Northeast River Parks
I enjoyed a walk yesterday along the riverfront parks in northeast Minneapolis sponsored by the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership. I told a few historical stories and park commissioner Liz Wielinski, Above the Falls committee member Mary Jamin Maguire, and Cordelia Pierson, executive director of the partnership, provided insights into park developments, past and future, along the river. We were also delighted to hear stories of the neighborhood from a few longtime residents of the area.
We visited Marshall Terrace, Edgewater Park, and Gluek Park and along the way we passed the newest, still unnamed, Minneapolis park at 2220 Marshall Street — a single lot from Marshall to the river purchased by the park board in 2010.
These are a few of the notes I made for my input into the program.
Marshall Terrace was purchased in 1914. The first land chosen for a First Ward Park was a few blocks farther upriver, but neighborhood objections resulted in the park board asking for suggestions from residents and politicians for a better site. This eight-acre parcel further downriver was the result. (The park board also acquired the upriver acreage, but as a segment of a planned parkway across northeast Minneapolis, now St. Anthony Parkway, instead of a playground park.)
Park superintendent Theodore Wirth prepared these two plans for the new park, which were included in the 1915 Annual Report. (The same report included plans for nearby Bottineau Park.)
Plan 1 was more expensive than Plan 2, because it would require retaining walls to extend the area of the upper terrace and create more space for playing fields. Plan 2 would have maintained a natural slope to the river level, which would have left less level space for playing fields. In an uncharacteristically cautious note, Wirth wrote of the plans:
“I believe the cost of either plan is out of proportion to the size of the field. A much larger tract of river frontage land will be due
that section of the city later on. This tract has been acquired at a very reasonable price, and, even if only the upper level is used as a playfield, the cost of the acquisition is justified.”
The “very reasonable price” Wirth cited for the land was just under $15,000. Wirth’s estimate for the cost of implementing Plan 1 was $108,200 and the cost for Plan 2 was $87,500. With those estimates, it’s no wonder that the park board opted for Wirth’s third suggestion: grading the upper level for a football and baseball field for $2,500 and determining further improvements “after patronage of the ball fields indicated to what extent the grounds would be used.”
Despite both plans featuring swimming beaches and bath houses Wirth also warned, “Bathing facilities should not be established until it can be made absolutely safe in every respect.” The Minneapolis Tribune hadn’t been nearly so reserved in August 1914 when it proclaimed in a headline: “New Park on River Bank To Be Home of Public Aquatic Sports in Minneapolis.” That pronouncement proved to be premature because, as Wirth admitted a few years later, the river currents were treacherous in front of the park. A swimming beach was never established at Marshall Terrace.
The park board did develop playing fields and tennis courts and built a small shelter/warming house for the park in 1916, but after only a year of use — or non-use — the park board moved the shelter to Farview Park. In the 1917 annual report Wirth noted that Marshall Terrace was the “only playfield that has not come up to expectations for attendance and appreciation.” The park was so little used he wrote that “upkeep was not justified.”
Despite the addition of 20,000 cubic yards of fill in 1918 — cinder and earth from the power plant next door — that extended the upper level of the park closer to the river, little happened at the park after initial development. In the 1923 annual report Wirth encouraged the park board to find another park site in the neighborhood, claiming that the power plant next door made the grounds “unfit for a playfield.”
While Wirth’s view of the park was not positive, the park was at least a rallying point for some pretty good football players. In the mid -1920s Marshall Terrace was one of the top park football teams in the city. Their chief competitors for city gridiron bragging rights were their neighbors from Bottineau Field.
The park board didn’t add another shelter to the park until 1961. The dredging of the river in the early 1960s, when the Upper Harbor was created across the river from the park, generated more fill for the slope up from the river. It was planted with trees and grass in 1968. The first swings and teeter-totters were installed in the park in 1918, but the first playground equipment for smaller children wasn’t added until 1973.
The current stairs down the river bank to the water’s edge were built in 1991.
Edgewater Park is the site of the first park ever proposed for the Mississippi River in Minneapolis upriver from St. Anthony Falls. And it was proposed by no less an authority on parks than Horace W. S. Cleveland. When the Minneapolis park board was created in 1883, Cleveland was already a well-known advocate for parks in the city. The Chicago-based landscape architect — who later moved to Minneapolis — was hired by the new park board shortly after its creation to develop an overall plan for the city’s parks. In June 1883 Cleveland presented to the park board “Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis” that largely guided Minneapolis park commissioners for decades. Included in Cleveland’s “suggestions” were parkways that encircled the city, later named the “Grand Rounds.”
Cleveland’s “suggestions” included this language for the “proposed park” at the top center of the map at left (click to enlarge):
“North of Ferry street and lying between the railroad and the river, and extending north to the city limits is a tract of comparatively level land, bare of trees and offering no topographical features of special interest, but affording the best opportunity I have anywhere seen for the construction of an extensive driving park of an entirely different character from any of the other tracts that have been proposed. It comprises several hundred acres, is entirely unimproved, and if devoted to such use, would probably confer a value upon the adjacent regions which they are not otherwise likely to attain.”
This was the only one of Cleveland’s suggestions that was never pursued by the park board.
Edgewater Park was once the home of the Edgewater Inn, a supper club, known for musical entertainment by the “Edgewater Eight.” When the inn closed, the park board acquired the three-acre parcel in 1993. The land was acquired solely because of its river frontage. Following a very successful return to the river along the Central Riverfront in the 1970s and 1980s, the city and the park board realized the enormous potential of the river as an attraction and amenity and were committed to reclaiming it from its industrial, and often polluted, past. The park was acquired with funds from the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, which is funded largely through proceeds from the Minnesota Lottery. It was developed in accordance with the Above the Falls Master Plan in 2006 with funds from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, which is now building its offices along the river just north of the Edgewater Park across Lowry Avenue.
2220 Marshall Street
A short distance south from Edgewater Park is the newest park in Minneapolis, a now empty lot that once held an apartment building. After the City of Minneapolis acquired the foreclosed property and demolished the apartment building, the park board purchased the lot in 2010. It is a part of the park board’s on-going and long-term commitment to purchase property facing the river as it becomes available. Park commissioner Wielinski said yesterday one plan being considered for the parcel would be to make it a mini arboretum that would contain a sampling of trees available to be planted as “street trees” throughout the city.
Gluek Park is the former site of the Gluek Brewery and the mansion built by the Gluek family. The park site of nearly 3 acres was acquired in 1978 primarily to prevent industrial expansion onto the site and preserve park options in the future.
After the brewery was demolished in 1966 other industrial uses were considered for the site. The park board and the city had just begun to look at park and development possibilities along the river in the 1970s and the difficulties of acquiring river front land were already apparent. Money to buy the land came from the state of Minnesota.
A picnic ground and river overlook were completed ten years after the land was acquired. The park was named Gluek Park in 1995, when the Gluek family donated a gazebo for the property. The neighborhood also helped with development funding through NRP. Gluek Park was shut down in 2004 due to concerns over contaminated soil. Following soil remediation by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the park reopened in 2008.
Mill City Times has posted photos of the hike.
Far Into the Future
These three parks will eventually be the anchors of park developments along the upper east side of the river above the falls featured in the RiverFirst plan currently being implemented by the park board. RiverFirst plans are not likely to be implemented along this section of river for years, perhaps decades, given higher priority and much more expensive plans elsewhere along the river. But it helps to keep in mind that it took the park board nearly twenty years to acquire the banks of the Mississippi River gorge below the falls. Those twenty years must have seemed like forever to proponents of making those river banks a park — Horace Cleveland, the biggest supporter of that acquisition, died before it happened — but in retrospect it seems like no time at all. As a friend and I hiked down the gorge to the river’s edge from the Winchell Trail a couple weeks ago under golden leaves, we appreciated those who spent twenty years without wavering to acquire those shores. Someday someone might write the same of a serene trail at river’s edge from Boom Island to Marshall Terrace. It could happen.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com