Before it became suburbia, Shoreview was farmsteads and cabin country for the Minneapolis and St. Paul elite.
It also served as a respite for the poor and vulnerable, with the Union Gospel Mission operating a children’s summer camp on the shores of Snail Lake and the Children’s Preventorium home on Lake Owasso taking in youngsters exposed to tuberculosis.
The Ramsey County community even had a brush with infamy in the 1930s with gangsters hiding out at cabins and farms in what was the rural outskirts of St. Paul.
Visitors will be now be able to revel in that history at Shoreview’s new heritage park.
This summer, the City Council designated the city-owned parcel at the corner of Lexington and County Road I as a new park.
The site includes the restored Lepak/Larson farmhouse and the restored 1920s-era Guerin Gas Station.
The city, in partnership with the nonprofit Shoreview Historical Society, will stage the main level and grounds of the brick farmhouse to look as it might have in the 1930s. The historical society is using the upper level for its offices.
Visitors can already stop by and touch the old gasoline pumps and building that made up the Guerin Gas Station.
Historical Society President and Shoreview native Jacci Krebsbach said she’s pleased to be able to transform the site into an interactive history lesson for visitors.
“It’s amazing we have a physical space,” Krebsbach said. “Things are changing so much in the community. Things are being torn down, but people want some connection to the past. This is one way people can have that connection.”
The park has been years in the making. The city acquired the 2.4-acre site, including the century-old brick farmhouse, about 20 years ago, after its longtime owner Art Larson died.
“This was one of the earliest farmsteads in the city,” said Shoreview City Manager Terry Schwerm. “It was the last one standing when we bought it.”
After acquiring the property for $322,000 with the help of a federal community development block grant, the city restored the house and rented it out as office space to a nonprofit for more than a decade.
The house, made of buttery-yellow Chaska brick, was built in 1896 in what was Mounds View township and was first occupied by German immigrants August and Henriette Lepak, according to a city report. The house is a cross wing model — typical of German and Scandinavian architecture.
Seven different families lived in the house. The longest inhabitants were Art and Edna Larson, who owned the property from 1935 until Art Larson’s death in 1999, according to the report.
The house was initially the hub of a larger farm. Over time, Larson sold some of the land to allow for the construction of the neighboring Lake Johanna Fire Station and Turtle Lake Elementary.
Krebsbach befriended Larson before his death, writing down his memories of the place and later buying some of his farm equipment and furnishings from the estate. The exhibit will nod to the families that once occupied the home, but will not focus on them exclusively, Krebsbach said.
The park’s other main attraction will be the 1920s Guerin Gas Station, the area’s first filling station.
In 2012, city officials moved the restored gas station to the site.
The red-and-white Texaco station originally was located at the corner of Rice Street and N. Owasso Boulevard. The pumps and steel building eventually were sold, moved to private property and donated to the historical society for restoration.
Shoreview native and Mayor Sandy Martin said she recalls stopping by the Guerin station as a child and seeing an attendant running out at the sound of the bell and pumping gasoline for customers.
“I know that’s where my dad always got gas. That was the only gas station for miles,” Martin, 76, said.
The station also had some more infamous customers. In the 1930s, gangsters including Ma Barker holed up in farmhouses and lake cottages.
Schwerm said the goal is to develop exhibits that tell all these stories.
“We want to weave in the entire history of Shoreview, how it started as a farming community and became a thriving suburb,” he said.