In an enjoyable article on Lake Nokomis in MinnPost, Andy Sturdevant provided a link to a couple photos I posted last month of the Nokomis Bath house, so I thought I’d return the favor. I’ve been intending to post this new photo of the bath house I found on a 1920s postcard, so Andy’s article provides a good excuse. I had not seen this photo until a few weeks ago.
Anyone who knows old cars might be able to date this photo more precisely than I have. Anybody know their early autos? Let us know a likely date range. Based on the age of the trees I would guess it must be very early 1920s.
You can make out the Cedar Avenue bridge in the background. Theodore Wirth wanted to reroute Cedar Avenue around the southwest lagoon shortly after the area was annexed by Minneapolis from Richfield in 1926, but there was too much opposition from property owners in that direction, so we still have that unusual bridge on a county road over a lake.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
It’s popular these days to point out how awful Minneapolitans sometimes were and probably still are. Some writers gleefully discover examples of bigotry in our past and present them almost as badges of honor, “See, we’re really not so nice after all and neither were our grandmas and grandpas.” I don’t know who are more smug, those who find no faults or those who find all faults. Same thing really; an inability to distinguish good from bad. Laziness. The root of all prejudice.
No surprise, we’re flawed. We’ve fixed some of our grandparents’ flaws and I dearly hope our children will fix some of ours. Then it will be up to their children … and so on. Let’s just hope that we don’t backslide.
In the midst of today’s discussions of peace and justice, security and danger, I paused when I came across two letters in a file of documents from the Minneapolis Park Board’s Playground and Entertainment Committee in 1947. This was the committee that, in addition to overseeing playground recreation programs and concerts at bandstands in parks around the city, also issued picnic permits to large groups.
In the early 1900s most of the picnic requests came from church groups, but in the years immediately after World War I, the requests tilted heavily in favor of the newly created veterans groups, mostly American Legion posts, which sponsored neighborhood and charitable picnics in every major park. A bond of brothers perhaps.The only requests for picnics that were refused were from groups that planned to have religious or political speeches. The park board didn’t like partisanship in its parks.
Of the dozens of picnic permit requests filed in 1919 and 1920, the park board rejected only two that I could find: one from a labor union and the other from the Republican Party women’s auxiliary because both planned to have political speeches. When the groups adjusted their programs, they got their permits.
Gradually, however, the park board relented on all counts, even allowing church groups to hold baptisms in city lakes. Labor unions, especially, argued, eventually successfully, that political speech couldn’t be prohibited on public land.
Permits were denied later apparently only because groups were using picnics to raise money that wasn’t going to charities or because of space limitations. That was the issue in July 1947 when the park board got this request from the Twin City Nisei Club. Nisei were second generation Japanese-Americans.
The response, written the same day, came from Karl Raymond, the supervisor of recreation. Note that the date was barely a year after the last of the Japanese internment camps had closed in the western United States. Those prison camps had held more than 100,000 Japanese, many American citizens, born and raised in the United States, due to hysteria – absent any evidence of a threat – that any Japanese person, even if raised thoroughly American, was a security risk following Pearl Harbor.
Karl Raymond had worked for the park board for nearly forty years. He was the supervisor of recreation from 1919 to 1947, when he retired.
In his recommendation to the Playground and Entertainment Committee, Raymond noted that as a general policy the park board did not issue group picnic permits at Minnehaha Park for Saturdays or Sundays, “as the grounds are just about filled up with general use.” But Raymond did not use that excuse. He continued,
“Because of the lateness of the season and the make-up of this group, which includes many veterans of both the Pacific and European sector of the late war, I wish to recommend that this request be granted.”
It’s worth remembering that the wounds of war were still fresh then. The American death toll had not been 50 or 100 brothers and sisters, but four hundred thousand. It was much easier to recognize a wrong many years later. Forty-one years after this insignificant permission to hold a picnic at Minnehaha Park, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that acknowledged our nation’s horrible failing, our unwillingness to accept a minority that was different and often misunderstood.
Perhaps I’m a softy, but when I read Karl Raymond’s recommendation to grant a picnic permit, against general policy, I found myself smiling. Way to go, Karl! A little victory for humanity. We can always use more of those — whether you think we’re mostly bad, mostly good or completely woebegone.
Let’s hope we don’t need to find courageous sponsors and signers of legislation forty years from now to correct mistakes we can avoid today.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
©2016 David C. Smith
One of my favorite pictures of Lake Nokomis. Construction of the bath house was completed in 1920, not long before this photo was taken. The barren landscape — on both sides of the lake — is surprising. (Click the image to enlarge.) This is one of many park board photos that may become available to the public in the near future through the Minnesota Digital Library.
What became of that bath house? The Minneapolis Star ran the photo below on May 2, 1966. The building had been declared unsafe, but demolition was prompted by thousands of dollars of damage done by vandals that winter. Only the toilet rooms of the bath house were left standing for the summer of 1966. A new, smaller bath house was built the next summer. At the time it was the most heavily used beach in the city.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com\
If you have read my history of the Minneapolis park system, City of Parks, you may recall that Charles Loring’s efforts to acquire land around lakes Harriet, Isles and Calhoun remain a subject of speculation. No one has ever found a clear strategy or well-documented plan by Loring, the first president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, to acquire the lakes, even though he spent the better part of several years in getting those complicated real estate deals done. I focused mostly on Loring’s desire to create a parkway from Loring Park, then still called Central Park, around the lakes to Lake Harriet, which had been acquired already for the fledgling park board largely by gift. Even the generous gift of land around Lake Harriet by Henry Beard, James Merritt, Charles Reeve and, ultimately, William King, was prompted by the desire to have a parkway around the lake, which accounts for the limits of the original gift: a strip of land only 125 feet wide around Lake Harriet — just enough for a walking path, a carriage way and a few trees or flowers to dress it up.
A new discovery suggests, however, that Loring had much more in mind than parkways. As part of the ongoing project to inventory the park board’s historical records with the goal of making them more accessible to researchers, I recently found a letter written by Loring in 1886 that sheds more light on his thinking about the lakes.
The letter, dated June 14, 1886 and addressed to park board secretary Rufus Baldwin, discusses Loring’s views on what needs to be done to acquire land at Lake of the Isles. Loring notes that Alfred Dean, who owned much of the land that had to be crossed by a parkway at Lake of the Isles, had already told Loring he could do whatever he wished. Loring then wrote,
“My opinion is that we do not want the land on the outside, but do want it next the lake. As the plat now is, the boulevard goes around the little marsh thus.”
Loring then includes a small drawing.
He is very explicit, writing on the road next to the lake “This is what we want” and concluding bluntly, “We must control the lake.”
This evidence that Loring was thinking far beyond parkways is reinforced by the concluding page of his letter when he addresses a new topic: boats on Lake Harriet. He notes that a steamer has been placed on the lake and he has asked the owner to remove it, but adds that after talking with “Judge Fish” — park board attorney Daniel Fish — Loring doesn’t want legal questions raised yet about “rights on the water”. Clearly, Loring is thinking about park board control not just of boulevards around the lake, but activity on the lake as well. His earlier comment, “We must control the lake”, takes on even greater significance.
We may owe even more to Charles Loring and his vision than we previously knew.
While on the subject of Loring I want to mention a note I received a while ago from, William Scott, the great-great-nephew of Charles Loring’s second wife Florence Barton Loring. You can read more about his family’s relationship with the Bartons and Lorings in the “Comments” section here.
This is the carte de visite of Florence Barton that he refers to. Thanks to William Scott for sharing the photos below.
This must have been taken long before she married Charles Loring at age 45 in 1895. Read much more about Florence Barton Loring here.
William Scott also sent a photograph of family and friends at Minnehaha Falls in about 1910. Love those hats! The new bridge with the boulder face over a concrete structure was brand new in 1910. Appears to be a dry year.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2016 David C. Smith
Edina and Minneapolis share more than France Avenue — and history buffs aren’t restricted by city boundaries.
Henry Brown played an important role in the history of Edina as well as the history of Minnehaha Falls as a Minneapolis park.
There is a Chowen Park in both Edina and Minneapolis.
Minnehaha Creek flows through Minneapolis parkland before it gets to Edina — and, of course, all of Minnehaha Creek after it leaves Edina on its way through Minneapolis to Minnehaha Falls and the Mississippi River is parkland.
The Interlachen neighborhood grew up around a golf course created by golfers who had outgrown their nine-hole Bryn Mawr course near downtown Minneapolis.
That’s just a taste of the rich information on Edina history — and Minneapolis history — on the web site of realtor Ben Ganje. Go to the neighborhood directory on his site then look at the right margin for a list of Edina neighborhoods. Each of Edina’s 45 official neighborhoods is profiled with historical info and interesting bits of trivia.
I read about Todd Park because of my interest in famous diva Emma Abbott, a Minneapolis girl made good. Her father was one of those first interested in developing this part of Edina.
Why was I interested in Emma Abbott? She was buried next to her husband in Oak Grove Cemetery in his home town, Gloucester, Mass. Their monument is the most impressive in that cemetery, which I visited this fall.
Laying out Oak Grove Cemetery was one of the first commissions Horace William Shaler Cleveland received as a landscape architect. He was hired for that job, with his young partner Robert Copeland, in 1854. The next year they tackled the design of the much more prestigious Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass., the eventual resting place of many of the great writers of early America: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, a childhood friend of Horace Cleveland.
More Edina History of Interest to Minneapolitans
Another Edina neighborhood profile I liked was Creek Knoll, which borders Minneapolis and was first promoted as a residential development for its nearness to Lake Harriet.
Also check out the profile of Morningside, a neighborhood that was also subdivided and developed partly because of the rapidly rising prices of residential lots nearer Lake Harriet in the early 1900s.
For those of you interested in park history in general, you might want to read about park development at Pamela Park, Bredesen Park and also the land once owned by four-term Minneapolis mayor, George Leach, that became Braemar Golf Course. The Lake Cornelia history also presents some of the challenges of park making as well as stormwater management that face cities as well as suburbs.
Can you still catch northern pike in Centennial Lakes?
Worth a look if you want to know more about our southwestern neighbor — and our metropolitan area from water management and freeways to shopping centers.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
Another of my favorite recent photo finds is a good intro to my next speaking engagement on Minneapolis park history this Saturday.
I recently found this photo of the Washburn Fair Oaks mansion built by William Washburn in 1883.
Compare it to this photo taken two Sundays ago from about the same vantage point across Third Avenue South.
Now turn about 90 degrees left and you get this image of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
I’ll be talking about both parks and arts, and how many of the same people created Minneapolis’s parks and its art institutions at the Washburn Library on Lyndale Avenue, Saturday, November 21 at 10 a.m. My presentation is being hosted by the Minnesota Independent Scholars’ Forum, but the event is free and open to the public.
For more information visit here. Hope to see you Saturday.
If you want to know more about the landscaping of the Washburn Fair Oaks grounds, you can begin here. Of course, the story features H.W.S. Cleveland.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
In response to the previous post on Charles Tenney’s photos of Highland Avenue and the 10th Avenue Bridge, MaryLynn Pulscher sent her favorite photo of the 10th Avenue Bridge. It’s a fascinating bit of history itself. We don’t know the origin of the photo but believe it’s from a newspaper. If anyone knows who took it or where it was published, please let us know so we can give proper attribution.
David C. Smith
The elegant neighborhood on the hills surrounding Oak Lake — now the site of the Farmer’s Market off Lyndale Avenue — has been gone for decades. Oak Lake itself was filled in 100 years ago. You can read the whole story here. The latest news: I finally found a picture of one of the five small parks in the Oak Lake Addition. I give you Highland Oval.
The photo was probably taken in the mid-1880s, before the park board assumed responsibility for the land as a park. The land was designated as park in the 1873 plat of the addition by brothers Samuel and Harlow Gale. Although I have no proof, I believe it likely that H.W.S. Cleveland laid out the Oak Lake Addition, owing largely to the known relationship between Cleveland and Samuel Gale. The curving streets that followed topography and the triangles and ovals at street intersections were hallmarks of Cleveland’s unique work about that same time for William Marshall’s St. Anthony Park in St. Paul and later for William Washburn’s Tangletown section of Minneapolis near Minnehaha Creek. It was also characteristic of Cleveland’s work in other cities.
Photographer Charles A. Tenney published a few series of stereoviews of St. Paul and Minneapolis 1883-1885. He was based in Winona and most of his photos are of the area around that city and across southern Minnesota.
Highland Oval was located in what is now the northeastern corner of the market.
As happy as I was to find the Highland Oval photo, my favorite photo by Tenney tells a different story.
At first glance, this image from Tenney’s Minneapolis Series 1883 was simply the 10th Avenue Bridge below St. Anthony Falls, looking east. The bridge no longer exists, although a pier is still visible in the river. What makes the photo remarkable for me are the forms in the upper left background being built for the construction of the Stone Arch Bridge. (See a closeup of the construction method here.) The Stone Arch Bridge was completed in 1883 — the same year the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners was created.
Nearly 100 years after the bridge was built, trains quit using it and several years later the park board, Hennepin County and Minnesota reached an agreement for the park board to maintain the bridge deck for pedestrians and bicyclists, thus helping to transform Minneapolis’s riverfront — a process that continues today.
Note also the low level of the river around the bridge piers. This was long before dams were built to raise the river level to make it navigable.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2015 David C. Smith
The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago hosted the debut of Minneapolis’s most famous sculptural couple, Hiawatha and Minnehaha, in 1893.
Hiawatha and Minnehaha greeted visitors to the state’s pavilion in their modest plaster costumes nearly two decades before sculptor Jakob Fjelde’s pair took their much-photographed places on the small island above Minnehaha Falls in their bronze finery in 1912.
Jakob Fjelde was largely responsible for two other sculptures in Minneapolis parks. He created the statue of Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist, in Loring Park in 1895. He also created the drawing that Johannes Gelert used after Fjelde’s death to sculpt the figure of pioneer John Stevens, which now stands in Minnehaha Park. Fjelde also created the bust of Henrik Ibsen, Norway’s most famous writer, that adorns Como Park in St. Paul. Fjelde’s best-known work other than Longfellow’s lovers, however, is the charging foot soldier of the 1st Minnesota rushing to his likely death on the battlefield of Gettysburg.
These thoughts and images of sculpture in Minneapolis parks were prompted in part by my recent post on Daniel Chester French, but also by another letter found in the papers of William Watts Folwell at the Minnesota Historical Society. Just two years after Fjelde’s successes with his sculptures for Gettysburg and Chicago, he wrote a poignant letter to Folwell in July 1895 seeking his support for an “extravagant” offer. Fjelde proposes to the Court House Commission, which was developing plans for a new City Hall and Court House, that he create a seven-foot tall statue of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall, and a bronze bust of District Court Judge William Lochren, both for the sum of $1,400. Fjelde calls the price of $1,000 for the Marshall statue “1/3 of its real value.” He explains his offer to Folwell:
“Anyone who knows a little about sculpture work will know that the sums above stated are no price for such a statue but as I for the last six months have been unable to get any work to do at all and have wife and four children to take care of and in spite of utmost economy, unable to make both ends meet, I am obliged to do something extravagant, if only I can get the work to do.”
Fjelde adds that $400 for a bronze bust of Lochren would only pay for the bronze work, meaning that he would be creating the bust free. He writes that he is willing to do so because by getting Lochren’s bust into the Court House, “it might go easier in the future to get the busts of other judges who could afford to give theirs, so I would hope that would give me some work later on.”
He concludes his plea by noting that with his proposition, “The Court House would thereby get a grand courtroom hardly equalled in the U.S.”
Although I have not searched the records diligently, I have not come across anything to suggest that the Court House Commission accepted Fjelde’s offer. That may be because barely two weeks after writing his letter, the Norwegian Singing Society, led by Fjelde’s friend, John Arctander, began to raise money for a statue of Ole Bull. Fjelde began work on that statue in 1895. When all but the finishing touches were completed on the image of the Norwegian maestro the next spring, Fjelde died. He was 37.
I can’t leave another sculpture story without returning a moment to Daniel Chester French. In a longer piece on French a couple of weeks ago, I noted that when his Longfellow Memorial at Minnehaha Falls didn’t materialize, he moved on to create an enormous sculpture for the Chicago World’s Fair. Here it is in its massive splendor. It stood 60 feet tall,
French’s Chicago sculpture was much larger than Fjelde’s, but Fjelde’s sculpture eventually found a home at Minnehaha Falls, where French’s proposed sculpture of Longfellow did not.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2015 David C. Smith
Joan Pudvan’s comment on the previous post reminded me to share a wonderful image of Tower Hill that she sent to me.
For more memories of a neighborhood, Prospect Park in southeast Minneapolis, and two parks, Tower Hill and Luxton, I’d encourage you to have a look at the book Joan put together, Memories of Prospect Park, in 2001. The book is a compilation of memories from many people covering the years 1910-1950. The book is available at the Minneapolis Central branch of the Hennepin County Library and the Minnesota Historical Society Library in St. Paul.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
I recently received a note from Marge Siers who wrote about her memories of growing up in Minneapolis parks. Her dad, Earl Baker, was a park board employee from 1952 into the 1980s. She wrote of her father:
He took care of Marshall Field and Bottineau Field in northeast Minneapolis and later was in charge of Webber Park in north Minneapolis. My dad loved his job and took great pride in caring for his parks. He remembers when the guys would get on a wagon going from park to park to cut the grass and rake leaves when all that work was done by hand and there were about 5000 acres of lawn. When we were kids, many Sunday drives were spent checking out the parks and how they were being kept. Dad could tell by looking at the grass if mower blades needed sharpening or if they were cutting unevenly or cutting too short. And, yes, Monday morning those problems were taken care of (he still does this today).
Marge wrote that she and her siblings remember going to work with their dad and playing all day in the park or ice skating all day during winter vacations.
Two of her dad’s vivid memories were of an older colleague who told about maintaining the Minneapolis airport in its early days — yes it was owned and operated by the Minneapolis park board. His colleague told of planes buzzing the maintenance building to get someone to turn on the runway lights. Earl also recollected a frantic, but successful, effort to keep an oil spill out of Shingle Creek when vandals damaged tanks in the pump house at the Webber Pool.
Marge also recalled the times when she and her siblings would help set up folding chairs for events at North Commons. Stencilled on the back of each chair was “BPC”, which they pretended stood for “Buttered Pop Corn.” In fact, it was the mark of the “Board of Park Commissioners”, the official name of the park board from 1883 until it was changed in 1969 to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board or MPRB. When the BPC was created, active recreation — things like running, jumping, climbing, swinging or playing ball games — was not considered appropriate behavior in parks. Parks were for quiet rest and relaxation in beautiful surroundings.
The memories of Marge and Earl put in context the park board’s current efforts to secure needed funds for maintaining and operating neighborhood parks throughout the city. TImes change, needs change and we constantly ask for more and better services at facilities that play central roles in so many of our lives. Now we have incredible public spaces for many types of recreation from the most active to the most tranquil — even if the park board no longer owns an airport.* Those spaces, which were created to meet needs, often demands, expressed by us, can’t be maintained without funding.
Thanks for the memories Marge and Earl.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2015 David C. Smith
* The latest calculation from Renay Leone, park board real estate attorney, is that the park board still owns about 35 acres of land under the runways at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
H. W. S. Cleveland and Daniel Chester French Make a Plan: A Tribute to Longfellow at Minnehaha Falls
When one of America’s leading landscape architects teams up with one of its greatest sculptors to celebrate one of its most popular authors in an iconic landscape, you’d expect great things. Horace William Shaler Cleveland did.
On April 10, 1891, Cleveland, the landscape architect who had created the blueprint for Minneapolis’s already highly regarded park system and designed many of its first parks, wrote to his friend William Folwell of a memorial he had in mind,
“I can hardly find words to tell you how my heart stands still at the thought of the possibility of my living to see its realization in the place I had designed for it.” He went on to write that it would be the “joy of the rest of my life” to prepare a site for the memorial. (Folwell Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota)
The sculptor was Daniel Chester French. The subject was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The site was Minnehaha Falls.
Cleveland was 76 — and what was to be the joy of the rest of his life was never made possible The memorial was never created. We have only a photo — and some letters — that tell of a memorial planned for installation in the limestone cliff beside the Falls that Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha had made famous.
Cleveland’s copy of the photo he raved about is gone. He left no known papers of his own, although his letters to others survive scattered in libraries and museums. Following a trail from letters to William Folwell, however, I found a reference to what seemed like a promising photo in Chapin Library at Williams College, which is the repository of archival photographs and documents from Chesterwood, French’s summer home and studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, now a National Trust Historic Site. The photo was labelled only as being from an “unrealized” Longfellow project in 1891.That description and the date matched the Minnehaha Falls project, so I requested a copy of the photo. When it arrived, I was astonished; it was the photo above — which matches enough other clues in the correspondence that I have no doubt it is the same image that Horace Cleveland held as he wrote to Folwell during an April snowstorm in Minneapolis in 1891.
“I long to have you see it,” Cleveland wrote to Folwell who lived across town, “but I want to be very chary of showing it and think we cannot be too careful to avoid its being talked of or brought forward till the right moment arrives.” The right moment hasn’t yet arrived — and we’re getting on to 125 years, so I will cast caution aside and talk of it myself.
The Little Brother
William Folwell knew French, too. When Dan French made his first a trip to Minneapolis in June 1890 to discuss the Minnehaha project, he stayed at Folwell’s home near the University of Minnesota campus created by Folwell when he had been the first president of the university. In a thank-you note sent to Folwell following that visit, French wrote, “I am glad to feel that I am so much better acquainted with Will’s valued friends.” He was referring to his older brother, William Merchant Richardson French, then the director of the Art Institute of Chicago. Will had stayed with the Folwells in Minneapolis many times when visiting from Chicago as Horace Cleveland’s business partner in the 1870s and early 1880s.
(Cleveland did not move from Chicago to Minneapolis until 1886. For more on the relationships among Cleveland, Folwell, and the French brothers, read “And the answer is…French!”. It is also likely that H.W.S. Cleveland knew Henry Flagg French, father of William and Daniel, as early as the mid-1850s. They were both active in the nascent American Pomological Congress — Cleveland was an officer — and attended some of the same early horticultural conferences and they both wrote on the subject of using drainage tiles to improve productivity on farms. That was probably not a club with a large membership.)
Cleveland first mentioned Dan French to Folwell in a letter in 1875 on the occasion of the dedication of Dan’s first prominent commission, the “Minute Man” in Concord, Massachusetts. Cleveland noted that his young partner William French had left Chicago to attend the dedication of the statue.
French went reluctantly. “French did not mean to go home,” Cleveland wrote, “but I told him he would regret it all his life if he failed to do so, and urged him till I made him do it, which of course he wanted to do, but his conscience stood in the way growling like a great bulldog, as you know consciences are apt to do if you point your finger at ’em, but just march boldly by without notice and they’ll keep quiet enough. I am sure he will enjoy it with all his heart and it will add greatly to his father’s pleasure to have him there and the occasion will be a delightful reminiscence to him as long as he lives.”
Cleveland likely recalled his own professional debut as he urged William French to attend the unveiling of his brother’s sculpture in Concord. Cleveland’s professional breakthrough as a landscape architect had taken place just a half-mile down the road from Dan’s Minute Man at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Cleveland and Robert Copeland, his first partner, had essentially launched their careers.
William’s attendance at the dedication of the sculpture is particularly noteworthy because his brother did not attend. Dan was studying and working in Italy at the time.
No one could have guessed that the “Minute Man” would stand, despite a brilliant career, as one of Daniel French’s best-known sculptures, surpassed only by the massive, brooding Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Newest Minneapolis Park
The impetus for Dan French’s trip to Minneapolis in 1890 was the recent acquisition by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners of the beautiful waterfall made famous by Longfellow’s epic poem in 1855. Minnehaha Falls and 120 surrounding acres were added to the Minneapolis park system in 1889 when the state of Minnesota couldn’t come up with the money to purchase the land for the nation’s second state park, so Minneapolis stepped in and bought the secluded falls in the state’s place.
Cleveland had eagerly awaited the opportunity to design a park at Minnehaha Falls. He had helped sell the prospect of a park at the Falls to Minneapolis Park Commissioners and citizens for years, laying the groundwork for the decision by Minneapolis leaders to spend the $92,000 needed to purchase the land when the legislature couldn’t afford it. Minnehaha Falls had not been part of Cleveland’s original blueprint for the city’s park system in 1883 only because the falls was then outside city limits. He later wrote that he thought it would be “exceedingly desirable” to create a park there someday.
While Cleveland was waiting for the purchase of the Falls as a park to be completed, he was hired in 1888 to landscape the grounds of a Soldiers’ Home being built for Civil War veterans on the bluff at the confluence of Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. The fifty acres for the Soldiers’ Home were about a half-mile down the creek from Minnehaha Falls and surrounded by the park, so Cleveland knew very well the parkland acquired. He had also served as an advisor to the five-person committee appointed by Minnesota’s Governor to select land for the park — before the state realized it couldn’t afford it.
Cleveland’s sense of personal accomplishment and his anticipation of the coming work was evident in his letter to Frederick Law Olmsted of June 13, 1889. “We have secured Minnehaha,” he wrote, “but have got to have a fight in the courts over it before we can begin improvements.” Two days later, however, the Minneapolis park board appropriated $5,000 for the immediate improvement of the park.
Cleveland’s subsequent participation in the design of the park is not clear, despite widespread belief that he was principally responsible for the layout of the park. There is no record in annual reports or the proceedings of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners that Cleveland was ever asked to produce a design for the park or that he was ever paid to do so. Cleveland’s work in many other parks in Minneapolis was specifically authorized by board action as recorded in park board proceedings, and payments to him for that work were recorded in the proceedings and, in many cases, annual reports. No such records exist for any work he might have done at Minnehaha. Cleveland’s handwritten instructions for the implementation of his plans have survived in park board records for other parks, but none exist for Minnehaha Falls. The only record of his involvement with the layout of Minnehaha Park comes from his letters to Folwell, who in 1888 had been elected to the park board himself and became the leading advocate for Cleveland’s original vision for a Minneapolis park system.
On September 5, 1889 Cleveland wrote to Folwell, “I have had no official orders in regard to Minnehaha, but as (park superintendent) Mr. Berry and two or three park commissioners have talked with me as if they took it for granted that I was to design the arrangement I have been studying and working upon it with an interest I never before felt in any similar work.” Yet, two weeks later he again wrote to Folwell, “Can’t we arrange to go together some day to Minnehaha? I should like you to see the beginning we have made and get a general idea of what I hope to accomplish.” The implication is clear that he was at least advising Berry in spending the $5,000 appropriated by the board for immediate improvements.
Still it appears that his involvement with any work at Minnehaha was the result of his own close relationship with Berry and it was done informally. After another two weeks passed, Cleveland weighed in with Folwell again, “It would be well for the Commission to order the engineer to survey and cross-section the grounds at Minnehaha or at least the low grounds so that I can make my notes this Fall and work up the plan during the Winter.”
But Cleveland by this time was apparently beginning to have doubts about the speed of improvements to be made at the park. “If no other work is done next year,” he cautioned, “than thinning and opening the wood, the lines of roads must be determined beforehand and in fact the plan of the arrangement should be fixed in all its essential features before any work is begun on the low ground or the heights beyond.”
Folwell dutifully proposed at the first park board meeting in October that the engineer be authorized to conduct that survey and it was approved. But there was still no commitment to hire Cleveland to design the park. The park board, meanwhile, had spent more than the $5,000 appropriated for the park — and none of it had been paid to Cleveland. We have no record of what work was done or who was responsible for determining what should be done.
Cleveland’s impatience began to show in another letter to Folwell on October 21 in which he wrote that he had just sent a letter to the Minneapolis Tribune, “which I hope may have some effect in awakening popular interest in the development of Minnehaha Park by reminding our people that the whole world will be interested in what we do there, so that it assumes a degree of importance far beyond that of a mere city ornament & place of recreation.”
In that letter, published in the Tribune two days later, Cleveland wrote of the new park at Minnehaha Falls,
“A moment’s reflection will serve to show the essential importance of preserving the natural features which constitute the attractive charm of the place, and any attempt to increase them by artificial decoration would be simply an act of desecration.”
This was Cleveland at his finest. For more than two decades already he had evangelized for preserving natural landscapes, for touching with “reverent hands” what was already there.
In his “Suggestions” to the park board in 1883 he made the point quite clearly.
“All expenditure for ornamental gardening, and especially for artificial structures in the form of rustic buildings, bridges, grottoes, fountains, statues, vases, etc. is not only needless as being out of keeping with the rude condition of the surroundings, but while so many urgent demands exist for works of actual necessity, would indicate such incongruity and deficiency of taste as that of the individual who adorns his person with jewelry before he is provided with comfortable clothing.”
His often eloquent and impassioned language against “ornamentation” or “embellishment” of nature, and the influences on his thinking, are presented very well by Daniel Nadenicek and Lance Neckar individually (see end notes), as well as together in the introduction to the 2002 reissue of Landscape Architecture as Applied to the Wants of the West. Cleveland’s well-established belief in “natural” landscapes, makes the conclusion of his letter to Folwell that October day in 1889 — and what ensued — difficult to fathom. In that letter, Cleveland mentioned for the first time Dan French’s possible participation in a Minnehaha project. “I have written Dan French & sent him a photo of the cliff at Minnehaha,” he wrote, “and told him we should probably notify him ‘ere long that we should want him to come out here.”
Could Cleveland have been planning the “desecration” of Minnehaha Falls? To which “cliff” at Minnehaha was he referring? Would he have attempted to engage Daniel French if the memorial he envisaged was not to have a prominent place — perhaps in the same field of vision as the famous falls?
An Incongruous Plan for Ornamentation
Cleveland’s recruitment of French for the project is not supported by any recorded discussions in park board meetings of hiring French or of any plans for a memorial of any kind at Minnehaha Falls. The only allusion to a memorial I can find was an article in the Minneapolis Tribune of March 16, 1890, which commented on a Longfellow Memorial that “was talked of sometime ago.” The Tribune writer suggested that the “most appropriate and conspicuous” memorial would be a “magnificent arch” at the entrance to the park. Later that month, Cleveland demonstrated that he had not abandoned his plan. “The proposition to get Dan French here was so cordially met last fall that I hoped it would not be suffered to fall through,” Cleveland wrote to Folwell, “and as he is to be in Chicago on the 27th at Wm’s wedding it seems as if the opportunity ought not to be lost of having him here.”
That opportunity apparently was lost because Cleveland wrote to Folwell again on June 6, 1890 with good news. Dan French was once again in Chicago and Samuel Gale, a greatly underappreciated contributor to the development of Minneapolis, including its parks, had agreed — at Cleveland’s request, I presume — to pay French’s expenses to come to Minneapolis.
French stayed with Folwell and his daughter — the Clevelands were repainting and papering their house and were sleeping on sofas — on a Friday night and visited Minnehaha the next day, planning to catch an evening train back to Chicago. He tells the rest of the story in his letter to Folwell dated June 24, 1890.
“Mr. Cleveland has probably told you that I relented and stayed over till Sunday afternoon to see the wonderful parks that he has been making…(he) seemed so very flatteringly disappointed at my going away without seeing his great work that I decided to reconsider. I had supposed before he explained the scheme to me that I had seen the principal part of the work at the Falls of Minnehaha. After walking in the forenoon and driving in the afternoon, I have a realizing sense of the extent of the undertaking and I am very glad I did not come away without becoming acquainted with this remarkable feature of your beautiful city.”
We have to assume that French grabbed a spare sofa on Saturday night at the Clevelands’.
French must have departed Minneapolis with expectations of receiving a commission. Evidence that specific plans were being developed for a memorial to Longfellow at Minnehaha Falls was provided by Cleveland’s letter to Folwell on November 1, 1890. Explaining that he had been called away to a meeting in St. Paul, he left instructions for how Folwell could see “French’s letter and model” in Cleveland’s office while he was out.
“Please read the letter and look at the model and drawing,” he urged Folwell, then added, “Since seeing it I have thought that instead of a grotto or a cave, a mere niche might be made in the face of the rock somewhat like this model with a statue of Longfellow as the central figure & Indians at the side.”
The description predicts precisely the photograph in French’s Chesterwood papers.
The notion of scaling back from a “grotto” to a “mere niche” in the rock is staggering given that no plans for such an undertaking are known to exist. It’s hard to imagine Cleveland going this far without suggesting possible layouts or designs and showing them to some of his confidants or supporters on the park board — at least Folwell. I am also surprised that Cleveland would proceed this far without authorization or funding, whether from the park board or private supporters, such as Samuel Gale. It is surprising as well that French would put so much work into a project if he hadn’t been assured of some compensation.
The greatest challenge though, especially for admirers of Cleveland’s vision of nature, landscape and art, is to conceive a rationale for Cleveland justifying such extreme embellishment as sculpture and grotto in any setting so idyllic and symbolic. Perhaps the key is to appreciate Cleveland’s own past and his personal attachment to what Longfellow represented.
In the Tribune letter quoted from above, Cleveland also wrote of the “halo of poetic association” worn by Minnehaha Falls due to Longfellow’s poem. To Cleveland, that “halo” encompassed far more than a poem, far more even than literature. It was personal. That halo encircled his aunts and uncles, his mother and father, his brother, his friends, his childhood, his memories, him. But that is a subject for another time.
Daniel Nadenicek explored Cleveland’s attachment to Minnehaha in his excellent article that takes its title from the same Cleveland letter to the Tribune cited above, “Commemoration in the Landscape of Minnehaha: “A Halo of Poetic Association.” I believe that it would take more than “personal acquaintance” or an intellectual bond between men of “like mind,” as Nadenicek suggests, to explain Cleveland’s radical departure from his articles of professional faith in advocating blasting a hole in the limestone beside a mythical waterfall to insert a sculpture of anyone.
As near as Minnehaha Falls is to the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek, it was also near the confluence of many streams in Cleveland’s long life. Perhaps he simply couldn’t resist the possibility of creating a memorial to his own past, in a sense to himself, along with his friends. He was, after all, 76, an age when legacies are contemplated.
Back to the Studio
While the Minneapolis park board took no action at Minnehaha in 1890, French continued work on the memorial in his studio because on November 29, Cleveland wrote to Folwell that he wanted to show him a new photo from Dan French.
By early 1891, French had developed a model for the sculpture. Cleveland wrote to Folwell on March 9 that he had just received more letters from French. “As no action has yet been taken in reference to the development of the Minnehaha Park, is it not better,” Cleveland wonders, “for me to ask French to keep the model for the present & send me only a photo of it, or perhaps two or three to give away?”
Folwell must have concurred because it was only a month later that Cleveland wrote that he had received a photo from French that evoked his emotional response.
“I tremble to think that it may prove only a vision & I implore your aid in its consummation, which would do more to make the name of Minneapolis sacred in the mind of the best element of humanity everywhere, than all the ostentatious display of wealth she can offer.”
That letter is the last word I can find on the subject of a Longfellow Memorial at Minnehaha Falls. Sixteen years later “Fish” Jones opened his private park, Longfellow Gardens, complete with zoo, across the street from the Falls. There he installed a sculpture of Longfellow that he commissioned and he built for himself a two-thirds scale replica of Longfellow’s house in Cambridge. The statue still stands worn and forlorn, unrecognizable, in a meadow. The house, after a long journey that included thirty years as a branch library, has been moved closer to Minnehaha Falls and now holds the offices of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. Several verses of The Song of Hiawatha have been inscribed into a circle of cut stone that serves as a garden memorial to Longfellow near the falls. But the marvelous image of Longfellow created by French never found a home there.
We have no official record of why the memorial was never created just as we have none that it was ever contemplated. But the reasons it was never made are not hard to imagine. To begin with, the memorial was a terrible idea depending on where Cleveland and French hoped to install it. If anywhere in the bowl created by the falls, it would have been awful. If a bit downstream — a destination in Longfellow Glen — it might have worked, but it certainly would have changed the nature of that wild glen. To its detriment, I think. I would vote No.
The second good reason the memorial was never built is that the park board couldn’t afford to pay for either its creation, installation, or maintenance. A memorial couldn’t have lasted long if set into the very soft sandstone layer near the falls so the “mere niche” would have had to be cut into the limestone. It would have been a big undertaking at a time that the park board was stretched for money. Heeding Folwell’s advice in 1890 to extend the parkway system into northeast and north Minneapolis as Cleveland had suggested originally, the park board purchased the first parts of Glenwood (Wirth) Park in north Minneapolis and Columbia Park in northeast, in addition to the east bank of the Mississippi River downstream from the University of Minnesota all the way to the St. Paul city line. Powderhorn, Van Cleve and Moulton (Windom) parks were added as neighborhood parks and more new parks were routinely proposed. Shortly after those acquisitions, the Panic of 1893 severely damaged the economy of Minneapolis as well as that of the rest of the nation. The park board had so little revenue that it stopped mowing the lawns in parks and laid off all park employees except the park police in the mid-1890s.
Minneapolis park commissioners may have also listened too well to Cleveland’s sermons on acquiring land instead of ornaments. One of the remarkable characteristics of early park management in Minneapolis was that there were so few superfluous expenditures. Owing to Cleveland, William Berry and Charles Loring, the first president of the park board, Minneapolis had created an impressive array of parks in less than a decade. By 1890, Minneapolis parks were attracting praise from around the country and the park board had not paid for a single sculpture or park decoration. Even a few years later when John Scott Bradstreet proposed to build, at his own expense, a Japanese Temple on an island in Lake of the Isles, the park board allowed the proposal to die quietly. Cleveland had taught the city well.
A final reason that Cleveland’s plan may not have caught on is that Cleveland’s influence seemed to be waning. Several times in the early 1890s, various commissioners proposed that Cleveland be engaged for design work at this park or that only to have those motions tabled until the board could get an estimate of what his services would cost, never to be pulled off the parliamentary table again. Gone from the park commission were many of the original park commissioners who had fought long and hard, with Cleveland at their side, to create a park system. Even Charles Loring, known already then as the Father of Minneapolis Parks, left the park board at the end of 1890. While Folwell remained on the board throughout the 1890s, Cleveland didn’t have the relationships with park commissioners he had enjoyed the decade before.
The Future of French
Fortunately, Daniel French seemed to suffer no hardship for the time he had invested in designing and making models of a Longfellow Memorial at Minnehaha Park. He would return to both Minnesota and Longfellow.
French very soon moved on to the creation of the enormous statue, “Republic”, for the Columbia Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, which would further establish his name. But he would return to Minnesota in less than a decade to create a sculpture of one of founders of the University of Minnesota, John S. Pillsbury. Pillsbury was one of the Regents responsible for hiring William Folwell as the first president of the university and he was also one of the original twelve Minneapolis park commissioners in 1883. It was John Pillsbury who, at the inaugural meeting of that park board, made the motion to hire Horace Cleveland for his advice on creating parks. Dan French attended the dedication of the Pillsbury statue in 1900. Horace Cleveland had moved to Chicago to live with his son by then and would die later that year at the age of 86. Folwell was still actively teaching at age 67, and had not yet begun to write his four-volume history of Minnesota, which he wouldn’t finish until he was 95.
French would return to Minneapolis for two more projects, both at the State Capitol in St. Paul. He created six figures for the interior of the Capitol, depicting Bounty, Wisdom, Prudence, Courage, Truth, and Integrity in 1900. He also created the human figures for the gold Quadriga in front of the Capitol dome in 1907.
French also returned to Longfellow as a subject when he was hired to create a memorial to Longfellow across Brattle Street from Longfellow’s former house in Cambridge, Mass. in 1914. The memorial stands today in what was once Longfellow’s front yard. I have not studied the story of the creation of that piece of public art, but French clearly drew on his 25-year-old design for Minnehaha Park.
French’s design for Cambridge is a weak imitation of his original concept with only a bust of Longfellow instead of the eager, dynamic, seated Longfellow about to burst from his chair that French had modeled for Minnehaha Park. French did expand the range of characters in relief behind Longfellow’s bust to include his most famous characters — from Miles Standish, at far left, to Evangeline standing next to Hiawatha at far right — rather than only characters from The Song of Hiawatha.
From the vantage point of 125 years, I’m glad that Cleveland and French’s design was not realized at Minnehaha Park. What would have become of the sculpture over the decades in the humid bowl of the falls? What would it have cost to maintain? Would it have changed the naturalistic setting of the glen below the falls and the wilderness walk down the creek to the Mississippi? Or would it have been neglected and sunk into the desolation unique to public art that is not maintained?
I prefer the falls the way it is. Altered by time, but unadorned. And I prefer H. W. S. Cleveland — one of the men I admire most — as a defender of nature, as a preacher of preservation, as an artist of rocks and trees and topography, in other words as he was, with all his flaws, before I found the photo of the memorial he and Daniel Chester French imagined for the limestone face beside Minnehaha Falls.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2015 David C. Smith
All letters from Horace William Shaler Cleveland and Daniel Chester French to William Watts Folwell are in Folwell Family Papers, Correspondence, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota
Letter from Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted in Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Cleveland, Horace William Shaler, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1883. These “Suggestions” were published as a pamphlet, but also were appended to the First Annual Report of the Board of Park Commissioners for the City of Minneapolis.
— The Aesthetic Development of the United Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, An address delivered in Dyer’s Hall, April 20, 1888, to the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, (Minneapolis, Minnesota, A.C. Bausman,1888)
— “The Park System”, Minneapolis Tribune, October 23, 1889
Nadenicek, Daniel Joseph, Emerson’s Aesthetic and Natural Design; A Theoretical Foundation for the Work of Horace William Shaler Cleveland, Nature and Ideology, ed. Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1997)
— Commemoration in the Landscape of Minnehaha: “A Halo of Poetic Association”, Places of Commemoration: Search for Identity and Landscape Design, Volume 19, Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, (Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, 2001)
Neckar, Lance M., Fast Tracking Culture and Landscape: Horace William Shaler Cleveland and the Garden in the Midwest, Regional Garden Designs in the Untied States, ed. Therese O’Malley and Marc Treib, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1995)