Lilac Way was born in a newsroom, and built to attract tourists.

Inspired by crowds of tourists at Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms, the Minneapolis Journal newspaper proposed planting lilacs along the new Highway 100.

Lilacs were chosen because they can bloom up to six weeks, triple the length of cherry blossoms.

In 1935, the Journal presented their idea to the Minnesota Highway Department. Officials representing 50,000+ citizens in 40 civic and business groups supported the plan. The Highway Department agreed, and Lilac Way’s story began.

The creation of Lilac Way was inspired by Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms.
The creation of Lilac Way was inspired by Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms.

The July 28, 1935 headline proclaimed, “Highway Department Approves ‘Lilac Way’ West of City, Journal’s Plan for Beautifying Belt Line OK’d.”

Lilac Way’s landscaping was unusual for the Highway Department. 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 plan called for 23,505 deciduous plants.

The Golden Valley Garden Club

In 1939, the Golden Valley Garden Club helped to beautify the new WPA-built Highway 100 with miles of lilacs. Selling lilac bushes for 15 cents each, they raised money to plant lilacs.

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, Lilac Way’s Landscape Architect Arthur Nichols kept WPA workers busy planting lilacs when not working on the highway.

1936. Using shovels and horses to prepare Glenwood Ave. approach on Hwy. 100 in Golden Valley. Photo: Henn. Cty. Lib.

With thousands of lilacs lining 12.5 miles of Highway 100, Lilac Way became history.