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Thomas Barlow (T.B.) Walker was born in Xenia, Ohio in 1840. His parents had traveled west from New York, and soon afterwards his father died of cholera while preparing to join a wagon train west. Thomas finished college at age 19, and after hearing a glowing description of Minneapolis, he proceeded there in 1862. Within an hour of arriving he was hired as a deputy surveyor of pine lands in the north. As a result he knew the location of good timber close to water transportation, and in 1868 he went into the lumber business. He formed the Red River Lumber Company and made a vast fortune logging the timber.




Back in 1863, in Ohio, he had married his college classmate and boss's daughter, Harriet Granger Hulet (b. 1841), and despite the time he spent up north while she made their home in Minneapolis, the couple had eight children. He returned to Minneapolis around 1881, determined to build up his adopted city.

Walker's first strategy was to build up the industrial base in St. Paul. Said Walker, "St. Paul had the wholesale trade, the retail trade, the railroads and the banks. We tried five years to arrange an amicable interest in building up the industries of both cities." They had a false start when the Minneapolis men tried to work with their counterparts in St. Paul to lure a factory from the east to merge with a Minneapolis plant, but were double crossed when St. Paul ended up with both the eastern and the Minneapolis factories. Another story is that the Minneapolis contingent put considerable funds into the Midway area, only to have it annexed by arch rival St. Paul.

It was at that point that the Businessman's Union was formed, on March 31, 1883. Walker was its President for all 15 years of its existence. The group chose the area west of Minneapolis for their industrial site, in order to prevent any possibility of annexation by St. Paul. The area's borders were Minnetonka Road on the north and Excelsior Road on the south. Walker said that "some of the men in the union who liked changes made a social club of it, in the Guaranty Loan Building. This practically closed out the Business Union."


In 1886 a smaller group formed the Minneapolis Land and Investment Company:  "gentlemen whose energy and influence have been felt in the growth of Minneapolis." TB Walker was again President. Others included:

Henry F. Brown

Calvin G. Goodrich,

Thomas Lowry
Charles Pillsbury
Louis Menage (local promoter and developer - eventually went broke and fled to Guatemala)

In 1890 the company bought up 1,700 acres of land between Minnetonka and Excelsior Boulevards in St. Louis Park from farmers, an area so large that it took two years to replat the land.  (Several plats had been filed right after incorporation in 1886, and the replat was called "Rearrangement of St. Louis Park," a name it holds today.)

In 1892 the Minneapolis Land and Investment Company filed a plat of 12,000 lots on their 1,700 acres. An advertising map from the time shows a completely zoned and platted town: the Industrial Circle was "in the marsh," the commercial street was called Broadway (now Walker), and the rest was residential or undeveloped

The Industrial Circle was a tilted oblong between the railroad tracks and Walker Street, Monitor and Taft Avenues. The Industrial Circle remains today; the top of the circle is the curve in Walker Street. The intersection of Highway 7 and Louisiana is at the center of the site, with South Oak Pond a reminder that it was indeed "in the marsh."


Worker housing was built in an area that is now known as South Oak Hill, southwest of the Industrial Circle.  Residential lots were as small as 22 feet; supposedly builders would build houses on every other lot and leave room for gardens.  Walker built about 60 so-called Walker Houses from 1890 to 1898.  These two-story, narrow houses were notable for having no front doors.  Many of them burned or were moved over the years, but there are still quite a few in their original locations.


Downtown was a one-block commercial district on Broadway (renamed Walker Street in 1933).  Walker and Joseph Hamilton built large buildings (only Walker's remains) and in the storefronts one could find stores, a barber shop, and other commercial concerns.  

Walker's activities during this time were prodigious, with factories that occupied the Industrial Circle, the streetcar line that he built from the center of the Village to Minneapolis, the Walker/Syndicate Building/Brick Block commercial building, his Methodist Church, and the hotels he built for workers and builders of the factories. Village Roadmaster Daniel J. Falvey graded the roads.

But before Walker's plan could come to full fruition, came the economic Depression of 1893. Businesses failed, lots owned by the Minneapolis Land and Investment Company went unbought, and the partners bailed out by assigning their interests to Walker. Walker could be seen giving out food during the Depression, but people shied away from him and even despised him. By 1913 he still owned about 600-700 of his 1,700 acres, which put him in a spot: the land was worth less than what he had paid for it, not to mention the money he had put out to build the factories, and he was obligated to pay taxes on it as well. He moved on to the Pacific coast to continue his lumbering business, and he was forced to use proceeds of that endeavor to pay off the costs of his unsold land. Real estate man Erling Shurson, officed in the Brick Block, handled the last of the sales. By 1948 practically all of the St. Louis Park lots owned by the Walkers had been sold or forfeited for taxes.


Thus, in the space of about 12 years, Walker's dreams of an industrial town evaporated, and it would be another 50 years until the Park would approximate the industrial and residential magnet he had envisioned so many years ago.


Walker moved on to other things, namely the Red River Lumber Company. This was a so-called railroad logging company in California. He began acquiring land during the mid 1890s. In 1909 he purchased property at Mountain Meadows. On January 29, 1912, Red River and the Southern Pacific Railroad entered into an agreement whereby the railroad would build a line and Red River would give the railroad exclusive rights for hauling the lumber. Red River then proceeded to build a mill and the town of Westwood. In Westwood, Walker may have got what he couldn’t get in St. Louis Park: a company town. Westwood included houses, apartments, dormitories, hotels, a community center, churches, and a theater. All utilities were company-owned. A big department store was provided for the ladies, and men had their “Westwood Club” all to themselves. But for the first 20 years, no liquor could be had in Westwood.

Walker’s son Archie Dean Walker (b.1882, d.1971) served as secretary (1908-1933) and president (1933-ca. 1956) of the Red River Lumber Company, but remained based in Minneapolis. During his tenure he saw a major shake-up of company management; labor strife and organization at the town of Westwood, and the November 30, 1944 sale of the Westwood mill and townsite to the Fruit Growers Supply Company, the buying arm of today’s Sunkist. Archie Walker’s papers can be found at the Minnesota Historical Society. 


An interesting site on Red River is http://www.citlink.net/~lahontan/redriver.htm



T.B. Walker was a great collector of art, and in 1879 he built a gallery adjoining his home to display it.  This home was downtown at 8th and Hennepin where the State Theater is now (803 Hennepin). As his collection grew he built more and more galleries onto the house.


In 1917 he purchased the Thomas Lowry Estate on Lowry Hill in Minneapolis. He lived in the Lowry Mansion from 1917 until his death in 1928. On May 21, 1927, he opened the Walker Art Galleries which were built on a lot near the mansion.


Above, the original Walker Art Galleries, built in 1927, architects Long and Thorshov, Minneapolis.


In 1944 the front of the building was redone in a moderne style (above).


Current Walker Art Center building which was built in 1971, designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. At right is the Guthrie Theater, which opened in 1963 and has since been moved.


2014 photo from Center's website


Information on this section is courtesy of Jill Vuchetich, Archivist at the Walker Art Center.  Photos are from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Harriet Walker died in 1917 while accompanying her husband on a business trip to New York. T.B. Walker died in 1928 at the age of 88.

Archie Dean Walker, Jr., born in 1920, was the youngest child of T.B. Walker’s youngest child. He died in 2008.

For a more complete biography of TB Walker and his family, see the Minnesota Historical Society site at http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00093.xml



This information comes from a variety of sources: newspapers, books, yearbooks, phone directories, interviews, etc. Given the varied sources, we cannot guarantee that all of this information is correct, and welcome any additions and corrections. Please contact us with your contributions and comments.