RILEY- JACQUES FARMSTEAD
Patrick Riley and his son Mathew immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1845. We know that prior to arriving in Eden Prairie, Mathew worked in Lowell, Mass., and in 1853, arrived in St. Paul, where he ran a public ferry at Fort Snelling for two seasons. We also know that by 1854, Patrick had built a log cabin and was farming on the shores of a lake in Eden Prairie that would soon bear his name. Mathew Riley followed his father to Eden Prairie and by 1857, father Patrick owned 58.8 acres of farmland and Mathew owned 160 acres, wrapping around the north and eastern shores of Lake Riley. After Patrick’s death, the land was divided, consolidated, and rearranged until Matthew’s farm consisted of around 200 acres.
Most Eden Prairie farmers during the 1850s and ’60s subsisted on what the land yielded. They cleared land, planted, hunted, gathered, and harvested what they needed to live. The farm customarily had a dairy cow to provide milk, butter, and cheese. The family’s diet was mainly potatoes, pork, and cornbread, occasionally fish, venison, and other game. In season, nature provided a bounty of wild fruits like grapes, strawberries, raspberries, and plums. Maple trees yielded syrup and the bogs provided cranberries. Honey was a special treat. But the subsistence farmer still had an occasional need for cash; to pay for taxes, land, livestock, or manufactured goods. So, when there was a surplus of produce or meat the farmer found a ready market at Fort Snelling or the growing communities of St. Anthony and St. Paul. During the 1870s, ’80s, and ‘90s the majority of Eden Prairie farmers, including Mathew Riley, put nearly all of their cropland into wheat production. The wheat boom in Eden Prairie was enabled by advances in technology: the widespread availability of McCormick’s reaper, developed in 1831, and the arrival of rail transportation into (and out of) Eden Prairie by 1871.
Two new structures were built on the Riley farm during this period. Both still exist; a good-sized granary and the impressive Greek Revival-style house, overlooking Lake Riley. The house is a handsome example of “second generation” homes being built in the area after the Civil War. Mathew Riley died in 1912 and his son, James took over the farm until 1917, when he died. Ten years later, James’ wife, Anna Teeling Riley sold the farm to Michael Jacques. Two generations of Jacqueses lived on the farmstead. One son Jerome and his wife Elaine raised six children and lots of cows and chickens on that farm. Until 1941 the house did not have indoor plumbing or electricity; it was heated by wood-burning stoves and lit with kerosene lamps.
In 1930 Michael Jacques operated a boat rental business. There were 12 wooden fish boats. Michael and Josephine's son Jerome and his wife Elaine continued renting fishing boats until 1990 when the city of Eden Prairie purchased 23 acres of Riley -Jacques land. Today, the Riley-Jacques Farm is part of a City parkland called Lake Riley Park and has been designated an Eden Prairie Heritage Preservation Site.
A Memory Long Forgotten
Most people probably think of Eden Prairie’s settler history uniformly as agrarian, protestant, and primarily of northern European descent. But besides its rich indigenous past, the last 170 years or so have been peppered with endearing examples of African Americans welcomed into the community as laborers, tenants, and business owners.
One such example comes from the memories of Roger Dressen. Himself a descendant of Eden Prairie’s first pioneers, Roger was born on a farm off Pioneer Trail back in 1930. He tells the story of a man named Edgar Kennedy King, who along with his wife, Grace, purchased in 1938 the “Lantern Inn” down on Riley Lake encompassing land that is today the public boat launch area. The Inn’s origins date back to 1934 when a Helen Hatleberg of Chippewa, Wisconson purchased land from the Schmidel family (who owned all the land that is Bearpath today!) to open a resort on the lake. The small enterprise rented out wooden fishing boats, offered lakeshore cabins for rent, and hosted galas celebrating New Year’s Eve and other festive occasions.
Roger has many memories from the King era of selling farm produce along Pioneer Trail Fridays and Sundays as cars from the cities stopped to purchase eggs, chickens, and vegetables. Some people became frequent visitors and Roger remembers one particular woman named Mrs. Session who would send a postcard in advance with her order to be ready for her trip back home on Sunday. She would arrive in a Packard with a driver wearing white gloves and a hat! He has such fond memories of this wealthy, African American woman in a limo driving down Pioneer Trail in the 1930s who treated him so
The Kings are believed to be the first black family ever to own and run a business in Eden Prairie. They expanded the resort to offer weekend getaways featuring barbeques, jazz bands, and concessions lakeside. Renamed “King’s Valley”, the resort drew faithful customers from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the farm communities within driving distance. Additionally, Edgar and Grace lived and farmed the property that surrounded the area south of what is the public beach today.
Edgar died in 1948 and four years later public records show the property in probate selling for $12,000. Back in the 50s, the Eden Prairie Township had not yet begun to acquire parkland, so in 1952 the property sold on the open market to Kenneth “Dutch” Schaitberger. Renamed “Dutch’s Resort”, it continued in the Schaitberger family until in 1975 the City of Eden Prairie purchased 36 acres to develop what is now Riley Lake Park.
Today there’s nothing left but memories of the resort on Riley Lake with its rich history and storied past. But the next time you are taking a walk on a misty summer evening down by the beach at Riley Lake, stop and listen, and you might still hear the sounds of dancing, laughter, and boisterous chatter. You might even catch a glimpse of Mrs. Session being helped out of her limo by her chauffeur and dancing her way down to the water.
Thank you, Roger Dressen, for sharing a piece of your Eden Prairie past! And a belated thanks to the Kings who helped to preserve one of our most precious community amenities of today, the park at Riley Lake.