Column: Is there an ‘old Bloomington?’

By Larry Granger and Vonda Kelly

Guest columnists


Recently, a Minnesota Public Radio program from Ely, at the edge of the Boundary Waters, had citizens pondering and talking about whether there was an “Old Ely” and a “New Ely,” as the community was changing.

It is a not uncommon question in many Minnesota communities as both population size and the nature of the local community change – too often downward rather than upward. And the question arises, if you are a long-term community resident, should you have more say in what goes on than newcomers?

Does that apply to Bloomington today like it did in the 1950s and ‘60s, when longer-term residents led an eventually unsuccessful fight to keep the community “dry” and were satisfied with the status quo in Bloomington Township, which did not become a village until 1953, and a city in 1960?

A new Bloomington did emerge after World War II with a boom in business and industry because of available land and affordable housing that became available with the development of 12,000-plus three- and four-bedroom ramblers in Bloomington. Long-term occupants of the housing developments of the 1950s to ‘70s would probably consider themselves old-timers – including the writers of this column – which supposedly makes those with deeper roots in town “older old-timers.”

At some point, waves of newcomers will consider themselves old-timers as housing options continue to multiply. Bloomington did not have its first apartment building until 1961, and now look at the options with townhouses, condos, cooperative units, senior housing and apartment variations.

With the ever-changing and often unpredictable nature of technology, economics and family life, discussion should not be about what is old or new, but how there can be a forever Bloomington that brings forth the best of the past while addressing current problems, and also working toward what is really desired for the future.

This is an approach used by some communities to ensure self-renewal, not just getting by or hanging on. It is dependent upon action teams in each of these three areas working in coordination with each other. Bloomington, with such initiatives as the One Bloomington Summit, leadership development, sustainability and placemaking, is well positioned to have a distinctive Bloomington, which will not be considered just a suburb or the home of the Mall of America.

There is much goodwill toward living and growing up in Bloomington across these various time periods, which becomes evident with visitors who come to visit the Bloomington Historical Society, which has been around for 53 years at the Old Town Hall Museum. These visitors from near and far are looking for information and to share their experiences and memories with museum personnel – the keepers of Bloomington’s history.

This interest in and sharing of Bloomington’s history was particularly evident at the May 2017 gala celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bloomington Public Schools, where more than 500 attendees gathered to celebrate with fellow alumni, look through yearbooks and other school memorabilia and share their experiences and memories.

School reunions happen not just for high school graduates, but for those who attended elementary or junior high schools where classes were of smaller sizes. A website exists for one-time attendees of the now demolished Riverside Elementary School. A Facebook site “Flashbacks of Bloomington” is busy sharing and seeking information about various old times in Bloomington.

A shared sense of community comes with life satisfaction of the community where you live and with the people who live there, and whether you are willing to step forward to make it better for all. Hometown memories are powerful factors in making decisions where people choose to live or engage in business, or perhaps return to their roots, like the gentleman who lives in Savage but is riding his bicycle through Bloomington looking for an apartment, hopefully close to his grandmother’s farm where he grew up.

Note: The two writers of these comments, who devote their time to working with Bloomington history on a year-round basis, have been residents of Bloomington for a total of 115 years, each having raised their families in the Bloomington school system, worked in Bloomington, lived in their respective neighborhoods and, like so many others, found the community of Bloomington to be the distinctive “Forever Bloomington” – the place to live, work and play, the place planned for families – and neither would wish to live anywhere else.


Granger is the president and Kelly is the executive director of the Bloomington Historical Society.