Bidney Bergie’s images of Grove Avenue

Published 9:50 am Saturday, April 17, 2010

One of the true assets of the Freeborn County Historical Museum Library is the many photographs of the city and county’s past that are the legacy of the late Bidney Bergie.

During the years he lived in Albert Lea, Bergie acquired many photos from area residents. For those who wanted these photos returned, he used his photography equipment in his home to make two copies; one for his personal collection and the second to be placed in the museum’s archives. Sometimes, a third copy would be converted into a slide.

Bergie also took many photos with his own camera equipment of scenes he thought had historical significance. Thus, several of the photos now in the museum’s archives are of the homes that once had Grove Avenue addresses.

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Grove Avenue was one of the city’s first residential streets. The name likely came about because of a cluster of tall oak trees that inspired pioneer settlers to start a community on the south shore of what evolved as Fountain Lake.

By the 1870s and 1880s this short street which then ran diagonally from Fountain Street northwesterly to Park Avenue became the location for several of the city’s outstanding homes. These large mostly Victorian-style homes faced the street. Some had horse stables to the side or back and long sloping back yards extending down to the lakeshore.

In time, nine homes and a church faced this particular avenue. From 1885 to 1956, a small structure at the corner of Grove and Park avenues served as the place of worship for members of Christ Episcopal Church. And not far way within the same triangular block and facing Fountain Street was Naeve Hospital.

For over a century, Grove Avenue was the logical shortcut between the Park Avenue neighborhood and the city’s central business district.

By the 1960s, the Naeve Hospital Association had purchased several of the Grove Avenue homes for use as student nurse dormitories and housing for hospital personnel.

The real end of Grove Avenue as a city street and unofficial traffic shortcut came on Nov. 23, 1973, with the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Naeve Hospital building. The homes were demolished, or in one known situation moved to another location. For about two decades the parking lot and lawn area between the new Naeve Hospital building and the original hospital structure (renamed the Fountain Lake Treatment Center and now an office building) followed the general route of the former Grove Avenue.

Now, with the creation of a clinic building and a connection to the Naeve Hospital building, what’s now the Albert Lea Medical Center complex has eliminated all traces of this former street.