Archive for the ‘Minnehaha Falls’ Category

Trunk Highway 55 — Hiawatha Avenue — Through Minnehaha Park in 1968

The Minnesota Department of Highways’ first rendering of the elevated freeway proposed for Hiawatha Avenue – Trunk Highway 55 – through Minnehaha Park appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune on February 15, 1968. The view below is looking down Minnehaha Creek toward Minnehaha Falls.  The canoe is a nice touch. An illustration from a similar distance from the proposed freeway looking upstream would place you near the precipice of the Falls. There is only one reason this monstrosity wasn’t built: the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, then still named the Board of Park Commissioners, fought it all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

The Minnesota Department of Highways' first depiction of the elevted freeway it planned for Trunk Highway 55, Hiawatha Avenue, through Minnehaha Park. The illustration is dated 2-14-1968.

The Minnesota Department of Highways’ first depiction of the elevated freeway it planned for Trunk Highway 55, Hiawatha Avenue, through Minnehaha Park. The illustration is dated 2-14-1968.

I recall seeing a comment a few months ago on another blog that the proposed freeway was not elevated. It wasn’t originally – it was to be built on a steep embankment – but in response to criticism that the freeway would be a barrier between Minnehaha Falls and Longfellow Garden, the highway department proposed putting this 1000-foot section “on stilts”, in the words of the Minneapolis Tribune’s caption.

This was the first of two drawings of the elevated freeway that I know of. The highway department later produced a revised drawing that showed softened lines and curved supports to make the freeway “more graceful and attractive,” according to a description in the Minneapolis Star, August 6, 1969. The new design featured “gracefully curved lines on the road deck and possibly colored concrete,” said the Star. I’m trying to get my hands on the second drawing too. If anyone has a copy, I’d love to see it.

The brief that Minnesota Attorney General Douglas Head submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in opposition to a Writ of Certiorari in October 1969 claimed that in addition to elevating the freeway the state had tried to address park board concerns by also removing a diamond freeway interchange originally planned on park property!

More on this subject very soon. This is just a teaser.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

Mississippi River flood

Saturday afternoon I spent a bit more time looking at high water around the city. On that gorgeous afternoon, Minneapolis parks were heavily patronized, partly because of the beautiful day and partly because people were curious about the effects of our summer deluge.

The banks of the Mississippi River that I helped clean in April were under water again. Maybe when these flood waters subside, Friends of the Mississippi River should sponsor another trash pick up. Or we could each take a trash bag along when we go out for riverside hikes.

More evidence of high water on the big creek at the Ford Dam.

High water over the Ford Dam June 21, 2014. Late last summer at one time there was no water flowing over the dam and below the dam was mostly dry land. (David C. Smith)

High water over the Ford Dam, June 21, 2014. Late last summer, there was no water flowing over the dam and below the dam was mostly dry land. (David C. Smith)

Last summer you could walk from the locks to the island where the usbmerged trees are now. (David C. Smith, June 21, 2014)

Last summer you could walk from the locks to the island where the submerged trees are now. The Ford Dam is just to the left of this photo. (David C. Smith, June 21, 2014)

Both photos were taken from the bluff at Minnehaha Park and the Soldiers Home. Water levels in Minnehaha Creek had subsided little, if at all, from Thursday to Saturday. Water was still thundering over Minnehaha Falls.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Minnehaha Falls and Creek: Flood Stage

As we await another early evening thunderstorm, I will post a few historic photos of Minnehaha Creek and Minnehaha Falls taken earlier this afternoon. I call them historic because I’ve never seen the creek this high. One man I encountered on my explorations claimed it was a record water level for the creek. I’ll have to look that up.

The entire length of the creek was flooded, of course, even a few hours after the rain had stopped, but these three photos establish landmarks.

Minnehaha Pakrway at Humboldt Avenue South, south of the Lynnhurst Recreation Center. (David C. Smith)

The bridge to nowhere. The creek normally flows under the bridge near the top of the photo. Minnehaha Parkway at Humboldt Avenue South, south of the Lynnhurst Recreation Center. (David C. Smith)

2014-06-19 Minnehaha Creek at 16th Ave rev

Minnehaha Parkway at 16th Avenue South. (David C. Smith)

Minnehaha Parkway at Cedar Avenue South. (David C. Smith)

Looking west on Minnehaha Parkway at Cedar Avenue South. (David C. Smith)

A man I met near Cedar Avenue claimed that the water reached a similar level after a 1988 thunderstorm, but the water subsided very quickly. Today it didn’t. Minnehaha Parkway was barricaded at many points east of Lake Harriet.

More than a water hazard. Hiawatha Golf Course looking south from E. 43rd Street near Standish. (David C. Smith)

More than a water hazard. Hiawatha Golf Course looking south from E. 43rd Street near Standish. That is not Lake Hiawatha in the foreground. (David C. Smith)

A roomantic interlude at the famous rapids of Minnehaha Creek. This is only a few yards upstream from the Hiawatha statue. (David C. Smith)

A romantic interlude at the famous rapids of Minnehaha Creek! This is only a few yards upstream from the Hiawatha statue. (David C. Smith)

Some early descriptions of the Falls mentioned the heavy mist generated by the falls. That was true today. There was no rain falling while I was taking the pictures below, but I could feel the water in the air. Not quite as dramatic as Victoria Falls, where the cloud of mist over the falls is visible for miles — it’s called Mosi-o-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders — but still impressive for this normally modest stream in mid-summer.

The falls made famous by Henry Wadswotrth Longfellow. I recently discovered startling early plans for the park at the falls that I am waiting for permission to reveal. Stay tuned. (David C. Smith)

The falls made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I recently discovered startling early plans for the park at the falls that I am waiting for permission to reveal. Stay tuned. (David C. Smith)

Unfortunately such high water levels, like the strong winds of recent years, require expensive cleanup efforts from the park board, stretching already tight park maintenance budgets. Kudos and thanks to the park board crews that will put our water-logged parks in beautiful condition yet again.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© David C. Smith

Does anyone have any pictures to post of Bassett’s Creek in Theodore Wirth Park or downstream to Bryn Mawr before it dives underground? Is Shingle Creek any better?

Did you know that H.W.S. Cleveland was a bad park namer?

The recent good news from park commissioner Scott Vreeland and the Minneapolis park board that part of the spectacular Mississippi River Gorge will be named after visionary landscape architect and preservationist Horace William Shaler Cleveland recalled for me a passage in a letter from Cleveland to William Watts Folwell. In that letter, Cleveland pondered names for a yet-to-be-acquired river gorge park. His effort at park naming wasn’t nearly as impressive as his “sermons” on preserving and protecting the river gorge in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In a letter dated February 11, 1889, Cleveland discussed strategy for getting the Minnesota legislature to approve acquisition of the land around Minnehaha Falls on the Minneapolis side of the river and a mirror park on the St. Paul side of the river. He concluded his letter,

By the way, help me to find a name for that area — “Mississippi Park” or “River Park” are the first that suggest themselves — but are not satisfactory. “Giants Cradle” has occurred to me, the river being the infant giant lying in its bed, but I fear that would need interpretation.
— William Watts Folwell Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society

The legislature did approve the acquisition of the land on the Minneapolis side of the river, including Minnehaha Falls, for a park, but did not provide money to purchase the land. That’s when several Minneapolis people, led by George Brackett and Henry Brown, loaned the city the money to buy the land. It would be another 13 years before the park board acquired the rest of the west side of the Mississippi River Gorge from Minnehaha Park to Franklin Avenue. By then, Horace Cleveland had died.

As for the name, I think Cleveland’s fears about “Giants Cradle” were well-justified! The entire river gorge park was formally named Mississippi Park for a long time. The name of Horace Cleveland strikes me as much more “satisfactory” for that land than anything he suggested.

Clean Up

I recently had a chance to take a very close look at part of the river gorge during the April 26 Earth Day cleanup sponsored by Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR). I scoured a small part of the river bank picking up an astonishing variety of trash. The most abundant type of trash surprised me: bits of styrofoam.

I was pleased to see such a large turnout of volunteers that the organizers ran out of garbage bags at the 36th St. site. If you can spare an hour sometime, volunteer at one of the cleanup sites organized by FMR (check fmr.org for a calendar) or at your local park. If you’re like me, it will heighten your appreciation for our parks. I think the beauty and delicacy of the landscape tends to elicit a very protective response. It certainly did from Horace Cleveland, which I believe is the primary reason we still have that wild river gorge. As marvelous as it is, I couldn’t help but wonder what that river gorge might have looked like before it became a reservoir.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

 

 

 

Minnehaha Park Fireplace Mystery Solved

The mystery of the fireplace in the dog park at Minnehaha Park has been solved thanks to reader “Tom.” Many people have followed this issue or expressed an interest in it and I know that many readers don’t check back to see comments on posts, so I wanted to bring this comment to your attention.

The fireplace surrounded by picnic tables in 1935. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The fireplace surrounded by picnic tables in 1935. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This is the photo of the fireplace that Tom found in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society, which includes more than 230,000 photographs. As I’ve noted many times, that collection is invaluable and immensely enjoyable. The picnic ground belonged to the Minneapolis Veterans Hospital according to the photo description. Tom further notes that the park board acquired this land in 1959. Thanks for your comment, Tom. Does anyone want to tell us when the fireplace and picnic ground were built?

Excellent Comments

I would suggest that you check back on your favorite park subjects occasionally to see recent comments, or subscribe to comments on any post. Especially interesting in recent months have been

Chuck Solomon’s comment in which he named all of the coaches and nearly every player from a McRae Park football photo

Another tribute to Marv Nelson, a youth football coach at Folwell Park in the 1960s and 1970s

Memories of Keewaydin Park, especially kids’ games and hockey.

These are just a few of the comments in recent months. Thanks to everyone who has commented on the articles here or has contacted me personally with more stories. I appreciate them all. Stories: that’s what this web site is all about.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

Did You Know They Were Related?

Minneapolis parks are home to few statues, but two of the people or characters memorialized by statues in parks were related in real life. Well, sort of. Maybe “connected” is a better word. Can you guess which two? And, no, it’s not Hiawatha and Minnehaha.

Here’s the complete list of park statues as they come to mind: Abraham Lincoln on Victory Memorial Drive, Ole Bull in Loring Park, Thomas Lowry in Smith Triangle, George Washington in Washburn Fair Oaks, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Longfellow Glen, and John Stevens, Hiawatha and Minnehaha, Gustav Wennerburg, and Taoyateduta at Minnehaha Park. We could add the Pioneers at the B. F. Nelson site, but they are anonymous figures.

The answer: Ole Bull’s brother-in-law, Joseph G. Thorp, the younger brother of Bull’s American wife, Sara Chapman Thorp, married Anne Allegra Longfellow, the youngest daughter of Henry in 1882. The marriage took place after Ole Bull’s death, so I’m not sure that such a bond actually makes Bull and Longfellow related, but Longfellow’s biographer Thomas Wentworth Higginson said the marriage “allied” the two families. Bull and Longfellow certainly would have known each other in the social/intellectual circles of Cambridge, Mass. Higginson suggests that Ole Bull was the model for the troubadour in Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn, which was published in 1863. Very few people recognize the book title, but many more are familiar with the most famous poem from the book, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

The title of the volume of poetry mentioned above was recommended to Longfellow, according to Higginson, by another man who has a Minneapolis park named for him: Charles Sumner, the Massachusetts senator who was Longfellow’s best friend.

If you ever bothered to lay out the convoluted timeline of the above events you’d realize that it only works if Ole Bull was much older than Sara Thorp — which is true. He met the Wisconsin lumberman’s daughter after a performance in Madison, Wisconsin when he was 60 and she was 20. They married two years later.

Longfellow statue in a field near Longfellow Garden upstream from Minnehaha Falls, 2011. (Ursula Murray Husted, flickr.com)

Longfellow statue in a field near Longfellow Garden upstream from Minnehaha Falls, 2011. (Ursula Murray Husted, flickr.com)

This statue of Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull was placed in Loring Park in 1897, shown here about 1900. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This statue of Norwegian violinist and composer Ole Bull was placed in Loring Park in 1897, shown here in about 1900. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This story was brought to mind by the discovery earlier this week of a cabinet photograph of Ole Bull among the possessions of my mother-in-law, Virginia Carpentier, who died two weeks ago. We will miss Ginny.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2013 David C. Smith

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

Minnehaha Falls Photos

Karen Cooper tells me she has photos of more 19th- and early 20th-Century bridges over Minnehaha Creek at Minnehaha Falls than the ones I’ve already posted. You can see those photos and more next Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2 pm at Hennepin History Museum. (Get more info here.)

I’m told that Karen has the most amazing Minnehaha Falls collection. I’m looking forward to seeing part of it myself for the first time. Hope to see you there.

The 1910 stone arch bridge was actually made of reinforced concrete and given a facade of boulders found in the vicinity. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The 1910 stone arch bridge was actually made of reinforced concrete and given a facade of boulders found in the vicinity. (Minnesota Historical Society)

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

The Five Bears

This bear cage was built in Minnehaha Park in 1899 to house four black bears and one “cinnamon” bear. The 1899 report of the Minneapolis park board describes this bear “pit” built for the bears acquired by the park board over the previous few years. The cost of the construction was about $1200. It was built years before the private Longfellow Zoo was operated by Robert “Fish” Jones upstream from Minnehaha Falls. Many people believe, mistakenly, that the zoo in Minnehaha Park was Jones’s zoo. The park board began exhibiting animals in Minnehaha Park in 1894. Jones didn’t open his Longfellow Zoo until 1907, after the park board decided to get rid of most of the animals in its zoo. Jones spotted a lucrative opportunity to expand and profit from his own menagerie in the vacuum created by the park board’s decision.

"Psyche." That was the bried caption under this photo in the 1899 annual report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. I assume it was the bear's name.

“Psyche.” That was the brief caption under this photo in the 1899 annual report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. I assume it was the bear’s name. Later, the cages held bears named “Mutt,” “Dewey,” and “Chet,” a cub that was a crowd favorite in 1915. Dewey was badly hurt in a fall while trying to catch peanuts thrown from the crowd that year and had to be put down. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The park board’s 1894 annual report contains the first inkling of what would become a sizable zoo. Superintendent William Berry reported,

“A deer paddock was enclosed, 50 feet square, and shelters built for deer. Two deer were added making a herd of three. Five eagles were presented to the park for which were made a cage covered with heavy wire netting.”

The financial portion of the report noted among maintenance expenditures at Minnehaha Park: Meat for eagles, $15. The next year the park board purchased three elk and accepted gifts of three more deer and three red foxes. For the deer and elk, “a portion of the glen was enclosed with a strong woven wire fence eight feet high, the length of the circuit being 2,950 feet.”

The gifts of animals kept coming and several animals were purchased, too, requiring new accommodations in Minnehaha Park. The 1897 annual report included this information from Berry, “A tank was made and enclosed for the retention of an alligator presented to the Board by the Grand Lodge B. P. O. E.” The alligator had been brought to a national convention of Elks in Minneapolis by the New Orleans delegation and left behind as a gift.

The unusual gift, matched by another free alligator the next year, lead to one of the oddest entries in the financial records of the board over the next few years. Each year the Mendenhall Greenhouse submitted its bill, increasing from $10.50 in 1898 to $14 in 1903, for “Keeping alligators in winter.” A tank in a greenhouse was the only place a warm weather creature could be housed for a Minneapolis winter. Native animals were left outside at Minnehaha, while non-native animals and exotic birds spent the winter in the park board barns at Lyndale Farmstead. Berry noted in 1899 that, “the collection of animals at the barns have proved quite an attraction and a large number of people visit them.”

By then the “collection” had become sizable and the costs had become significant, too. In the 1898 annual report William Folwell wrote,

“A list of animals now owned and kept in the parks is appended. They have been acquired by gift or at slight cost and form an attraction of no small account in the Minnehaha park. The expense of feeding and care has become considerable. A zoological garden is a great ornament to a city and is a most admirable adjunct to school education. The child who can see and study a moose, an eagle, an alligator, or any other strange beast of the field gets what no book can ever teach. It may be proper to continue the present policy, silently developed, of occasional additions to the collections as can be made at slight expense, but the matter ought not to go much further without a definite plan and counting of the cost.”

The list of animals Folwell mentioned shows that it was more than the “petting zoo” that some people think it was:
1 Moose
9 Elk
27 Deer
1 Antelope
4 Black Bears
1 Cinnamon Bear
38 Rabbits
1 Alligator
1 Ape
1 Dwarf Monkey
1 Gray Squirrel
1 Black Squirrel
10 Swans
16 Wild Geese
45 Ducks
1 Mountain Lion
2 Sea Lions
2 Timber Wolves
3 Red Foxes
1 Silver Gray Fox
4 Raccoons
2 Badgers
1 Wild Cat
5 Guinea Pigs
1 Eagle
4 Owls
5 Peacocks
6 Guinea Hens
1 Blue Macaw
1 Red Macaw
2 Cockatoos

It should be noted that not all of the birds lived at Minnehaha park. The swans and some other birds spent their summers at Loring Park. The sea lions and alligator were given new outdoor digs, which included a concrete swimming pool four feet deep, at Minnehaha in the summer of 1899. By then the park board was spending more than $2,000 a year on the care and feeding of its menagerie.

This was all a little too much for landscape architect Warren Manning who was asked to review the entire park system and make his recommendations in 1899. His sensible advice was to get rid of the exotic animals and keep only animals that could live outdoors in “accommodations that will be as nearly like those they find in their native habitat as it is practicable to secure.” Manning was ahead of his time in more than landscape architecture.

It was difficult, however, for the park board to divest a popular attraction. The park board did begin selling excess animals – including several deer to New York’s zoo – but Folwell wrote in the 1901 annual report,

“It is possible that as many people go to Minnehaha park to see the interesting animal collection as to view the historic falls.”

It took the coming of a new park superintendent in 1906 to resolve the issue. Theodore Wirth did not like the animals at Minnehaha, or in his warehouse all winter, and he felt the cramped conditions of some animals was cruel. As was his custom, he minced no words on the subject when he addressed the issue with the park board for the first time on February 5, 1906, barely a month after he took the job as park superintendent. The Minneapolis Tribune quoted Wirth in its February 6, edition:

“The present status of the menagerie is a discredit to the department and the city of Minneapolis…(it is) not only out of place and inharmonious with the surroundings, but to my mind even offensive to the highest degree. I am confident that H. W. S. Cleveland, who through his true artistic love, knowledge and appreciation of nature’s charms and teachings gave such valuable advice and suggestions for the acquirement and preservation of those grounds, would second my opinion in this matter and advise the removal of the menagerie from this spot.”

I’m sure Wirth was right about Cleveland; he would have detested the zoo. Wirth got his wish a little more than a year later when the park board reached agreement with R. F. Jones on his use of land above Minnehaha Falls for his private zoo. Ultimately the park board nearly followed the advice of Warren Manning: it kept the deer and elk in an outdoor enclosure similar to their natural habitat, but it also kept the bears in their pit and cages that didn’t resemble anything natural.

Evicting many of the animals from the zoo did not mean, however, that the park board quit acquiring animals altogether. The next year, 1908, the park board acquired a buffalo, on Wirth’s recommendation, and also acquired more bears. Of course, both animals could survive Minnesota winters outdoors. The hoofed animals remained in the park until 1923. I don’t know when the bear cages were closed or removed. The last information I have on bears in the park comes from the newspaper article in 1915 that reported Dewey’s demise. Theodore Wirth’s plan for the improvement of Minnehaha Glen, published in the park board’s 1918 annual report, still shows the bear pit beside the road to the Falls overlook.

Although the park board sent its exotic animals to R. F. Jones’s zoo in 1907, that was not the last time exotic animals were tenants on park board property. For the winter of 1911 Jones decided not to ship his “oriental and ornamental” animals and birds south for the winter. Instead he kept them in Minneapolis, where he could continue charging admission to see them, I’m sure. He found the perfect spot for such a winter display in the very heart of the city.

Jones rented the Center block at 202 Nicollet on Bridge Square from the park board. The park board had acquired the property for the new Gateway park in 1909-1910, but couldn’t develop the property until  tenants leases expired in the buildings it had purchased. As those leases expired, the park board certainly had ample empty space for which a temporary tenant would have been welcome. Jones needed short-term space in a heavily travelled location, and likely got it cheap. The Minneapolis Tribune reported October 22, 1911 that “Mr. Jones thinks that trouble and money can be saved by keeping (the animals) here throughout the entire year.”

A final thought. Minneapolis Tribune columnist Ralph W. Wheelock was more than a little suspicious of R. F. Jones famous story about a sea lion escaping from his zoo down Minnehaha Creek, over the Falls and out to the Mississippi River. This is what he wrote on July 10, 1907, shortly after Jones established his zoo:

“Prof. R. F. Jones, of the New Longfellow Zoo at Minnehaha Falls, announces through the press in a loud tone of voice that he has lost a sea lion. While we would not doubt the word of so eminent a scientific authority, when we recall the clever devices of the up-to-date press agent we think we sea lion elsewhere than in the river.”

This is probably the first story written about Jones in 100 years that did not mention that he wore a top hat and went everywhere with two wolfhounds. He was a colorful character, eccentric entrepreneur and shrewd showman, but he was not the first or only one to run a zoo near Minnehaha Park. The park board beat him to it by 13 years.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© David C. Smith

Let’s Tell Stories: Longfellow House, Sunday, July 22

The park board is turning back the clock at Minnehaha Park, Sunday, July 22 to have some fun with the way things used to be. As a part of the yesteryear theme, I’ll be at the Longfellow House 1-4 p.m to talk about the history of the park and sign copies of City of Parks. I believe the book will be for sale, too.

At 2:30 pm I’ll give a short presentation about the history of Minnehaha Park. I’ll tell you why Minneapolis asked the state legislature in 1885 for 1,000 acres in the vicinity of the park — and why the legislature only approved 200  — and didn’t pay for it anyway.

Please come by and introduce yourself.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

The Preservation Instincts of Charles M. Loring

Charles Loring’s view on preserving natural landscapes was so well-known that this anonymous poem appeared in the St. Paul Daily Globe on September 8, 1889 in a humor column, “All of Everything: A Symposium of Gossip About Minneapolis Men and Matters.”

A grasping feature butcher,
With adamantine gall,
Wants to build a gallery
At Minnehaha’s fall.

He wants to catch the people
Who come to see the falls,
And sell them Injun moccasins
And beaded overalls.

He wants to take their “phizes,”
A dozen at a crack,
With the foliage around them
And the water at the back.

But the shade of Hiawatha
No such sacrilege would brook:
And he’d shake the stone foundations
Ere a “picter had been took.”

C. M. Loring doesn’t like it,
For he says he’d like to see
The lovely falls, the creek, the woods,
Just as they used to be.

Loring had chaired a commission appointed by the governor to acquire Minnehaha Falls as a state park in 1885. The land was finally acquired, after a long court fight over valuations, in the winter of 1889. (The total paid for the 180-plus acres was about $95,000.) See City of Parks for the story of how George Brackett and Henry Brown took extraordinary action to ensure the falls would be preserved as a park.

The poem in the Daily Globe appeared because the park board was considering permitting construction of a small building beside the falls for the express purpose of taking people’s photos with “the water at the back.” And of course charging them for the privilege.

That proposal elicited a sharp response from landscape architect H. W. S. Cleveland who also opposed having any structure marring the natural beauty of the falls. Cleveland used language much harsher than the reserved Loring likely would have used. In a letter to his friend William W. Folwell, Cleveland wrote on September 5, 1889,

I cannot be silent in view of this proposed vandalism which I am sure you cannot sanction, and which I am equally sure will forever be a stigma upon Minneapolis, and elicit the anathema of every man of sense and taste who visits the place.

If erected it will simply be pandering to the tastes of the army of boobies who think to boost themselves into notoriety by connecting their own stupid features with the representation of one of the most beautiful of God’s works.

The preservation passion of Loring and Cleveland is evident today in the public lakeshores and river banks throughout Minneapolis. The next time you take a stroll around a lake or beside the river, or fight to acquire as parks the sections of the Mississippi River banks that remain in private hands, say a little “thank you” to people like Loring and Cleveland who saw the need to acquire lakes and rivers as parks more than 125 years ago — and nearly got them all.

And the photography shack was never built.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Stone Quarry Update: Limestone Quarry in Minnehaha Park at Work

I was technically correct when I wrote in October that the park board only operated a limestone quarry and stone crushing plant in Minnehaha Park for one year: 1907. But I’ve now learned that the Minnehaha Park quarry was operated for nearly five years by someone else – the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

From early 1938 until 1942 the WPA, a federal program that provided jobs during the Depression, operated the quarry after “tests revealed a large layer of limestone of hard blue quality near the surface” in the park near the Fort Snelling property line at about 54th, according to the park board’s 1937 Annual Report. The WPA technically operated the plant, but it was clearly for the benefit of the Minneapolis park system.

“Although this plant is operated by the WPA, our Board supplied the bed of limestone, the city water, lighting, gasoline and oil, and also some small equipment, since it was set up primarily for our River Road West project, which included the paving of the boulevard from Lake Street to Godfrey Road, and also to supply sand and gravel to the River Road West Extension project (north from Franklin Avenue) where there was a large amount of concrete retaining wall construction.”
– 1938 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners

In 1938 the park board estimated that 85% of the product of the stone crushing plant was used on park projects, the remainder on other WPA projects in the city.

The quarry was established in an area that “was not used by the public and when the operations are completed, the area can be converted into picnic grounds and other suitable recreational facilities,” the park board reported. (I bet no one thought then that a “suitable” facility would include a place where people could allow their dogs to run off leash!)

"The Stone-crushing Plant at Minnehaha Park" (1938 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners) Doesn't look much like one of our favorite wild places, does it?

The plant consisted of “two large jaw crushers” and a conveyor that lifted the crushed rock to shaker screens over four large bins. It was operated by gasoline engines and was lit by electric lights so it could operate day and night. (The fellow with the wheelbarrow in the photo might have liked more conveyor.)

The crushed stone was used in paving River Road West and East, Godfrey Road and many roads, walks and tennis courts throughout the park system. The rock was also used as a paving base at the nearby “Municipal Airport,” also known as Wold-Chamberlain Field, which the park board owned and developed until it ceded authority over the airport to the newly created Metropolitan Airports Commission in 1944. According to the 1942 Annual Report of the park board, in four-and-a-half years the quarry produced 76,000 cubic yards of crushed limestone, 50,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel and 36,000 cubic feet of cut limestone.

The cut limestone was used to face bridges over Minnehaha Creek, shore retaining walls at Lake Harriet, Lake Nokomis and Lake Calhoun and other walls throughout the park system.

The plant was used to crush gravel only in 1938. The gravel was taken from the banks of the Mississippi River, “it having been excavated by the United States Government to deepen the channel of the Mississippi River just below the dam and locks.” After that, the WPA acquired the sand and gravel it needed from a more convenient source in St. Paul.

The project was terminated in 1942 near the end of the WPA. In his 1942 report, park superintendent Christian Bossen wrote in subdued tones that, “For a number of years, practically the only improvement work carried on was through WPA projects. In 1942, WPA confined its work almost exclusively to war projects: and under these conditions considerable work was done at the airport and a very little work was done on park projects.” The WPA was terminated the following year.

The next time you take your dog for a run at the off-leash recreation area at Minnehaha, have a look to see if there are any signs of the quarry and let us know what you find.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com