Raise Your Hand If You’ve Visited Cavell Park
Cavell Park is one of the marvelous neighborhood parks that make Minneapolis so livable, but I would bet that few Minneapolitans know where it is or have seen it. I thought I should promote it a bit before I leave the topic of Minneapolis parks and WWI completely. The only connection in this case is the name of the park, because it didn’t become a park until 1968.
Edith Cavell was a British nurse running a hospital in Belgium at the outbreak of World War I. When the German army invaded Belgium, Ms. Cavell helped British, French and Belgian soldiers escape capture and reach safety in the Netherlands. As a nurse, she treated Allied and German soldiers, but her aid to escaping Allied soldiers led to her arrest and a charge of treason by the German army. She was held in prison for ten weeks as her case aroused outrage and indignation around the world. It did little good: she was executed by a German firing squad. Cavell — her name rhymed with travel — became a central focus of British propaganda efforts and, together with the German sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania, was used to depict the depravity of Germans, the barbarous “Huns” of an earlier article.
With the start of the 1918 school year, at the height of the Great War, the Minneapolis school board was faced with overcrowding at Thomas Lowry School in northeast Minneapolis. The solution was to build two temporary portable school houses in the district. In December 1918, less than a month after fighting in Europe ended, the school board suggested that what had been referred to as the Thomas Lowry Annex, be named for Cavell.
Edith Cavell School was a portable school building originally at Tyler and 35th Avenue NE. The portable school was closed in 1933 and a new, modest school was built three blocks east at 34th and Fillmore. That school, pictured above, closed in 1949. (See more photos on the history pages of the Minneapolis public schools website here.)
The park board had considered acquiring the site for a playground park in 1949, but in light of a 1948 cooperative agreement between the park board and school board to develop property together, the two boards opted to build a new school and park four blocks further east instead. That development became Waite Park and School.
The school board continued to own the Edith Cavell School site until 1968, when the park board acquired it for a new neighborhood park. It was the first of four former school sites acquired by the park board from 1968 to 1976. The park board also acquired the old school sites of Margaret Fuller School (now Fuller Park), Lyndale School (Painter Park), and Corcoran School (Corcoran Park), all during the controversial tenure of Robert Ruhe as superintendent of Minneapolis parks. A recreation shelter was built in the park in 1977. (I hope to write a good deal more about Ruhe. His style was abrasive, but his accomplishments were undeniable.)
For those of you who live in south or north Minneapolis and rarely venture across the river, I’d suggest a drive, hike or bike ride into northeast to visit Cavell Park. Audubon and Windom parks are worth visits too. They are all quite different from the mostly flat parks of south and north Minneapolis. If you are considering a bike ride, I’d recommend it only if you are a fairly strong rider because the hills of northeast could be difficult for some. The highest elevation in the city of Minneapolis is near Waite Park, so you’ll enjoy a good climb from the river.
Do you have a story about Cavell Park — or any of the great northeast neighborhood parks? We’d love to hear it. Write it as a comment here or send it to me at the e-mail address below. We’d love to see pictures, too!
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com