“Gerda Pulls Harder then the Horses” is the intriguing title of a story to be told by Larry Johnson as one of many features of the Environmental Fair at the July 17 celebration of Colonel John and Helen Stevens, pioneer environmentalists who helped to shape the profile of Minneapolis. The house that the Stevens built in the mid-19th Century still lives – just not where it was built.
John and Helen Stevens were early settlers along the downtown side of the Mississippi where they built the first house West of the river in 1849. In their spare time the Stevens helped to organize the city itself, the first Minneapolis school and the first association to help growing and agriculture in Minnesota. They earned the land on which that first home was built by offering a free ferry from the West bank (now downtown) to St. Anthony Village (now St. Anthony Main.)
In the late 1800’s historic preservation called for the Stevens House to be moved to Minnehaha Park, a block south of the Falls, where it proudly stands to this day. Over the years its served the community in a mix of ways including years as a public library, now the John H. Stevens is designated as an historic site open to the public for tours.
So how does one move a house in 1896? That’s where Gerda comes in! On May 28, 1896, 7000 Minneapolis school children actually pulled the house from the West Bank downtown to Minnehaha Falls. That’s the story Larry Johnson will tell at the Stevens House at 1:30 on Sunday, July 17. During the storytelling session children will enjoy a chance to calculate their own horsepower and to play with old time toys that do not leak mercury into the environment.
Storytelling is just part of the Environmental Fair at the Stevens’ House from Noon to 4:00 p.m. At 2:30 Jerry Foley will talk about natural plant medicines and the Stevens’ role in promoting early growing in the state. Throughout the afternoon the yard of the Stevens House will be dotted with tables for current environmental groups including Gardening Matters, Transit for Livable Communities, the Bioneers and others.
The Environmental Fair is free; tours of the Stevens’ House are $3 for adults or $1 for children. The John H. Stevens House is at 4901 Minnehaha, right in Minnehaha Park.