Minneapolis

Columbia Heights celebrates 100 years as a city

2021-07-16 14:27:25 –

When you turn 100, you party.

And that’s what folks in Columbia Heights will do Saturday as the city marks its centennial with a birthday bash in Huset Park East.

With plans for live music, a dunk tank, old-time activities and, of course, birthday cake, the community get-together is aimed at uniting people and celebrating the lakes, parks, culture and diversity that have been hallmarks of the north metro suburb since long before it officially incorporated as a city on July 21, 1921.

“We can’t think our community started only 100 years ago,” said Mayor Amáda Márquez Simula. “This land was built on the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota, Anishinaabe and Ho Chunk peoples. That’s really important.”

Columbia Heights was formed as a village on March 14, 1898 when it separated from the former Fridley Township. The city got its name when the Minneapolis Improvement Company Northeast held a naming contest, which drew 2,281 ideas. Olive Louise Thornbergh won a $150 prize in gold when Columbia Heights was chosen.

The city, which covers just 3½ square miles, has changed quite a bit in the past century. Streetcars have vanished and two major highways now run through it. Bike lanes have appeared. New housing developments have recently gone up and businesses have moved in.

Yet there are a lot of similarities, too, the mayor said.

Polish, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants were among the first to settle in Columbia Heights at the turn of the 20th century — history honored with a Polish flag and white eagle on a sign marking the border between Columbia Heights and Minneapolis. Modern-day immigrants from Ecuador, Tibet, Somalia and other parts of East Africa now call the city home and have helped push the population over 20,000.

“We have a lot of immigrants from other countries,” Márquez Simula said. “We have young families and retirees moving here, something similar to 100 years ago. It really is a welcoming city.”

Veronica Johnson lived in Columbia Heights in the 1970s, moved away and returned eight years ago after she retired. It was the cultural melting pot that drew her back, she said.

Johnson volunteered to help plan the city’s centennial celebration, an effort that has been in the works for nearly two years.

“I love diversity,” she said, noting that as many as 50 languages are spoken at the local high school. “Recognizing our history is so important. It is who we were and what was here before us. While we are moving forward, we need to remember who we are.”

Scores of community residents and businesses stepped up to buy centennial banners lining Central Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. They’ve sponsored city cleanups, movies and music in the park and performances featuring Native American and Somali dance troupes.

Several artists came together to make a quilt with each square capturing slices of Columbia Heights history, including one featuring a red wagon once used to deliver library books to residents and another with the logo from the city’s first Pride festival two years ago.

The outpouring didn’t surprise City Council Member and lifelong resident Nick Novitsky.

“Our residents are our biggest asset, and they love to give back to the city,” he said. “This will bring all our groups together.”

Though not the oldest city in Anoka County, 100 years “is impressive,” said Erin McBrien with the Anoka County Historical Society.

“We are very excited for them and will be celebrating with them,” she said. Columbia Heights “has always been really proud of who they are.”

Novitsky expects that pride to continue.

“I am excited for the future,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next 100 years.”

The party Saturday will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Huset Park East, 3965 Jefferson Street NE. in Columbia Heights. For more information, visit https://www.columbiaheightsmn.gov/community/100_Year_Schedule.php.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768

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