Minnehaha Park: The Incinerator and the Fireplace

A few months ago Mary MacDonald and Doug Rosenquist asked about fireplaces near 54th and Hiawatha in Minnehaha Park. Mary asked about the stone fireplace a few hundred yards down the path into the dog park and Doug asked about the brick fireplace nearer the road and north of 54th Street.

View of the fireplace from the path in the dog park.

Unfortunately I haven’t found any information on the massive stone fireplace. Not even MaryLynn Pulscher of the park board knows why it’s there or who built it — and if MaryLynn doesn’t know it’s a decent bet that no one does. Still, I’ll keep asking around. I hope one of our readers knows somebody who remembers something and can pass it along to the rest of us.

I have better news about the two-story incinerator. It was built in 1939 by a WPA crew. This is how it was described in the park board’s 1939 annual report:

“Along this roadway a concrete, limestone-faced incinerator was constructed at the old stone quarry site. This incinerator, the first of its kind in our park system, will burn the waste accumulated from the various picnic grounds in this section of the city. A continuation of improvements similar to these is contemplated for next year.”

Two photos of the incinerator are included in the 1939 annual report, but those photos would be hard to reproduce due to the low quality printing of the annual report that year. The 1931-1939 annual reports were not typeset and production values were low.

A stairway goes down behind the incinerator to a lower level where the fire could be stoked and ashes removed..

Despite a reputation for producing elegant and well-illustrated annual reports dating back to the earliest days of the park board (see praise for the park board’s annual reports from noted landscape architect Warren Manning here), the park board’s finances during the Great Depression would not allow anything above the barest minimum of expenditures on annual reports. I am still grateful, however, that photos were included in the reports during those lean depression years.

Until you can get to a library to find a copy of the report and see the original photos, I will provide this quick shot I took last week.

In materials and construction — concrete faced with limestone — the incinerator is similar to the other WPA construction projects in Minnehaha Park in 1939 and 1940, including bridges across Minnehaha Creek in the lower glen and retaining walls built along the creek. (You still have two days to vote for Minnehaha Park and Mill Ruins Park in the Partners in Preservation contest on facebook.)

The Old Stone Quarry Site

The most interesting part of the incinerator description, for me, is its location at the “old stone quarry site.” I remember seeing the photo below in the 1907 annual report and assumed that the quarry was in operation for several years. It appears that it was not.

The stone quarry and rock crusher built in 1907 to provide rock for parkway paving. 1907 Annual Report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners

The park board approved the request from park superintendent Theodore Wirth on October 21, 1907 to operate the quarry and stone crusher that winter to provide crushed stone for parkway building projects in the coming year, mostly on Minnehaha Avenue in Minnehaha Park.  The cost of the stone crusher was to be billed against parkway projects.

In the 1908 annual report, published in January 1909, Wirth recommended moving the stone crusher to near the Soo Line railroad bridge on the East River Road for macadamizing that parkway. A year later Wirth reported that the park board was crushing its own stone for use on the river road. Other than a reference in 1910 to selling the city some quarry stone for use in street-paving projects, the quarry and stone crusher aren’t mentioned again for a decade.

In the 1919 annual report Wirth noted that the Minnehaha quarry hadn’t operated since the winter of 1907-1908 but that there remained at the site considerable excellent limestone which was needed for parkway construction.

The park board was embarking on its most ambitious period of parkway building in history. Victory Memorial Drive was under construction, the first work on St. Anthony Boulevard had begun with the clearing of trees from the road bed east of Central Avenue; a new parkway on the west side of Lake Calhoun was in the works; Kenwood Parkway, Linden Hills Boulevard and King’s Highway were scheduled for paving; parkways on both sides of the river were being repaved; and even Minnehaha Avenue through the park needed repaving only ten years after it was paved. One reason for the quick deterioration of that stretch of park road? For two years during World War I, traffic to Fort Snelling had increased dramatically. And the most expensive parkway building project undertaken by the park board in its first 70 years would be the reconstruction of Minnehaha Parkway from Lake Harriet to Minnehaha Park.

Wirth wanted the quarry and rock crusher running in Minnehaha Park especially because he had to delay the repaving of Minnehaha Avenue and King’s Highway in 1919 due to a shortage of stone. If he could quarry his own, that wouldn’t happen again.

Another development in preparation for parkway building was the acquisition of Park Siding, near Dean Parkway,  in 1919. The land wasn’t purchased to serve as a park but to serve as a storage and work yard for park crews building roads. The park board already had an asphalt plant on the site, which it had leased for three years. The three-acre “park” also had its own railroad spur for the easy unloading of machinery and supplies.

Wirth defended his plan to extend the stone quarry dramatically in Minnehaha Park by noting in the 1919 annual report:

The enlargement of the quarry will not mar the beauty of the river bank. The quarry site, after operations come to an end, can be leveled and the plateau so created can be made an attractive, well-protected observation point, from which a splendid view over the Mississippi River, the dam and the mouth of Minnehaha Creek will be obtained.

The proposed extension of the Minnehaha stone quarry. (1919 Annual Report of the Minneapolsi Board of Park Commissioners)n

Wirth provided a drawing of the enlarged quarry and proposed road realignment in that annual report. The next year, Wirth reported again that the board had approved the operation of the quarry and stone crusher, but that it hadn’t been put to work yet. To my knowledge it never was. I can find no further reference to the stone quarry or to rock crushers in any subsequent reports, until the 1939 report that places the incinerator at the “old stone quarry site.”

It is a peculiar twist of history that the only quarry that was operated near the Mississippi River into the 1900s was owned and operated by the park board. One reason Horace Cleveland pleaded, successfully, with city leaders to acquire the banks of the Mississippi River was to protect them from industry and quarries that would scar them, he believed, forever.

(See update on stone quarry December 8, 2011.)

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

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12 comments so far

  1. […] mystery of the fireplace in the dog park at Minnehaha Park has been solved thanks to reader “Tom.” Many people have followed this issue or […]

  2. Kathy Swenson on

    There were many other quarries along the Mississippi River. There were 7 or 8 just between Washington Avenue and Lake Street as shown on an 1899 Mississippi River Commission Map. I can’t find a link to a digital version unfortunately.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks, Kathy. You’re right and it was the presence of those quarries and the fear that they would deface the river gorge permanently that led H. W. S. Cleveland and others, like William Folwell, to argue so strongly that the park board should acquire the entire river gorge as parkland. In fact, Cleveland’s original landscape designs for Riverside Park, just upriver from today’s I-94 bridge, addressed how to treat the places that limestone had already been quarried out of the bluffs. An argument over the quarried areas in Riverside Park led to the abrupt resignation of Charles Loring as president of the park board in 1885. He was persuaded to withdraw his resignation, fortunately.

      If you do find an online link to the 1899 map you mentioned, please let us know. I have not seen that map. Where can it be viewed in hard copy? Thanks.

  3. Tom on

    The old fireplace in the dog park was part of the VA Hospital picnic grounds. They built it as part of their facility, when they still owned the land. The Park board purchased it in 1959. See the 1935 picture of it at; http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/largerimage.php?irn=10104287&catirn=10722374

    • David C. Smith on

      Excellent info, Tom. Thanks. Mystery solved — and a great photo.

  4. Amber Brooke on

    I’ve always wondered about that stone fireplace at the dog park!

  5. Annie Olson on

    I asked my elderly neighbor, who has lived in the Ericsson neighborhood his entire life and was employed by the Bureau of Mines until the location adjacent to Minnehaha closed, about this stone fireplace. He had always gathered that it was a former camp-out site for scouts. Not sure if there is any truth to his guess or not…

    • David C. Smith on

      I suspect your neighbor is right, Annie. That makes the most sense to me — and I haven’t heard any other explanation. Thanks for the info.

      David C. Smith

      • Wayne on

        I was walking the dogs today and we followed a trail along the western bluff overlooking the fireplace. There appears to have been a parking area here with a barrier constructed of some good sized wooden posts in the ground and a hefty cable run through them. There are also some concrete wheel stops. Some of the trail along the bluff has had a a crushed stone applied.
        Also, just inside the dog park gate on the north side there is still visible a length of old chain link fence that appears to follow an old roadway alignment. Near that old fence, lying on the ground, is a “private property” sign.

  6. […] was technically correct when I wrote in October that the park board only operated a limestone quarry and stone crushing plant in …: 1907. But I’ve now discovered that the Minnehaha Park quarry was operated for nearly five […]

  7. amber on

    yes same here! thank you for posting this information about the incinerator. i just came across it this past weekend and had never noticed it before. mystery solved! :)

  8. Patrick on

    You read my mind again – Ever since discovering that foreboding incinerator, I wondered its origin and purpose…


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