The J.R. Cummins Homestead (or as we call it today, Cummins, Phipps, Grill House) sits across from Flying Cloud Airport 100 yards west of Flying Cloud Drive on Pioneer Trail.
Established in 1856, John and Mattie Cummins lived on this farm until 1908. John Cummins was born in Pennsylvania in 1834 and educated at Unionville Academy. In 1856, at the age of 21, he left “on a trip to the west, Minnesota and St. Paul.” After traveling in Minnesota, he purchased this farm. He had little experience as a farmer, questioning in 1857 if the farm was a “burden beyond my abilities”.
John Cummins married Mattie Clark in 1862. Mattie was born in 1837 in New Hampshire and came to St. Anthony in 1858. She was a skilled rug maker, an amateur painter, and avid gardener. The Cummins had no children, but they frequently entertained their nieces and nephews from Minneapolis.
The brick house was built for John and Mattie from 1879 to 1880. John Cummins did some of the work on the house, hauling brick, shingling the roof, lathing, and finishing the interior with locally grown butternut. For most of its life the house was the center of a 300 acre farm.
John Cummins frequently exchanged labor with his neighbors, helping with the sowing, harvesting, processing and building. He became interested in trees, nuts, flowers, fruits, and worked to promote their cultivation. A row of maples that he planted once stretched from the house to the river bluff. The two shagbark hickory trees on the front lawn were planted by Cummins in 1869. Two orchards planted by Cummins, one north and another south of the home, are now gone. Wheat was the most significant product of this farm during the Cummins time.
Cummins was a widely respected horticulturalist, and experimented with many plants. He was an acquaintance of many well-known horticulturalists including Henry Lyman, Peter Gideon, William Macintosh, J.T. Grimes, E.R. Pond, and others. Cummins was a long time member of the Minnesota Horticultural Society, where he shared his knowledge of plants. Cummins was best remembered for his interest in plants and concern for native flowers. Edward Brown (nephew) noted “his chief interest lay in horticulture. He would tramp miles in search of some rare plant.”
In 1906 Cummins reported to the Minnesota Horticultural Society on the loss of native plants stating “there is some need for those who have a regard for flowers to look after the protection of some varieties that are rapidly being destroyed. Of these are the Cypripedium or Moccasin flower and Noah’s Ark.....all these are easily grown with the proper soil and some cultivation.”
On July 2, 1908, John and Mattie Cummins sold the farm to Edwin Phipps of Minneapolis. Cummins noted in his diary “bargained with Wm. Phipps of N. Minneapolis, a gardener, to take the farm, 280 acres at $50.00 an acre, bought in 1856 for about $13.00 an acre.”
Edwin Phipps came to Minnesota in the 1890’s from Calais, Maine and worked as a Teamster. He married Harriet Sprague in 1894 in Minneapolis. Harriet was a teacher and graduate of the S.S. Curry School of Expressions in Boston. She was active in civic causes, and enjoyed poetry and flower gardening.
Harriet and Edwin Phipps had two daughters, Helen and Mildred. Mildred married the Phipps’ hired man, Martin “Pappy” Grill, and purchased the farm in 1934. The Grills had no children and depended on extended family for much of their seasonal help. Pappy had a reputation for paying very little to hired hands, family included, and one nephew recalled that Pappy charged him for an apple taken off the truck after a long day of work.
The Phipps raised grain, vegetables, and flowers, but were especially known for asparagus. Edwin earned title “Asparagus King of Hennepin County”. The Grills opened the first vegetable stands in 1933 on nearby Highway 212. A large peony bed planted by Harriet Phipps about 1920 still survives on the east side of the house.
Both families hired workers to assist with the farm. Some of the workers roomed in other houses that stood nearby.
In 1917 or 1918, a kitchen addition was constructed which included an upper story for hired help. A large brick “ ice box” was added to the east wall on the kitchen in the 1920’s or 30’s, for flowers and household food. Electricity was installed in 1930, the first bathroom in 1946. A dairy barn was built by the Grills in 1940; the cement block milk house was built at an unknown date to store milk. A landing strip constructed on part of the farm in 1937 was used by the U. S. Navy planes stationed at old Wold - Chamberlan field to make practice approaches. Pappy Grill sold the landing strip in 1943 to American Aviation Corp., who named it Flying Cloud Airport, a name that they felt related to flying and local Indian heritage. the Metropolitan Airports Commission purchased the airport in 1948. The farm was sold to the City of Eden Prairie in 1976 for parkland.
In May of 2010 the Eden Prairie Historical Society signed a lease with the City of Eden Prairie for the home. The Society plans to do more renovation on the interior and with the help of a donation from Joe and Carol Stoebner we are off to a great start. The project is being coordinated by a task force appointed by the Board of Directors. If you want more information on the site contact the Task Force at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch this site for more updates and information about this wonderful historic site........