The Case For Horace Cleveland’s Name on a River Gorge Park
“A continuous park…of such picturesque character as no art could create and no other city can possess.”
That is how Horace Cleveland described the park he imagined along the boulevard he recommended for the west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. He went on to write in his Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, which he presented to the first Minneapolis park board on June 2, 1883:
“The Mississippi River is not only the grand natural feature which gives character to your city and constitutes the main spring of prosperity, but it is the object of vital interest and center of attraction to intelligent visitors from every quarter of the globe, who associate such ideas of grandeur with its name as no human creation can excite. It is due therefore, to the sentiments of the civilized world, and equally in recognition of your own sense of the blessings it confers upon you, that it should be placed in a setting worthy of so priceless a jewel.”
Horace Cleveland had a special passion for the Mississippi River gorge. The banks of the river remain a beautiful and wild place thanks, in part, to his constant encouragement over nearly three decades for Minneapolis (St. Paul, too) to acquire the river banks downstream from St Anthony Falls to preserve them from ruin.
The park board finally acquired all the land along the west side of the gorge downriver from Riverside Park to Minnehaha Creek in 1902, more than a year after Cleveland’s death. Cleveland once said that he would feel that he “had not lived in vain” if the city would preserve the river bank in its natural state.
Cleveland wrote of the river banks:
“No artist who has any appreciation of natural beauty would presume to do more than touch with reverent hands the features whose charms suggest their own development. No plan for such work could be made.”
Cleveland not only appreciated the beauty of the river, but he foresaw that the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis would one day grow together. In his mind that probability made it even more important that the cities preserve some wild, natural places along the river that ran between them.
We should name a river gorge park for Cleveland just as a tribute to his descriptive powers, even if he hadn’t suggested, recommended, planned, cajoled, informed and educated a generation or two of the city’s leaders on land preservation and city building.
I believe the only name ever given to the land along the river was Mississippi Park. A bit plain. Winchell Trail and West River Parkway run through it, and those names can remain. It would cause no one any discomfort to officially name the rest of the west gorge for Cleveland. It’s not like renaming a street, which causes people to have to change their addresses and the city to put up new road signs. It’s just putting a name on a space that essentially has none now.
A marker or two along Winchell Trail and the parkway would suffice to let people know Horace Cleveland’s name. That couldn’t cost much. I’ll put up the first hundred bucks.
Horace Cleveland River Gorge Park. He’s why we have it, so let’s put his name on it. I think we owe him that.
David C. Smith, minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith