New Deal Roadside Landscape Features

Several picnic areas were built in parks and wayside rests along Highway 100 as shown in this 1939 view of Lilac Park.

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Assessment + Analysis
Highway 100 - Lilac Way

Building the western segment of Trunk Highway 100 and its roadside development facilities was one of the state's largest federal relief construction projects. Located west of Minneapolis, this 12.5-mile section of roadway was the first portion of a "Belt Line Highway" that encircled the Twin Cities by 1950. It was the state's first 4-lane highway with controlled access and boasted the first cloverleaf interchange.

The project began under the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) but was transferred to the Works Progress Administration when the WPA was created in 1935. In that year alone the project employed between 2,500 and 3,000 men.


Highway 100 is the only roadside development project in the state that includes rock gardens and ornamental pools. Designed by Arthur Nichols, this historic view of Lilac Park depicts one of these picturesque features. (inset) This unique stone "beehive" fireplace contains cook stoves for picnickers. Harold E. Olson, the longtime head of the Roadside Development Division, remarked in a speech in 1933 that stone fireplaces were preferred to concrete "which detract from the natural environment."

Besides the highway, workers built seven parks with rustic entrance signs, stone overlooks, picnic areas, and even ornamental pools and rock gardens. Arthur Nichols designed the parks and landscaping along the "Lilac Way," as the original portion of Highway 100 was called. Lilac Way was one of the Roadside Development Division's largest, best-publicized, and most visible projects.

In a previous Mn/DOT study, historian Barbara J. Henning noted that the landscaping of Highway 100 was extraordinary in scope. In the St. Louis Park segment there were 12 types of evergreen trees, totaling 420 plants, and 37 varieties of deciduous trees, shrubs, and vines. The total number of deciduous plants came to 23,505. The largest units were American elm (1,890), sumac (9,478), three kinds of spirea (2,199), Persian lilac (2,487), and common lilac (5,408). The lilac bushes were an exception to the Roadside Development Division's general policy of not planting flowers or flowering shrubs along highways.

Lilac Way was the only property in the roadside development study that was classified as a historic district. The district included a portion of the highway and the five surviving parks. Lilac Way was considered important as a rare and especially large federal relief project, for its significance in the history of transportation and roadside development, and for its design significance. The district was also significant in the history of suburban development and regional transportation in the Twin Cities. Highway 100 is being reconstructed and is no longer completely intact.

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