Stories from an Orrin Thompson salesman and his customers
On the second Sunday in January, 55 years ago, Orrin Thompson held an open house in Lebanon Township to attract customers for his new development.
Nearly six years later, in 1968, Lebanon Township residents would vote incorporate the Town of Lebanon as the Village of Apple Valley. It would take six more years for Apple Valley to become a statutory city, which it did on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 1974.
Still, in 1963, Thompson and his associates were already referring to the area as Apple Valley. Interested buyers traveled on dirt roads through corn fields and cow farms to tour three model homes Thompson’s company had built on Hayes Road.
Gene Hoy, 88, was one of the first people the customers encountered when they reached their destination. He’d been hired in December of 1962, along with three other men, to sell homes in the new development.
Hoy said he’d never heard of Lebanon Township or Apple Valley when he took the job.
“Rex LePorte, the sales manager at the time, pointed to a map and told us to drive out on Cedar Avenue, go across the Minnesota River and keep going south until we saw a sign that said County Road 42,” Hoy said. “He said, ‘be careful, it’s all dirt roads.’ ”
Thompson named the community Apple Valley after a visit to Apple Valley, Calif., Hoy was told.
On Sunday, Jan. 13, 1963, Hoy was situated in an office in one of the model homes for the first day of open houses. Thompson told Hoy and the others to do whatever it took to get people signed up.
“We were told to write purchase agreements,” Hoy said. “We had to get it down in writing.”
The customers parked their cars in a farm field, toured the three model homes and exited through the sales office where they met with Hoy and the other salesmen.
“We would give them a brochure and they would look at us and say: ‘Are you crazy? No one is going to build out here. There are no grocery stores, no hospitals, no schools, no place to buy a tank of gas,’ ” Hoy said.
The absence of facilities was undeniable — homeowners would have to travel to Rosemount to pick up their own mail for the first few years, and they’d have to depend on the Farmington and Rosemount fire departments until they could form their own.
Hoy said he told the potential buyers to look at other Thompson developments, such as Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center and Cottage Grove. He encouraged them to drive out and see the development that was already occurring there, and he told them that in time similar development would occur in Apple Valley.
Potential buyers were not the only people unenthused about the development.
“The people would leave and all of the sudden they would come back madder than blazes,” Hoy said. “They said, ‘somebody sprayed my car with manure!’ ”
Hoy discovered that Bill Carroll, the farmer who owned the land adjacent to the model homes on Hayes Road, wasn’t happy about the new development and he was especially unhappy that people were parking in his field.
“He owned a dairy farm and he loaded up the manure sprayer, and he let those cars have it,” Hoy said. “All over their windshields, in their cars — and oh, were they mad.”
Nevertheless, people began to purchase the houses, and they waited for months to move in while the construction crews waited for the ground to thaw and then hustled to meet the demand.
“People would ask where their home would be, and we would point to a plot map and say: ‘this is where your home will be.’ It was in the middle of a corn field,” Hoy said. “That was the way it was.”
Still, for many the question remained: why would people move to a place with no gas stations, grocery stores, hospitals or schools? There were dirt roads, no sidewalks, very little street lighting, and many houses had a private septic system with a cesspool.
The answer: affordability and the promise that one day the area would have all of these amenities and more.
People could buy a three-bedroom, 864-square-foot rambler for $12,900, a three-bedroom split-level with a single attached garage for $14,500 or a five-bedroom 1,020-square-foot house for $17,150.
Thompson also built a community center off County Road 42, which included tennis courts and a swimming pool. Hoy said they were told to mention that everyone who purchased a house from Thompson would have free access.
In the backyard of each house, Thompson planted an apple tree. He also delivered 250 rolls of sod for free.
He was also committed to helping veterans find a way to afford housing. For those who had served, Thompson paid the closing cost on the house — which ranged from $300 to $500 — and paid their first year of homeowner’s insurance.
His initiatives were effective, and people continued to sign purchase agreements with Hoy and the other salesmen.
Dennis Grabinger purchased his house on Oakwood Road from Hoy in February 1963, and moved in with his wife, Barbara, in September.
“We couldn’t find the exact house we wanted, so we went up north and looked at other houses Thompson was building,” Grabinger said.
Grabinger, a veteran, said it was a challenge to be approved for the house because he had to prove his monthly income was three times that of his monthly payment, and he was not allowed to count Barbra’s earnings in his household income.
By forgoing oak trimming (which saved $200), choosing a house without a garage (which saved $1,200) and taking out the appliances from his home (which saved $500) he was able to secure his three-bedroom house for $13,400.
He also had to change lots because Thompson had a rule that no two houses of the same style could be built next to each other.
Still, the prospect of living in a new development excited Grabinger. Dennis and Barbara, who passed away two years ago, raised two children, Michael and Jean.
“We could see it had potential, and we liked the idea of being pioneers,” he said. “Also, there were about 100 families who worked with Control Data — that’s what I was doing — who moved out here at the same time. We thought that was exciting.”
Grabinger remembers that Cedar Avenue was a two-lane road, and he remembers driving across a little swing-out bridge to get across it. Interstate 35W was Highway 65, and there was a four-way stop where County Road 42 met Cedar Avenue.
Members of the newly formed residential community worked together to bring resources to their new home.
Anita Westin and her husband, Robert, moved into their Orrin Thompson home on Strese Lane in September 1963 after purchasing it from Hoy that first winter. They’d been living in Beloit, Wis. and were looking for a place to raise their family.
Westin said she remembers the dirt roads, mice and salamanders.
“There was nothing out here — nothing but fields. It was a shock, but you got used to it,” she said. “We needed a house and this is where we built it, and we got to like it.”
Robert, who passed away in 2009, was a Korean War veteran. Thanks to Thompson’s promotions, their mortgage payments were $99 a month.
She remembers some inconveniences — her children Craig, Bruce and Brenda had to attend school in Rosemount, as it was the closest school at the time. But, in the absence of community services and gatherings, the Westins worked to make their town the place they wanted to live.
Robert helped start the Apple Valley volunteer fire department in 1966. He also helped organize the Fourth of July parade, and for many years he lit the fireworks. Anita was a charter member of the auxiliary, and she helped plan block parties as well as an annual carnival.
“We started a lot out here, my husband and I and some of the neighbors,” she said. “We did a lot of things to help build up Apple Valley.”
Families enjoyed the opportunity to start over — to create a new community and take ownership of it.
Muriel Gilbertson and her husband Arnold purchased their Orrin Thompson from Hoy as well. They moved from Richfield to Garden View Drive in the beginning of October 1963.
They raised two young sons, Steven and Chad, who attended Westview Elementary, Valley Middle and Apple Valley High School. Muriel worked at St. Francis Hospital in Shakopee and Arnold worked for Northwest Airlines in Bloomington and also became a volunteer firefighter. They worked alternating shifts so they never needed child care.
“We didn’t know anybody, and you got to know everybody that way,” Muriel Gilbertson said. “Our kids were all little. We got to go outside and have coffee with our neighbors and the kids would play together.”
Hoy, also a veteran, purchased an Orrin Thompson home as well. He moved to “Apple Valley” with his wife Nancy on Nov. 22, 1963. He said will always remember the date because he went into the office to pick up his keys and Gordy Peterson, one of the salesmen, told him President John. F. Kennedy had been shot.
Although it was a somber day, Hoy remembers the challenges and thrills of creating a life in a developing area. For the first two years, he traveled to Rosemount for gas and groceries until stores began popping up in Apple Valley.
Gene and Nancy raised two sons, Patrick and Jerry, and four daughters, Coleen, Debbie, Anne Marie and Renee, and he remembers having to be careful of the sensitive septic system with so many people in the house.
He remembers calling the Farmington fire department to rush one of his neighbors to the nearest hospital when she went into labor during a snowstorm, his kids riding horses through town and throwing a block party when the septic system was replaced four and a half years after he moved in.
“Orrin Thompson gave a lot of people a home that they couldn’t afford in other places. His pricing was competitive, and you got a lot more for your money,” Hoy said. “For myself, it has been a great place to bring up children, and the school system — grade school through high school — has been an asset.”
Between 1963 and 1968, Thompson built 11 home subdivisions in Apple Valley, totaling 1,556 homes.
Grabinger, Westin and Gilbertson still live in their Orrin Thompson homes, and although Hoy has moved he continues to live in Apple Valley.
Over the past 55 years, they’ve has seen a lot of change in the rural community he once knew, but they’ve kept up with the changing times.
Westin, for example, worked for more than 20 years at the deli in Rainbow Foods before it closed — a job she loved. Her apple tree has long since died, but the family she started in Apple Valley continues to grow; she has 15 grandchildren, 24 great grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.
Thinking about over half a century of life in this community, Hoy said he is filled with gratitude.
“I believe that I am the only person still living in this area that was here on the first day of Jan. 13 1963,” Hoy said. “You might say I am the last man standing. I’ve seen it all. And I just want to say, thank you Orrin Thompson, for everything.”
Original article from: https://www.hometownsource.com/sun_thisweek/community/apple-valley-developer-held-first-open-house-years-ago/article_fdf314ea-f648-11e7-8d6b-afa62614f156.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share
By: Amy Mihelich