MnDOT has been dedicated to Lilac Way since the 1930s.

Since building Highway 100’s Lilac Way, MnDOT has maintained thousands of lilac bushes along the roadside. Lilacs lost to road construction were replaced, keeping it true to its name.

in 2023, their Historic Roadside Property Program completed a three year project to preserve and restore Graeser Park in Robbinsdale.

MnDOT restored Graeser Park to Secretary of Interior Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties.

Their extensive project included

  • repairing and repointing the rare beehive fireplace,
  • rebuilding 10 picnic tables for picnic area,
  • repointing nine picnic table pads,
  • repointing the rock garden pond walls and benches,
  • adding a new accessible walk along Broadway Avenue from the bridge to the parking area,
  • and adding a loop into the picnic area to a new accessible picnic table near the beehive.

Map to Graeser Park.

MnDOT has also
  • designed a historically sensitive landscape plan as part of the reconstruction of Highway 100 into a six-lane freeway.
  • listened as many citizens voiced their interest in preserving the original lilacs at public meetings.
  • protected hundreds of lilacs planted in the late 1930s in their original locations.
  • transplanted more than 500 original ‘vintage’ lilacs to new Highway 100 locations in Brooklyn Center and Robbinsdale.

Read an early 2000s article “MnDOT preserved Lilac Way lilacs”

Thanks to the preservation efforts of Mn/DOT and the City of Brooklyn Center, 200 lilac bushes – originally planted in the 1930s along what is now Highway 100 in Robbinsdale – will have a new home this spring three miles north in Brooklyn Center. The highway was named “Lilac Way” before it was upgraded and designated as Highway 100 in the 1940s. After surviving more than 60 years of traffic and urban development, the lilac plants looked like they were going to fall victim to improvements planned for Highway 100 and 42nd Avenue in Robbinsdale

Instead, generations to come can continue to enjoy the gene color and sweet fragrance of the lilacs, said Paul Walvatne, Mn/DOT forester. The Office of Environmental Services, Metro Division maintenance and Brooklyn Center parks staff cut the lilacs to the ground in preparation for the move. Mn/DOT hired a contractor to move the lilacs to their new home. Transport began April 16, with about 30 clumps scheduled to be moved each day. Brooklyn Center is responsible for watering and weeding; Metro Division will mulch the plants.

Another 150 clumps will be moved as part of the construction contract in fall 2001. When the project is completed, a variety of new lilacs will be planted to extend the blooming time from one week to three weeks on the new, improved Lilac Way. Existing shrubs are not usually preserved when new projects are started, Walvatne said. In this case, however, the historical significance and the economic advantage of having mature plants made preservation a reasonable option. It also fits with Mn/DOT’s context-sensitive design approach where the aesthetics and history impact project planning, he said.

Walvatne credits the vision of A. Nichols, consulting landscape architect at the Minnesota Department of Highways in the 1930s, for the first lilac way in the country. He wanted to create an attraction that would draw visitors to Minneapolis, just as the cherry blossoms attract visitors to Washington, D.C. each spring. Walvatne described Nichols as ahead of his time “Nichols would have fit right into the way we work today, incorporating landscape design elements into projects,” he said. – By Sue Stein  See original article

“Existing shrubs are not usually preserved when new projects are started, Walvatne said. In this case, however, the historical significance and the economic advantage of having mature plants made preservation a reasonable option.”

Watch the MnDOT-funded Lilac Way documentary.

2001. Highway 100: Lilac Way. Examines Lilac Way, one of Minnesota’s most historic stretches of roadway, capturing the history of Depression-era WPA-built landmarks along one of the first highways in Twin Cities. Produced by Twin Cities Public TV. The inspirations behind this website. Funded by Federal Highway Administration and MnDOT. Length – 28:16

MnDOT’s ‘Beehive Graveyard’

Construction during the Great Depression

Cloverleaf Interchange design in MN

MnDOT’s Lilac Way restoration received national recognition

In 2003, MnDOT was rewarded when their Lilac Way project was recognized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

According to AASHTO, “The partnerships that developed with communities, citizens and local organizations resulted in unique solutions, strengthened working relationships and paved the way to more pleasing, mutually acceptable facilities that will leave a lasting legacy.”

Lilac Way was selected as an AASHTO Legacy Project for its place-sensitive design, strong historic and cultural preservation effort, and extensive community involvement.

Hey, MnDOT—let’s install signage on Highway 100 to honor Lilac Way’s history.

Laukkonen Design has already done the first-round creative and can edit as needed per your specs. The signs would tie-in to existing signage at the restored Lilac Park on the south, and (hopefully) Graeser Park on the north.

Let’s honor MnDOT’s historical efforts and install signage along Lilac Way. It’s just 12.5 miles of Highway 100 between Highway 52 (now 81) in Robbinsdale, and Highway 5 (78th Street) in Edina.

Give Karen Laukkonen a call to discuss at 952.929.1242.

Preserving living history

According to MnDOT’s Paul Walvatne, Environmental Services (now retired), moving (transplanting) existing shrubs is rarely done by MnDOT since it is typically more cost-effective to plant 2-3′ tall bare-root shrubs and let them continue to grow.

In the case of Lilac Way, moving 60+ year old lilacs saved part of the area’s history. By partnering with the adjacent Cities, the costs for moving and maintaining the vintage plants compared favorably to starting with new plants.

Paul credits the 1930s vision of Arthur Nichols, MnDOT’s (then MN Highway Department) landscape architect, for the first ‘Lilac Way’ in the country. Nichols wanted to create an attraction that would draw visitors to Minneapolis.