The July 28, 1935 headline proclaimed “Highway Department Approves ‘Lilac Way’ West of City, Journal’s Plan for Beautifying Belt Line OK’d.”
The landscaping on Lilac Way was an exception to the rule. Extraordinary in scope, it included more than 8,000 bushes of 12 varieties of lilacs—2,487 Persian lilacs, and 5,408 common lilacs—and thousands of other vines and trees.
The total number of deciduous plants called for in the plan came to 23,505.
Planted by the WPA
All those lilacs and shrubs were planted by the landscape department of the Highway Department (now MnDOT), with help from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression.
The WPA hired unemployed men to build Highway 100 and plant lilacs. Given new work clothes, they got to work one 40-hour week each month, for 55 cents an hour.
Knowing how important jobs were, Arthur Nichols, Lilac Way’s Landscape Architect, kept WPA workers busy planting lilacs when not working on the highway.