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Lost Soccer Grounds of the Twin Cities, 1889-1920 Brian D. Bunk

The earliest documented soccer games in the Twin Cities took place in 1887. The clubs that played that first season included the Thistle Cricket and Football Club (Minneapolis), Tam O’Shanters Football Club (Minneapolis), St. Paul Football Club, and the Glass Block Club.

The Tam O’Shanters emerged out of a literary society of the same name and the Glass Block Club was likely formed by employees of Donaldson’s Dry Goods store. Founded by Scottish immigrants, Donaldson’s later became one of the areas most prominent department stores. The Glass Block nickname came about after the firm purchased a new building that had large glass windows. By 1888 they had moved to a luxurious new building in downtown Minneapolis.

Image: Minnesota Historical Society

By 1889, several of the local clubs had their own “home” grounds. Most of these are hard to locate on period maps and in the contemporary cityscape. Here is one possible location for the Thistle club grounds at E. 26th Street and Cedar Avenue. The empty lot would fit the general location described in newspapers and is serviced by the streetcar line running down Cedar Avenue. Currently the area is mainly residential blocks of houses, a Department of Public Works facility and a large industrial building.

Map: C. M. Foote and Co. (1892). John R. Borchart Map Library, University of Minnesota

In 1890, the Tam O’Shanters and other clubs played matches in the heart of downtown Minneapolis on one of these nearly empty lots at Thirteenth Street North and Vine Place. At some point the area was redeveloped and Vine Place no longer exists.

Map: C. M. Foote and Co. (1892). John R. Borchart Map Library, University of Minnesota

In the early 1890s, many clubs played matches at Kittsondale in St. Paul. Located between the Twin Cities, the area was developed by wealthy entrepreneur Norman Kittson in the 1870s and 1880s. Kittson had a passion for horse racing and bought up land to construct a breeding farm and racecourse. After he died in 1888, the land continued to host races and other events before being slowly converted to industrial uses after 1900. This is the site as it appeared in 1887.

Map: D.L. Curtice (1887). John R. Borchart Map Library, University of Minnesota

It is difficult to know exactly where on the grounds the soccer matches took place, but the site of the main race track was eventually taken over by a refrigerator manufacturer. Here is the same area in 1908, with the site of the fridge maker clearly marked.

Map: H.M. Smythe (1908). John R. Borchart Map Library, University of Minnesota

Today the former Kittsondale site contains Allianz Field, home of Minnesota United FC as well as assorted retail stores, restaurants and other businesses.

In 1896 teams often competed at what were known as the Fourth Avenue grounds. The park was situated at Thirty Eighth Street South and Fourth Avenue. Once again it is difficult to know where exactly the pitch was located but in 1887 there is an empty lot as well as another (number 14 in the image) that has been platted but does not seem to yet have any structures.

By 1903, lot 14 had a few structures while the empty lot, although now fully platted, still contains no buildings. The area was serviced by the railcar line on Fourth Avenue, making it easily accessible to players and fans.

Maps: D.L. Curtice (1887), Minneapolis Real Estate Board (1903). John R. Borchart Map Library, University of Minnesota

Generally there is little evidence that soccer clubs regularly played games at baseball stadiums. Two exceptions are in 1905 when teams played at Lexington Park in St. Paul and a year later at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis. Lexington park housed the St. Paul Saints from 1897-1956. The orientation of the stadium changed after a fire in 1915. It was originally part of Kittsondale and is located just over a mile from Allianz Field. The Minneapolis Millers called Nicollet Park home from 1896-1955.

View of Lexington Park: Minnesota Historical Aerial Maps Online (1923). John R. Borchart Map Library, University of Minnesota

One of the earliest known photographs in Twin Cities soccer history. Taken at kick-off of a match played between the Clan Gordon team and a visiting squad from Superior, Wisconsin. The game took place at Nicollet Field on October 6, 1906.

Image: The Minneapolis Journal, October 7, 1906

Local teams had long played on land owned by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company. By the 1910s, the field was known as Thistle Park.

It was located just a few blocks from the old Thistle club grounds at E. 26th Street and Cedar Avenue.

Eventually the city of Minneapolis obtained the land and it became known as Longfellow Field. The area appears in the middle right of a photograph taken around 1915.

Photo: Minneapolis Historical Society, c. 1915.

A recent satellite photo of the area around the former site of Thistle Park shows that the industrial buildings and railroad yard are gone. The former soccer ground is now a grocery store and parking lot.
In the mid-1910s, the Thistle Club moved its grounds down Minnehaha Avenue at 38th Street. The site was probably located kitty-corner to the Simmons School in the block that now houses the American Legion building and Howe Office Suites . Map: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (1912). Library of Congress