Minneapolis Park Names Added and Reconsidered

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

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

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

Changing Names

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

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

Advertisements

Lake, Creek and River Tour … History Archive … Aerial Photos

How did Minneapolis preserve nearly all waterfront in the city as public property? Lakes, creeks, ponds, river, even some bodies of water that no longer exist. Public property! You can walk up to the water and put your toe or your canoe in. Nobody’s permission needed.

That extraordinary distinguishing feature of Minneapolis will be the subject of a bus tour I will lead this summer as part of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer tour schedule. Reserve your seat on the bus for our two-hour tour on Saturday, August 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. All proceeds go to Preserve Minneapolis. I hope you will join me and in the process support the ongoing efforts to preserve the best of Minneapolis’s built and natural environments.

And check out the rest of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer tours. I’m sure you’ll see others you want to sign up for as well. The schedule was just posted and in the past most tours have sold out, so reserve your place early.

Michael Wilson’s Hill and Lake Press Archive

Michael Wilson has been writing about “history, issues and goings-on” in the Lowry Hill and lakes neighborhoods for Hill and Lake Press since 2015 and now he has collected his articles on his own blog at michaelwilsonmpls.com. I’d recommend a visit to Michael’s site for historical perspective on a wide range of issues affecting those neighborhoods as well as the city’s park resources. Bookmark it.

Aerial Treasures

An amazing trove of aerial photos of Minneapolis in the 1920s has been acquired by the Hennepin County Library and is in the process of being digitized for internet access. Michael Wilson has been instrumental in acquiring that collection for the library and wrote about it here. The spectacular collection, which I have viewed, should come with a warning that you will be tempted to spend hours and hours looking through them to find your house, street, neighborhood or landmarks as they once were.

The photographs were taken by early aerial photographer Joe Quigley for the Minneapolis School Board and were discovered in storage only in the last couple years. The photos were commissioned when the city was growing dramatically and the school board was trying to anticipate the exploding demand for classrooms and also planning to absorb the school-age population from the annexation of a large portion of Richfield.

One result of those challenges was increasing cooperation between the school board and park board to stretch their budgets without redundancy. That effort was initiated in the 1920s at the park board by commissioner Maude Armatage. Her efforts on that score continued for the next three decades and were recognized when a joint school and park constructed in southwest Minneapolis—part of the Richfield annexation—was named for her.

David Carpentier Smith

Ice Queens: The First Female Speed Skaters in Minnesota

Dorothy “Dot” Franey, one of the best athletes in Minnesota history, achieved her greatest athletic success as the state’s first world-class female speed skater. When a Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame was created in 1958, the inaugural class included one woman, golfer Patty Berg. The second class of inductees, in 1963, featured a second woman, Dot Franey.

In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate some of the women who first clamped on skating blades and raced on Minnesota ice. While not strictly a Minneapolis park story, Minneapolis park rinks and lakes played a central role in the development of speed skating in Minnesota. By the 1930s, when Franey was at her best, the tracks on Powderhorn Lake in Minneapolis and Lake Como in St. Paul were the premier outdoor speed skating venues in the country. Although many of Franey’s finest performances were recorded on Minneapolis ice, she was from St. Paul, and like many other skaters from downriver, she wore the colors of the Hippodrome Skating Club. The State Fair Hippodrome was converted to a skating rink in winter—covered but unheated and advertised as the largest sheet of indoor ice in the country—in  December 1908.Hippodrome postcard

Sadly, we will never know how great Dot Franey might have been in the speed sport she dominated. As an eighteen-year-old she represented the United States in the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid when women’s speed skating was a “demonstration” sport and won third place in the 1,000-meter race—worth a bronze medal in any sport accorded  medal status. Still a teenager, she must have had high hopes for improvement in future Olympics, but that chance never came. Not only was women’s speed skating not promoted to medal status in the 1936 Winter Olympics as expected, its standing as even a demonstration sport was terminated. Women wouldn’t race on ice for Olympic medals until 1960 at Squaw Valley, California. At those Games, Dot Franey Langkop was a leader in the movement of Olympic alumni to support current United States Olympic athletes.

Franey likely would have done well had she had the opportunity to compete for Olympic medals. She won U.S. national championships, either indoor or outdoor or both, from 1933 to 1936. She never competed outside of North America, but her closest rival in the U.S., Kit Klein, won the first overall women’s world championship in 1936 in Sweden. By that measure, it’s fair to speculate that Franey would have excelled on the world stage as she had on the continental stage. She was such a dominant skater in her early 20’s that after she won a major competition in 1936 at Powderhorn Lake, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star wrote facetiously that Franey was “mad at herself” because she broke only one national record that weekend.

When Franey finally turned “pro” in 1938, meaning she could earn money from exhibitions, endorsements and appearing in figure skating shows—there was no professional speed skating circuit—her popularity was demonstrated by her endorsement of Camel cigarettes, which appeared in newspaper “funnies” around the country. Long before cigarettes were considered anathema to athletic performance, Franey claimed that the skaters she knew who smoked preferred Camels.1938-03-06 Dot Franey Camel ad

The timing of Franey’s decision to turn pro, may have been influenced by the decision not to include women’s speed skating in the Winter Olympics in 1936. Women’s participation in sports, which had grown steadily in the first quarter of the 20th Century, dropped off drastically in the 1930s, as notions of athleticism being unladylike were resurrected, vigorously promoted and lingered for another 40 years. In today’s world, Franey may have had even more options for athletic success as she was an all-star softball and basketball player, and a superb golfer. As it was in 1938, her only option to make a living from her athletic ability was limited to figure skating shows. Franey may have been enticed to the professional life by her friendship with Babe Didrikson, the most famous female athlete of her time, who was reported to have inked endorsement and appearance contracts worth $50,000 in her first year alone as a “pro” after she captured the nation’s attention at the 1932 Summer Olympics.  That was long before Didrikson made even more money as a champion golfer when she decided to give that sport a go.

Franey endorsed Camels and began a career skating in ice shows, including producing, directing and performing in an ice show that had a 14-year run at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Between Dot Franey and the Minnesota North Stars, I suspect Minnesota has given Texas about all it knows of skates on ice.

1934-12-30 Tribune 10,000 lakes preview photo rev

The 10,000 Lakes meet was the largest annual event at Powderhorn Lake, sponsored by the Lawrence Wennell American Legion Post. 1. Jimmy Webster, two-time national champ from St. Paul and the Hippodrome club. 2. Dot Franey. 3. Dick Beard, national junior champ from Minneapolis. 4. Olga Mikulak, Minneapolis. 5. Frank Bostrom, a Californian training in Minneapolis. 6. Patty Berg, Minneapolis “girl golf star who is also a flash on the blades.” Minneapolis Tribune, December 30, 1934.

Dot Franey was not the first female speed skater from Minnesota, just the best until then. Minnesota men were among the fastest skaters in the world in the 1890s and early 1900s. John S. Johnson, John Nilsson, Olaf Ruud from Minneapolis and A. D. Smith from St. Paul owned world or national records at distances from 100 yards to 25 miles, but there is no mention in newspapers of that time of women racing. Fancy skaters, such as Minnie Cummings, were well-known performers—she was the headline performer at the official opening of the Hippodrome Skating Rink on Christmas Day 1908—but the results of women’s races didn’t show up in newspapers until 1909.

The earliest reference to a women’s race that I’ve been able to find was a brief clip in the Minneapolis Tribune on March 3, 1909 that previewed the national professional championships in Cleveland, which featured all of the top men, including Charles Rankin from St. Paul. The story concluded, “Miss R. Leonard, champion of Ohio and Mrs. Charles Rankin will meet in a series of races for the women’s championship.”

Proof that women’s racing was in its infancy was offered by a short item in the Dayton Daily News the week of that projected race. “Girl Creates Championship” read the headline, followed by a terse report that began,

“There was no queen of the skating world and women held none of the records that set the speed limits of the ice rinks. So Miss Robina Leonard of Cleveland created a championship for women. She jumped in and set a record for the woman’s championship of the world.”

Later that year the Detroit Free Press published photos of Robina Leonard and Mabel Monroe of Detroit who were racing each other in a match arranged between Cleveland and Detroit speed skaters. Both women were photographed skating in ice-length skirts. The wind resistance created by those yards of fabric must have been demoralizing.

The race anticipated between Leonard and Rankin in Cleveland in 1909 apparently did not materialize. The reporting of the day gives no indication of how Lillian Rankin became a contender for a national championship, of other races she had won, or of  women she had defeated on her rise to national title contender status. Charles Rankin was a successful short distance racer, once holding the world record for 50 yards. Lillian and Charles together oversaw the skating program at the Hippodrome in the 1910-1911 season and the Minneapolis Tribune noted at the outset that they would pay “especial attention…to women skaters.”

Rankin was reported to have skated a few races at the Hippodrome over the next couple years, among them was a warmup race before a hockey game at the Hip against the local junior mens champion, which she won by inches, and a race against a woman figure skater in which they both wore hockey skates. In other words, more novelty than legit competition.

The first time women raced as a part of local competition appears to have been at the Twin City championships sponsored by the Hippodrome Skating Club in 1914. The promoters of the Hip announced they were donating a special cup for a women’s quarter-mile race. Three women entered, but I have not yet found a record of who they were.

Interest in women’s racing appears to pick up from that beginning. In early 1915 the Minneapolis Tribune announced “First Girl Skater to Enter Ice Races at Lake Calhoun” above a posed photo of Mabel Denny in a formal  gown. In a caption, the paper noted that there was a “revival” of ice skating at Lake Calhoun. For a few years interest in skating had waned in general. The Minneapolis Park Board closed its lakeside warming houses for skaters early in 1911 due to a “lack of interest.” The University of Minnesota didn’t even field a hockey team for two years in 1910 and 1911.

But that seemed to change by 1915. The Twin Cities championship at the Hip had more entries than in many years, so many that the organizers had to determine how to run heats and spread the races over two nights or risk massive collisions by running all skaters at once.  (This was in the days of “pack” racing, not two at a time against the clock as is the norm now and was in Europe then.) The 1915 championship included a women’s half-mile race for the first time. The race was won by Lillian Rankin, who had dominated the past with little competition. In second place was Edna Nelson of Minneapolis, who would dominate the future with much stiffer competition.

By the start of the next skating season, public interest in skating increased dramatically. So much so that the Minneapolis Tribune ran a full-page syndicated story in mid-December on the new craze in the most fashionable circles in New York, Boston and Chicago: dancing on ice skates. Dansants a glace and Ice Teas, the paper noted, were so popular that there weren’t enough rinks or instructors to meet the demand. Adding local observation, a Tribune headline two days later proclaimed, “Revival in Skating Seen; Keen Demand for Shining Blades.” The story quoted officials of the Minneapolis hardware store association predicting that 10,000 pairs of skates would be sold in Minneapolis before the skating season was in full glide.

1917-02-18 Star_Tribune PHOTO of Edna Nelson Indoor Champ

Edna Nelson with some of her trophies in 1917. While no longer racing in ankle length skirts, women were still carrying a lot of cloth around the rink. Minneapolis Tribune, February 18, 1917

For the next few years Edna Nelson remained at the top of women’s speed skating in Minnesota usually battling and often sharing the podium with Ethel Lee another Minneapolitan. The duels between the two became a primary draw to long-blade events on Twin Cities ovals. Their quarter-mile face-off was the featured race at the Hippodrome Skating Club’s eighth annual ice carnival in 1917. Nelson won by inches.

Neither of them, however, took part in what was billed as the first international women’s championship at Lake Placid in 1920. The only Twin City skater to score in that meet was Lillian Herman of St. Paul.

 

In the 1920s, Nelson and Lee gave way to Olga Munkholm of St. Paul as the fastest woman on ice in the Northwest, challenged and occasionally beaten by Gladys Malone and Violet Evans. I have been able to find very little information on any of those skaters, except that another Munkholm, Anne, perhaps a sister of Olga, was one of the leading fancy skaters of the time, performing across the western U.S. and Canada. Olga Munkholm was also the catcher on an All Star softball team from St. Paul.

1922-02-19 Star_Tribune PHOTO Olga Munkholm and men incl. Donovan rev

Olga Munkholm was  featured in a Minneapolis Tribune photo February 19, 1922 along with other stars of the Hippodrome Skating Club. In the stocking cap center right is Richard “Duke” Donovan, the first Twin Cities speed skater to compete in the Winter Olympics. He was on the 1924 team that skated at Chamonix, France.

In 1926 the Minneapolis Daily Star began promoting a Silver Skates Derby, a series of races for local boys and girls that gave them a chance to win a pair of high-quality racing skates. Silver Skates races—named for Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates—had already become popular in New York and Chicago and they helped promote skating in general, but especially for girls who were given equal billing and prizes as boys. Preliminary races for boys and girls were held at playgrounds throughout the city with the finals at Lake of the Isles where the top finishers were awarded skates and other prizes.

The Silver Skates Derby also featured open races for adults, without the prize of skates. In the first Silver Skates Derby Amy Ostgard won the senior women’s title followed by Mildred Bjork and Violet Evans in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. Bjork became the dominant woman skater in Minneapolis for the next few years, winning the 1927 Silver Skates title and the 1928 Minnesota championship. She was one of four skaters sent by Minneapolis to the national amateur championships in Detroit in 1928, but she did not place.

When the 1929 national championships came to Lake of the Isles, Bjork must have had high expectations on her home ice and she skated well on her way to a third-place finish. She was completely overshadowed, however, by Detroit skater Loretta Neitzel who stole the show that weekend by setting three new world records in the mile, quarter-mile and sixth-mile distances.

A couple of weeks after that grand spectacle, Dorothy Franey’s name appears for the first time in results of a girls race at the indoor arena off of Lake Street in Uptown Minneapolis. It was the first indication that Franey would skate to the fore of American women speedskaters—where she would remain for much of the next decade.

Perhaps it was fitting that in Franey’s last major race before turning pro, the national indoor championships at Chicago, she was denied a final title by a new teen sensation. The winner of that national title in Chicago was Mary Dolan, a Minneapolis skater in her first season in the senior women’s division.  The Queen was dead, long live the Queen. That victory was the first of many for Mary Dolan. She had skated to the top of women’s speed skating in the skate tracks of pioneer Minnesota skaters over the previous thirty years. There would be many more to come.

David C. Smith

If you know more about the skaters mentioned here or others who deserve recognition, tell us more in the comments section.

©2019 David C. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

What Year Was It? Vaccinations, Assault, Free Trade and Snow Shoveling

I’ve been researching several park topics lately in archival newspapers and stumbled across peripheral incidents that made me double-check the date of publication. These aren’t directly park-related, but fascinating if you’re interested in the arcs of history. I consider myself an optimist, mostly because I think our kids are smarter than we are, but sometimes you wonder whether we learn. See if you can guess when these events occurred.

What year was it when…

Minneapolis’s Health Officer made a concerted effort to vaccinate more citizens against a potentially lethal disease only to be opposed by activists who claimed the vaccine was more dangerous than the disease it was meant to prevent?

1902

The Health Officer was Dr. Pearl Hall who was battling an outbreak of smallpox that was worse in Wisconsin and Minnesota than the rest of the nation. He was joined in his vaccination campaign by Dr. Ohage, the chief health officer of St. Paul. They were opposed by Anti-Vaccination Societies in both cities. The common refrain of those societies was that smallpox had killed thousands but the vaccine had killed tens of thousands. That claim, as pointed out by a letter writer to one newspaper, was attributed to “they say.”

Caricature,1902-09-12

A caricature of Dr. Hall. The issue he “explains” here was why the city should build a garbage burner on an island in the river he had acquired and given to the city, hence the name Hall’s Island. (Minneapolis Journal, September 12, 1902.)

Hall said he had two job openings at the Minneapolis quarantine hospital and he invited the anti-vaxers to provide two workers for those jobs who had never been vaccinated to measure their health against the rest of the staff, all of whom had been vaccinated and had not contracted smallpox. The offer was declined because the jobs were for a laundry worker and a housekeeper at low pay.  The Tribune opined that the city attorney would never have allowed such an experiment to go forward anyway.

Hall claimed that of the 1000 patients who had been treated at the smallpox hospital only five had been vaccinated and four of those probably had been vaccinated incorrectly. Hall estimated that 70-80% of Minneapolitans had been vaccinated at that time.

The argument raged for much of the winter of 1902 with the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers carrying multiple articles many days on the disease and the debate. Editorially all the papers sided with Dr. Hall.

The last known case of smallpox—in the world—was reported in 1977, after a coordinated campaign of vaccination worldwide. Gee, maybe vaccines work. And, yet, here we are a century of knowledge later with vaccine “doubters.”

(Sources: St. Paul Daily Globe, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Minneapolis Evening Journal, February, 1902; World Health Organization)

What year was it when…

A woman who was verbally accosted in downtown Minneapolis asked a policeman to arrest the man for assault. He did and the next day she testified about the incident in court and the offensive man was given 20 days in the workhouse for disorderly conduct?

1912

Katherine Halvorson was walking along Nicollet Avenue when she stumbled on an imperfection in the sidewalk. Charles Canington, who was standing nearby, then made “several rude and indelicate remarks and waxed familiar,” in the words of the Morning Tribune. Halvorson walked to a nearby patrolman and said, “That man insulted me. Won’t you please arrest him?” The patrolman complied and Canington was charged and convicted. Miss Halvorson’s closing thought on the incident: “It will be nice when girls can walk the streets in Minneapolis without having men call out to them.”

Are we closer to that day?

(Source: Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 25, 1912)

What year was it when…

An influential group of Minneapolis business people urged Congress to secure a commercial treaty that would facilitate free trade with Canada?

1888

The Minneapolis Board of Trade (the Chamber of Commerce of its time) passed a resolution urging the “present congress” to “use their influence” to secure such a treaty because “in the opinion of this board, free trade and uninterrupted trade and intercourse between the people of the United States and the people of the Dominion of Canada… would be alike advantageous to both.”

We’ve known trade barriers were a bad idea for quite a while.

(Source: St. Paul Daily Globe, Jan. 24, 1888)

What year was it when…

Minneapolis threatened to charge property owners for shoveling their sidewalks if they didn’t do it themselves.

1897

The most famous case of refusing to shovel was the eccentric millionaire lawyer Levi Stewart who lived on the corner of Hennepin and 4th. He claimed it was the city’s responsibility to clear the walks the same as it was to clear the streets. (The city had sued Stewart in 1871 to force him to put in a sidewalk—which were then made of planks—so he considered it the city’s responsibility to maintain it.) An article in 1885 claimed slippery sidewalks were a particular hazard at Stewart’s property because the fence he put around his yard was made of barbed wire.

Minneapolis had tried to create a shoveling ordinance in 1891 but due to technicalities it had to be rewritten. In 1897 Stewart suggested that they take the issue to the courts again to determine the legality of the rewritten ordinances. The City must not have accepted Stewart’s challenge then because in 1905 a Journal editorial urged the City to take Stewart to court to test the new/old ordinance because he still wasn’t shoveling his walks. That’s as far as I’ve gotten into investigating that particular argument between Stewart and the City, there were many others, but I hope to tell much more in a forthcoming longer piece on Levi Stewart.

I saw what looked like a city crew out shoveling and plowing a sidewalk in my neighborhood this week in the most recent crackdown on snowy walks.

(Sources: St. Paul Daily Globe, Feb. 1, 1885; Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 9, 1897; Minneapolis Journal, Dec. 19, 1905)

While snow-covered sidewalks might not be in the same category of threat to the common good as infectious disease, verbal assault and protectionism, accessibility is a much more serious issue today than 120 years ago—and evidence of how public opinion and policy have changed significantly over time.

David C. Smith

 

 

Sharing Streets: An Old Discussion

The lively continuting discussion of the use of Minneapolis streets and parkways by bicycles, pedestrians and cars reminds me of something I wrote on these pages about six years ago.

That post—100 Years of Engines, Wheels and Metropolitan Parks—addressed the coming of cars to Minneapolis parkways and the increasing importance of automobiles, with a comment on bicyles and horses on parkways, too.

Lake Harriet Bicycle Path 1896

This is one of my favorite park photos. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet in 1896. Notice that the layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I regret that we don’t have the “Greater Grand Rounds” that Edmund Phelps (for whom Phelps Park was named) and many others advocated in the early 1900s—one long parkway from White Bear Lake to Lake Minnetonka and along the Minnesota River as well as the Mississippi. Still, what we have is not bad.

David C. Smith

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

 

 

 

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