By the late 19th century, the Eden Prairie Depot area had become the cultural center of the entire township. With the Miller store, a creamery, a blacksmith shop and an 1880s version of a B&B, the train stop drew visitors and residents to what became the closest to a “downtown” Eden Prairie ever achieved until our Major Center Area of today.
Pictured in the center is Fred Miller, one of the four Miller brothers born and raised in Eden Prairie around the turn of the 20th century. Their parents ran the Miller store across Eden Prairie Road from the Depot right where the entrance to Miller Park is today. Their dad, Fred Miller Sr., sold wood to the railroad for their steam boilers and their mom, Kate, ran the store and was a surrogate mother to every child in town.
With tracks laid in 1871, the railroad changed the town overnight from an early steamboat-era river town into the sleepy farming community it would remain up until the dawn of its suburban identity today. The arrival of the railroad meant no more winter isolation, greater and faster access to the Minneapolis markets, and modernization that would bring with it electricity and home-building products.
The primary Eden Prairie stop at the Eden Prairie Road crossing allowed trains to refill boilers after the “uphill” climb heading east or ready for the trip across Minnesota heading west. A ditch leading from Red Rock Lake along with a windmill next to the railroad pumped water into a large above-ground tank.
Yes, think “Petticoat Junction!”
In the later part of the 1800s, both Sheldon Smith and his daughter, Amie Douglas (names now associated with the Smith/Douglas/More homestead occupied currently by Rustica) served as Depot Agents. Their home also became a common hotel stop for overnight guests and a longer-term rental for area teachers, pastors and future husbands! That’s exactly how Amie met her husband, David Frank Douglas.
A few years back, letters were discovered in the attic of the Smith/Douglas/More house dating back to the childhoods of Amie and her sister, Etta, in the 1870s and 1880s. They reveal a fascinating record of day train trips to Excelsior to enjoy a visit to the amusement park on Big Island, a visit down to Minneapolis when the circus came to town, and the day-in and day-out life of young girls growing up in Eden Prairie 150 years ago.
Today, we are so fortunate to have the 1870s Smith/Douglas/More house being celebrated every day by residents of 2018 who frequent Rustica, we’re thankful to have the amazing photographs that tell the story of the Eden Prairie Depot, the Miller Store, and of the Miller family who lived their lives in these parts, and we’re so appreciative of the government entities who have made it possible to enjoy the biking/walking path that runs through Eden Prairie on top of the original 1871 railroad bed!
- Story and submitted photos by Kathie Case, Eden Prairie Historical Society President (edenprairiehistory.org)