H. W. S. Cleveland and Daniel Chester French Make a Plan: A Tribute to Longfellow at Minnehaha Falls
When one of America’s leading landscape architects teams up with one of its greatest sculptors to celebrate one of its most popular authors in an iconic landscape, you’d expect great things. Horace William Shaler Cleveland did.
On April 10, 1891, Cleveland, the landscape architect who had created the blueprint for Minneapolis’s already highly regarded park system and designed many of its first parks, wrote to his friend William Folwell of a memorial he had in mind,
“I can hardly find words to tell you how my heart stands still at the thought of the possibility of my living to see its realization in the place I had designed for it.” He went on to write that it would be the “joy of the rest of my life” to prepare a site for the memorial. (Folwell Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota)
The sculptor was Daniel Chester French. The subject was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The site was Minnehaha Falls.
Cleveland was 76 — and what was to be the joy of the rest of his life was never made possible The memorial was never created. We have only a photo — and some letters — that tell of a memorial planned for installation in the limestone cliff beside the Falls that Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha had made famous.
Cleveland’s copy of the photo he raved about is gone. He left no known papers of his own, although his letters to others survive scattered in libraries and museums. Following a trail from letters to William Folwell, however, I found a reference to what seemed like a promising photo in Chapin Library at Williams College, which is the repository of archival photographs and documents from Chesterwood, French’s summer home and studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, now a National Trust Historic Site. The photo was labelled only as being from an “unrealized” Longfellow project in 1891.That description and the date matched the Minnehaha Falls project, so I requested a copy of the photo. When it arrived, I was astonished; it was the photo above — which matches enough other clues in the correspondence that I have no doubt it is the same image that Horace Cleveland held as he wrote to Folwell during an April snowstorm in Minneapolis in 1891.
“I long to have you see it,” Cleveland wrote to Folwell who lived across town, “but I want to be very chary of showing it and think we cannot be too careful to avoid its being talked of or brought forward till the right moment arrives.” The right moment hasn’t yet arrived — and we’re getting on to 125 years, so I will cast caution aside and talk of it myself.
The Little Brother
William Folwell knew French, too. When Dan French made his first a trip to Minneapolis in June 1890 to discuss the Minnehaha project, he stayed at Folwell’s home near the University of Minnesota campus created by Folwell when he had been the first president of the university. In a thank-you note sent to Folwell following that visit, French wrote, “I am glad to feel that I am so much better acquainted with Will’s valued friends.” He was referring to his older brother, William Merchant Richardson French, then the director of the Art Institute of Chicago. Will had stayed with the Folwells in Minneapolis many times when visiting from Chicago as Horace Cleveland’s business partner in the 1870s and early 1880s.
(Cleveland did not move from Chicago to Minneapolis until 1886. For more on the relationships among Cleveland, Folwell, and the French brothers, read “And the answer is…French!”. It is also likely that H.W.S. Cleveland knew Henry Flagg French, father of William and Daniel, as early as the mid-1840s. They were both active in the nascent National Horticultural Society and attended some of the same early horticultural conferences — Cleveland was an officer — and they had both published articles on using drainage tiles to improve productivity on their farms. That was probably not a club with a large membership.)
Cleveland first mentioned Dan French to Folwell in a letter in 1875 on the occasion of the dedication of Dan’s first prominent commission, the “Minute Man” in Concord, Massachusetts. Cleveland noted that his young partner William French had left Chicago to attend the dedication of the statue.
French went reluctantly. “French did not mean to go home,” Cleveland wrote, “but I told him he would regret it all his life if he failed to do so, and urged him till I made him do it, which of course he wanted to do, but his conscience stood in the way growling like a great bulldog, as you know consciences are apt to do if you point your finger at ’em, but just march boldly by without notice and they’ll keep quiet enough. I am sure he will enjoy it with all his heart and it will add greatly to his father’s pleasure to have him there and the occasion will be a delightful reminiscence to him as long as he lives.”
Cleveland likely recalled his own professional debut as he urged William French to attend the unveiling of his brother’s sculpture in Concord. Cleveland’s professional breakthrough as a landscape architect had taken place just a half-mile down the road from Dan’s Minute Man at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Cleveland and Robert Copeland, his first partner, had essentially launched their careers.
William’s attendance at the dedication of the sculpture is particularly noteworthy because his brother did not attend. Dan was studying and working in Italy at the time.
No one could have guessed that the “Minute Man” would stand, despite a brilliant career, as one of Daniel French’s best-known sculptures, surpassed only by the massive, brooding Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Newest Minneapolis Park
The impetus for Dan French’s trip to Minneapolis in 1890 was the recent acquisition by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners of the beautiful waterfall made famous by Longfellow’s epic poem in 1855. Minnehaha Falls and 120 surrounding acres were added to the Minneapolis park system in 1889 when the state of Minnesota couldn’t come up with the money to purchase the land for the nation’s second state park, so Minneapolis stepped in and bought the secluded falls in the state’s place.
Cleveland had eagerly awaited the opportunity to design a park at Minnehaha Falls. He had helped sell the prospect of a park at the Falls to Minneapolis Park Commissioners and citizens for years, laying the groundwork for the decision by Minneapolis leaders to spend the $92,000 needed to purchase the land when the legislature couldn’t afford it. Minnehaha Falls had not been part of Cleveland’s original blueprint for the city’s park system in 1883 only because the falls was then outside city limits. He later wrote that he thought it would be “exceedingly desirable” to create a park there someday.
While Cleveland was waiting for the purchase of the Falls as a park to be completed, he was hired in 1888 to landscape the grounds of a Soldiers’ Home being built for Civil War veterans on the bluff at the confluence of Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. The fifty acres for the Soldiers’ Home were about a half-mile down the creek from Minnehaha Falls and surrounded by the park, so Cleveland knew very well the parkland acquired. He had also served as an advisor to the five-person committee appointed by Minnesota’s Governor to select land for the park — before the state realized it couldn’t afford it.
Cleveland’s sense of personal accomplishment and his anticipation of the coming work was evident in his letter to Frederick Law Olmsted of June 13, 1889. “We have secured Minnehaha,” he wrote, “but have got to have a fight in the courts over it before we can begin improvements.” Two days later, however, the Minneapolis park board appropriated $5,000 for the immediate improvement of the park.
Cleveland’s subsequent participation in the design of the park is not clear, despite widespread belief that he was principally responsible for the layout of the park. There is no record in annual reports or the proceedings of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners that Cleveland was ever asked to produce a design for the park or that he was ever paid to do so. Cleveland’s work in many other parks in Minneapolis was specifically authorized by board action as recorded in park board proceedings, and payments to him for that work were recorded in the proceedings and, in many cases, annual reports. No such records exist for any work he might have done at Minnehaha. Cleveland’s handwritten instructions for the implementation of his plans have survived in park board records for other parks, but none exist for Minnehaha Falls. The only record of his involvement with the layout of Minnehaha Park comes from his letters to Folwell, who in 1888 had been elected to the park board himself and became the leading advocate for Cleveland’s original vision for a Minneapolis park system.
On September 5, 1889 Cleveland wrote to Folwell, “I have had no official orders in regard to Minnehaha, but as (park superintendent) Mr. Berry and two or three park commissioners have talked with me as if they took it for granted that I was to design the arrangement I have been studying and working upon it with an interest I never before felt in any similar work.” Yet, two weeks later he again wrote to Folwell, “Can’t we arrange to go together some day to Minnehaha? I should like you to see the beginning we have made and get a general idea of what I hope to accomplish.” The implication is clear that he was at least advising Berry in spending the $5,000 appropriated by the board for immediate improvements.
Still it appears that his involvement with any work at Minnehaha was the result of his own close relationship with Berry and it was done informally. After another two weeks passed, Cleveland weighed in with Folwell again, “It would be well for the Commission to order the engineer to survey and cross-section the grounds at Minnehaha or at least the low grounds so that I can make my notes this Fall and work up the plan during the Winter.”
But Cleveland by this time was apparently beginning to have doubts about the speed of improvements to be made at the park. “If no other work is done next year,” he cautioned, “than thinning and opening the wood, the lines of roads must be determined beforehand and in fact the plan of the arrangement should be fixed in all its essential features before any work is begun on the low ground or the heights beyond.”
Folwell dutifully proposed at the first park board meeting in October that the engineer be authorized to conduct that survey and it was approved. But there was still no commitment to hire Cleveland to design the park. The park board, meanwhile, had spent more than the $5,000 appropriated for the park — and none of it had been paid to Cleveland. We have no record of what work was done or who was responsible for determining what should be done.
Cleveland’s impatience began to show in another letter to Folwell on October 21 in which he wrote that he had just sent a letter to the Minneapolis Tribune, “which I hope may have some effect in awakening popular interest in the development of Minnehaha Park by reminding our people that the whole world will be interested in what we do there, so that it assumes a degree of importance far beyond that of a mere city ornament & place of recreation.”
In that letter, published in the Tribune two days later, Cleveland wrote of the new park at Minnehaha Falls,
“A moment’s reflection will serve to show the essential importance of preserving the natural features which constitute the attractive charm of the place, and any attempt to increase them by artificial decoration would be simply an act of desecration.”
This was Cleveland at his finest. For more than two decades already he had evangelized for preserving natural landscapes, for touching with “reverent hands” what was already there.
In his “Suggestions” to the park board in 1883 he made the point quite clearly.
“All expenditure for ornamental gardening, and especially for artificial structures in the form of rustic buildings, bridges, grottoes, fountains, statues, vases, etc. is not only needless as being out of keeping with the rude condition of the surroundings, but while so many urgent demands exist for works of actual necessity, would indicate such incongruity and deficiency of taste as that of the individual who adorns his person with jewelry before he is provided with comfortable clothing.”
His often eloquent and impassioned language against “ornamentation” or “embellishment” of nature, and the influences on his thinking, are presented very well by Daniel Nadenicek and Lance Neckar individually (see end notes), as well as together in the introduction to the 2002 reissue of Landscape Architecture as Applied to the Wants of the West. Cleveland’s well-established belief in “natural” landscapes, makes the conclusion of his letter to Folwell that October day in 1889 — and what ensued — difficult to fathom. In that letter, Cleveland mentioned for the first time Dan French’s possible participation in a Minnehaha project. “I have written Dan French & sent him a photo of the cliff at Minnehaha,” he wrote, “and told him we should probably notify him ‘ere long that we should want him to come out here.”
Could Cleveland have been planning the “desecration” of Minnehaha Falls? To which “cliff” at Minnehaha was he referring? Would he have attempted to engage Daniel French if the memorial he envisaged was not to have a prominent place — perhaps in the same field of vision as the famous falls?
An Incongruous Plan for Ornamentation
Cleveland’s recruitment of French for the project is not supported by any recorded discussions in park board meetings of hiring French or of any plans for a memorial of any kind at Minnehaha Falls. The only allusion to a memorial I can find was an article in the Minneapolis Tribune of March 16, 1890, which commented on a Longfellow Memorial that “was talked of sometime ago.” The Tribune writer suggested that the “most appropriate and conspicuous” memorial would be a “magnificent arch” at the entrance to the park. Later that month, Cleveland demonstrated that he had not abandoned his plan. “The proposition to get Dan French here was so cordially met last fall that I hoped it would not be suffered to fall through,” Cleveland wrote to Folwell, “and as he is to be in Chicago on the 27th at Wm’s wedding it seems as if the opportunity ought not to be lost of having him here.”
That opportunity apparently was lost because Cleveland wrote to Folwell again on June 6, 1890 with good news. Dan French was once again in Chicago and Samuel Gale, a greatly underappreciated contributor to the development of Minneapolis, including its parks, had agreed — at Cleveland’s request, I presume — to pay French’s expenses to come to Minneapolis.
French stayed with Folwell and his daughter — the Clevelands were repainting and papering their house and were sleeping on sofas — on a Friday night and visited Minnehaha the next day, planning to catch an evening train back to Chicago. He tells the rest of the story in his letter to Folwell dated June 24, 1890.
“Mr. Cleveland has probably told you that I relented and stayed over till Sunday afternoon to see the wonderful parks that he has been making…(he) seemed so very flatteringly disappointed at my going away without seeing his great work that I decided to reconsider. I had supposed before he explained the scheme to me that I had seen the principal part of the work at the Falls of Minnehaha. After walking in the forenoon and driving in the afternoon, I have a realizing sense of the extent of the undertaking and I am very glad I did not come away without becoming acquainted with this remarkable feature of your beautiful city.”
We have to assume that French grabbed a spare sofa on Saturday night at the Clevelands’.
French must have departed Minneapolis with expectations of receiving a commission. Evidence that specific plans were being developed for a memorial to Longfellow at Minnehaha Falls was provided by Cleveland’s letter to Folwell on November 1, 1890. Explaining that he had been called away to a meeting in St. Paul, he left instructions for how Folwell could see “French’s letter and model” in Cleveland’s office while he was out.
“Please read the letter and look at the model and drawing,” he urged Folwell, then added, “Since seeing it I have thought that instead of a grotto or a cave, a mere niche might be made in the face of the rock somewhat like this model with a statue of Longfellow as the central figure & Indians at the side.”
The description predicts precisely the photograph in French’s Chesterwood papers.
The notion of scaling back from a “grotto” to a “mere niche” in the rock is staggering given that no plans for such an undertaking are known to exist. It’s hard to imagine Cleveland going this far without suggesting possible layouts or designs and showing them to some of his confidants or supporters on the park board — at least Folwell. I am also surprised that Cleveland would proceed this far without authorization or funding, whether from the park board or private supporters, such as Samuel Gale. It is surprising as well that French would put so much work into a project if he hadn’t been assured of some compensation.
The greatest challenge though, especially for admirers of Cleveland’s vision of nature, landscape and art, is to conceive a rationale for Cleveland justifying such extreme embellishment as sculpture and grotto in any setting so idyllic and symbolic. Perhaps the key is to appreciate Cleveland’s own past and his personal attachment to what Longfellow represented.
In the Tribune letter quoted from above, Cleveland also wrote of the “halo of poetic association” worn by Minnehaha Falls due to Longfellow’s poem. To Cleveland, that “halo” encompassed far more than a poem, far more even than literature. It was personal. That halo encircled his aunts and uncles, his mother and father, his brother, his friends, his childhood, his memories, him. But that is a subject for another time.
Daniel Nadenicek explored Cleveland’s attachment to Minnehaha in his excellent article that takes its title from the same Cleveland letter to the Tribune cited above, “Commemoration in the Landscape of Minnehaha: “A Halo of Poetic Association.” I believe that it would take more than “personal acquaintance” or an intellectual bond between men of “like mind,” as Nadenicek suggests, to explain Cleveland’s radical departure from his articles of professional faith in advocating blasting a hole in the limestone beside a mythical waterfall to insert a sculpture of anyone.
As near as Minnehaha Falls is to the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek, it was also near the confluence of many streams in Cleveland’s long life. Perhaps he simply couldn’t resist the possibility of creating a memorial to his own past, in a sense to himself, along with his friends. He was, after all, 76, an age when legacies are contemplated.
Back to the Studio
While the Minneapolis park board took no action at Minnehaha in 1890, French continued work on the memorial in his studio because on November 29, Cleveland wrote to Folwell that he wanted to show him a new photo from Dan French.
By early 1891, French had developed a model for the sculpture. Cleveland wrote to Folwell on March 9 that he had just received more letters from French. “As no action has yet been taken in reference to the development of the Minnehaha Park, is it not better,” Cleveland wonders, “for me to ask French to keep the model for the present & send me only a photo of it, or perhaps two or three to give away?”
Folwell must have concurred because it was only a month later that Cleveland wrote that he had received a photo from French that evoked his emotional response.
“I tremble to think that it may prove only a vision & I implore your aid in its consummation, which would do more to make the name of Minneapolis sacred in the mind of the best element of humanity everywhere, than all the ostentatious display of wealth she can offer.”
That letter is the last word I can find on the subject of a Longfellow Memorial at Minnehaha Falls. Sixteen years later “Fish” Jones opened his private park, Longfellow Gardens, complete with zoo, across the street from the Falls. There he installed a sculpture of Longfellow that he commissioned and he built for himself a two-thirds scale replica of Longfellow’s house in Cambridge. The statue still stands worn and forlorn, unrecognizable, in a meadow. The house, after a long journey that included thirty years as a branch library, has been moved closer to Minnehaha Falls and now holds the offices of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. Several verses of The Song of Hiawatha have been inscribed into a circle of cut stone that serves as a garden memorial to Longfellow near the falls. But the marvelous image of Longfellow created by French never found a home there.
We have no official record of why the memorial was never created just as we have none that it was ever contemplated. But the reasons it was never made are not hard to imagine. To begin with, the memorial was a terrible idea depending on where Cleveland and French hoped to install it. If anywhere in the bowl created by the falls, it would have been awful. If a bit downstream — a destination in Longfellow Glen — it might have worked, but it certainly would have changed the nature of that wild glen. To its detriment, I think. I would vote No.
The second good reason the memorial was never built is that the park board couldn’t afford to pay for either its creation, installation, or maintenance. A memorial couldn’t have lasted long if set into the very soft sandstone layer near the falls so the “mere niche” would have had to be cut into the limestone. It would have been a big undertaking at a time that the park board was stretched for money. Heeding Folwell’s advice in 1890 to extend the parkway system into northeast and north Minneapolis as Cleveland had suggested originally, the park board purchased the first parts of Glenwood (Wirth) Park in north Minneapolis and Columbia Park in northeast, in addition to the east bank of the Mississippi River downstream from the University of Minnesota all the way to the St. Paul city line. Powderhorn, Van Cleve and Moulton (Windom) parks were added as neighborhood parks and more new parks were routinely proposed. Shortly after those acquisitions, the Panic of 1893 severely damaged the economy of Minneapolis as well as that of the rest of the nation. The park board had so little revenue that it stopped mowing the lawns in parks and laid off all park employees except the park police in the mid-1890s.
Minneapolis park commissioners may have also listened too well to Cleveland’s sermons on acquiring land instead of ornaments. One of the remarkable characteristics of early park management in Minneapolis was that there were so few superfluous expenditures. Owing to Cleveland, William Berry and Charles Loring, the first president of the park board, Minneapolis had created an impressive array of parks in less than a decade. By 1890, Minneapolis parks were attracting praise from around the country and the park board had not paid for a single sculpture or park decoration. Even a few years later when John Scott Bradstreet proposed to build, at his own expense, a Japanese Temple on an island in Lake of the Isles, the park board allowed the proposal to die quietly. Cleveland had taught the city well.
A final reason that Cleveland’s plan may not have caught on is that Cleveland’s influence seemed to be waning. Several times in the early 1890s, various commissioners proposed that Cleveland be engaged for design work at this park or that only to have those motions tabled until the board could get an estimate of what his services would cost, never to be pulled off the parliamentary table again. Gone from the park commission were many of the original park commissioners who had fought long and hard, with Cleveland at their side, to create a park system. Even Charles Loring, known already then as the Father of Minneapolis Parks, left the park board at the end of 1890. While Folwell remained on the board throughout the 1890s, Cleveland didn’t have the relationships with park commissioners he had enjoyed the decade before.
The Future of French
Fortunately, Daniel French seemed to suffer no hardship for the time he had invested in designing and making models of a Longfellow Memorial at Minnehaha Park. He would return to both Minnesota and Longfellow.
French very soon moved on to the creation of the enormous statue, “Republic”, for the Columbia Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, which would further establish his name. But he would return to Minnesota in less than a decade to create a sculpture of one of founders of the University of Minnesota, John S. Pillsbury. Pillsbury was one of the Regents responsible for hiring William Folwell as the first president of the university and he was also one of the original twelve Minneapolis park commissioners in 1883. It was John Pillsbury who, at the inaugural meeting of that park board, made the motion to hire Horace Cleveland for his advice on creating parks. Dan French attended the dedication of the Pillsbury statue in 1900. Horace Cleveland had moved to Chicago to live with his son by then and would die later that year at the age of 86. Folwell was still actively teaching at age 67, and had not yet begun to write his four-volume history of Minnesota, which he wouldn’t finish until he was 95.
French would return to Minneapolis for two more projects, both at the State Capitol in St. Paul. He created six figures for the interior of the Capitol, depicting Bounty, Wisdom, Prudence, Courage, Truth, and Integrity in 1900. He also created the human figures for the gold Quadriga in front of the Capitol dome in 1907.
French also returned to Longfellow as a subject when he was hired to create a memorial to Longfellow across Brattle Street from Longfellow’s former house in Cambridge, Mass. in 1914. The memorial stands today in what was once Longfellow’s front yard. I have not studied the story of the creation of that piece of public art, but French clearly drew on his 25-year-old design for Minnehaha Park.
French’s design for Cambridge is a weak imitation of his original concept with only a bust of Longfellow instead of the eager, dynamic, seated Longfellow about to burst from his chair that French had modeled for Minnehaha Park. French did expand the range of characters in relief behind Longfellow’s bust to include his most famous characters — from Miles Standish, at far left, to Evangeline standing next to Hiawatha at far right — rather than only characters from The Song of Hiawatha.
From the vantage point of 125 years, I’m glad that Cleveland and French’s design was not realized at Minnehaha Park. What would have become of the sculpture over the decades in the humid bowl of the falls? What would it have cost to maintain? Would it have changed the naturalistic setting of the glen below the falls and the wilderness walk down the creek to the Mississippi? Or would it have been neglected and sunk into the desolation unique to public art that is not maintained?
I prefer the falls the way it is. Altered by time, but unadorned. And I prefer H. W. S. Cleveland — one of the men I admire most — as a defender of nature, as a preacher of preservation, as an artist of rocks and trees and topography, in other words as he was, with all his flaws, before I found the photo of the memorial he and Daniel Chester French imagined for the limestone face beside Minnehaha Falls.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2015 David C. Smith
All letters from Horace William Shaler Cleveland and Daniel Chester French to William Watts Folwell are in Folwell Family Papers, Correspondence, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota
Letter from Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted in Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Cleveland, Horace William Shaler, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1883. These “Suggestions” were published as a pamphlet, but also were appended to the First Annual Report of the Board of Park Commissioners for the City of Minneapolis.
— The Aesthetic Development of the United Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, An address delivered in Dyer’s Hall, April 20, 1888, to the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, (Minneapolis, Minnesota, A.C. Bausman,1888)
— “The Park System”, Minneapolis Tribune, October 23, 1889
Nadenicek, Daniel Joseph, Emerson’s Aesthetic and Natural Design; A Theoretical Foundation for the Work of Horace William Shaler Cleveland, Nature and Ideology, ed. Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1997)
— Commemoration in the Landscape of Minnehaha: “A Halo of Poetic Association”, Places of Commemoration: Search for Identity and Landscape Design, Volume 19, Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, (Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, 2001)
Neckar, Lance M., Fast Tracking Culture and Landscape: Horace William Shaler Cleveland and the Garden in the Midwest, Regional Garden Designs in the Untied States, ed. Therese O’Malley and Marc Treib, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1995)
I hope you’ll be able to come to the Minneapolis Central Library on Saturday afternoon, October 3, from 2-3 pm for my encore presentation on how the Mississippi River Gorge in Minneapolis became a park. I first addressed the topic last winter in the Longfellow neighborhood.
I think many people overlook what a spectacular asset has been preserved for our health and enjoyment. So often the emphasis on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis is on reclaiming the river at and above St. Anthony Falls — and that is an exciting development that is overdue — but I think we take for granted the truly unique resource that was preserved for us below the falls. I don’t know that a similar riverfront exists in an urban environment anywhere else in the world. Come and say “thanks!” with me to some people with extraordinary vision and persistence more than 100 years ago.
We would welcome any of our friends across the river in St. Paul to join us, because while my focus is on Minneapolis park history, St. Paul deserves equal credit in preserving the river gorge. As always, there will be plenty of time after my remarks to discuss park and river history.
David C.Smith mineapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
A brief Minneapolis park history update. Essential for Minneapolis historians. Trivial for grammarians.
Grammarians first: King’s Highway, Bassett’s Creek, but not Beard’s Plaisance. (This apostrophic comment was begun here.) The “pleasure ground” was originally named “The Beard Plaisance.” Perhaps the ground had been Henry Beard’s, but without pleasure. Who knows? By the time the transfer of title to the land from Beard to the park board took place, Beard’s assets were in receivership — not much pleasure in that — and the park board did end up writing his receiver a check for about eight grand. But it’s never been clear to me if that payment was for The Beard Plaisance, Linden Hills Parkway or the Lake Harriet shoreline, all of which belonged to Beard at one point. (Beard built the city’s first consciously “affordable” housing for laborers and their families. He built a block of apartments on Washington Avenue — complete with a sewage system, before the city had one — near the flour mills.)
By the way, King’s Highway was a name given by the park board to a stretch of Dupont Avenue when it asked the city to turn over that section of street as a parkway. The park board did not name Bassett’s Creek; the name was commonly used as the name for the creek about 75 years before the park board acquired the land for a park with that name.
More trivia before we get to the important stuff. The Beard Plaisance is one of four Minneapolis park properties with “the” as part of the official name. There is another with a “the” that is widely used, but was not part of an officially approved name. Can you name the other three parks with an official “the”? Bonus points for naming the one with an unofficial “the”.
Spoiler: I’ll type the names backward to give you time to think. edaraP ehT, llaM ehT, yawetaG ehT. The park property with an unofficial “the”: selsI eht fo ekaL. The lake was named long before the park board was created, and it’s usage was so widely accepted that the park board never had to adopt or approve the name — much like Calhoun, Harriet and Cedar.
Speaking of lake names, which Minneapolis lake had the most names? I’d vote for Wirth Lake, or Theodore Wirth Lake for sticklers. Previously it had been Keegan’s Lake and Glenwood Lake. Part of the original Glenwood Park, which became Theodore Wirth Park, was first named Saratoga Park, but that didn’t include what was then Keegan’s Lake.
Now the Big News for Historians
Historic Minneapolis Tribune. The digital, searchable historic Minneapolis Tribune is now back online. Thank you, thank you to all the people at the Hennepin County Library and the Minnesota Historical Society who worked hard to make this happen. Here’s the link. Woo-hoo! (Thanks to Wendy Epstein for bringing this to my attention.)
Minnesota Reflections. The Minnesota Digital Library has posted about 150 items from park board annual reports at Minnesota Reflections. The items scanned were fold-out plans, maps, charts, tables and photos that could not be properly scanned during the efforts of Google Books, Hathitrust and other libraries to digitize annual reports. Most of the fold-outs had been printed on very fragile tissue paper, so digitization has not only made them accessible, but will preserve them. I hope you have a chance to look at some of them. All were produced while Theodore Wirth was Superintendent of Minneapolis parks, when he was also the landscape architect. So they are especially useful as a means of examining his view of parks and his design priorities.
Keep in mind that most of the plans Wirth presented in annual reports were “proposals” or “suggestions” and many were never built as he first proposed. Some designs were fanciful, others represented an ideal or a wish list of amenities from which the park board usually negotiated more modest facilities. During most of Wirth’s tenure, neighborhood parks were only developed if property owners in the area agreed in advance to pay assessments on their property. Property owners essentially had veto power over park designs they considered extravagant. As plans were scaled down and the price of improvements dropped, more owners were willing to approve the assessments. Wealthier neighborhoods were more likely to approve park facilities than poorer ones, and neighborhoods with more homeowners were more likely to approve plans than neighborhoods with more apartment owners.
After several of his plans were rejected for the improvement of Stevens Square, a residential area that then, as now, was primarily apartment buildings, an exasperated Wirth urged the park board to consult not only landlords, but their tenants as well.
If you’re looking for plans relating to specific parks, you might want to consult the index of annual report plans (foldouts as well as those printed on a single-page), which I published a couple of years ago in Volume I: 1906-1915, Volume II: 1916-1925 and Volume III: 1926-1935.
There will be much more to come from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on the Minnesota Reflections site, including Annual Reports and Proceedings in the public domain that are not yet on Google Books or Hathitrust, as well as, we hope, many more published after 1922. We also hope that many historical photos of Minneapolis parks will be added to the site.
Minneapolisparks.org. In case you missed it, the park board introduced a completely new website at minneapolisparks.org this spring One advantage of the new design from a history perspective is that the historical profile of each park property is accessible from its individual park page. You no longer have to download the profiles of all 190 or so parks to get the ones you want. Have a look. The park histories are a good starting point for more research. If you have questions or corrections — or interesting sidebars — on anything in those histories let me know, and I’ll either publish them here or, as appropriate, pass the corrections on to park board staff.
Since the new park pages were introduced, the links to those park histories in my posts here for the past five years are broken. I will try to update them soon, but with more than 230 articles published here, it may take me a while to get to them all.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
Minnehaha Falls has been called the most-photographed site in Minnesota. Based on my study of photos and postcards over the last several years, I would agree. Still there’s often something a little different in the next photo I see — if not in the falls themselves, in something else that’s frozen in the moment the shutter opens.
Take this superb photo recently sent to me by Robert Henry. It was taken by his grand uncle Frank Prochaska, an amateur photographer, in 1912.
I like the photo because it shows someone on the bridge above the falls, the viewing platform to the left of the falls, which hasn’t existed for decades, a man and child near the cascade, and the wider flow of water over the lip of the falls. So much going on. But most of all I love the hats of the people on the stone-faced pedestrian bridge below the falls — and their postures. An instant of Minneapolis park history as six people witnessed it and Frank Prochaska captured it 103 years ago.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
One of those is wrong. One of the park property names — King’s, Bassett’s or Beard’s — shouldn’t have an apostrophe. I recently received an inquiry on one of those names and thought we might offer everyone this little quiz.
There are only two apostrophes found among all the official names of park properties in Minneapolis, not three. Which one is incorrect? The website of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board won’t be of much help.
William Smith King owned Lyndale Farm on the east shore of Lake Harriet. The highway named for him, a continuation of Dupont Avenue, runs past where his farmhouse and barns once stood in what is now Lyndale Farmstead Park. King was one of the most influential proponents of parks in Minneapolis and he served as a park commissioner in the 1880s. He later donated part of the Lake Harriet shoreline and much of the land for Lyndale Park just east of Lake Harriet
Joel Bean Bassett built his farm in the 1850s at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the creek in North Minneapolis named for him. The creek was sunk into a tunnel beneath downtown Minneapolis more than one hundred ago. The name of the creek existed long before the park board acquired land along its banks in the 1930s.
Henry Beach Beard was an ordained minister who worked in Minneapolis primarily as a real estate developer. He owned much of the western shore of Lake Harriet and when the park board couldn’t afford to buy the lakeshore for a parkway, Beard and other landowners donated a strip of land around the lake. Beard also donated the land for the picnic ground that now bears his name. By the way, “plaisance” is French for “pleasure”, or in this usage pleasure ground.
No other park named for a person — from Loring to Wirth, Brackett to Armatage — was encumbered with a possessive apostrophe.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
After my post yesterday of Margaret Hall’s letter and a Minnesota Historical Society photo of the tornado-damaged pavilion at Lake Harriet in 1925, I dug out my favorite Lake Harriet photo of all time. Notice what’s missing?
This photo was taken very shortly after the Lake Harriet pavilion was destroyed. It’s the only photo I’ve seen of Lake Harriet’s north shore without a pavilion. A “temporary” replacement band stand was built the next summer so concerts could continue at the lake. That small band stand stood for 60 years.
A pile of rubble marks the spot in this photo where the pavilion once stood. It’s unlikely that a man as insistent upon beauty and efficiency as park superintendent Theodore Wirth would have allowed the rubble to remain for long, so this photo must have been taken in the few days after the storm in mid-July. Surprisingly, the storm appears not to have damaged the boat docks or boats, lending credence to claims that the pavilion was destroyed by a tornado, not straight-line winds.
Like many others who have developed an interest in local history, I have begun searching for photos that reveal more of the history of a place than one can find in written accounts. One of the best places to find photos — of a certain era — is on postcards. This photo comes from a vintage postcard I purchased. There is no attribution of the photo on the card. It was never mailed, although it was quite beat up. I cropped the creases and stains on the edges of this postcard.
If you have a favorite, non-commercial image of Minneapolis, especially parks, send me a scan or print and I’ll post it here. Please identify the photographer if at all possible.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
The following letter, dated July 9, 2014, was addressed to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board:
On July 4, 2014 my daughter sent me pictures of two of my great grandsons enjoying the holiday at Lake Harriet. I recently celebrated my 95th birthday and those pictures brought a deluge of memories to me. My two sisters and I grew up on Bryant Ave. So. in the 4100 block, just a few blocks from Lake Harriet, Lyndale Park and Lyndale Farmstead.
One of my early memories is from the early 1920s when dinners were served in the old pavilion where the modern band shell now stands. It was July 8, 1925 and my father decided it looked too stormy to go to dinner at the pavilion. That evening a tornado struck the area and the pavilion was devastated. Several lives were lost when the pavilion collapsed. I was 6 years old but I remember walking around the lake several days later and seeing the damage to the trees and the lake shore.
There is no continuity to these memories as I write them down. Walking to the lake in the early spring and the scent and beauty of the lilacs along King’s Highway. The rose garden in summer which still looked the same in the pictures with the boys. The walk through the woods on the bridle path with the sounds and sights of the birds in the bird sanctuary.
The many picnics we had as a family by the lake and the band concerts that climaxed the day. The salt-water taffy, popcorn and balloons, the walk home along the lake shore through the park where it seemed there were always fire flies lighting our way. Often we left before the end of the concert and if the wind was right, we could hear the band playing the Star Spangled Banner and we knew the concert was over. All summer we swam at the 48th Street beach
I also recall when the launch on Lake Harriet was part of the Minneapolis Street Car Company and made stops at the docks at Penn. Ave., Morgan Ave., 48th Street and 43rd Street. We enjoyed coming from downtown on the Oak Harriet line and transferring to the launch at the pavilion for a cool ride home on a hot summer day, and a short walk home from the 43rd Street dock.
In the winter our sleds were on the easy slopes in the park adjacent to the rose garden. When we grew older, we advanced to Lyndale Farmstead and dared to slide on King’s Hill. At that park we skated all winter, played tennis in the summer and enjoyed the chrysanthemum gardens in the fall.
Another memory of Lyndale Park was the annual pageant with acts from every park in the city. The pageant was magic in the eyes of children.
Over the years I have made many trips back to the Bryant Ave. home. My mother and I would walk around the lake and my children and grandchildren would enjoy the same things I did as a child.
Theodore Wirth’s dream of a park within 6 blocks of every home in Minneapolis has been perpetuated and I, at 95, can from my home in Alaska live these memories.
Margaret J. Hall, Kodiak, Alaska
Note: I was given this letter recently at a meeting at the park board, so I wrote to Ms. Hall to ask her permission to reprint it here. Because the letter was nearly a year old and Ms. Hall was 95 when she wrote it, I wasn’t sure if I would get a response. I was delighted to receive a letter from her this morning granting permission to publish her letter.
When I got your letter I went to my computer and looked at your blog. (Yes, I do have a computer, but I still prefer letter writing.) More memories immediately came. My letter only included the parks within walking distance of our home and didn’t include the street car rides to Minnehaha Park and all its magic, Sunday rides to Loring Park, and to Powderhorn Park for the fireworks.
As I approach my 96th birthday on June 15th, I think of an ideal celebration: a picnic at Lake Harriet, a ride on the launch, and a band concert in the evening.
Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Margaret. So much has changed in the last century, yet some things endure.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
Guest post by Richard Kronick:
The Princess Depot is one of the best examples in the Twin Cities of the Eastlake style of architecture, which is named for the English architect and furniture designer, Charles Locke Eastlake.
In his 1872 book, Hints on Household Taste, Eastlake thundered against the florid and highly popular Italianate style:
“The so-called Italian style — now understood to include every variety of Renaissance design which prevailed in Rome, Venice, and Florence, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century — has its aesthetic merits and its practical advantages. But they are merits and advantages which are unsuited to the age, to the climate, and to the country [Britain] in which they are reproduced. It does not require the judgment of an accomplished connoisseur to perceive that mouldings and carved enrichments which look well under the glowing effect of a Venetian sky, must appear tame and spiritless through the leaden atmosphere of London.” Hints on Household Taste, pp. 19-20.
Eastlake preferred Gothic Revival for buildings and Arts & Crafts (an outgrowth of the Gothic Revival) for furniture. He said Gothic automatically projected a sense of dignity and rectitude because it was based on church architecture. His book is illustrated with his furniture designs, which carpenters in England and America copied and adapted to their own needs in the 1870s and 80s.
The style is characterized by relatively flat wooden surfaces (as compared with the more voluptuous Italianate style) covered with a combination of incised and built-up geometric patterns in rhythmically repeating borders between panels and on bargeboards and roof ridges.
Often, as in the Princess Depot, the crowning ornament is a complex wooden lattice-work inserted under the overhanging eaves — a tour-de-force by a master carpenter. The other great example of the style in the Twin Cities is the Charles Burwell House in Minnetonka Mills.
Note: Richard Kronick is a writer and architectural historian. He will be leading a walking tour of Red Cedar Lane in southwest Minneapolis on May 30 as a part of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer program.
If you didn’t get into Richard’s tour above, here’s more chances to join his tours. These are sponsored by Independent School District 728 (Elk River):
Two additional notes:
One of the earliest entries on this blog was essentially a question: Did the Princess Depot burn down in 1891? Recent information found by Karen Cooper, which she presented as a comment on that blog post, suggests that it was the “motor line” depot or waiting room, not the Milwaukee Road depot, that burned down as the Minneapolis Tribune had reported. I think that mystery is solved. The information Richard presents above also suggests that the depot’s architectural style was more consistent with the 1875 time of the original construction rather than with a depot that would have been rebuilt in the 1890s.
Richard’s mention of the Charles Burwell House in Minnetonka Mills reminds me that Burwell was the manager of the Minnetonka Mill in the 1880s, which was owned by Loren Fletcher and Charles Loring, who both played central roles in the development of Minneapolis parks. Even after Fletcher and Loring sold the mill, Burwell continued to work for them. I recall considerable correspondence in Minnesota Historical Society files among Loring, Burwell and William Watts Folwell in later years when proposals were on the table to change Minneapolis’s charter in a way that would have eliminated the park board. It was obvious from those communications that Burwell was acting as Loring’s employee and agent in those discussions. Charles Burwell named his first son Loring Burwell. You see, I can turn almost any topic into a tribute to Charles Loring!
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
Thanks to everyone who turned out Saturday morning at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to listen to my thoughts on the people who created parks and a fine art society in Minneapolis in 1883. Special thanks to those who purchased a copy of City of Parks afterwards and introduced themselves. Thanks too to Janice Lurie and Susan Jacobsen for inviting me to speak and hosting the event. I want to remind everyone that all proceeds from the purchase of the book go to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.
Quite a few of those who attended asked where they could find some of the quotes I used in my presentation, so I promised I would post them here. The most requested, especially from those who work with arts organizations, was William Watts Folwell’s remarks as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune at the laying of the cornerstone of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1913. I’ve provided an excerpt of his remarks from the July 31, 1913 issue of the newspaper, as well as quotes from Charles Loring and Horace Cleveland from earlier times as noted — most of which have appeared in other posts here over the years.
Folwell’s remarks included these observations on his hopes for the Institute:
“ The primary function of the institution will naturally be exhibition of works of art. I trust it will be the governing principle from the start that no inferior works shall ever have a place. Better bare walls and empty galleries than bad art. A single truly great and meritorious work is worth more in every way than a whole museum full of the common and ordinary. A few such works might make Minneapolis a Mecca for art lovers. Gift horses should be carefully looked in the mouth. I am almost ready to say that none should be received. Let benefactors give cash.
“The museum should appreciate and encourage the artistic side of all structures, public, domestic and industrial, and of all furnishings and appliances. ‘Decorative art’ should never be a term of disparagement here. Men have the right to live amid beautiful surroundings and to handle truly artistic implements.”
– William Watts Folwell, as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, July 31, 1913.
Folwell was not one to mince words. It is noteworthy, especially considering his comments on decorative arts, that one of the influential people in the creation of the Society of Fine Arts and the Institute was interior designer and furniture maker John Scott Bradstreet. You can read much more about him here.
Other quotes from Horace William Shaler Cleveland:
“Regard it as your sacred duty to preserve this gift which the wealth of the world could not purchase, and transmit it as a heritage of beauty to your successors forever.”
–H.W.S. Cleveland, 1872
“If you have faith in the future greatness of your city, do not shrink from securing while you may such areas as will be adequate to the wants of such a city…Look forward for a century, to the time when the city has a population of a million, and think what will be their wants. They will have wealth enough to purchase all that money can buy, but all their wealth cannot purchase a lost opportunity, or restore natural features of grandeur and beauty, which would then possess priceless value, and which you can preserve for them if you will but say the word and save them from the destruction which certainly awaits them if you fail to utter it.”
— H.W.S. Cleveland, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, presented June 2, 1883 to the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners.
“The Mississippi River is not only the grand natural feature which gives character to your city and constitutes the main spring of prosperity, but it is the object of vital interest and center of attraction to intelligent visitors from every quarter of the globe, who associate such ideas of grandeur with its name as no human creation can excite. It is due therefore, to the sentiments of the civilized world, and equally in recognition of your own sense of the blessings it confers upon you, that it should be placed in a setting worthy of so priceless a jewel.”
– H.W.S. Cleveland, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis
“No city was ever better adapted by nature to be made a gem of beauty.”
— H.W.S. Cleveland to William Folwell, October 22, 1890, Folwell Papers, Minnesota Historical Society
“I have been trying hard all winter to save the river banks and have had some of the best men for backers, but Satan has beaten us.”
– H.W.S. Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted on his efforts to have the banks of the Mississippi River preserved as parkland, June 13, 1889, Library of Congress.
The west bank of the Mississippi River Gorge from Riverside Park near Franklin Avenue to Minnehaha Park was not acquired as parkland until after Cleveland died.
“There does not seem to be another such place as Minneapolis for its constant demands upon the time of its citizens. Everyday there is something that must be done. I suppose, perhaps, this may be why we are a great city.”
– Charles Loring in a letter to William Windom, September 27, 1890, Minnesota Historical Society
It is worth noting that Loring was the president of the Minnesota Horticultural Society, vice president of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, president of the Minneapolis Improvement Association, and an officer in the Athenaeum and the Board of Trade. It could be said that he alone was one of the reasons Minneapolis was a great city.
Finally, the newspapers were active supporters of arts and parks through most of the history of Minneapolis. I pulled this quote from an editorial in the Minneapolis Tribune:
“While looking after the useful and necessary, let us not forget the beautiful.”
– Minneapolis Tribune, June 30, 1872
Words we could all live by.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
In case you forgot.
Karen Cooper is speaking tonight at 7 at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sheridan Ave. South and 42nd on Minnehaha Falls. Still plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and get to Linden Hills. Should be informative. Karen has promised some new revelations about the history of Minneapolis’s most famous park and she has a library of great photographs of the park and falls.
I will be speaking Saturday morning at 11 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The title of my presentation is Arts and Parks: Culture and Beauty on the Frontier. I’ll talk about the indefatigable promoters of both fine arts and parks in the early history of Minneapolis.
Hope to see you at one or both.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
I enjoyed seeing many of you last Monday night at St. Peder’s Church for the Longfellow Community presentation on the Mississippi River Gorge. I promised Carolyn Carr that I would provide a brief synopsis of my presentation and post a few of the photos here. And I will. But first I wanted to post a photo I forgot to include in my presentation.
As a tribute to our hosts on Monday night, I wanted you to see this wonderful photo from the Hennepin County Library special collection. I haven’t given a proper plug to the library or the historical society in a while. They remain marvelous resources. If you haven’t visited Special Collections at the Central Library or the library at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, you really should. Take some time for the exhibits at the history center too. And for those of you who prefer to shop locally, you can buy your copy of City of Parks in their book store instead of online! Can’t beat that.
Thanks to the descendants of those in the picture, physically or spiritually, for providing the venue for last Monday’s meeting.
Speaking of special collections at the Central Library, it looks as if I may reprise — and embellish — my presentation on the Mississippi River Gorge at the Library on October 3. I hope to travel this summer to libraries in other parts of the country to continue my research into the life and work of H.W.S. Cleveland, so I may have some new nuggets for that presentation. I’ll keep you posted.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
One of my favorite Minneapolis park history topics, the Mississippi River Gorge, will be the subject of an illustrated presentation by yours truly next Monday night, March 23, at St. Peder’s Lutheran Church, 4600 E. 42nd St. The curtain rises at 7 p.m.
And if you want to hear more, on a different topic, I’ll be speaking at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Saturday, May 9. Click the link above and put it on your calendar. I’ll remind you!
I hope you’ll stop by, introduce yourself, ask the burning question that’s been nagging you about parks, or tell me your park story.
Copies of City of Parks will be for sale with all proceeds going to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. I’d be happy to sign one for you.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com