Florence Barton Loring
Charles Loring was married to Emily Crossman for 38 years, to Florence Barton for only 27, but he probably knew Florence longer than he knew Emily.
The “Father of Minneapolis Parks” likely met Florence more than 30 years before he married her, but he may not have noticed her much at first. She was the daughter of his friend and business associate Asa Barton. Barton, like Loring, was an immigrant from Maine. (Barton also has his name on the Minneapolis map: Barton Avenue in Prospect Park.)
Judging from Asa Barton’s entries over many years in his journal, which outlined his social and business life, the Barton and Loring families saw each other frequently. It’s likely that in a city of about 2,500 people in 1860 when the Lorings arrived, most of the Mainers knew each other, and Loring and Barton were quickly acquainted. One of the first people Loring met in Minneapolis — they were staying in the same hotel — was another Maine man, Loren Fletcher, who soon became Loring’s business partner. They both got jobs at the time from another Maine man, Dorilus Morrison, and socialized often with still others, especially William D. Washburn and George Brackett. (It’s possible that neither Minneapolis, nor all Minnesota, has ever seen a group of close friends that was more powerful than this bunch in early Minneapolis history.)
Even if Charles Loring didn’t know Florence Barton earlier he certainly would have gotten to know her in 1867. That year, as Asa Barton noted in his journal, the Loring family moved in with the Barton’s for three months while the Loring’s were having a new home built. The Loring’s returned the favor the next year when Barton rented his house for $1,000 for a year and moved in with the Lorings. Florence would have been 17-18 at the time. Charles and Emily’s son, Albert, would have been 10-11.
The Loring’s daughter, Eva, had died as an infant in 1863. Loring later claimed in a letter to George Brackett that it was while burying his baby girl in Layman’s cemetery that he vowed to create a more beautiful cemetery, the first step toward the creation of Lakewood Cemetery by Loring, Morrison, Brackett, Barton and others in 1871. Barton was elected the first superintendent of the cemetery, a position he held until 1884. He was replaced by Ralph Cleveland, son of Horace, the man who probably did more than anyone except Loring to guide the direction of Minneapolis park development.
Florence Barton likely wasn’t much aware of Charles Loring at that time and probably would have muttered the 1860s equivalent of “Ewwwww!” if anyone had suggested him as husband material. Florence travelled in the thin air of the city’s highest society. She had a prominent supporting role, for instance, in the leading social event of 1870 when she was one of four bridesmaids at the wedding of Dorilus Morrison’s only daughter, Grace. The Minneapolis Tribune (March 29, 1870) called it “the most brilliant and recherche wedding that has ever occurred in Minneapolis.” Grace Morrison, whose father was then the Mayor of Minneapolis, married the dashing Dr. Kimball at Villa Rosa, the Morrison’s sumptuous home. (Villa Rosa was eventually demolished when Grace’s brother Clinton donated the old homestead as a site for an art museum — the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.) To extend the image of a powerful circle of friends, I should mention that in addition to her brother, Clinton, another usher at Grace’s wedding was Thomas Lowry. This was, of course, some years before he created a superb street car system and became another of the city’s wealthiest and most influential people.
Florence’s passion was music. Asa Barton wrote in 1872 that she was leaving for Boston to study music. She must have had talent, because after a few years of study she returned to Minneapolis and was featured in many newspaper reports of performances in the city.
“The concert (featuring Florence) will undoubtedly be one of the most pleasing musical entertainments with which Minneapolis has been recently favored.” Minneapolis Tribune, March 21, 1877.
“Four of the best female voices in Minneapolis.” Minneapolis Tribune, October, 1877, on the Cecelia Quartet formed by Florence Barton.
“In the character of the programme and the success of its presentation, Miss Barton yesterday quite outdid herself — and that is saying much.” Minneapolis Tribune, April 5, 1881
Miss Barton was assisted or accompanied at some performances by her advanced music students, suggesting that she had a successful music-teaching business.
During this time the first evidence is found that Miss Barton may have developed a relationship with Charles and Emily Loring that went beyond being the daughter of a friend. In 1879, when another wedding was the biggest social event in town, Florence Barton’s gift to the couple was to provide the floral decorations that adorned the home in which they were married, a gift it would seem of a rather intimate friend. The Nicollet Island home belonged to William Eastman; the bride and groom were Ida Eastman and Albert C. Loring. A magazine clip in Charles Loring’s scrapbooks later suggested that Ida Eastman had grown up like a daughter to the Lorings.
Over the years, Florence apparently became a good friend of Emily Loring , too, judging by a society-page report in the fall of 1888 that the two women were travelling to Europe together and would be joined that winter by Charles.
In Asa Barton’s last journal entry for 1892, he noted that Emily Loring had been diagnosed with cancer. His next mention of Emily Loring — he referred to her as Mrs. C.M. Loring — was that she died in the spring of 1894. She and Charles had been married 38 years. She had been his partner since they had left Portland, Maine as 23-year-olds to seek their fortune first in Chicago, then Milwaukee, and finally Minneapolis. They had survived together the death of an infant daughter and the death of their 21-year-old daughter-in-law, Ida Eastman, only a year after she married their son, and only two weeks after giving birth to their grandson, Fred. Charles and Emily had apparently taken some responsibility for raising Fred, but in a nightmare reprise of earlier tragedies, Fred died at the age of 6 from diphtheria.
It would not be surprising if Florence Barton, an old friend, then 44, presumably living with her parents, provided some solace to Charles Loring upon Emily’s death. I can find nothing about their relationship after Emily died, until an entry in Asa Barton’s journal in October 1895 noted that Florence had gone to Chicago to prepare for her wedding to Charles Loring. Asa knew what no one else did. The Minneapolis Tribune reported November 29, 1895 that the day before guests had arrived at the home of Asa Barton expecting nothing more than Thanksgiving dinner. To their great surprise they witnessed the wedding of Charles Loring and Florence Barton. Charles was 62, Florence 45.
It appears from this distance that the marriage was of kindred souls who were otherwise alone, despite an apparent multitude of friends. Charles Loring’s money could not have been the primary attraction for Florence Barton as he had declared bankruptcy two weeks before they were married. He remained a wealthy man, but it took some time to clear up his finances. And it seems equally unlikely that Loring was marrying a considerably younger woman simply for her youth and beauty.
The only description I can find of Florence Barton comes from architect William Gray Purcell who wrote of Charles Loring in 1908:
A gentleman of the old school well advanced in years, Mr. Loring came to the office occasionally to talk — asked us to his home for dinner. His wife was a plain, wholesome, very intelligent woman. They lived without ostentation, although people of large means.
Florence Barton Loring became Charles Loring’s partner in philanthropy. They also shared an abiding interest in horticulture, parks and playgrounds for children. Florence wrote several letters to editors of newspapers and magazines (locally and nationally), especially on the topics of parks and playgrounds and she maintained membership, in her own name, in the American Park and Outdoor Art Association, which her husband served as president at the turn of the century. She also wrote an informative article on music at the time of the American Revolution for The American, a monthly magazine of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in 1898. Several years later, about 1905, along with a few friends, she created a “Crazy Quilt” of the kind popular at the time, scraps of significance sewed into squares, which remains in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Although both left scrapbooks or journals, neither Florence nor Charles wrote much about the other. One of Charles Loring’s only comments about his wife came as a post-script in an undated letter to William Folwell, likely written from his winter home in Riverside, California:
“My wife was called home on account of the illness of her mother and I am like a lost dog. I don’t like it.”
The Bartons and the Lorings had always been active in Minneapolis charities — the Relief Association, Children’s Home Society, a free dispensary — and Charles and Florence continued that interest in Minneapolis and Riverside together. In 1906, upon leaving the Minneapolis park board for the last time, Loring donated a shelter building on the shores of Loring Pond. It still stands — although greatly expanded.
In 1917 he paid to have an artificial waterfall built beside Glenwood (Wirth) Lake and in 1921 he paid to have Victory Memorial Drive planted with trees honoring fallen soldiers and established a fund of $50,000 to pay for the care and maintenance of those trees long into the future. In Riverside, the Lorings were also generous with civic improvement projects. Florence also donated money to build an animal shelter and a home for student nurses at the Riverside hospital. In the 1920s, she donated money for the Florence Barton Loring Animal Shelter in Minneapolis, which stood until the 1960s.
(On the Lorings’ generosity, as on many other details, do not rely on Wikipedia. When you google Florence Barton Loring you will read in several places that in 1906 she and her husband donated a shelter in Minneapolis for “children, lost animals and the city’s draft horses.” That bit of nonsense can be tracked to Wikipedia’s entry on Charles Loring. Somehow Florence’s later contributions to animal shelters were conflated with the donation of a shelter at Loring Park in 1906. This and other errors in the Wikipedia entry pale, however, when compared to how the entry on Loring includes an inflated tribute to Theodore Wirth.)
Florence Barton Loring wrote well and didn’t hesitate to express her opinions on paper. As already noted, she wrote a very interesting article on music and letters to editors on several subjects. (See City of Parks for two examples.) In contrast to her father’s practice of writing only the facts of his life, Florence was freer with her thoughts in the journal she took over writing after her father died in 1904. My favorite entries:
On Theodore Roosevelt in 1909: “Taft assumed the reins of office this spring and Roosevelt went at once to Africa, to hunt, in the interest of the Smithsonian Institution, and for his own amusement as well. He is a wonderful man…but, like all great men, he has weaknesses, or lapses, and I wish less of his life had been spent in slaughter, and writing about it.”
On the new Gateway park in downtown Minneapolis, 1909: “We have been obliged to let property go, on lower Nicollet Avenue at a sacrifice, as it was condemned by the Park Board, on account of its plans for a Gateway Park. This financial loss would be less disagreeable if we unreservedly approved of the civic scheme. Of course we are liable to be misunderstood in this, having a personal interest in this one instance, but the whole present policy of the Park Board seems, to us, extravagant and at times, illogical. But we, on some occasions, doubt our own reasoning, being in the minority, and wonder if we are becoming too conservative for the age. Every generation, certainly, see with new eyes! Presumably with better ones?”
One other thing the Lorings shared was a love of poetry. Thus the remembrance book of poems Florence Barton Loring compiled after her husband’s death, which prompted me to write about her in the first place. Florence Barton Loring lived only two years longer than her much older husband. She died in 1924.
David C. Smith, minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith