of them, Dave Redpath, who now lives in Edina.
How it started
The neighborhood got its start when Leonard “Len” Holte purchased property east of Eden Prairie Road immediately north of the historic Smith-Douglas-More House. Len had been born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and so was given Lincoln as his middle name, thus Lincoln Lane, the short street and cul-de-sac where houses would soon be constructed.
The extended Holte family built and occupied several of those houses starting in the early 1960s, including homes for Len’s family as well as his brother Bill’s family, according to an oral history that Bill provided to the Eden Prairie Historical Society in 2015. Len and Bill’s dad, Oliver, was a builder and helped get the homes constructed.
Len’s work at the Southdale Post Office led to several other new Lincoln Lane neighbors, including postal employee Paul Redpath and his family.
As the neighborhood grew, so did the number of kids. Bill and Bev Holte had six children. Len and Janet Holte had four children. Paul and Anna Mae Redpath had three. You get the picture.
“After school, holidays, summer break – we all hung out together,” one of those kids, Jeff Holte, recalled in a recent e-mail. “We did almost everything together.”
You could almost always find enough kids to play touch football on the nice grass of a nearby business, Dave Redpath remembers. When the kids grew to be teenagers, he added, they would hike the half-mile or so west to Mitchell Lake and camp overnight on its shore. He remembers that an adult would almost always check on them – to be certain they were okay, for sure, but also to prevent any hijinks.
West of Eden Prairie Road was just about all farms south to city hall – what is now the Eden Prairie Senior Center – and the railroad tracks were almost immediately southeast of the neighborhood. Trains still used the tracks, at that time, and Dave remembers his mom “put the fear in me about that.”
“We invented things, we created new games and activities based often on make-believe and our own imagining and creating,” Jeff Holte, who became an Eden Prairie teacher, recalled. “It might be active games in someone’s yard and it might be ‘Army,’ as we were growing up in the middle of the Vietnam War and some of our parents on Lincoln Lane were in WWII, including my dad Bill Holte, my uncle Len Holte, etc.”
Jeff’s dad, a math and physical-education teacher, would become the basketball coach at EPHS and perhaps better known as a driver’s education instructor until age 80 who put many hundreds of Eden Prairie kids through the paces before they earned a driver’s license.
Jeff’s sister, Joyce, would become the first female officer in the Eden Prairie Police Department, retiring in 2004 after 29 years. She remembers having three grandmothers and one grandfather among two of the homes, while growing up on Lincoln Lane, and an occasional comment from one or the others about her skirts being too short.
EP was different then
In the early ‘60s, you might be able to get a gallon of milk in Eden Prairie, but heavy-duty grocery shopping was often done in Hopkins, Bill Holte shared in his 2015 oral-history recording. Other things were more local; for instance, Dave Redpath remembers there being hundreds of pine trees planted on a nearby empty lot that now holds a public storage facility; for a while, that was the source of neighbors’ Christmas trees.
For fine cuisine, you turned to the Mr. Steak restaurant, located about where Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant is today.
Paul Redpath, who served as Eden Prairie mayor in in 1972 and ’73, and when the Police Department was started, “christened” the first squad car in his driveway. He was also known for organizing Little League baseball in Eden Prairie, and Lincoln Lane kids would not only play but sort equipment and perform other chores to keep the league running.
Jeff Holte said these and other everyday activities helped shape him.
“A powerful lesson about community I still think about and practice to this day is that things are not just about you, but that your service to others is important,” he shared.
The neighborhood kids of that era might not have developed the singular intensity that’s instilled by the organized after-school activities of today, he added, “but the independence, creativity, tenacity, resilience, risk-taking that the ‘Lincoln Laners’ learned is profound.”
Those days may be gone, and the neighborhood where they took place will soon disappear, too. The memories, however, will live on.
Mark Weber is executive director of the Eden Prairie Community Foundation.