Immigration from Sweden. Between 1845 and 1863, thousands of Swedish immigrants left their homeland and made their way to the United States. They left Sweden for a variety of reasons, including famine and religious persecution. According to a brochure available at the American Swedish Institute (located in Minneapolis), at the peak of this immigration, Minnesota was the center of Swedish America, with over 126,000 Swedish-born immigrants living in the state in 1905. Of that number, 38.000 lived in the Twin Cities. Chicago was the only city that had a larger number of Swedish immigrants.
Swede Hollow. One entry point for Swedes into the life and culture of the Twin Cities was an area of St. Paul known as “Swede Hollow.” Swede Hollow was located in a ravine on the east side of St. Paul that could be reached by going through a tunnel that led from a higher level of the city into the ravine. Phalen Creek ran through the area and was the source of water for the immigrants who would settle in the area. The name, “Swede Hollow,” was given by the first immigrants to inhabit the area, the Swedish immigrants. According to an article on the Twin Cities Public Television website, they called the area “Svenska Dalen” or “Swedish Dale.” It became known as “Swede Hollow.” For 140 years, it was home to immigrants from different countries.
Newly arrived immigrants, drawn to the Twin Cities by the promise of jobs and a better life, would find their way-usually from the railroad station-to the shantytown Hollow. Sometimes they were looking for relatives. Sometimes they only wanted a place to live. In Swede Hollow, they could find either or both. If the immigrants found an empty house, they simply moved in. No money exchanged hands and there were no deeds involved. As the immigrants became more affluent, they moved out of the Hollow and room was available for new immigrants.
Swede Hollow had no amenities. There was no indoor plumbing and no electricity. Outhouses were often placed so they were partly over Phalen Creek, making human waste disposal a matter of gravity. According to a permanent exhibit at the American Swedish Institute, the placement of the outhouses was a temptation for practical jokes. A large rock tossed into the creek while someone was occupying an outhouse created a wet situation for the occupant.
People living in Swede Hollow could see a visual symbol of the good life just by looking at the hills above the Hollow. Theodore Hamm, recognizing that the area was a good one for brewing beer, opened the Hamm’s brew house in 1894. Crowning the hill above Swede Hollow was the Hamm mansion. The mansion contained 20 rooms, 8 fireplaces, and all the items that were part of the good life. The mansion was burned down by a bored 14 year old boy in 1954. It was uninhabited at the time.
While Swede Hollow was initially a Swedish enclave, the Hollow became Italian in the early 1900s. The houses in the Hollow were eventually demolished by the Twin Cities in the 1950s as part of what was called urban renewal. One reason for the cleansing of the area was the lack of sanitation. While no one lives in Swede Hollow now, memories of the area live on in the people who were born and grew up there.