The Park Board that Operated an Airport

The Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport was once the site of the Snelling Racetrack, a two-mile concrete race track that was built to hold car races similar to the Indianapolis 500. It failed — and became an airport instead. The airport was developed and operated by the Minneapolis park board for nearly two decades. You can read the story of the Snelling Racetrack here, another of my earlier posts that I have restored to this site.

The two-mile oval adjacent to Fort Snelling included a grandstand that was built to hold 100,000 fans, although the few races held there never attracted nearly that many people.

The Park Board eventually built the runways, hangars, terminal and control tower that were taken over in the 1940s when the Minnesota legislature created the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). The last major renovation of the airport runways by the park board — before ceding control to MAC — took place as a Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) project. The rubble from the old runways was used as fill in Pearl Lake, now Pearl Park — without a lake.

David C. Smith

Minnehaha Park Zoo

One of my favorite Minneapolis park stories is about the zoo in Minnehaha Park over 100 years ago. I’ve restored an old post about that zoo here.

“Psyche.” That was the brief caption under this photo in the 1899 annual report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. I assume it was the bear’s name.
This bear cage was built in Minnehaha Park in 1899 to house four black bears and one “cinnamon” bear.

David Carpentier Smith

H.W.S. Cleveland Trivia

I’ve restored a couple more Cleveland-related pages written long ago.

One pertains to the famous men Horace William Shaler Cleveland knew as his older brother’s best friends, including two men who have Minneapolis parks named for them. It is likely that the views of these soon-to-be famous men influenced Cleveland’s thinking on many issues. But it is also entirely possible that Cleveland’s experiences and observations as a young man — especially from his travels to the “West” — could have influenced them as well.

Another post provides Cleveland’s recommendations for books to read on landscape gardening. The list is taken from a letter he wrote to the secretary of the Minneapolis park board nearly 140 years ago — so some of the views expressed may seem outdated. All of the books Cleveland recommends, once scarce in the United States, are now available free on Google Books.

For a man without much formal education, Cleveland was an intellectual force.

Davd Carpentier Smith

Cleveland’s Property and Olmsted’s Fame

I mentioned a couple weeks ago the friendly relationship between Horace William Shaler Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted. While there is so much of note in that relationship, and dozens of letters exchanged between the men attest to it, one of Cleveland’s letters to Frederick Law Olmsted caught my attention because it referred to property Cleveland owned. Later while studying an old plat map of Minneapolis I stumbled across an undivided, 4.7-acre plot of land in South Minneapolis labelled as owned by Cleveland. Like finding a needle in a haystack, I suppose. Another slice of my research into Cleveland’s life which I had previously posted.

Epilogue: Even though he owned some property and worked well into his 80s, Cleveland’s money did run out. His former partner, William Merchant Richardson French, when he was the director of the Chicago Art Institute, sent a letter to Cleveland’s colleagues and friends–including Olmsted–asking for donations to help Cleveland pay his bills as an elderly man.

More to come.

David C. Smith

More Cleveland: Samuel Gale, Oak Lake, Kenwood Parkway

After writing about the Oak Lake Addition in North Minneapolis in 2011, I augmented what I knew about H.W.S. Cleveland’s relationship with Samuel Gale and his work at Oak Lake in “Horace Cleveland Hated Rectangles.” I also wrote more about Cleveland’s eventual work for the Minneapolis park board at Oak Lake and his ideas about Kenwood Parkway.

These are another two archived posts pertaining to Cleveland’s life and work that I just reactivated.

David C. Smith

Cleveland’s First Residential Commission in Minneapolis?

Today I’m reposting an article on the creation and demise of Oak Lake Park as a pricey residential neighborhood on the near north side of Minneapolis in the 1870s. Oak Lake itself sat exactly on the site of today’s Farmers’ Market on Lyndale Avenue. I wrote it in 2011 when the Minnesota Vikings were thought to prefer the Farmers’ Market site for a new stadium. Of course that new stadium was eventually built on the site of the old Metrodome, so that focus of the article is outdated. But the historical information on the site as one of Minneapolis’s first upscale residential developments is still accurate. Not many people know of the ritzy history of the site where the market now stands.

I had set this post aside originally because I had intended to make the case that Horace William Shaler Cleveland was likely the man who advised Samuel Gale on the layout of the new neighborhood. The curving streets adapted to the topography are certainly hallmarks of Cleveland’s work–as are the parcels of land set aside for parks. It is also clear that Cleveland and Gale knew each other. Cleveland’s participation in the Oak Lake development is informed speculation on my part; I have found no documentary evidence of his hand in the project.

The most intriguing part of this post is my surmise that what killed the upscale Oak Lake neighborhood was the creation of the Minneapolis park board. With the acquisition of shores on larger lakes as public park land, wealthy Minneapolitans suddenly had even more attractive sites for their new homes. Without buyers for the larger homes built at Oak Lake, they were eventually divided into rooming houses in a neighborhood that gradually became inhabited by arriving immigrants.

Oak Lake itself was eventually filled in by the park board after it became an unsightly and odiferous hazard.

David C. Smith

Cleveland’s Connections

What brought H.W.S. Cleveland to Minneapolis as a guest lecturer in 1872 may have been his connection to a famous family.

William Merchant Richardson French. Carte de visite photo taken in 1864 when he graduated from Harvard University. A few years later he became Cleveland’s business partner in Chicago. (Personal collection of the author. It’s amazing what you can find on ebay.)

Find the complete story here, an article originally posted in 2011. Since that article was posted, I learned that William’s father, Henry, and Cleveland almost certainly knew each other before Cleveland took on the young engineer as a partner in Chicago. Henry and Horace had both written on the subject of irrigation and were both active in Massachusetts horticultural societies. Their paths would have crossed.

Cleveland later proposed a collaboration in a Minneapolis park with French’s older brother, the famous sculptor Daniel Chester French.

David C. Smith

Minnehaha Creek Mystery Solved!

Park board archivist Angela Salisbury writes:

I believe we’ve solved our mystery. In The Story of the W.P.A. in the Minneapolis Parks, Parkways and Playgrounds volume for 1940 (dated Jan 1, 1941), page 24, regarding the Minnehaha Parkway:

“A small limestone shelter was built north of Minnehaha Creek and west of Xerxes Avenue to house the meter for measuring the amount of sewage entering the city sewer system from the Village of Edina. The village supplied the material for this construction and the work was done by a Park Board W.P.A. crew.”

There is an image of the structure on page 25.

These W.P.A. books are really wonderful, and I’m happy to report they are digitized and available online via the Minnesota Digital Library. This volume is here: https://collection.mndigital.org/catalog/p16022coll55:910#?c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=-1177%2C0%2C5267%2C3692
Many wonderful images in these volumes!

Thanks, Angela!

David Carpentier Smith

Cleveland and Olmsted Revisited

In my continuing effort to restore previously mothballed posts about Horace William Shaler Cleveland, I have reposted three articles from several years ago about the relationship of Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted. The question is often raised whether Olmsted designed any parks in Minneapolis. My answer is no — especially Washburn Fair Oaks. See why in these posts from Part 1 in 2010, Part 2, and Part 3.

Who designed these grounds? Olmsted or Cleveland? Washburn Fair Oaks mansion, probably in the 1880s. Looking west across Third Avenue South in foreground. (W.S. Zinn)

David Carpentier Smith

Minnehaha Creek Shed Mystery

Here’s your new mystery. (Sorry for filling up your inbox today, but this issue was just raised by a reader as I was posting other things!)

The structure pictured below is on park land just north of Minnehaha Creek and west of Xerxes Avenue. That’s just after the creek enters Minneapolis from Edina. I’ve seen it before and assumed it was on private land. I’m told it’s not.

Was it built as a lift station, pump building, or clandestine meeting place for rogue park commissioners? Any Phryne Fishers or Endeavour Morses out there? Or just humble historians?

Photos courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

If you know anything, please share. We haven’t found mention of the structure in park records.

David Carpentier Smith

P.S. I think we should have a televised Geraldo-Rivera-style reveal of the inside of the structure. I suspect it was haunted or there were some enormous (yeti?) footprints discovered in the vicinity. Any record of unexplained pulsating blue lights in neighborhood lore? Or perhaps tiny notes left beside tree stumps as elves are wont to leave ala mr. little guy. TPT?

H.W.S. Cleveland: Old New Posts

A few years ago I deleted several posts on this site about Horace William Shaler Cleveland because I intended to use that information in a biography of Cleveland. I have since been distracted from that project and while I still plan to pick it up again, I thought it useful to re-post some of that information about a man who contributed so much to Minneapolis’s quality of life. So for the next few days I will post some of those hidden historical nuggets about Cleveland and his work in Minneapolis parks. I think much of the information I have discovered about Cleveland’s interactions with Frederick Law Olmsted may also be of interest due to the extensive coverage of Olmsted’s work in the past year.

The first “re-post” is from 2010 when I wrote about the history of plans to connect Lake Calhoun to Lake Harriet by a canal. (When I wrote these pieces about Lake Calhoun that was still it’s legal name. It has since been changed to Bde Maka Ska, but I have not edited those articles to reflect the new name.)

Connecting Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun

David C. Smith

Horace Cleveland’s House in Danvers

For those who are curious about the house I referred to in my commentary in the StarTribune today in which I praised librarians, here is a photo.

Horace Cleveland lived in this house in Danvers, Mass. from 1857-1868 with his wife, two sons, two servants and his father. His father, Richard Cleveland, died in the house. He was a famous sea captain, one of the early merchant mariners who established a trading route between Salem and China. Sailing that treacherous route around Cape Horn, trading at ports along the way, took Richard Cleveland away from his family for years at a time.

The house did not appear to be occupied, although someone had mowed the grass. When Cleveland lived there, he also owned the five acres around the house. The lot is now 1.5 acres according to Zillow. A freeway passes within 100 yards of the house on the right side of the photo.

It was while living here that H.W.S. Cleveland, already in his 40s, began to look at “landscape gardening” as a profession and had his first commissions. Like his friend and colleague in later life, Frederick Law Olmsted, Cleveland was a farmer as a young man. In fact, they exhibited their produce at some of the same horticulture fairs years before either was associated with landscape architecture.

Danvers town archivist Richard Trask helped me piece together clues from Cleveland’s correspondence that led to us finding the house.

Cleveland’s home before he moved to Danvers is much more famous — but not because Cleveland lived there. The previous occupant of that house in Salem, Mass. wrote one of the most famous American novels while living there. The book was The Scarlet Letter, the author was Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s wife, Sofia Peabody, was a friend of Cleveland’s going back to their childhood.

The white plaque on the corner of the house tells the story.

The amount of information one can get by searching — and asking librarians or archivists for help — is truly astonishing.

David C. Smith

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