Commemorating the “Great War” in Minneapolis Parks: Cavell, Pershing, Longfellow, an Airport and a Memorial Drive

As we remember the war that didn’t end all wars, which ended 100 years ago this weekend, I searched through my archives for park stories related to World War I. I found several that are worth sharing. I also wanted to make available the history of Victory Memorial Drive, created in the aftermath of that horrific war, which I wrote for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

When the deadliest of all wars began, an English non-combatant nurse was an early casualty. The story of Edith Cavell soon was known around the world. She was so famous that a Minneapolis school, then park, were named for her. Read the story of Cavell Park and a follow-up story with photos and a comment.

Minneapolis parks also commemorate the most famous American soldier of that war, the commander of American forces, Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing, for whom Pershing Park is named.

I’ve also re-published the story of how today’s Longfellow Field , the second property with that name, was created when the first Longfellow Field was sold to a munitions maker during the war. Also included in that post is a sidebar on how the Minneapolis airport, owned and developed by the Minneapolis Park Board, was named Wold-Chamberlain Field for two young pilots from Minneapolis who died in France during the war.

Finally, I’ve published below the story of how Minneapolis created a memorial drive in honor of Americans who had died serving their country through World War I. Many of us still know that parkway as Victory Memorial Drive, even though its official name has been Memorial Parkway for 50 years.

Victory Memorial Drive or Memorial Parkway

The parkway was originally named Glenwood-Camden Parkway when the land was acquired for the parkway in 1911, referring to its route from Glenwood Park to Camden Park. (Before the name was adopted it was referred to informally as North Side Parkway.) It was officially named Victory Memorial Drive in 1919 and included all of Memorial Parkway, what is now Theodore Wirth Parkway and Cedar Lake Parkway. The name was changed to Memorial Parkway in 1968 and applies only to the parkway from Lowry Avenue to Webber (Camden) Park. In 2010, the park board approved the use of Victory Memorial Drive again as a renovation and a 90th anniversary celebration were planned. The parkway now contains 75.23 acres.

The idea of a parkway encircling the city, today’s Grand Rounds, is nearly as old as the park board itself. When landscape architect Horace Cleveland submitted to the first park board his formal “suggestions” for a system of parks and parkways in 1883 he envisioned parkways connecting major parks in each section of the city. His original vision for a system of parkways was largely achieved decades later, although most of those parkways ended up being further from the center of city than Cleveland would have liked.

The first suggestions for a parkway in northwest Minneapolis came in 1884 when commissioners proposed a parkway around the western shore of Cedar Lake and from there through north Minneapolis to Farview Park. Some commissioners thought this was a more scenic and certainly less expensive route for a parkway into north Minneapolis than a direct route form Loring Park to Farview Park along Lyndale Avenue North. The western route had the advantage that the owner of considerable land west of Cedar Lake and in north Minneapolis, William McNair, had offered to donate land for a parkway.

Recognizing that the best route for that parkway would actually pass outside of Minneapolis city limits into what is now Golden Valley, the park board even went so far as to introduce a bill to the state legislature in 1885 that would give the park board the power to acquire land outside the city limits. The legislature granted that power to the park board.

In the summer of 1885, the park board arranged a meeting with McNair, a close friend of several of the first park commissioners, to acquire a strip of land 150-feet wide for the parkway. Charles Loring, the president of the park board then, wrote in 1890 that ultimately the board rejected McNair’s offer of free land because the route around Cedar Lake was too far from the city. McNair died in the fall of 1885 and the matter was not pursued. (Many years later the park board had discussions with McNair’s heirs about acquiring that land once again, but other than the purchase of some of McNair’s land along Cedar Lake, nothing came of the those discussions.)

The idea of a parkway around the city was revived by park commissioner William Folwell in 1891, after the acquisition of the first sixty acres of Saratoga Park, which would eventually be renamed Glenwood Park, then Theodore Wirth Park. In a special report to the board on park expansion, Folwell urged the board not to limit parkway development to the southwestern part of the city around the lakes. Giving the credit for the idea to his friend Horace Cleveland, Folwell proposed a parkway around Cedar Lake, through the new Saratoga Park to a large northwestern park, then across the city to another large park in northeast Minneapolis, continuing down Stinson Boulevard to the Mississippi River at the University of Minnesota, and then along the river to Minnehaha Park. Folwell suggested the parkways could be called the “Grand Rounds.”

The idea—and the name—struck a chord, but before the park board could build the connecting parkways, it needed the anchoring parks. And those would take many years to acquire. Keeping the idea of a northwestern parkway alive, Folwell wrote in 1901 that “but for the sudden deaths of two public-spirited citizens, the Hon. W.W. McNair and the Hon. Eugene M. Wilson, the grand rounds would long since have been extended from Calhoun to Glenwood Park and thence along the west boundary of the city to the north line.”

The idea of the northwestern parkway came up again in 1909, after the board had expanded Glenwood (Wirth) Park from its original sixty-six acres to more than eight hundred acres and also acquired Camden (Webber) Park in north Minneapolis. The park board had acquired Columbia Park in northeast Minneapolis less than two years after Folwell’s proposal. With parks to connect, the desire to build parkways between them took on new urgency.

At the end of 1909, the park board asked park superintendent Theodore Wirth to prepare plans for a parkway from Glenwood Park to Camden Park. The following year, July 21, 1910, the park board designated land for the parkway, on the condition that residents of the area would not request improvements on the land for some years, except for opening a road from 19th Avenue North (Golden Valley Road) into Glenwood (Wirth) Park. With only that stretch of road completed residents of north Minneapolis would have a parkway connection to the lakes in south Minneapolis and Minnehaha Park beyond. The only controversy surrounding the location of the new parkway, which was through open farmland, was whether the east-west section should follow 43rd Avenue or 45th Avenue. The preference expressed by the Camden Park Commercial Club for 45th Avenue seemed to resolve the issue for the board.

A total of 170 acres were acquired for the parkway at a cost of nearly $170,000. The parkway on the western city limit was 333-feet wide and the east-west section on 45th Avenue was 200 feet wide. The cost of the land for the parkway, along with land for the expansion of Glenwood Park and the purchase of the west shore of Cedar Lake, a total of $350,000, was paid for partly with bonds—30%—and the remainder with assessments on property deemed to be benefited by the new parkway.

Construction of the parkway, in keeping with promises that it would take some time, began in 1913 when the parkway was built from 16th Avenue North to 19th. The next stage of the parkway from 19th to Lowry Avenue was begun in 1916, but due to spending constraints during World War I, it wasn’t completed and opened to traffic until 1920. Park superintendent Theodore Wirth called the parkway “one of the most impressive parts of the Grand Rounds system.” In the 1916 annual report, Wirth presented plans for completing the parkway north of Lowry Avenue, then east to Camden (Webber) Park. Noting that “the country traversed is rather uninteresting,” Wirth proposed a straight parkway on the west side of the land, leaving space on the east side of the parkway for playgrounds and athletic fields.

Wirth altered his plans for the parkway in 1919 when former park board president Charles Loring made a generous offer to the park board. Loring had already donated to the park board the recreation shelter in Loring Park and had paid for the construction of an artificial waterfall flowing into Glenwood (Wirth) Lake. Loring had long desired to create a memorial to American soldiers. In 1908 he had commissioned a young Minneapolis architect, William Purcell, to design a memorial arch dedicated to soldiers. Where he hoped to place the arch is not known. But in the wake of World War I, Loring proposed another kind of monument; he would plant memorial trees to soldiers along the city’s parkways. Wirth had a better idea. He thought the planned Camden-Glenwood Parkway was the ideal place to plant rows of stately elm trees as a memorial. Loring liked the idea and agreed to pay for the trees and fund a $50,000 trust account for their perpetual care. The result was a memorial drive, with the parkway centered on the strip of land, instead of off to one side.

The board accepted Loring’s offer, named the new parkway Victory Memorial Drive, and Wirth set out to find the perfect tree. He found a type of elm, called the Moline elm, in nurseries in Chicago and New York, and brought them to the park board’s nursery at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1919, so they would be well-established for replanting along the parkway when it was finished.

With memorial trees ready to be planted, and an additional 5.3 acres of land acquired for a monument at the northwest corner of the parkway, the final three miles of the Victory Memorial Drive were completed in 1921. On June 11, 1921 the new parkway, and its news trees, were dedicated in a grand ceremony. Loring, then age 87, was not healthy enough to attend, but drove over the new parkway the day before with his old friend William Folwell.

Later that year both General John Pershing and Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French commander of Allied forces during World War I, visited the parkway and expressed their admiration for the living memorial. The name of each soldier from Hennepin County who had died in war was placed on a wooden cross in front of a tree. Unfortunately the special elms selected for the drive weren’t hardy enough for Minnesota’s winters and were replaced in 1925.

The wooden crosses were replaced as well in 1928, on the tenth anniversary of the end of World War I, when bronze crosses and stars, each inscribed with the name of a soldier, were installed.

The original wooden flag pole installed as a monument where the northbound parkway turns east at 45th Avenue was replaced by a bronze flag pole and ornamental base in 1923 by the American Legion of Hennepin County. A statue of Abraham Lincoln, a replica of St. Gaudens’ famous sculpture, was installed at the intersection in 1930.

In November 1959, the park board received a scare when consultants hired by the Hennepin County Board recommended that the county take over the parkway for the purpose of creating a county highway. The park board registered its opposition to the proposal in early 1960, as did the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who opposed the “desecration” of memorials to soldiers.

While the conversion of Memorial Parkway into a freeway appears not to have been seriously considered, two years later the board still included Victory Memorial Drive among parks and parkways that could be reduced or lost to freeways. During the 1960s and after when freeways were built across the city, the park board did lose two parks (Wilson Park and Elwell Park) and parts of several more to freeways. But all of those losses were for interstate freeways, not county highways.

Many of the majestic elms in two rows beside the parkway succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s and after. Now a less uniform growth of a variety of trees covers the parkway with shade.

The parkway, flag plaza and monuments were renovated prior to the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the parkway and monuments in 2011. Eight intersections across the parkway were vacated, trails were repaved, and new lighting was installed.

Impact on Recreation Programs

One other impact of WWI on parks in Minneapolis as elsewhere was an increase in recreation programming as part of a national reponse to the alarmingly poor physical condition of so many young men who entered the U.S. Army. It was thought that better recreation programs might make the army’s training tasks somewhat easier. The subject might be worth a bit of research someday.

David C. Smith

 

 

 

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Election Day Updates

To celebrate our ability to choose our leaders and to encourage everyone to vote, I have re-posted a few more favorites from my archives. I especially encourage you to see this brief post, which features an image of one of my favorite actors, Peter Sellers. In addition to the classic movie mentioned in the post, perhaps another Peter Sellers’ film, Being There, would be appropriate to consider before you trek to your local polling place. What do we ask of our leaders and what should we expect from them?

Have a look through the archives for a few other old nuggets recently dusted off.

Finally, speaking of dog parks, you might check out the post that raised a question since answered, but featured a picture of Puck, who died last week. We think he was nearly 15 years old, but can’t be sure because he was a rescue dog. He spent most of his long life with us. He is missed.

David C. Smith

Linden Hills Boulevard: The Carriage Route to Lake Harriet

At a recent picnic with friends who live south of Lake Harriet (Happy Birthday Kathryn!), they were surprised when I told them that the first park connection between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet was not William Berry Parkway (which was named Shady Lane until 1968), but Linden Hills Boulevard. The boulevard was conceived as a scenic approach on the ridge overlooking Lake Harriet and the final link from Central (Loring) Park via Kenwood Parkway to Lake of the Isles, around that shoreline and the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun to Lake Harriet.

Linden Hills Boulevard freshly paved 1921 MHS

Freshly paved Linden Hills Boulevard in 1921. (Minnesota Historical Society, MH5.9 MP2.2 p31.)

Given the recent interest expressed in the boulevard, I am posting a brief history of the parkway I had written originally for the Park Board website (minneapolisparks.org).

Location: William Berry Parkway to Queen Avenue at West Lake Harriet Parkway

Size: 5.71 acres

Name: The land was referred to as Park Boulevard in park board documents for about 25 years until it was officially named Linden Hills Boulevard, after the surrounding neighborhood, in 1912.

Acquisition and Development: From the first time that Linden Hills Boulevard was included as a separate item in the park board’s inventory in 1914, it was described as having been donated by Henry Beard in 1888. However in 1888, the board paid $8,342 for “satisfaction of Beard contract” which included two years and three months worth of interest on an original amount of $7,200 that the park board owed him. It is unclear what land is referred to in the “Beard contract.” It could include portions of the Lake Harriet shore as well as Beard Plaisance or Linden Hills Boulevard. Beard was one of the original donors of the land around Lake Harriet for park purposes.

Park Boulevard was created to link Lake Calhoun to Lake Harriet. Using the math from the report on the Beard contract, the original deal to acquire the land dated to 1886. The boulevard was intended to be the primary connection between the two lakes until a more direct route between the lakes, eventually named William Berry Parkway, was acquired in 1889.

The boulevard was graded and planted in 1889. In the park board’s 1889 annual report, Charles Loring describes it as the “high land west of the Motor track, overlooking the lake.” At that time there were no homes between the boulevard and the lake. The Motor track Loring referred to was the street railway track. The initial layout of the boulevard was a 40-foot-wide driveway flanked by 10-foot-wide walkways and 20-foot-wide planting spaces, which were covered with loam and seeded.

The first homes on the boulevard were not built for a few years after initial improvements were made. The oldest existing homes along the boulevard, built in 1894, include the house at the corner of 40th St. West and 4208 Linden Hills Boulevard according to Hennepin County’s Interactive property map. A house between the Boulevard and Lake Harriet was built at 4236 Queen Avenue in 1897. The rest of the houses on Queen Avenue and the Boulevard were built in 1900 or later.

Original improvements to the Boulevard in 1889 also included a 70-foot viaduct at the end of the boulevard over the street railway tracks at Queen Avenue. The total cost of the improvements was nearly $7,000. The street railway rebuilt the Queen Avenue bridge in 1905 following extensive negotiations with the park board over who was responsible for it. The park board refused to repair the bridge, because it believed the street railway was responsible.

The Linden Hills Boulevard was improved significantly in 1912 at a cost of nearly $5,000 even though it was no longer the main link from Calhoun to Harriet. With the improvements that year came pressure for a more suitable name than Park Boulevard. The board chose the name Linden Hills Boulevard.

The boulevard was paved for the first time in 1921. The entire length of the parkway was repaved in 1993.

Most of the parkways in Minneapolis were officially named “boulevards” until 1968 when they were all renamed “parkways” to indicate more clearly that they were park property. (They were also later paved with a distinctive red-tinted asphalt to further distinguish them from ordinary city streets.) However, Linden Hills Boulevard was overlooked at the time and is, therefore, the only road owned by the park board still officially called a boulevard—even though it, too, is paved red.

David C. Smith

Sheepish: What’s Old is New in Park Maintenance

Minneapolis is now in its second year of testing goats to control invasive plants, especially buckthorn, in parks. The concept may be novel, but it’s not new.

Long ago in park history, attention focused on sheep rather than goats, but you say ovine, I say hircine.  I don’t see much difference between sheep and goats to control plants; whether you ride a Toro or a Deere, the grass gets cut.

800px-Goats_on_an_Argan_(Argania_spinosa)_tree_in_Morocco

Goats eating big weeds in Wirth Park. Not really. These are tree-climbing goats in Morocco, not Minneapolis. Photo: Marco Arcangeli.

The idea of sheep in Minneapolis parks was first proposed in 1906 by recently hired park superintendent Theodore Wirth. He proposed putting sheep in what was then Glenwood Park (the park was renamed for Wirth in 1938). He wrote in the annual report that year,

“There is nothing prettier in landscape effect than a flock of sheep grazing on the meadow and hill-sides.”

Of course Theodore Wirth grew up in Switzerland, so the sight of flocks on a hillside probably stirred warm memories of childhood for him. But he also had the park example of sheep in New York’s Central Park. The huge open space today called the Sheep Meadow in Manhattan was once actually a meadow filled with sheep. Wirth was a great admirer of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park, so what was good enough for the master was good with him too.

(Keep reading, there’s lots of links to restored blog posts at the end of this goat story.) Read more »

Minneapolis’s Amazing River Parks: West River Parkway

In view of my presentation to the Citizens Advisory Council on the Mississippi River Gorge Master Plan this evening, I am reproducing the histories of the East and West River Parkways here. I would recommend reading them both as not all background information is repeated.

West River Parkway

West River Parkway is the current name for the parkway along the river bluff that extends down the Mississippi River Gorge from Portland Avenue to Minnehaha Park. Included in the 205.13 acres of park land listed in the MPRB inventory is all land from the parkway down the gorge to the river’s edge.

The first official name for the riverside land was West Riverside Park, which was adopted in 1904. (Not to be confused with Riverside Park, which was south of Franklin Avenue and not yet contiguous then with the river gorge park.) William Folwell had proposed naming it Michael Accault Park. Folwell noted that Accault was the leader of the French exploring party that included Father Louis Hennepin as a subordinate member in 1679. Hennepin is credited with being the first European to view St. Anthony Falls, which he named after his patron saint, Saint Anthony of Padua. The park board chose a more descriptive name and Accault’s name has been forgotten. In 1906, when the parkway was given its first permanent pavement, it was renamed River Road West. Read more »

Minneapolis’s Amazing River Parks: East River Parkway

In view of my presentation to the Citizens Advisory Council on the Mississippi River Gorge Master Plan this evening, I am reproducing the histories of the East and West River Parkways here.

East River Parkway

East River Parkway extends along the east side of the Mississippi River from Arlington Street SE on the University of Minnesota campus downriver to the Minneapolis boundary with St. Paul. The entire acreage from the parkway to the river’s edge is 84.99 acres.

Originally the property was referred to informally as East River Bank Parkway, but was officially named St. Anthony Parkway in 1901. The name of the parkway was changed to East River Road in 1906. At the same time, the east and west river roads, Riverside Park and Minnehaha Park were all officially named parts of Mississippi Park. The current park name was adopted in 1968 when most park roads were officially renamed as “parkways.” In December 1894, upon the suggestion of William Folwell, the board approved naming the east river flats “Cheever’s Landing,” for the man who had operated a ferry on the site in the early days of the city. While the name was officially adopted, the area has always been referred to informally as the East River Flats Park.

The banks of the Mississippi River below St. Anthony Falls, the only true gorge along the entire length of the Mississippi River, played a central role in the creation of the Minneapolis park system. Horace William Shaler Cleveland, the Chicago-based landscape architect Read more »

Wild River: A rainy morning on the Mississippi

I had a brilliant boat trip on the Mississippi this morning from Bohemian Flats to the Ford Bridge and back. It was raining, and everything was damp except for enthusiasm for the spectacular river scenery. I was in the company of people comprising the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC), which is creating the Park Board’s Master Plan for the Mississippi River Gorge.

The CAC meets next on Monday, 5:30 p.m., at the MPRB Headquarters beside the river in north Minneapolis, if you’re interested. I’m giving a very brief intro to the history of the river gorge to open that meeting.

Long ago H.W.S. Cleveland called the river gorge the “Jewel of Minneapolis.” I agree. and I applaud St. Paul and Minneapolis for working together to preserve and protect the wild banks of the river. We were delighted to be joined this morning by two representatives of the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department as well. As much as the two cities have  competed with each other, sometimes not nicely, their complementary actions to maintain the river banks as protected public property is praiseworthy. Both cities would be different without the effort to protect the river banks.

Former park commissioner Scott Vreeland emphasized on the river ride this morning that the real challenge for the master planners is choosing a wise path between preserving what’s wild and making this great treasure accessible. That is especially true as we contemplate the possibilities of a river without barge traffic and, therefore, without the need for a working lock and dam. Would the restoration of the river gorge to rapids and islands, to its condition before the Ford Dam was built in 1917, enhance the river’s value to the people of Minnesota? Important issues.

I was struck again this morning by the great interest so many people in the area have in the history of our parks and the river—and how so many people know different parts of the story, or have different perceptions of those parts. Reminds me that history is never a single story, not one thread, but many.

Two More Things

A friend is desperately trying to find a photo of Thomas Lowry and his family, especially his eldest daughter, to illustrate a book he is writing that is very near being turned over to the printer. I don’t know of any. If you do, please let me know. Soon.

I have reposted an old favorite on Seven Oaks Oval to keep a promise made this morning. It’s the most unusual park in Minneapolis.

David C. Smith 

New Bell Museum

I found an old post about visiting the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota and wanted to provide a link to the new, renamed Bell Museum near the St. Paul campus which opens in July. I can’t wait to see it. I think it will become a new favorite. It has a planetarium among many other new wonders. Get more info here.

When the little girl I used to take to the old one returns home from college for a short visit this summer, I think we’ll go. I hope they take the wolf and moose with them.

I also just saw for the first time anywhere an old photo of the river flats on the east bank that shows a baseball field there. I hope to be able to post that picture sometime soon. I might have to buy it first!

David C. Smith

Timeless Quote, Ever-changing Parks

“The men and women of today who recall with lively joy the days when they played unwatched through the long summer days in meadow or woods or the old swimmin’ hole are likely to pity the youngsters of the present whose recreation is supervised and scheduled by grownups. For young dreamers with vigorous personalities there was something not to be duplicated in the lazy happiness of those days. But “other times, other customs.” City life of today is immeasurably more complicated: it has manifold possibilities for evil, numerous forces which make the child sophisticated before his time and which make a carefully planned constructive work necessary.”

The quote is from the Minneapolis Tribune, June 20 — 1920! Only 98 years ago. I first published it in these pages in 2010, but it’s worth another look. What a shock Instagram would be to the author of those lines.

I’ve reposted a few more older entries. Thanks to Chris for pointing out some dead links in my Lost Parks posts. I’m restoring those too.

On a personal note: Congratulations to long-time readers and park lovers Dick and Donna Smith on their 70th wedding anniversary last weekend.

In the year they were married, 1948:

  • The Park Board acquired Todd Park, Perkins Hill Park, Armatage Park and the Shingle Creek Valley north from Weber Park
  • Park Superintendent Charles Doell noted in his annual report that Minnehaha Creek was dry almost the entire year except for a short time in the spring, when water flow had been less than half of normal.
  • The Park Board formalized an agreement with the School Board, an effort led by Park Commissioner Maude Armatage, to jointly develop what became Waite Park and School and Armatage Park and School.
  • Park Board gardeners planted 3,613 perennials at the Kenwood Parkway Garden, which is now the southern end of the Sculpture Garden
  • The Auto Tourist Park near the river bluff in what is now the Waubun picnic area of Minnehaha Park hosted 3,010 travellers in 1,051 cars from 31 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Norway. There were 25 small cabins and a main lodge in the camp, which earned net income of $912.57 for the year
  • The most popular indoor activity sponsored by the recreation department that fall and winter was Women’s Bowling with more than 22,000 participants
  • A steep drop in attendance at swimming beaches in August resulted in a 20% decline for the summer. Doell speculated that fear created by a polio outbreak may have caused the drop
  • The wading pool at Van Cleve Park was filled
  • The first stop lights on Minnehaha Parkway were installed at Portland, Bloomington and Lyndale Avenues and on East Calhoun Boulevard at Lake Street.
  • Tenth Avenue South was vacated through Elliot Park to create a playground
  • A water line was installed to Eloise Butler Wild Flower Garden for use in “drouth” conditions
  • The first barge load of stone and sand from the US Army Engineers project to create an “Upper Harbor” was deposited along the west bank of the river downstream from Washington Avenue at the request of the park board as part of plans to create a scenic highway along the river
  • Most of Northeast Park was still occupied by the quonset huts of the veterans housing project, Theodore Wirth Park still extended a couple blocks west of Brownie Lake, and Parade Stadium hadn’t yet been built to be torn down.
  • A new  flagpole base, since replaced, was dedicated on Victory Memorial Drive
  • There were no freeways
  • Hubert Humphrey resigned as Mayor when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, which meant that he also left his ex-officio seat on the Park Board
  • The Park Board participated in the placement of a headstone marking the grave of landscape architect Horace William Shaler Cleveland at Lakewood Cemetery. Cleveland’s body had been interred in an unmarked grave next to his wife’s when he died in 1900.

David C. Smith

Minnehaha Falls Tour: Preserve Minneapolis

I will be leading a walking tour around Minnehaha Falls—More than Just a Little Laugh—on August 21 for Preserve Minneapolis. That, by the way, is the working title of a book I’m writing about the Falls. I’m told that tickets for the tour are still available if you’re interested. You can get more information and reserve your place here. We’ll consider some of the history of the Falls both before and after it became Minnesota’s first state park. If you can’t make that date, Preserve Minneapolis offers quite a few other tours that look fascinating. I know some of the regular readers of these pages will be leading tours too. I hope you’ll check out the full schedule of tours throughout the summer.

I’ve also reposted a few more stories from this blog’s past. Read about the toboggan slides at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in the 1880s (looking down and looking up), the first motorcyle driven by Minneapolis park police called the Flying Merkel (plus a followup), and a north Minneapolis coach who is remembered by many.

David C. Smith

Restored Posts: Makwa Club, Toboggans, Building Restrictions, Parkways

In response to requests and my own whimsy I have restored several posts to these pages today.

I restored one post at the request of author Joe McAleer, whom I met through these pages. He is just finishing a biography of one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in Minneapolis history,  Harry Perry Robinson. Joe’s book is entitled Escape Artist: The Nine Lives of Harry Perry Robinson, which is due out in June 2019 from Oxford University Press. Robinson visited Minneapolis as a young Englishman right out of college in the 1880s and made the city his home for several years while writing for local newspapers, becoming besties with many influential Minneapolitans and marrying the daughter of Thomas Lowry. He achieved his greatest fame as a correspondent covering World War I from the trenches of France for London newspapers and was knighted for his efforts. I’m really looking forward to reading his life story.

Due to a link in the piece Robinson inhabits on this site, I also restored some of my favorite photos: the toboggan slide from Queen Avenue out onto Lake Harriet. There is much to see in those images from 1914.

Toboggan Slide Lake Harriet 1914 side

The impressive structure of the Lake Harriet toboggan slide (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Given continuing discussions of building near Minneapolis lakes, I wanted to restore a piece I wrote a few years ago about how the city passed the first ordinance limiting building heights around lakes. It was passed in 1912 in response to a threat to build a hotel beside Lake of the Isles at 25th Street.

I also reposted stories on the intersection of Dean Parkway and Calhoun Parkway.

I’ve reposted a few other pieces that seemed worthwhile, which I’ll let you discover for yourself by scrolling through the site.

David C. Smith

In the past I included my email address on everything I posted here, but due to the volume of spam I received I had to quit doing that. But you can always reach me by posting a comment on some post or page on this site. Every comment is reviewed before it is posted, so they all come to my attention.

Influential Women in Minneapolis Park History

I just received a new post from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation blog by Janette Law about five important women in the history of Minneapolis parks. Janette wrote her tribute to celebrate Women’s History Month. I wanted to add to Janette’s tribute by adding the name of Alice Dietz to her list, as well as Inez Crimmins and Lorna Phillips. I have re-posted from my archives a profile of some of Ms. Dietz’s accomplishments as well as additional information on one of Janette’s notable women, Maude Armatage. Armatage was the first woman to serve as a park commissioner and still holds the record for the longest consecutive term of service as a commissioner at 30 years. (Francis Gross served a total of 33 years as a commissioner, but in four segments.) The piece on Armatage is especially important because it includes a photo of Armatage with Crimmins and Phillips, the second and third women to be Minneapolis park commissioners. I also re-posted a charming photo and info sent by reader Bea Dunlap on her memory of Alice Dietz and the playground pageants she wrote, choreographed and directed.

I would encourage someone, perhaps even young historians for History Day projects, to investigate further the contributions of park commissioners Crimmins and Phillips who served from the mid-1950s and Beverly Smerling who served as a commissioner from 1963-1969. In addition, little has been written, to my knowledge, of the first women to be elected President of the Park Board:  Naomi Loper was the first in 1980, succeeded by Patricia Hillmeyer in 1982 and Patricia Baker in 1985.

Many other women who served as recreation directors at parks have also had a profound influence on the people and neighborhoods they served. If you remember someone from your park, I’d be happy to publish your recollections here.

David C. Smith