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History Happy Hour: Monday program to focus on Mill Pond history

In the 1930s, the Horace Austin State Park, was a popular place for children to gather for swimming and canoeing and even housed a water sled run and a cage of five African monkeys in 1934. Today, the Austin Municipal Swimming Pool has provided a means for residents to cool off.  Photo Courtesy Mower County Historical Society

In the 1930s, the Horace Austin State Park, was a popular place for children to gather for swimming and canoeing and even housed a water sled run and a cage of five African monkeys in 1934. Today, the Austin Municipal Swimming Pool has provided a means for residents to cool off. Photo Courtesy Mower County Historical Society

Major changes have been made to the Cedar River in the Downtown Mill Pond area since Austin became a city nearly 160 years ago.

On Monday night, Tim Ruzek will outline that history in a presentation titled “Flood Walls in a Former Swamp” as part of the monthly History Happy Hour series at the Hormel Historic Home. The event starts with a social and snacks at 5:30 p.m. and an hour-long presentation at 6 p.m.

Monday’s presentation will feature details on how and why the significant changes happened in the Mill Pond area, along with many old photos of the Downtown Mill Pond, including images of the swimming beach; old Hormel Foods plant; and plat maps and aerial images showing the area from the 1870s through today.

“I enjoy learning about the local history and this particular aspect of Austin’s past has always intrigued me,” said Ruzek, Vision 2020 Waterways Committee co-chair and edar River Watershed District public outreach coordinator, in a press release. “You can see on the old maps and pictures that places near Mill Pond that used to hold water or even a main channel of the Cedar River now have buildings and roads.”

Ruzek has collected dozens of historic images of the Cedar River in the Austin area, including many related to the Downtown Mill Pond area.

What was long ago a swampy, backwater area created by the dam at the present-day Fourth Avenue Northeast eventually was turned into a state park in the 1910s through a lot of dredging and filling of the Cedar River. Starting in the 1950s, the city and state allowed the former park land to start being developed into commercial, residential and industrial areas — work that included removing a bridge on North Main Street and redirected the Cedar River.

Today, this same Downtown Mill Pond area is protected by an extensive flood wall system recently completed by the City of Austin due to record flooding in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

The event is co-sponsored by the Mower County Historical Society and Austin Public Library and is free for members of the HHH, historical society or Friends of the Austin Public Library. Cost is $5 for non-members. A cash bar is available.