The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

History: Public History: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Mary Wingerd

Second Advisor

Don Hofsommer

Keywords and Subject Headings

Crystal, Minnesota, Suburb, Community, Identity, Place


This thesis covers the development of the American suburb with special attention paid to Crystal, Minnesota as a case study. With sporadic primary sources, a simple chronological telling of Crystal's history was a difficult task to undertake. That being the case, a study of how the average American suburb changed from a community on the fringe of a metropolitan area to a city of its own are discussed within this thesis.

The topics that continually presented themselves during research ranged from how people have changed the land to how one defines community. Suburban growth in the form of sprawl, development, and annexation are discussed as well as the movement of people from the city to the suburb and the shift of jobs and services. There are common subjects that scholars of American suburbs explore, such as the sense of place; the ideal suburb; suburbs as the American Dream; and the use of land. Then there were the more obvious aspects that all suburbs go through: settlement, expansion, and development. As with any topic, suburbs are not without their critics. Some of the more controversial questions to be discussed are the ideas of community, identity, and place. All three terms can be defined by an individual and have many different definitions when discussing suburbs.


I began my research with visits to the City of Crystal and found the few documents that they had in the basement of city hall. After that I spent time at the Minnesota Historical Society going through newspapers. When it was apparent that I had gathered the majority of the primary resources that were available, I began going to secondary sources. I used the secondary sources to link the case of Crystal to the way that American suburbs evolved. The final step was to organize my research into sections and evaluate how Crystal was similar to all American suburbs.


The research supported the idea that the American suburb for the most part is a standard across the country. The average suburb goes through similar steps from its beginning to its height. Specifically, Crystal, Minnesota proved to be just like any other suburb. Its history and events could have taken place in just about any other suburb from coast to coast. Unique in a few ways, the majority of Crystal's story from fringe township to a post World War II city is one that has been seen before and has occurred since.

Crystal is not identified by the municipal boundaries that are drawn on a map, but by the grouping of the parts that were once Crystal. It can be said that the people of Crystal have a stronger bond to the northwest suburbs than they do to Crystal itself. This finding shows that community and identity are linked to the individual and not necessarily the physical place.


There are a few people that I need to thank here. Without their help this would not have gotten off the ground. To begin, I need to thank my advisor Mary Wingerd who showed me that a thesis can be a challenge, but is worth it in the end. I also need to thank the City of Crystal for their willingness to allow me to research and dig through forgotten files. Lastly I need to say thank you to my family, without their support I would not be here now. To all others that played a role in this process, I say thank you.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.