Archive for the ‘Minnehaha Falls’ Category

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

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

Minnehaha Park: The Incinerator and the Fireplace

A few months ago Mary MacDonald and Doug Rosenquist asked about fireplaces near 54th and Hiawatha in Minnehaha Park. Mary asked about the stone fireplace a few hundred yards down the path into the dog park and Doug asked about the brick fireplace nearer the road and north of 54th Street.

View of the fireplace from the path in the dog park.

Unfortunately I haven’t found any information on the massive stone fireplace. Not even MaryLynn Pulscher of the park board knows why it’s there or who built it — and if MaryLynn doesn’t know it’s a decent bet that no one does. Still, I’ll keep asking around. I hope one of our readers knows somebody who remembers something and can pass it along to the rest of us.

I have better news about the two-story incinerator. It was built in 1939 by a WPA crew. This is how it was described in the park board’s 1939 annual report:

“Along this roadway a concrete, limestone-faced incinerator was constructed at the old stone quarry site. This incinerator, the first of its kind in our park system, will burn the waste accumulated from the various picnic grounds in this section of the city. A continuation of improvements similar to these is contemplated for next year.”

Two photos of the incinerator are included in the 1939 annual report, but those photos would be hard to reproduce due to the low quality printing of the annual report that year. The 1931-1939 annual reports were not typeset and production values were low.

A stairway goes down behind the incinerator to a lower level where the fire could be stoked and ashes removed..

Despite a reputation for producing elegant and well-illustrated annual reports dating back to the earliest days of the park board (see praise for the park board’s annual reports from noted landscape architect Warren Manning here), the park board’s finances during the Great Depression would not allow anything above the barest minimum of expenditures on annual reports. I am still grateful, however, that photos were included in the reports during those lean depression years.

Until you can get to a library to find a copy of the report and see the original photos, I will provide this quick shot I took last week.

In materials and construction — concrete faced with limestone — the incinerator is similar to the other WPA construction projects in Minnehaha Park in 1939 and 1940, including bridges across Minnehaha Creek in the lower glen and retaining walls built along the creek. (You still have two days to vote for Minnehaha Park and Mill Ruins Park in the Partners in Preservation contest on facebook.)

The Old Stone Quarry Site

The most interesting part of the incinerator description, for me, is its location at the “old stone quarry site.” I remember seeing the photo below in the 1907 annual report and assumed that the quarry was in operation for several years. It appears that it was not. Continue reading

Bridges at Minnehaha Falls

The continuing Partners in Preservation voting on Facebook prompted me to look up information on the bridges over Minnehaha Creek below the falls that need restoration. Minnehaha Park is one of 25 contestants for a $125,000 grant from American Express to preserve local historical sites, another is Mill Ruins Park. The funds would be used at Minnehaha to tuck point and repair the WPA era bridges over Minnehaha Creek and retaining walls.

The first bridge to appear in photos of the falls on the Minnesota Historical Society Visual Database is this one that is catalogued as “ca. 1860.”

This is the earliest dated photo -- ca. 1860 -- of the bridge below Minnehaha Falls in the Minnesota Historical Society's Visual Resources Database.

Of course that was long before the land surrounding the falls was acquired as a park. The Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners purchased the site as a state park in 1889 when the Minnesota legislature couldn’t come up with the $92,000 to buy the land. A group of private citizens, led by George Brackett, raised the money to purchase the land and was later repaid by the city. I have seen no evidence of who built or owned this bridge.

In 1893, four years after the park board purchased Minnehaha Park, it approved an expenditure of $250 to build two “rustic” bridges, one near the falls and another further downstream (Proceedings, June 19, 1893).

The park board built this "rustic" bridge in 1893. This photo was taken in 1896. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This is the bridge that resulted. In the MHS database, photos of this bridge are dated as early as ca. 1888, but all photos of this bridge had to be taken after 1893.

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 next bridge was built by the park board in 1910 as noted in the park board’s 1910 annual report. The bridge was built of reinforced concrete and faced with boulders found in the park and surrounding area. A photo of the new bridge appeared in the 1910 annual report. In many photographs and postcards it was referred to as the “stone arch bridge.” This bridge was replaced in 1940 as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in the park.

The bridge was completed in 1940 as a WPA project. (Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Library)

The new bridge was made of concrete and faced with cut stone. (This photo is from the Minneapolis Collection at the Hennepin County Library, another priceless resource.) This is one of the five bridges that will be repaired and restored under the Partners in Preservation project.

To vote for Mill Ruins Park (educational archeological excavations of the mills that once stood beside the river) or Minnehaha Park go to Partners in Preservation on Facebook, “like” the page, then vote. (Voting continues only until October 12; you can vote once a day.) It’s a great opportunity to help Minneapolis parks get some funding that they might not get otherwise.

If you’re willing to share your photos of the bridge, send them to me at the address below.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Support Minneapolis Parks: Vote Minnehaha Park or Mill Ruins Park

You have a great opportunity to support Minneapolis parks this week by voting on Facebook in a Partners in Preservation contest. American Express has put up $1 million to restore sites of historic importance in the Twin Cities area. Twenty-five sites were nominated for funds including two Minneapolis parks: Minnehaha Park and Mill Ruins Park. The winner of the voting on Facebook will receive up to $125,000 of the money with the remainder to be  divided among the nominees by a committee of historical experts.

At Minnehaha the funds would be used to repair and restore the stone bridges over Minnehaha Creek. The Mill Ruins project would pay for educational archeological excavations of the site and continue efforts to reveal more of the historic mills. Two excellent projects.

You can vote once a day until October 12 here. The only caveat is that to vote you have to agree to share your Facebook profile information with American Express. Seems a small price to pay. Read the small print.

Tell your friends!

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Large Stone Fireplace in Minnehaha Dog Park?

Mary MacDonald recently wrote to ask for info on the large stone fireplace near the long path to the Mississippi River in the Minnehaha Dog Park off 54th and Hiawatha. She said she’s been unable to find any info on who built it and how old it is. Does anyone know? I don’t know anything about it. Leave a comment or e-mail me at the address below.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Maybe it’s time for Puck to have a sniff.

Puck

Minneapolis Park Memory: Sparks, shetlands and a muskrat

I lived at 3040 Longfellow Avenue South until I was nine years old, and I have fond memories of Minneapolis parks and lakes. We were a walking, rail-riding family, often hurrying to Cedar Avenue to catch the streetcar. Do you remember the overhead sparks?

My dad and his younger brother Bobby, who often stayed with us, would pull me on the toboggan all the way to Powderhorn Park to slide down the “big” hill. Family legend has it that I didn’t trudge up the hill hand-in-hand like most kids: I had to be carried. My mom took me by streetcar for ice skating lessons at the Minneapolis Arena, and Dad and I would carry our skates to Powderhorn Park to practice on the lake. Do you remember when it was so cold you could hear the ice all the way across the lake?

Of course, Minnehaha Falls was a fascination for the young me. Remember the pony rides? I’m sure I thought I was Dale Evans as those Shetlands made endless circles. A family outing at the Falls always included a long walk down (and up) the stairs built by the federal work-relief crews. I have pictures of me and Dad posed at those beautiful stonework rest stops.

Other bits and pieces of my Minneapolis park and lake memories include the swans of Loring Park, the Aqua Follies at Theodore Wirth, and canoeing in a borrowed canoe on Lake of the Isles, with my fellow paddlers trying to hit a muskrat with their paddles.

Pam Schultz

Minneapolis Park Memory: My Park

When I was a child, my family lived at 42nd Street and 33rd Avenue. My parents and brother often walked to Minnehaha Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We usually made one stop, at 46th Street, so my brother and I could ride the ponies. They had three pairs of ponies that went around and around and around. Mother packed a small lunch; we never took liquids because there were several water fountains in the park. The lower part of the park was fenced in for deer; it was called the “deer pen.” I have a picture of me standing on thh bridge in front of the falls dressed in my Sunday best. Mother had curled my hair to look my best for a trip to the park.

In teen years we ice skated on the lagoon above the falls. We had a warming house, as well as an iced toboggan run. A park employee monitored the run. In the summertime, my family would walk the trails on either side of the creek all the way down to the river, where we would wave to the people across the water. Every year we had our fall church picnic at the park. We used the wonderful pavilion with its restrooms, stoves and lots of picnic tables. This is most of my life. What would I have done without my park?

Gladys Wangstad

Public-private collaborations that work: Sea Salt, Tin Fish and…Bread and Pickle?

The mention of Sea Salt restaurant in Alice Streed’s Minneapolis Park Memory: Treasure (below) is noteworthy. A relatively new development in our parks is mentioned in the same sentences as long-celebrated spaces and activities. The popular restaurant in the Minnehaha Park refectory — run as a private, for-profit business — is a marvelous example of the best of public-private collaboration. It proves that private enterprise can do some things, such as serving delicious sea food, better than a public agency. I believe it also demonstrates the silliness of claims that the sky is falling whenever an agency like the park board considers change.

Lest private enterprise advocates get carried away here, however, let me state quite emphatically that there would be no park system in which to place these wonderful little restaurants if we would have relied on private interests to create parks. Our parks prove that public agencies can do some things, such as creating a park system, that private enterprise will not do.

The debate over allowing businesses to operate in Minneapolis parks is old — and sometimes entertaining. The park board began granting concessions for boat rentals, then food sales, to private businesses at Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet very early in the history of Minneapolis parks. The park board assumed control of the boat rentals at Lake Harriet in the late 1880s when Charles Loring noted that the business could be easily managed by the park board. On other issues, however, the presence of private enterprise on park property was vigorously opposed.

Permit me to quote myself — and Horace Cleveland — from City of Parks:

(Cleveland) had also written (to William Folwell) of his disgust that the park board was considering permitting a structure next to Minnehaha Falls where people could have their photos taken beside the cataract. “If erected,” Cleveland complained, “it will be simply 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.”

You didn’t mess with Cleveland’s favorite natural landscapes — one of the things that made him one of the first great landscape architects. Fortunately, William Folwell, who was president of the park board at the time, agreed with his friend.

Another early private business on park property was a service to pump up deflated bicycle tires on the new bicycle paths created by the park board during the bicycle craze of the 1880s-1890s. The park board did exercise some control over the business, however, by stipulating that the business could not charge more than a penny for filling a tire.

The park board began to take over food service in park buildings afterTheodore Wirth became park superintendent in 1906. Wirth, like many park executives of the day, believed that no private concessions should be operated in parks — although he seemed to make an exception for pony rides and probably would have for the polo fields and barns he proposed for Bryn Mawr Meadows. (And, of course, the sheep he brought in to graze at Glenwood Park in 1921 were not owned by the park board. Wirth wrote that he thought sheep grazing in a park was a cool visual effect and that the sheep would earn their keep by cutting grass, keeping weeds down, which reduced fire risk, and fertilizing. Unfortunately they didn’t mow evenly and ate other plants too, so the borrowed sheep were evicted in 1922. ) One of the few other historical examples of a private venture operating on park property was the Minneapolis Tennis Club, which operated first at The Parade and then moved to Nicollet (Martin Luther King) Park in the early 1950s when Parade Stadium was built.

Do you remember concession stands in parks? What about treats at the Calhoun, Nokomis or Wirth beach houses?  As good as fish tacos?

I have high hopes for Bread & Pickle, the new food service contracted for Lake Harriet next summer. I hope the Citizens Advisory Council that worked so hard on the recommendations wasn’t too conservative in forcing  a new service into old space.

David C. Smith,  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Minneapolis Park Memory: Treasure

How I have enjoyed the Minneapolis parks: watching fireworks at Powderhorn Park; concerts at Lake Harriet, with picnics on the hill; swimming and canoeing at Calhoun; walking in Minnehaha Park and eating crab cakes at Sea Salt; walking and biking at Nokomis; watching my children play hockey at various parks, and baseball at McRae and Diamond Lake; teaching the children to skate at Diamond Lake; my sons in their early teens taking the bus from our home at 48th and Clinton all the way to Theodore Wirth Park to play golf; my boys golfing at Hiawatha and telling us that they played with two really nice “old guys.” (These “old guys” happened to be friends of ours from church and were our age, in their 40s.)

My son Glen would leave the house in the summer early in the morning, bike to Lake Harriet with his fishing equipment, climb on a tree branch overhanging the lake and stay until suppertime. He enjoyed being outdoors even if he didn’t catch fish.

But here is my most treasured memory: In 1945, my future husband took me canoeing at Calhoun and then into Lake of the Isles, and gave me my engagement ring.

Alice Streed

The Romantic Route (from City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Minneapolis Park Memory: Best Days of My Life

I grew up in South Minneapolis and enjoyed all the parks especially Minnehaha and the Falls. I have a picture of my Girl Scout Brownie Troop taken there (that would be along time ago). My family has had many wiener roasts at the “deer pen” and several family reunions attended by 80+ people from many different states. We just had one this past August at Wabun Park at the east end of Minnehaha Park. It has recently been remodeled and is a wonderful park.

My best memories have to do with our local neighborhood parks that aren’t necessarily on a tourist’s list, such as Keewaydin, Brackett, Longfellow, Hiawatha and many others. My favorite park was Longfellow, where my husband spent his childhood years skating and playing hockey, football and baseball. He was president of the Longfellow Activities Council for seven years and was a baseball coach. Those were the “good old days” when you could send your kids to the park without worrying about kidnapping and the like.

Activities at the park brought kids and parents together; we were one large family that would be known as a “village” today. Those were the best days of my life.

Shirley Adler