Saturday, Sept. 14, is the second anniversary of the Pleasant Street Art Walk. This year there will be over 45 local artists and exhibitors, some from the neighborhood, along with food trucks and music. The city plans to close Pleasant Street from Main Avenue to the Ballard-Sunder funeral home. There should be plenty of walking room. All are welcome.

Pleasant Street isn’t a Summit or a Grand avenue or a Lowry Hill or Edina’s Country Club District. There are no grand homes from the Gilded Age, nor is it on the National Register of Historic Places. But it is the oldest neighborhood in Prior Lake with homes going back to the turn of the 20th century. For those of us who live here it is a special place — made more special because what the neighborhood has done to save and preserve itself.

Prior Lake began as a small farm town with a scattering of mom-and-pop resorts spread out around the lake. My dad recalled that during Prohibition it had a reputation for speakeasies and gambling and told stories about driving out on Old Shakopee Road from St. Paul in a Model T with his buddies to a certain resort that had “real” beer and slot machines.

I grew up across the river in Bloomington. In the 1950s dad and I would come over for fishing. I remember him giving me a tour, which included a drive down Pleasant Street, then Highway 13, the main road south out of town to Waseca and Albert Lea.

The first house on Pleasant Street was built in 1895. Pleasant, then, was a dirt road from Main to the site of the original, 1907 St. Michael’s Church. Today, you’ll find 25 homes in the block between Main and Duluth Avenue. The two oldest are at 4621, built in 1895, and 4601, built in 1909. Others date from the early ‘20s through the ‘50s.

Notables include a Dutch Colonial built for the town veterinarian. Another, built in 1925, was the boyhood home of John Roach, who grew up to be archbishop of the Diocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

At the east end of the block, next to the flower shop, are two homes that went up in 1920. They’re identical and came out of the Sears Catalog. It’s not well-known, but between 1908 and 1940 Sears Roebuck and Company sold thousands of home kits from the pages of its catalog. There were dozens of different floor plans that could be ordered and shipped in a railroad boxcar. Both of them arrived and were unloaded from a siding next to the Prior Lake railroad depot that stood at what is now the corner of Highway 21 and Main.

Highway 21 was the line of the Hastings and Dakota Railroad, later the Milwaukee Road. The Hastings and Dakota built west from its namesake city on the Mississippi River, arriving at what became Prior Lake in 1869. It was among the first railroads in the state.

Passenger service prospered through the early years, bringing visitors to the Grainwood Resort Hotel, but the resort burned down, automobiles came along, and by the 1930s, service was down to one round-trip a day between Farmington and Cologne, where connections could be made with main line trains to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Meanwhile, trucks eroded freight business, and the number of shippers slowly declined.

The Milwaukee in 1977 filed for bankruptcy, according to a report in the Washington Post. Most of its track mileage — including the line through Prior Lake — were abandoned and, eventually, removed.

A few years ago the city and Scott County came together with a plan to reroute Highway 21 through the Pleasant Street neighborhood, wiping out most of the homes you’ll see on the Art Walk. With the plan came a proposal to extend Arcadia Avenue across Pleasant and on through the wetland to a connection with Franklin Trail — opening up the entire area to new development.

It didn’t happen. The neighborhood took up the challenge, organized, fought back and prevailed. Historic preservation is important, whether it’s a Summit Avenue mansion or a few humble homes and a neighborhood.

The Art Walk is a celebration of Pleasant Street, the people who live here and their efforts to save it. The Art Walk goes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be painting, pottery, crafts and history. Please join us for all this — and some time travel.

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.

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