Archive for the ‘Minnehaha Creek’ Category

The Worst Idea Ever #8: Power Boat Canal from Minnetonka to Harriet

Ok, it wasn’t really a Minneapolis park project, but it still deserves a laugh: Minnehaha Creek converted into a 30-foot-wide power boat canal from Lake Minnetonka to Lake Harriet!

Lake Harriet could have been more like Lake Minnetonka

Lake Harriet could have been more like Lake Minnetonka.

Minneapolis was obsessed in the spring of 1911 with the upcoming Civic Celebration during which the channel between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles would be opened. That was a very good thing. Huzzah, huzzah. But the attention it was drawing to the city also focused a lot of eyes on a very bad thing: Minnehaha Creek was nearly dry – in the spring! – which meant almost no water over Minnehaha Falls. Minneapolis could hardly celebrate the opening of the lake connection at the same time it suffered the ignominy of a dry Minnehaha Falls. The many out-of-town visitors anticipated for the celebration would surely want to see both. And let’s face it, a fifty-foot waterfall written about by a Harvard poet, which attracted visitors from around the world was a bit more impressive to most people than a short canal under a busy road and railroad tracks. The Minneapolis PR machine could call the city the “Venice of North America” all it wanted with its new canal, but visitors’ imaginations were still probably fueled more by the images of the famous poet’s noble heathen, beautiful maiden, and “laughing waters.”

The generally accepted solution to the lack of water over Minnehaha Falls was to divert Minnehaha Creek into Lake Amelia (Nokomis), drain Rice Lake (Hiawatha), dam the outlet of the creek from Amelia to create a reservoir, and release the impounded water as needed — perhaps 8 hours a day — to keep a pleasing flow over the falls. Unfortunately, with all the last-minute dredging and bridge-building for the Isles-Calhoun channel, that couldn’t be done in 1911 between April and July 4, when the Civic Celebration would launch.

Into this superheated environment of waterways and self-promotion stepped Albert Graber, according to the Saturday Evening Tribune, May 28, 1911. With the backing of “members of the board of county commissioners, capitalists, attorneys and real estate dealers”, Graber proposed to dredge Minnehaha Creek into a canal 30-feet wide from Lake Minnetonka to Lake Harriet. This would provide not only a water superhighway from Minnetonka to Minneapolis, and boost real estate prices along the creek, but it would also create a much larger water flow in Minnehaha Creek, solving the embarrassment of no laughing water.

“The plan, say the promoters, would enable residents of summer houses on the big lake to have their launches waiting at the town lake.”
Saturday Evening Tribune, May 28, 1911

Sure, there were problems. Not every plan could be perfect. The plan would require dismantling the dam at Gray’s Bay at the head of Minnehaha Creek, which might lower the level of Lake Minnetonka. But Graber and his backers had thought of that. The Minnesota River watershed in the area of St. Bonifacius and Waconia would be diverted into Lake Minnetonka — no problem! – which also solved another bother: it would reduce flooding on the Minnesota River.

The dam at Gray’s Bay had been operated by Hennepin Country since 1897. Many people then and now consider the dam the cause of low water flow in Minnehaha Creek, but the earliest reference I can find to low water in the creek was in 1820, when the soldiers of Fort Snelling wanted to open a mill on Minnehaha Creek, but were forced to move to St. Anthony Falls due to low water. That was even before two intrepid teenagers from the fort discovered that the creek flowed out of a pretty big lake to the west.

Graber estimated that dredging Minnehaha Creek would cost about $4,000 a mile for the nine miles between the two lakes. He and his backers, which included an officer of the Savings Bank of Minneapolis (who presumably had a summer house on the big lake and could put a launch on the town lake), provided assurances that the money to finance the project could be “readily found.”

The Evening Tribune article concluded with an announcement that meetings of those interested in the project would be held in the near future with an eye to beginning work before the end of the summer. Graber noted that his inspection of the project had been, no surprise, “superficial”, but that he would make a thorough report soon to his backers. I can find no evidence that the idea progressed any further.

The Board of Park Commissioners would have had no role in the plan, except, perhaps, allowing power boats to enter and be anchored on Lake Harriet. (I think they would have said no.) Park board ownership of Minnehaha Creek west of Lake Harriet to Edina wasn’t proposed until 1919 and the deal wasn’t done until 1930.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2013 David C. Smith

CMPC: Park Property Monuments?

This week I was included in an e-mail discussion between MaryLynn Pulscher and Annie Olson at the park board and Daniel Fearn. Daniel had found two interesting metal markers in the ground near Minnehaha Creek.

Marker near Minnehaha Creek (Daniel I. Fearn)

Daniel wondered if CMPC was an acronym for City of Minneapolis Park Commission. My reaction, as well as MaryLynn’s, was that wasn’t likely because the park board until 1969 always marked everything BPC for “Board of Park Commissioners.” The Minneapolis was generally understood.

A web search, however, turned up a document from a Hennepin County Survey that indicates the CMPC stamp may have been used on park board survey monuments. See the document here , which indicates that a monument with a similar marker found at 50th and Cedar during the Minneapolis City Survey in 1937 was a “park board monument.”

Do you know the real story of the CMPC markers? Have you seen other markers like this anywhere else in the city? Were they on park boundaries? Or do I have to call the county surveyor’s office to resolve this?

Send photos if you have ‘em.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory.com

More Bassett’s Creek

Interesting thoughts from readers on city and park board treatment of Bassett’s Creek:

Is it possible that Minneapolis spent as much or more tunneling Bassett’s Creek in an attempt to improve north Minneapolis than it spent building a parkway along Minnehaha Creek? Someone would have to go through financial reports to determine the city/Bassett’s Creek figures. Building two tunnels, the second one 80 feet beneath downtown Minneapolis, must have had a fairly hefty price tag. What if you threw in the federal and park board dollars from the time of Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration projects in the 1930s until now on Bassett’s Creek above ground from Bryn Mawr into Theodore Wirth Park?

Perhaps the park board’s biggest missed opportunity in dealing with Bassett’s Creek was the decision to build a competition-quality youth sports complex — the one named for Leonard Neiman  — at Fort Snelling instead of in Bryn Mawr/Harrison. I don’t recall what Bryn Mawr or Harrison residents thought of the idea when it was considered in the late 1990s. Does anyone remember that discussion? It would certainly be a better location for youth sports than the distant fields of Fort Snelling (for people living almost anywhere in Minneapolis – south, north, northeast, or southeast). Whether building that complex in the central city would have spurred other development or at least raised awareness of Bassett’s Creek is hard to say, but it could’ve been positive for the neighborhoods beside and above the creek.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

The Myth of Bassett’s Creek

I heard again recently the old complaint that north Minneapolis would be a different place if Bassett’s Creek had gotten the same treatment as Minnehaha Creek. Another story of neglect. Another myth.

You can find extensive information on the history of Bassett’s Creek online: a thorough account of the archeology of the area surrounding Bassett’s Creek near the Mississippi River by Scott Anfinson at From Site to Story — must reading for anyone who has even a passing interest in Mississippi River history; a more recent account of the region in a very good article by Meleah Maynard in City Pages in 2000; and, the creek’s greatest advocate, Dave Stack, provides info on the creek at the Friends of Bassett Creek , as well as updates on a Yahoo group site. Follow the links from the “Friends” site for more detailed information from the city and other sources.

What none of those provided to my satisfaction, however, was perspective on Bassett’s Creek itself after European settlement. A search of Minneapolis Tribune articles and Minneapolis City Council Proceedings, added to other sources, provides a clearer picture of the degree of degradation of Bassett’s Creek – mostly in the context of discussions of the city’s water supply. This was several years before the creation of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners in 1883 — a time when Minnehaha Creek was still two miles outside of Minneapolis city limits. The region around the mouth of Bassett’s Creek was an economic powerhouse and an environmental disaster at a very early date — a mix that has never worked well for park acquisition and development.

Idyllic Minnehaha Creek, still in rural surroundings around 1900, quite a different setting than Bassett’s Creek, which had already been partly covered over by then. (Minnesota Historical Society)

“A Lady Precipitated from Bassett’s Creek Bridge”

Anfinson provides many details of the industrial development of the area around the mouth of Bassett’s Creek from shortly after Joel Bean Bassett built his first farm at the junction of the river and the creek in 1852. By the time the Minneapolis Tribune came into existence in 1867, industry was already well established near the banks of the creek. A June 1867 article relates how the three-story North Star Shingle Mill had been erected earlier that year near the creek. The next March an article related the decision to build a new steam-powered linseed oil plant near the creek on Washington Avenue.

Even more informative is a June 27, 1868 story about an elderly woman who fell from a wagon off the First Street bridge over the creek. “A Lady Precipitated from Bassett’s Creek Bridge, a Distance of Thirty Feet,” was the actual headline. (I’m a little embarrassed that I laughed at the odd headline, which evoked an image of old ladies raining down on the city; sadly, her injuries were feared to be fatal.) But a bridge height of thirty feet? That’s no piddling creek — even if a headline writer may have exaggerated a bit. The article was written from the perspective that the bridge was worn out and dangerous and should have been replaced when the city council had considered the matter a year earlier. Continue reading