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Carl F. Graeser, Chief Engineer
He prevailed upon Governor Floyd B. Olson directly for a half million dollars of federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) money and supervised much of the work himself.
Conceived just after the start of the Great Depression
The Belt Line was a joint venture between the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Minnesota Highway Department. A 12.5 mile stretch of Highway 100 Lilac Way was the ‘Showcase’ section of his Belt Line.
Now known as the “Father of the Belt Line”, he was a visionary in highway engineering.
“He had the record of supervising more people directly, than any other individual ever has, before or since. And that was because he had WPA labor, anyone who was unemployed could go on WPA… he was signing payroll for a crew of 4,000. That’s quite a record, it still stands as almost unbelievable.”
Lee Nelson, retired personnel director, MnDOT. From Twin Cities Public TV documentary, “Highway 100 – Lilac Way“
Graeser built the first cloverleafs in Minnesota
The cloverleafs were the answer of modern engineering to the demand for fast, yet safe crossings. Cloverleafs were built at three of the busiest intersections: Highways 55, 12 and 7.
Cloverleaf design improved traffic flow and reduced congestion.
The idea was so new, that Henry R. Grove, who grew up in the area during the 1930s, said “When our farmer relatives would come up to Minneapolis, we would take them down and show them this cloverleaf.
Everybody would laugh and have a great time over it—because whoever designed something like that!?”
Construction of Lilac Way and Highway 100
Men from Minneapolis’ Gateway District (Skid Row) helped build Lilac Way
Each of three cloverleafs cost $65,000 in 1935. Adjusted for inflation, that is comparable to more than $1,100,000 in today’s dollars.
- Born in Windish-Marchwitz, Schlesien, Germany on April 24, 1875
- Lost his leg in a railroad accident in Germany
- Considered highly creative and capable of great concentration
- Never married, had no relatives in MN, lived alone, and was devoted to his work
- Developed Belt Line concept, promoted funding, and supervised construction
- Several historic photos of Highway 100 roadside development sites taken by Carl Graeser were in treasured photo albums maintained by the Roadside Development Division
- Become a Project Engineer with the MN Highway Department in 1922
- Partnered with landscape architect Arthur R. Nichols on design of seven roadside parks
- Majority of construction on this section of Belt Line was completed in 1938
- Designed sailing ships in his spare time
- Read stories by Bernard Thomas Johnson, whose father worked for Carl Graeser
Graeser Park in Robbinsdale was named for Carl Graeser. Dedicated in 1939, it was Lilac Way’s largest roadside park. He supervised the building of Graeser Park while living at 4225 Unity Avenue North.
The park reflects the naturalistic landscaping and rustic architecture that characterized WPA-built roadside parks.
What is a German autobahn?
- 7,500+ miles of federal controlled-access highways system
- No mandated speed limit for some classes of vehicles
- Limits are posted (and enforced) in urbanized, substandard, accident-prone, or construction areas
- Known for high velocity
- Fast way to travel from city to city
- World’s third largest superhighway
Here’s a nifty Autobahn infographic.
“Carl Graeser was a bachelor, and as such, did have a social life. On one occasion he was parked under one of the new overpasses over Highway 100, with a lady friend. Apparently, someone saw him there.
When questioned later about what he was doing under the overpass, he said, “Ve vas eating shocolates.” Mr. Graeser spoke English with a thick German accent.”
Carl Graeser and the Beehive Fireplaces by Bernard Thomas Johnson