The Valley View Neighborhood consists of a grouping of twelve homes fronting a single street called Valley View Road on the southwest side of St. Peter, Minnesota. At least seven houses have some view of the Minnesota River Valley; hence the name of the street. The neighborhood began on August 8, 1949 when the plat of this residential area was approved by the St.Peter City Council.
It was after World War II and Gustavus Adolphus College was increasing its student body. More faculty were consequently being hired. According to Chet and Marian Johnson in their self-published book, Valley View: 1949-2004, a group of these young, newly hired faculty and administrators were looking for a place in town to build homes.
They contacted President Edgar Carlson of Gustavus with a proposal to have the college purchase a narrow tract of land of approximately six acres from the State of Minnesota on the edge of what is now the St.Peter Regional Treatment Center facility. It was then a pasture for Holstein cows supplying milk for the Treatment Center. I know this for a fact because when Judy and I moved to Valley View in 1980 some locust fence posts and old barbed wire were still around in some places. President Carlson was skeptical of the proposed land acquisition but turned the request over to State Senator Ansgar Almen, a Gustavus alumnus and also a member of the Board of Trustees. The Senator, who was known as a mover and shaker at the State Capitol, liked the idea of a Gustavus faculty neighborhood. He promptly persuaded the State Legislature to create an enabling act to make possible the land sale. A deed, dated June 3, 1949, transferred 5.86 acres of land from the State of Minnesota to Gustavus for $1.00 an acre. Thus, began Valley View.
The Design of Valley View
The group of administrators and faculty who eventually built homes here played an active part in the design of this new residential subdivision. Officially, the local firm of Bolton and Menk did the surveying, after much input from the new Valley View residents. They did not want a straight street with traditional rectangular lots. Rather, for more aesthetic reasons, they wanted a curved street; one whose curve might afford more views of the Minnesota River Valley. It should be noted that at the time there was no South Elementary School, nor any other buildings to mar the view.
But where to locate this curved road in the relatively narrow tract? As one might imagine with a group of academicians, much debate took place. At one particular meeting at which Chester Johnson of the Geology Department was chair, the discussions of street location and shape were getting nowhere. No design seemed to be acceptable to all.
Chester once told me that in his frustration, he drew a large question mark on the design sheet on the table in front of them. Kyle Montague, a member of the “design team” at the meeting got up and said “Chet, by God, you’ve got it. Face that question mark the other way and that’s Valley View Road.” This was how the now-familiar curved street was planned. It ran west from near the corner of Jefferson Avenue and 7th Street, then curved north at the top of the hill (the top of the question mark) where again it intersected with Jefferson Avenue.
There were similar design questions in laying out the lots. All that was agreed to at the first meeting was that they were to front along the curved street. Don Gregory, a Professor in the Art Department at Gustavus at the time, was asked to submit some lot designs. One idea called for 10 lots around a small central park. Another design had eleven lots and no park. Finally, the design of twelve lots was agreed to, resulting in the layout of Valley View that you see today.
The Drawing of Lots
At a subsequent meeting on June 14, 1949, it was agreed that each lot would sell for $150 and that the money would go toward the costs of surveying, street construction, and installation of utilities. Any additional costs would be shared equally by all homeowners.
The meeting also included the drawing of lots. Vic and Betty Gustafson won the first lot choice and selected Lot #4. It was considered to be the choice location since its backyard completely overlooked the Minnesota River Valley. By the time the first house was completed in 1950, and when the last house was built in 1957, the list of property owners, the year they moved to the neighborhood, and their street addresses on Valley View Road were as follows:
- 1950- 764 Gus and Evelyn Young
- 1951- 708 Ross and Lavinia Bloomquist
- 1952 -731 Charles and Margaret Dahlgren
- 1952 -765 Floyd and Bea Martinson
- 1953 -744 Vic and Betty Gustafson
- 1953 -754 Chester and Marian Johnson
- 1953 -703 Doniver and Gene Lund
- 1953 -713 Phil and Orma Scherer
- 1955 -723 Kyle and Doris Montague
- 1955 -736 Henry and Gloria Benson
- 1956 -748 Bob and Ruth Esbjornson
- 1957 -724 Don and Marlys Slarks
As I will explain, the following homeowners on this list will not be included in this book: Charles and Margaret Dahlgren, Phil and Orma Scherer, Gus and Evelyn Young, and Henry and Gloria Benson. Here’s my reasoning. For inclusion in this account, the residents first had to be either teachers or administrators at Gustavus. Second, they had to have a long-time residency in the neighborhood, and, for most, that residency began in the 1950’s. Charlie Dahlgren taught engineering (can you believe that?) at GAC for three years, 1948-1951. He continued working in St. Peter as City Engineer until 1960. It was then that the family moved out of town and ended their short residential tenure on Valley View Road. Thus, they did not live there long enough to be a fixture of the neighborhood. Ellery and Aileen Peterson then bought their home. Ellery became a long-time faculty member in the Department of Economics and Business. They lived on Valley View for sixteen years and established themselves in the neighborhood.
Phil and Orma Scherer were not affiliated with Gustavus, so they are not included here. He was a lawyer in St. Peter. Gus and Evelyn Young certainly had a long-term relationship with Gustavus. He was the head basketball coach from 1949-1957. “Ma Young”, as she was called, was the legendary Director of Food Services from 1949-1982. However, they lived only seven years on Valley View Road, and I felt didn’t have a long enough tenure in the neighborhood to be included. Finally, although Henry and Gloria Benson also had strong ties to Gustavus, neither of them were teachers or administrators at the college and, thus, were excluded from the list as well.
My apologies to those four couples who were original homeowners. As I’ve said, my criteria for inclusion was to reflect on only those families who were either teachers or administrators at Gustavus and had lived on Valley View Road for a long time. In fact, with one exception, that being the Petersons, most families lived on Valley View Road 40 plus years. Bea Martinson and Gene Lund still live on Valley View. They are the surviving pioneers. Apologies also go to those “Newcomers” who moved onto Valley View in the 1960’s or more recently. They certainly have contributed to the richness of the neighborhood and the college, but clearly were not among the original settlers.
The Bards of Valley View
The final list then, of the Valley View Neighborhood is as follows:
- Ross and Lavinia Bloomquist
- Floyd and Bea Martinson
- Vic and Betty Gustafson
- Chester and Marian Johnson
- Doniver and Gene Lund
- Kyle and Doris Montague
- Bob and Ruth Esbjornson
- Don and Marlys Slarks
- Ellery and Aileen Peterson
- Ellis and Janet Jones*
The * by Ellis and Janet Jones is to indicate that they did not “officially” live on Valley View Road. Their home was at 628 Jefferson Avenue. This address was across the street (7th Street) from Don and Gene Lund and diagonal from Ross and Lavinia Bloomquist. However, they meet my criteria for inclusion. Ellis taught for 40 years in the Department of Economics and Business. They lived at their address for 45 years and were full participants in the affairs of Valley View Road. They attended and organized block parties, holiday celebrations, and other activities. Ellis has said to me that he and Janet sometimes felt that they were only “partial” Valley Viewers. This was clearly not the case in my mind and they are therefore included.
I will end this Introduction with a look at house construction by the Bards. Three local carpenter crews built all of the homes on Valley View Road, except the residence of Vic and Betty Gustafson. Vic built the house himself, as seen in this photo. Since I now live in this house, I can relate some of the stories told to me about the carpentry skills of the legendary swimming coach. He began laying cement blocks for the foundation and basement in the summer of 1950. As was common in those days, families lived in the basement while work on the “upstairs” continued over the years as money became available. This was the case with Vic and Betty and their children. Since Vic was a coach and physical education teacher, he was athletic enough with a hammer and saw, but lacking in some basic knowledge of home construction. This is somewhat of an understatement as you will see. It would seem that when he needed to know something about wiring or plumbing, he would locate a home builder in town who was working on that particular aspect of a house where advice was needed. By observing and asking questions, Vic managed to pick up the required skills, to a point. In our kitchen, I always have to remind my self that at best only three electrical appliances should be on at the same time. Any more than that could result in a blown fuse. Also, when we were shown the house by the realtor he said “Whatever you do, never make a fire in the basement fireplace.” I asked “Why not?” since, apparently, it had been used. “Yes” was the reply. It had been used when the Gustafsons lived in the basement, but when they moved upstairs, Vic ran out of firebrick to complete one side of the chimney and had, for some strange reason, patched in some wall board as “a temporary replacement.” It remained “a temporary replacement” for thirty years. He might have been a legendary swimming coach, but he was not a legendary carpenter. But then, I’m not either.
Most of the homes were of a ranch-style design, with attached garage, breezeway, and or porch, popular at the time. Vic’s garage and breezeway could not be used, however. They were stacked wall to wall, floor to ceiling as storage areas for Vic’s considerable camping equipment used in his Outdoor Education classes. There was only a narrow walkway that led through this maze. Vic was not a big man. On my inspection tour of the property with the realtor, we could barely make our way through the breezeway into the garage. Of course, until this assortment of camping equipment and tools was cleaned out, I didn’t or couldn’t walk through the breezeway or use the garage for my car. In all fairness, though, the house was overall well built, good materials were used, and it still stands today after over 65 years and a tornado.
As I said, most of the families lived for a number of years in their basements. As cash was in short supply to build an entire house, living in one’s basement until more funds for further building could be acquired was the order of the day. Although, as I have mentioned, three carpenters and their crew did the building, each family designed their own home. Many of them were adaptations of houses that were appealing after a thorough search of home magazines. The Bloomquist and Johnson houses were modeled after ones they saw in a home builder’s magazine. After selecting a house plan, they told the carpenters, this is what they wanted it to look like. The families were on site to guide the work in case modifications were necessary. One such modification occurred when the Martinsons discovered that their lot was originally a sand pit turned into a city dump. The “soil,” if you could call it that, was too weak and rocky for a proper foundation. To compensate for this, the Martinsons used the soil dug out for the Johnson basement as fill for the foundation of their new home. Bea has said that this initial act of sharing dirt between the two families bound each other to the earth.
The most interesting example of the Bards’ involvement in house construction was that of the Esjbornsons. Esby wrote to Chet and Marian Johnson that “the shape, contour, and location of their lot had much to do with the house plan that he and Ruth selected.” Anyone reading this who was a former student of Esby must be smiling at this sentence. This statement was “all Esby,” as it reflected his early environmental concerns. At this time there was a popular author by the name of Ian McHarg, who wrote a very influential book called Design With Nature. In it, he advocated that to protect and enhance the environment, one should design things working with nature, rather than treating nature as simply a stage or back-drop. Or, in other words, that the shape, contour and location of their lot was something not to be overlooked by builders. This early environmental philosophy saw its beginning and implementation in Esby’s house design. It became a part of his environmental philosophy throughout his life.
In the late 1950’s, home construction on Valley View was finished and families were beginning to establish themselves as valuable contributors to the teaching and administration at Gustavus. Just how valuable and durable this contribution was and continues to be is a fascinating story of hard work, dedication, and love. We will start our journey at the top of the curve of Valley View Road with the Martinsons and work our way down to 7th Street.
Note: This Brief History of Valley View relies heavily on the compilation work of Chet and Marian.