Archive for the ‘Lake Nokomis’ Tag

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

Bombers Over Lake Nokomis

My favorite photo of Lake Nokomis was taken in 1932. The true subject of the photo was a squadron of Martin bombers visiting Wold-Chamberlain Field from Langley Field, Virginia, but beneath them is a fascinating scene of park developments.

The Martin Bomber was the first American airplane built specifically to carry bombs. First built during WWI, the biplane version of the bomber was replaced by a monoplane version designed in 1932. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The photographer isn’t listed in the Minnesota Historical Society’s database, but it may have been taken by J. E. Quigley Aerial Photography. Quigley produced most of the other aerial photos of Minneapolis from that era.

The bare ground at the left wingtip of the middle plane is the Hiawatha Golf Course under construction. The course didn’t open until 1934. Dredging in Lake Hiawatha had just been completed in 1931.

It doesn’t show up well at this size, but the Nokomis Beach is packed (beneath the front airplane). You can see the diving towers in the lake.

Also note how barren the Nokomis lakeshore is. It had been created from lake dredgings only 15 years earlier.

Four years after dredging was completed at Lake Nokomis and the dredge fill had settled, the park board cleared and graded the land. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The dredge fill settled for four years before it was cleared of brush and willows that had grown up in the intervening years and the land was graded for athletic fields. The huge piles of brush in the background were burned. Of course the land was graded by horse teams. Even with that much time for the dredge fill to settle before it was graded, the playing fields continued to settle and were re-graded in the 1930s as a WPA project.

Even after ten years of tree growth, the lake shore doesn’t look very shaded in the 1932 photo.

The Cedar Avenue Bridge at the bottom of the aerial photo was the subject of great debate at the park board, Minneapolis City Council, the Hennepin County Board and Village Council of Richfield in the 1910s. Park superintendent Theodore Wirth’s plan for the improvement of Lake Nokomis in the 1912 annual report included rerouting Cedar Avenue around the southwest corner of the lake to eliminate a “very unsightly” wooden bridge over the edge of lake at the time. Even though the park board owned all the shores of the lake and the lake bed, the south end of the lake was then in Richfield, which is why the county and Richfield were involved in decisions on the bridge. Despite the park board position that building a bridge would be more expensive and less attractive, it was built — and paid for with Minneapolis bond funds — partly due to opposition by Richfield landowners to plans to reroute Cedar. By 1926 that line of opposition would have been partially removed when Minneapolis annexed about a mile-wide strip of Richfield that placed all of Lake Nokomis inside Minneapolis city limits.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Crime Wave

With the sports section of the StarTribune filled with hunting stories these days I was reminded of my favorite police report from the annual reports of the Minneapolis park board.

This moose was shot nowhere near Minneapolis to my knowledge. It's one of many hunting photos from the Minnesota Historical Society collection from the time period.

C. S. Barnard, Sergeant in Command, included these comments in the annual report of 1913:

“The football and hunting season necessitates the special service of five officers most of the time, namely two at Glenwood Park and one at Lake Nokomis to watch hunters, one officer during football season at North Commons and one at Longfellow Field…We have 30 guns in storage which have been taken from hunters shooting on park property and have returned as many more to the owners.”

Those five additional officers were significant in a day when the full-time park police force was only 17 men.

His comments on another aspect of his work is noteworthy given recent tribulations over “off-leash recreation areas” in Minneapolis parks.

“We have picked up and sent to the dog shelter 44 dogs which have been running at large in our most important parks.”

Barnard also categorizes all 309 arrests made during the year by park police. Approximately half were for either intoxication or driving commercial vehicles on parkways. Only three arrests were made for “hitching horses to shade trees.”

Two arrests were made of people “found in parks after 12 midnight.” Parks closed at midnight in those days. That caused a bit of a problem at Lake Harriet, as Barnard wrote:

“The red light on the boat house, installed this year, has been a great help in getting canoeists off the lake by 11:30 p.m., but owing to the large number who stay out past that time, I would suggest that the hour be changed to 11 o’clock in order to enable the parks to be cleared by 12 o’clock.”

A final note on canoes: Eight canoes were stolen from park property in 1913, but Barnard notes with pride “all of which have been recovered except one.”

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Minneapolis Park Memory: A Wonderful Gift

About two years ago, when our son-in-law was in the North St. Paul Library, he saw David Smith’s book about Minneapolis parks. He bought one and gave it to me for Christmas. We have enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures.

Jim became acquainted with Minnehaha Park and Parkway when he came to freshman orientation at Hamline in 1948. He particularly remembers the beauty of the lilac trees. When we lived in Rosemount, we came to Nokomis Park to picnic, swim and sail with friends. When we moved to Columbia Heights, Jim started to bike daily, and a few times each summer, he biked the Grand Rounds. We biked it with a church group a time or two. We continued to do that when we lived in Champlin and in north Minneapolis.

The house we owned since 1985 was near Lake Harriet and we biked around that lake and  also Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. We slid in the snow and watched our grandson’s rugby games at Columbia Park. We enjoyed many picnics near each of those lakes and the Rose Garden, Hiawatha, Nokomis, Farwell, Powderhorn and Wirth. Sometimes there were only two of us; other times it was a family gathering. We celebrated many birthdays and events by having picnics at a park. Following Thanksgiving dinner at our house, most of the guests enjoyed a walk around all or part of Lake Harriet. A recent memory is walking with our five-year-old granddaughter to a bridge over Minnehaha Creek and dropping sticks into the water and watching them float away. We are glad that our new home is near the Parkway, Minnehaha Park and Lake Nokomis, so we can continue to enjoy our wonderful gift of parks.

Phyllis Minehart

Minneapolis Park Memory: North to South

Minneapolis truly is a “City of Parks” for everyone — north, south, east , and west. As a ten-year-old tomboy in north Minneapolis, the neighbor kids and I would hike three miles to Glenwood Park, where we hunted for golf balls at the golf course, climbed the ski jump, and went wading in the creek until the golf workers would yell at us, “Hey, you little brats, get the heck out of that ‘crick’ NOW!” We would find a shady spot and dry off, giggling while eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or we would hike along Victory Memorial Drive to the Camden Pool, where every kid in north Minneapolis came to swim or get a bath. It was jam-packed with grubby young bodies all day long! When I was twelve, we moved to south Minneapolis, the Nokomis Lake and Lake Hiawatha area, another neat area for having fun in the parks.

After marriage and four kids, it was my kids who kept up the “fun in the parks” tradition, especially at Minnehaha Park. They investigated every nook and cranny, often ending up at the Falls, where they would crawl down the steep banks to the bottom of the Falls and work their way behind the water falls so nobody could see them and then make scary sounds and howls when little kids came to look at the water falling. Down the path from the Falls to the river was a large tree on a high bank. My son found a sturdy branch to which he tied a long, 2″-wide rope. Then he crawled to the top of the bank, holding the rope firmly an gave a bloodcurdling “Tarzan” yell, swinging form the top of the bank to a small island in the river where he landed. All the kids had a good time with the “Tarzan tree.” There weren’t so many park police or restrictions to keep kids from getting into mischief in the 30s to 60s, but I don’t recall any accidents occurring.

Thanks to Theodore Wirth and the Minneapolis Park Board for their foresight and wonderful planning of our great park system. There is so much for our enjoyment, and it’s free.

Judy Knutson

Webber Pool, year unknown. From the time it was built in 1910 until 1927, water was diverted form Shingle Creek to fill the pool. Beginning in 1927 the pool used filtered and chlorinated city water. In the early years, boys and girls used the pool at different times. One reason for the high wall around the pool was to prevent boys and girls from watching each other swim. In the 1930s, more than 1,500 children under the age of 14 used the pool every summer day. (City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)