Ever wonder how Hopkins, now a bustling Twin Cities suburb, became known as the Raspberry Capital of the World? Why is there an annual festival of raspberries? Where did the raspberries go?

The Hopkins Historical Society, in partnership with the Hopkins Raspberry Association, has set out to answer those questions as part of the exhibit Raspberries, Parades and Royalty: 85 years of Hopkins Raspberry Festival.

The exhibit will be on display throughout the festival, July 12-20, at the future home of the Hopkins History Center, the former Albert Pike Masonic Lodge, located at 907 Mainstreet.

The exhibit will highlight the history of a once-booming raspberry farming community and how a grandiose festival came to be in the midst of the Great Depression.

“The growing of raspberries was a major industry in Hopkins,” said Mary Romportl, a historical society volunteer who has been working on the exhibit.

“About 1880, two of the Czech farmers (the Empanger brothers) were coming back from the market in Minneapolis, and a St. Louis Park farmer gave them some raspberry bushes.”

That’s how it all began.

Ten years later, a number of other farmers took interest in the farming of raspberries, including John Feltl, who came up with ways to winter raspberries, since the earliest varieties were not hardy enough to tolerate the cold climate.

Hopkins became the market town for the surrounding townships, including Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Edina, explained Romportl.

It became an entire industry in Hopkins, so big that 86 train box cars full of raspberries were shipped out in one year.

“That’s a lot of raspberries,” said John Cooley, president of the Hopkins Historical Society.

The city developed the moniker of raspberry capital during the Great Depression, as the depression brought hard times for the farmers and businesses on Mainstreet.

“The business leaders had been casting about trying to come up with a way to promote all that Hopkins had to offer,” Cooley said. “And in 1935, a local grocery store owner suggested raspberries as a theme” to celebrate the town’s main crop through a free community festival.

The first-ever Raspberry Day took place July 21, 1935, and was organized by the Hopkins Civic and Commerce Association. That launched a 85-year tradition, even surpassing the estimated success of the inaugural event.

With three weeks of planning and a $350 budget, more than 25,000 people attended the festival in Downtown Park. The committee’s goal was 15,000 attendees.

“They were coming from all over,” said Romportl.

The Minneapolis mayor even issued a proclamation urging residents to “motor to Hopkins Sunday” for Raspberry Day.

Farmers set up on the sidewalks of Mainstreet and sold 500 crates of raspberries that first year.

“It was a tremendous success,” Cooley added.

The next year was also a success as 20,000 cups of raspberries and cream were given out.

“And that was also the year that they air expressed a case of raspberries to President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Romportl said. “They were big into promotion,” she said, noting part of that was because the editor and publisher of the Hennepin County Review, James Markham, was in charge of the festival.

The exhibit will elaborate on the history of the raspberry farmers, the parade and festival royalty through images, artifacts and narratives. There will also be film footage from the 1955 parade.

Visitors will also be able to purchase greeting cards, the Hopkins history book, “Hopkins Through the Years,” and Hopkins T-shirts.

The free exhibit opens 4-8 p.m. Friday, July 12. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 13; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 14; 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, July 16 through Thursday, July 18; 4-9 p.m. Friday, July 19; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 20.

The exhibit will also be an opportunity for visitors to see the future home of the Hopkins History Center. After funding is secured and remodeling is completed, the historical society will move operations from the Hopkins Activity Center. Until then, attendees are advised that the history center requires the use of stairs.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth and Hopkins. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@ecm-inc.com

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