1948 Olympic Speed Skating Team and Louise Herou’s Medals

As I mentioned last week, a new book out on Twin Cities sports includes a chapter on speed skating. The chapter introduces Minnesota speed skating history from John S. Johnson’s world records in the 1890s to the many great skaters who raced at Powderhorn Lake into the 1960s.

I was reminded of a photo from Minneapolis park board archives that I featured a few years ago. The photo had no caption and I wondered who were the skaters and starters on the ice at Powderhorn Lake. Thanks to several readers, we identified all the skaters and Hubert Humphrey, Minneapolis’s Mayor, next to the starter. The skaters are six of the eight men who won places on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team that skated at San Moritz. No one, however, identified the man with the starter’s gun.

Powderhorn  U.S.Olympic Team 1947-2-16

I finally found the original of the photo and it’s not a park board photo after all but a photo by Bud Jewett in the Minneapolis Tribune, February 17, 1947. The original photo also included the famous coach of the Powderhorn skaters, Oscar Johnson. Below is the original published photo with caption, which identifies the man with the gun as Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl.

1947-02-17 Star_Tribune HHH and Gov. Youngdahl at starting line of Powderhorn men

Another bit of skating news: I recently acquired a collection of 110 medals, including national championship medals, won by Louise Herou from 1934-1942. Herou won medals from when she was 13 until she stopped skating after having two seasons cut short by illness. When the 1943 skating season rolled around she was a true-life Rosie the Riveter working at the Twin City Ordnance plant and no longer had time for training. She would never return to speed skating, except as a teacher and coach.

1943-03-09 Star_Tribune Herou with her medals and trophies

Herou with her medals and trophies from a March 9, 1943 Minneapolis Tribune article on her giving up skating for work at an ordnance plant. Many of these medals were displayed in a new case (below) which I recently acquired.

By then she had become one of the the top golfers in Minneapolis and had made an appearance as a swimmer with the Aqua Follies, the annual water show associated with the Minneapolis Aquatennial. She was also a crack shot with a shotgun, played an excellent second-base in softball and was a top-level tennis player. In 1945 she was inducted into an honorary sorority at the U of M for achieving straight A’s as a freshman. She went to law school at the U of M, became an attorney and married Charlie Saunders who owned Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale, a leading Minneapolis restaurant, which she continued to run after he died.Herou medals 1

The display I acquired has an oak frame with a bronze nameplate that reads “Louise Herou Saunders”, so the medals in the top picture were likely put in this new display case after she was married. Many of the medals are beautifully made by some of the top silver and goldsmiths in the country. Unfortunately, the display was not covered with archival glass to protect the ribbons from UV rays (perhaps such a product didn’t exist when the case was made) so they are very faded. Most medals are engraved on the back with event and result; some are inscribed with her name.

All of her 1934 medals, which were won in the “juvenile girls” category, are inscribed “Tee Herou.” I assume that was a nickname. A check of newspaper results for her skating years reveals that these 110 medals are not nearly all that she won, but include many of her wins in the more prestigious local and national tournaments. While many of the medals she won are missing there is also one from the Minneapolis Star Journal in 1939 inscribed as a Medal of Merit for “Mens Skating.” How that came to be in her collection might be a good story. Where the trophies pictured in the newspaper photo above ended up is anyone’s guess. Louise Herou and Charlie Saunders did not have children.

I’m not really a collector of such things as these medals, but when I saw them for sale I thought they should remain together as a collection instead of being sold off individually. Herou’s scrapbooks are in Special Collections at Hennepin County Library. Perhaps a skating or historical organization will some day want to display her medals. If not for WWII, it is quite possible she would have competed on an international stage, although not the Olympics. Women’s speed skating wasn’t an Olympic sport until 1960.

David Carpentier Smith

Twin Cities Sports History

I’m happy to alert you to the publication of a new book that many of you will enjoy. Twin Cities Sports: Games for All Seasons, edited by my friend Sheldon Anderson, was released yesterday by the University of Arkansas Press. The book presents many of the most interesting aspects of sports in Minnesota history. It provides a behind-the-headlines look at sport and society. I can guarantee everyone will learn something new about sports history in Minnesota.

Dick Dahl writes about pro football, Stew Thornley about the Minneapolis Lakers, Tom Jones about golf — just three of the nine chapters. I think you’ll also enjoy reading about Minneapolis park history from someone other than me in Shannon Murray’s excellent chapter on the creation and evolution of the park system.   Twin Cities Sports Cover

I contributed a chapter on the history of Twin Cities speed skating in addition to collaborating with Shel on chapters about high school basketball and high school hockey. I am especially proud to have written the first broad account of speedskating in Minneapolis and St. Paul, from early superstars like John S. Johnson to the great skaters that came out of the Hippodrome Skating Club in St. Paul and Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. While researching that chapter I learned so much about extraordinary athletes who have never gotten the attention they deserve. There is so much more to tell. Might be worth a book in itself someday!

Here’s my brush with greatness in the book: we illustrated the basketball chapter with an action photo of Lindsey Whalen in high school. I remember playing in the same gym in which that shot was taken. How cool is that? I bet there’s fewer than six degrees of separation.

The Roseau high school hockey cheerleaders also talked with me and a friend at the lunch counter in the old W.T. Grant’s store on Seventh Street in downtown St. Paul during the state hockey tournament one year when I was a kid. They must have thought we were cute little kids. We were probably staring at them. We were star struck. When you grew up on the East Side of St. Paul hockey was a big deal, so Roseau hockey cheerleaders were nearly celebrities. They were on tv!

I hope you will pick up a copy of the book. Of course, it’s available on Amazon, but I would encourage you to shop at local booksellers when you can.

David Carpentier Smith

Flu Seating at Gopher-Badger Game

One hundred years ago this week, an account of the Minnesota Gopher men’s basketball team’s loss to Wisconsin in Madison included this:

“Two fouls were assessed against Knapp, Badger captain, because of the noise made by the crowd during the progress of the game. Because of the influenza ban which is on at Madison, only alternate rows of seats were occupied at the game.”
— Minneapolis Tribune, February 1, 1920

Seems so ignorant given what we now know — and fear — about infectious diseases like the coronavirus. Maybe the excessive crowd noise was coughing. The old-fashioned crowd control and infectious-disease control were not the only things a bit dated: the final score was 28-12.

I found this item during my continuing research into a novel basketball tournament held in Minneapolis from the 1920s-1950s. In the process I’ve learned a great deal more about why the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners built a recreation center in Logan Park in 1915 and didn’t build another one on the same scale in any other park for more than 50 years. I will write more on that topic in the near future.

David Carpentier Smith

Baseballs at War

Once in awhile I come across a little gem of info that I don’t know what to do with because it’s not about Minneapolis parks, but is too interesting to let slip back under the covers of history. So this…

From the Minneapolis Tribune, Thursday, February 7, 1918, dateline New York, in its entirety:

Baseball To Follow The Flag In France

There is a probability baseball will be played extensively by the troops in France this spring. The Y.M.C.A. war work council has awarded a contract for 59,760 baseballs, probably one of the largest orders ever placed. Special preparation has to be made in packing these balls so they will not be affected by dampness. Special cases are made for the purpose.

I looked to see if I could find an image of a 1918 baseball online that I could post here and I found two noteworthy images.

The first was a 1918 baseball for sale at the time of this writing on eBay. The names of soldiers, complete with rank are printed on the ball. I don’t know if this was one of the balls sent to France by the “Y”, but it was clearly well-used. I love the red and blue stitching. I wonder if it was so tightly wound—or juiced—that it could leave a ball yard at an exit velocity of well over 100 mph as they do at Target Field these days. Doubtful.

1918-wwi-military-baseball.jpg

This 1918 baseball signed by soldiers, complete with ranks, is for sale on eBay by showpiecessports. The linked page above includes seven more photos of the ball. Thanks to showpiecessports for permission to use their image.

I also found another image at the National Baseball Hall of Fame that tells more of the story of baseball and WWI. This photo suggests that the ball used by the soldiers was the same—red and blue stitching—as that used by Major League Baseball. One notable change in the game since 1918 is immediately obvious: game balls weren’t discarded then after they had hit the dirt once!

1918 WWI Ball Hall of Fame

One panel of the ball reads, “Season ending on Labor Day on Account of War.” The other, “Last ball used in game at Navin Field. Hit by Jack Collins off Bobby Veach. Caught by Davy Jones.” For Bobby Veach, who led the American League in RBI that year as an outfielder, this was the only pitching appearance of his 14-year career. Thanks to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for permission to publish this image. (Milo Stewart, Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The excellent article that accompanies this photo tells of how baseball players were viewed as potential soldiers in the Great War. Quite different from WWII. The full story of the game and the season from which this ball was saved—101 years ago this month—is fascinating. A little of everything: Star Spangled Banner, Ty Cobb, rifle drills, the Boston Red Sox winning a World Series before Big Papi, and more.

With all those YMCA baseballs going to France in 1918, I’m surprised the French didn’t pick up any interest in the game, but they seem not to have. I suppose when part of your country is reduced to sticks and mud and cemeteries, you don’t have much time to think about new sports played on fields of grass.

IMAG0470

The American monument to soldiers–some of whom may have played with those YMCA baseballs–who died near Chateau Thierry in WWI. Not many miles from this sobering, beautiful monument is where Ernest Wold and Cyrus Chamberlain, two young men from Minneapolis, died as aviators in the war. The Minneapolis airport, owned by the Minneapolis park board from 1926-1943, was named Wold-Chamberlain Field in their honor. (Photo: David C. Smith)

Baseball and war brings to mind the mistaken perception that baseball was spread in the other direction, to Japan, by American soldiers after WWII. Baseball was popular in Japan decades before then.

The University of Chicago’s baseball team played the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in August 1910 on their way to the West Coast for a trip to Japan to play Japanese university teams. The next spring a team from Japan’s Waseda University—which had hosted the U of Chicago team—played two games against the Gopher nine at Northrup Field and Nicollet Park, losing 3-2 in 15 innings and 8-2.

The Tribune reported that the Chicago team—and a University of Wisconsin team in 1909—had been treated as “national guests” of Japan and noted that special arrangements were being made to entertain the Waseda University team “so they will feel they are the guests of the Twin Cities as well as the university.”

I have not found any similar stories about teams from the Sorbonne in Paris looking for games with local nines.

The Minneapolis park board did not create its first baseball field until 1908. Before then, sports fields were not viewed by many people as legitimate uses of public park land.

I wonder if we’ve sent any baseballs or baseball fields to Afghanistan? You’d think we might have after nearly two decades of war there. On the other hand we’ve had military bases in Germany for more than 70 years and only Max Kepler to show for it baseball-wise. Taking nothing away from Kepler; I hope he’s healthy for the Twins in the play-offs.

David Carpentier Smith

 

Posters for Parks

It’s time to fill that bare (or stale) spot on your wall with a limited edition poster of a local artist’s take on Minneapolis parks. The 4th Annual Posters for Parks event will be Saturday, Sept. 28 from 5-9 p.m. at Royal Foundry Craft Spirits, 241 Fremont Ave. N., Minneapolis.

More than 40 local designers and illustrators will present limited-edition, original posters for sale, with 50% of proceeds going to People for Parks, a grassroots organization that has raised money for park projects for decades. The event was created by lovemplsparks.org.

Good cause and good art mixed with royal spirits. Can’t beat that.

David Carpentier Smith

A Bus Tour and a Road Trip

Thanks to everyone who joined the Preserve Minneapolis Waterfront Bus Tour on Saturday. It was a beautiful day. A few people asked for a map of the tour so here it is. Follow the (shaky) black line down from top left at The Parade.Waterfront Tour Route Map

Below is the turn-by-turn itinerary we followed as I talked about one of the greatest preservation feats in any city: maintaining public ownership of nearly every foot of waterfront in the city. By car it’s about a 90-minute drive without stops, but by bus it was nearly a half-hour longer owing to some tight turns and having to wait for cars and bicycles to clear some intersections before our excellent driver could navigate some corners. If anyone has any remaining questions raised by the tour, ask them as comments below and I’ll try to answer. I’d recommend this drive for anyone interested in seeing a broad cross section of waterfront and neighborhood parks in the southern half of the city. Perhaps in the future we will  tour parks and parkways in north and northeast Minneapolis where there is not as much water but even more alluring neighborhood parks.

Bus Route for Waterfront Tour: August 17

Parade parking lot>

Spring Lake via right from parking lot onto Kenwood Parkway>

Lake of the Isles via Kenwood Parkway, left on Douglas, right on Logan, right on Franklin, left onto West Lake of the Isles Parkway>

Cedar Lake via West Lake of the Isles Parkway, right on Dean Parkway, right on Cedar Lake Parkway, left onto Sunset Blvd.>

Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) via Sunset Blvd, left onto Drew Avenue, left on Lake Street, right onto East Calhoun Parkway>

Lake Harriet via East Calhoun Parkway, left on William Berry Parkway and right on Lake Harriet Parkway>

Minnehaha Creek via Lake Harriet Parkway, right on West Minnehaha Parkway>

Diamond Lake (Pearl Lake) via West Minnehaha Parkway, to East Minnehaha Parkway, right on Portland Ave., right on E. Diamond Lake Road, right into Pearl Park parking lot>

Todd Park through parking lot, left on Hampshire Dr., left on E. Diamond Lake Road, right on Portland Ave. and left on E. 56th St., left on Chicago Ave. South>

Lake Nokomis via Chicago Ave. South, right on E. 54th St., left on W. Lake Nokomis Parkway, continue past beach>

Lake Hiawatha via W. Lake Nokomis Parkway, left on 22nd Ave. S, then right onto East Minnehaha Parkway>

Minnehaha Falls via East Minnehaha Parkway, right on S. Minnehaha Dr. at Godfrey Circle, left on S. Minnehaha Park Dr. to pavilion>

Mississippi River exit Pavilion parking lot, right on S. Minnehaha Dr., right on Godfrey Parkway, continue onto West River Parkway>

Seven Oaks Oval via W. River Parkway, left on E. 33rd St., left on Edmunds Blvd., right on E. 34th St., left on Park Terrace>

Longfellow Park via Park Terrace, continue onto 47th Ave. South, right on E. 35th  St.>

Powderhorn Park via E. 35th St.>

Painter Park via E. 35th St., right on Lyndale>

Bryant Square Park via Lyndale Ave. South, left on E. 31st St.>

Lake of the Isles Lagoon via E. 31st St., right on Dupont, left at light on Lagoon, right on E. Lake Calhoun Parkway>

Lake of the Isles via East Lake Calhoun Parkway, right on The Mall, left on James Ave. So., right on East Lake of the Isles Parkway>

Thomas Lowry Park (Seven Pools) via East Lake of the Isles Parkway, right then immediate left on W. Franklin Ave., right on Oliver Ave. South., right on Douglas Ave.>

Parade Parking via Douglas Ave., left on Frontage Road, right on Groveland Terrace, left on Hennepin Ave., left on Vineland, continue on Bryant Ave. South to Parade parking lot.

A Longer Road Trip

I haven’t put in a plug for the Minnesota Historical Society for awhile so I thought it was time again.

A couple weeks ago we took a day adventure to visit the Jeffers Petroglyphs in southwestern Minnesota. It was a spectacular summer day with a cooling breeze. Driving through south central Minnesota is always a treat for me. It’s wonderful to get out of the city into farmland and prairie. As much as I enjoy the open sky from a lakeshore or riverbank in town, there is something more spectacular—practically intoxicating—about the vistas and the fresh air of farms and prairie. Most of the Minnesota prairie is cultivated of course, but the native prairie has been restored, regenerated, around the site of the petroglyphs between Comfrey and Jeffers.

We approached from the north because I wanted to visit Redwood Falls on the way, a town and a waterfall I had not seen in many years. I was surprised and pleased to see that signs in the Redwood Falls park were in both English and Dakota. (Those signs reminded me to ask that the Minneapolis park board provide at least English translations for the Dakota language cutouts in the metal sculptures at Bde Maka Ska.)Petroglyph panorama

The 5,000 petroglyphs carved into a ridge of red rock—Sioux quartzite—emerging from the prairie tell of people long ago and hint at what they likely believed, enjoyed, feared and hoped. Some are thought to have been created 7,000 years ago.

Jeffers thunderbird

A thunderbird image hammered into the rock with a harder rock. The thunderbird faces west, always west, our guide told us.

Of course, with my Minnesota Historical Society membership, there was no admission charge. Do yourself a favor and take the drive some day. The site is open every day but Tuesday. We had an excellent burger and a cheap beer at the Comfrey Bar and Grill for lunch, just a few miles from the petroglyphs.

Be sure to visit the rock outcropping rubbed shiny by itchy buffalo, too. Picture them in the thousands coming to the little spa for a good scratch. Most helpful were the labels that identified prairie grasses, plants and flowers on the trail from the visitors center to the petroglyphs. Now I know names for some of the (what I thought were) weeds in my yard! I was a great day to imagine a distant and quite different past, as well as to revisit a near and quite different present than we see in the city.

David Carpentier Smith

Lake (White Out) Parkways, East and West

With the park board holding a public hearing this week on changing the names of all parkways with Calhoun in the name, I thought I might make one last suggestion to simplify everything going forward.

Instead of changing the names of East and West Lake Calhoun Parkways and West Calhoun Boulevard, perhaps we can serve multiple purposes if we just “white out” the “Calhoun”.

One, it gets rid of “Calhoun”, which is usually given as the primary objective of the name changes. (The other objective, to honor Dakota history at the lake, was accomplished when the park board changed the name of the lake itself to one of its historical Dakota names, Maka Ska.)

Two, it leaves a “blank” or white space on signs—I mean we literally paint over “Calhoun” on road signs and park signs—which invites questions and comments such as, “What the…?” or “Mommy-Daddy-Caregiver why is there white paint on that sign?” Many of the objections to changing the name from Calhoun to Maka Ska have to do with deleting a part of our history that we should acknowledge and confront instead of hiding. Some have said that keeping Calhoun provides an important teaching opportunity. I agree in principle. Visibly defacing or obliterating Calhoun’s name, however, might provide the same opportunity for discussion because it would invite queries without appearing to honor John C. Calhoun. “There’s something happenin’ here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.” (A white space on road signs might also invite graffiti, but no solution I’ve heard is perfect.)

Neither keeping Calhoun nor replacing it with Maka Ska can achieve both those results.

Explanation for younger readers: What is white out? It was a fast-drying, white, opaque liquid applied by a tiny brush to places in typewritten documents that required corrections. By applying white out to a word with a typo one could then type over the whited out word instead of retyping a whole page. It had nothing to do with snow or blizzards or everyone attending a basketball game wearing white shirts.

Despite so much waterfront in Minneapolis, there is no East or West Lake Parkway or West Boulevard now, so whiting out Calhoun on those three parkways wouldn’t create confusion with any existing streets. Whiting out Calhoun also could avoid the expense of buying new signs and throwing the present ones into a landfill. Given how few intersections there are on the Lake (White Out) Parkways (by my count twenty or fewer), my guess is one or two cans of Kilz spray paint would do the job. Bring a brush if you don’t like aerosols. Would take a couple hours at most. Best if the paint is not reflective like the rest of the street signs so our history is hinted at by a non-reflecting hole on the sign even in the dark.

Address changes for homes on those streets would be easier too with the white out solution. People with present East or West Calhoun Parkway addresses could simply cross out or white out the Calhoun on their mail or legal addresses until the change takes hold in the public mind. The only people who really need to know street addresses—Amazon and its delivery subsidiaries—could easily sort that out. Google should also be alerted to update their maps so Uber drivers won’t get confused. (Drivers could tell the story of the white out to inquisitive travelers from St. Paul or Edina.)

Finally, “white out” as a metaphor should appeal to those who believe that is what has happened figuratively to our historical record.

Worth a thought.

Waterfront Tour

Preserve Minneapolis tells me that anyone who wants to join our waterfront tour may be without a seat on the bus if they wait much longer. Our tour of many Minneapolis waterfronts begins at the Parade parking lot next to the Sculpture Garden on August 17 at 10 a.m. One part of our tour will take us along East Lake (White Out) Parkway enroute to Minnehaha Falls, then back via West River Parkway and other waterfronts to Parade by noon. To learn more and reserve a seat click here.  The fee goes to Preserve Minneapolis, not me.

David Carpentier Smith

 

Lake Hiawatha Water Management

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) recently published background documents on water management issues at Lake Hiawatha and Hiawatha Golf Course that have guided priority-setting and decison-making for the past two years. I would encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to have a look at the papers in the “What’s New” tab at the bottom of the linked page. For many of those most involved in the issue, this review of the project may be redundant, but for many others it will establish a useful starting point for discussion. Even for experts, these documents may provide a good review of the analysis and evaluations upon which park board staff have relied.

What I have not found in those otherwise useful briefings was a recap of historical events to put water levels in perspective. So….here goes. Let’s turn the clock back again. (For more background on the creation of Lake Hiawatha and the adjacent Hiawatha Golf Course and some cool “before” photos, read my recent post Troublesome Lake Hiawatha.)

Lake Depth

Theodore Wirth’s initial plan for dredging Lake Hiawatha was to dredge to a depth of 14 feet. Due to budget concerns, however, he had reduced his dredging plan to a depth of ten feet when contracts were let. In his 1929 annual report (dated January 1, 1930), he wrote that ten feet “as called for in the present contract is the very minimum depth a lake should be, and the only reason for specifying such a minimum depth was to keep the cost…down.” He added, however, that due to money saved through a very competitive bidding process, “it is my earnest recommendation that it be increased to fourteen feet.” His argument was twofold: one, it would produce a “cleaner” sheet of water with less vegetation; two, it would bring the land area to a “higher and more desirable grade at a reasonable cost of $35,000.” That additional four feet of dredging, he noted the next year, had produced an additional 270,000 cubic yards of material.

By the time grading of the new golf course was done, Wirth wrote in his 1932 report that a low lake level and favorable weather had “permitted the creation of much more undulation than hoped for in the great area of level land devoted to the golf course…with the happy result that the eighteen holes will be a more interesting course than it was anticipated could be made.” Had more extensive grading also produced more low areas that could eventually flood?

Lake Level

The lake level used as the average in the contemporary water management study reached via the link at the top of this post is 812.8 ft MSL or above mean sea level. The measurement of levels has changed a few times in the last century. The water levels cited in park board reports from its beginning in 1883 through the time Lake Hiawatha was dredged were in feet above “city datum.” Never mind what that means for a moment. In his 1931 annual report Wirth gives a “normal” elevation of Lake Hiawatha as 100 city datum. To translate city datum measures to contemporary MSL measures requires the addition of roughly 710 ft to the city datum. (If a geodesist finds that I’m off, please let me know a better translation.)

Yikes! That means today’s “normal” of 812.8 ft. MSL is nearly three feet above normal in Wirth’s time of about 810 ft MSL.  Take three feet of water off Lake Hiawatha today and most of the golf course and all surrounding neighborhood basements are dry.

But wait, there’s more!

Although 100 was considered the normal level for Lake Hiawatha in 1931 the actual water level that year—the year dredging was finished in a very dry year—was only 96.25! In today’s terms that would be about 806.25 ft MSL, or six-and-a-half feet, roughly one Kawhi Leonard, below today’s normal!

Wirth provided this data in a section of his 1932 report that explained how the park board had contracted with the city to pump city water into the lakes to raise levels. In 1931 the park board paid the city $1,422.25 to pump 113,780,090 gallons of city water into Lake Hiawatha to raise its level to 98.62 ft or roughly 208.62 ft MSL, still four feet below today’s normal! The same year the park board paid the city $3,071.09 to pump 245,687,400 gallons into the Chain of Lakes (Cedar, Isles and Calhoun) and $1,201.19 to pump 96,095,580 gallons into Nokomis.

Why did they do it? Wirth’s words:

“As an experiment to find out definitely how practical and at what cost it would be feasible to raise our lake levels during dry periods, and in order to have the appearance of our lakes in presentable condition for the Knights Templar Conclave in June, together with a desire to have the bathing beaches at certain lakes made available for use…It will be difficult to operate our Lake Calhoun and Lake Nokomis bath houses efficiently with the present elevation of water.”

While noting that given the board’s finances it would be difficult to find the funds to pump water into the lakes in 1933, the Great Depression was grinding people and landscapes to dust, Wirth estimated it would cost $21,762.50 to pump the 1.741 billion gallons of water needed to raise the lakes to normal elevations. (Precision was one of Wirth’s strong suits—as was his compulsion to make his parks “presentable”.) That money was not forthcoming from the park board’s budget, and that year the situation was the “worst in memory”, Wirth wrote. But water was pumped thanks to the city council which had “come to the rescue”.

Not the End

That beneficence was not, of course, the end of water level problems in Minneapolis lakes. By the mid-1950s the situation was so bad that a pipeline was built from Bassett’s Creek to Brownie Lake to pump water into the lakes and ultimately Minnehaha Creek. Unlike Minnehaha Creek, Basssett’s Creek seldom went completely dry. Even that wasn’t a long-term solution. The park board considered a famous hydrologist’s recommendation in the 1960s to capture water from the air conditioners of downtown office buildings to recycle through the lakes. But the owners of those buildings knew a good idea when they heard one and began recycling their air conditioning water back through their own plants. So the park board eventually built a pipeline from the Mississippi River to the lakes, but that failed too when high phosphate levels in river water threatened lake health. So as you can see, through most of park board history the big challenge was how to raise lake levels, not lower them.

Despite the park board’s ownership of the land fronting on lakes and creeks—one of the marvels of the city—we should keep in mind that the park board cannot manage water tables. Has the park board altered shore lines and creek beds? Absolutely. And anytime that is done there can be unintended consequences that can play out over many years. (“Don’t mess with Mother Nature,” some would say! I am presently writing about one of those decisions that still could have very sad consequences.) But water tables, precipitation and run-off (climate change!) are not within the park board’s control—even when, as at present, park commissioners envision a role for the park board in issues outside the purview of historical park and recreation management. And although I am not a hydrologist, it does not seem logical to me that past park board water-shaping efforts—short of building dams, which they did not do except at Longfellow Lakelet and Shingle Creek—could have been the cause of higher water tables across a wide section of the city.

In my opinion, informed by what I know of the history of the area, the groundwater issue is one for which the park board should not take primary responsibility. I think it demands a broader solution that the city or county and state should address—with input from the park board as a significant stakeholder. Just because the easiest place to dump water from south Minneapolis is into property controlled by the park board (Lake Hiawatha) does not make excess water the park board’s unique problem.

The larger issue in this as in so many issues we wrestle with today is the relative weight of individual interests and collective interests. Striking that balance has always been at the core of the American Experiment. Pursuing that line of thinking, I checked when some of the houses now threatened by high water levels were built. Of all those houses that were actually surveyed for the water management study conducted in 2017 for the park board, only one of 28 was built after 1954 according to Hennepin County property records. Nearly half were built before 1932 when the park board finished dredging Lake Hiawatha. In other words they were built when water levels did not seem to pose a threat.

I hope you will take a closer look at the background information posted by the park board at minneapolisparks.org. I would also encourage you to subscribe to email updates from the park board on the status of plans for Lake Hiawtha and other park areas of interest.

David Carpentier Smith

 

 

 

 

Accept When Offered: A Brief History of Minnehaha Parkway

Given recent discussion of the history of Minnehaha Parkway, I thought it might be useful to consider a brief timeline of when and why the parkway was acquired by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners and how it was developed. I wrote some of this for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in 2008, but it is not presently accessible at minneapolisparks.org. Most other individual park histories, such as Minnehaha Park and Minnehaha Creek Park (the creek west of Minnehaha Parkway to Edina), are available there under the “History” tab on each park page. I would encourage you to read them.

Park board records do not reveal the origin of the idea of a parkway along the valley of Minnehaha Creek. The first mention of a park along the creek is in the park board proceedings of October 8, 1887 when, after hearing from “interested parties,” the park board resolved that when lands along Minnehaha Creek “are offered, they be accepted” between Lake Harriet and the Soldier’s Home. (The Soldier’s Home was then planned to be built at the mouth of Minnehaha Creek on the Mississippi River on land donated to the state by the city. Minnehaha Falls was not yet a park, although it was in the works.) As part of the resolution, the park commissioners expressed their intent to create a parkway beside the creek when they deemed best to do so—meaning if they ever had the money.

Mpls Parks Fig 00-02 Minnehaha Boulevard

An early 1900s postcard image of the parkway and path at an unknown location. Don’t you want to follow that path? It’s a favorite image I included in City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks

Today Minnehaha Parkway begins at Lake Harriet Parkway on the south shore of Lake Harriet and Read more »

Troublesome Lake Hiawatha

Of all Minneapolis lakes, the one that might not exist if it hadn’t been dredged nearly a century ago is Lake Hiawatha.

1915 Lake Hiawatha looking north

Lake Hiawatha, then Rice Lake, middle right, looking north from bridge over Minnehaha Creek in 1915. (Photo by Charles J. Hibbard from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in the Minnesota Reflections Digital Library.)

1922 Hibbard Lake Hiawatha looking south

Lake Hiawatha before dredging and golf course creation looking south in 1922. Lake Nokomis, with a lakeshore already defined by dredging, is on the horizon just right of center. (Hibbard, Minnesota Reflections Digital Library.)

1929 Lake and Golf Course before course was built

It’s hard to tell from this 1929 photo looking east across the Lake Hiawatha and soon-to-be golf course how much water is standing. (Hibbard, Minnesota Reflections Digital Library. The same collection has many more photos of the area from different years.)

When you see the lake today, it’s hard to imagine that these photos show the same property. And it likely wouldn’t exist as a lake today if not for golf. The photos also illustrate the problems that still exist with excess water on the golf course and in the neighborhood.

Lake Hiawatha, or Rice Lake as it was called until 1925, was viewed primarily for its relationship to Minnehaha Creek for much of Minneapolis’s early history. As described in the history of Lake Hiawatha Park I wrote for the park board, the lake was viewed as a potential reservoir to maintain a constant flow of water over Minnehaha Falls. Absent that, Theodore Wirth argued that the lake would be more attractive as a meadow than a swamp and recommended draining it by diverting Minnehaha Creek through Lake Nokomis.

What changed thinking about the lake was golf. The Lake Hiawatha wetland was viewed as the only undeveloped plot of land in south Minneapolis large enough to hold a golf course. (In the late 1910s, 150 acres was considered sufficient for a golf course.) Minneapolis’s first two golf courses were at Wirth Park (then Glenwood) and Columbia Park in north Minneapolis. Gross (then Armour) and Meadowbrook golf courses, were added in the mid-1920s, both outside city limits and neither in south Minneapolis.

The other reason for maintaining Lake Hiawatha as a lake and dredging it much deeper is obvious when you look at the panoramic view above: the property was dead flat. Now I’m not a golfer, but I understand from those who are that dead flat does not make the most interesting golf courses (unless you’re being caressed by ocean breezes). To create a course that was more “sporty” in Theodore Wirth’s words, some variances in terrain would have to be created. For a park board that had little extra dirt—fill was always in demand because most neighborhood parks had been created on low lying land that was of little use, thus cheap, and needed filling—the best place to get fill was from a lake bottom. Wirth had already followed that formula at Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Cedar Lake and Lake Nokomis. He had used dredged material to reshape lakefront and create firmer shorelines. Why not dredge Lake Hiawatha, making it a “real” lake, and use the dredge “spoils” to create a golf course with (small) hills? One stone. Two birds. The results: another blue sheet of water, one less swamp (considered detrimental to health and beauy at that time), and another golf course, which proved in its early days to be one of the most profitable in the city.

Those who love the lake but hate the golf course might want to keep in mind that they may have one because of the other.

But that’s only part of the story that I’m still investigating. The other part of the story is what Theodore Wirth and park commissioners assumed about natural water levels in the Minnehaha Creek watershed. In the first few decades of the park board’s existence, water levels in the city’s lakes and creeks may have been higher than normal, although Minnehaha Creek was still dry at times. By the 1920s, however, water levels appear to have dropped and they remained low for the next few decades at least. That was when Lake Hiawatha and the Hiawatha Golf Course were created. In many years mid-century, there was no water in Minnehaha Creek except early spring and late fall. In the late 1950s water levels in the Chain of Lakes were sometimes seven feet below where they had been fifty years earlier.

The assumptions made about water levels, which affected depths of dredging and heights of filling, continue to impact how water flows or doesn’t in and around Lake Hiawatha and the golf course today when water levels are near all-time highs.

I mention this history today to remind people that a park system built around water—from the acquisition of Loring Pond and Lake Harriet in the 1880s; to renovation plans for Lake Hiawatha, Minnehaha Parkway and the Lake Calhoun boathouse site; to the development of new waterfront properties along the Mississippi River downtown and in North and Northeast—require special planning, precautions and contingencies especially in a time of climate change. Water levels will fluctuate. Know the depth before you dive.

As a postscript I’m told that some seats remain on the bus tour I’m leading of the city’s lakes, streams, ponds and river on August 17. The tour is organized by Preserve Minneapolis. Reserve your seat on the bus for the two-hour tour here.

David Carpentier Smith

 

 

Closing Parkways: Not a New Idea, or a Good One

The Minneapolis Park Board considered chopping up the Grand Rounds once before. That proposal was rejected, as I hope this one will be.

On May 30, the park board published a draft of its “preferred concept” for the Minnehaha Parkway Regional Trail from where Minnehaha Creek enters Minneapolis from Edina, east to Hiawatha Avenue near Minnehaha Park. I would encourage everyone to review the draft concept, especially page 7 of the linked document, which addresses “Parkway Vehicluar Circulation.” I believe that is where the plan fails, because it proposes to place roadblocks at some intersections that will force cars to leave the parkway, which creates in essence more “missing links” in the Grand Rounds. It will essentially end the practice of driving Minnehaha Parkway for pleasure. Read more »

Minneapolis Park Names Added and Reconsidered

In light of rekindled debates over park names, prompted by the Appeals Court decision rescinding the name change of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the park board’s vote to alter the process for changing parkway names, and debate at the University of Minnesota over changing building names, I revisited my compilation of people commemorated in Minneapolis parks.

I just added two names that were designated since I originally compiled that list.

  • Annie Young: the meadow in Riverside Park was named to honor the former park commissioner who died in 2018.
  • Mary Merrill: the headquarters building of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, previously unnamed, was named after the former park superintendent and park commissioner, known then as Mary Merrill Anderson, who also served as the acting superintendent in 2018.

Changing Names

The park board suspended its naming rules to approve both names, which had also been done in recent years to name park baseball fields for Rod Carew, Frank Quilici and Sid Hartman. Previous board policy had prevented naming park properties for people still living or for a couple years after they died. The policy was refined after controversy in 1964 over the naming of Todd Park across Portland Avenue from Diamond Lake. George Todd was a park commissioner dying of cancer at the time. The objective was to honor him while still living for his work in creating the park . The policy was also suspended in 1968 to rename Nicollet Field for Martin Luther King, without a waiting period, shortly after his murder.

The park board also, with little discussion, has altered the process for changing parkway names. Read more »