Nestled in the southwest corner of White Bear Lake is a tiny village that one historian describes as "creative and social, with more clubs per capita than any place I've ever seen."
Sara Markoe Hanson, executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society, talked about Birchwood's past at a special Sept. 27 online presentation celebrating its centennial.
The small suburban city "with a passion for green space and community involvement" started as a cluster of summer cottages on the lake, Hanson said. A company known as Lakewood Park was mainly responsible for Birchwood's development.
The company platted an area around Wildwood Park in 1906 and started selling shaded lakeside lots that varied from 140 to 300 feet of shoreline. "The land is beautifully wooded with a magnificent view of the lake," read marketing materials from the company. They were selling lots for $650 on the lake and $200 to $400 across the street.
A new streetcar line that passed along the length of development also added enticement for St. Paulites seeking lake property accessible by public transportation.
When cottages started to spring up in the area, which was part of Grant Township at the time, everyone agreed having water was important. According to Hanson, a water company held by Lakewood Park was sold to George Roberts, a plumber and pipefitter, who charged owners $8 per season for one faucet. Additional faucets were $1 each and a water closet, or toilet, was $2. Water was pumped from the lake, Hanson said, and of debatable quality.
In 1918, the western part of Grant Township where Birchwood was located was renamed Lincoln and three years later, the village incorporated. The date was Sept. 10, 1921.
It's her understanding, Hanson continued, that school taxes prompted the incorporation. "At that time, all residents had to pay taxes to a school district if the village was unincorporated. Only two or three students were attending school from Birchwood, which was still a summer community, and residents felt they didn't need to do that."
So the village incorporated, formed its own school district, No. 78, and designated the land now known as Bloomquist Park for a school. They had a school board but a school was never built. In 1951, the land was turned over to the village for a park. Birchwood became part of the White Bear school district but students had to provide their own transportation.
By the end of 1932, Twin City Rapid Transit Lines had vacated streetcar service into White Bear and Stillwater, despite opposition from upset residents who had come to the area because of the access. Headlines in the White Bear Press announced meetings on the "street car case" that was expected to wind up in court, which it did. A district judge signed a temporary order stopping abandonment of the line, but it did not hold and streetcars left Birchwood.
Not long after, a shortcut from East County Line to Willernie was proposed and a new road was built, shaving two miles off the former route. Hall Avenue is the old streetcar bed. Lee Hall was the first village council president or mayor.
In the late ’20s, village leaders began to levy for a city hall. Architect Magnus Jemne was hired to design the building, which has served not only as a government meeting place but as a community gathering space. Still in use today, the village hall has lived up to its name, Hanson said.
In 1974, the state required villages to become cities. Birchwood wanted to keep its quaint name, so it is now called the city of Birchwood Village.
In her wrap-up of village history last week, Hanson added that one of the things that makes her smile is Birchwood's statement, "We are social,"
"It makes me chuckle because it's an understatement for Birchwood," Hanson said. "They have more clubs per capita than any other community I know.”