Glenwood Spring: A Premier Park — and Water Supply?
H. W. S. Cleveland, the landscape architect who created the blueprint for Minneapolis’s park system in 1883, made his first visit to Glenwood Spring near Bassett’s Creek in north Minneapolis in the spring of 1888. In a letter to the Minneapolis Tribune, published April 22, 1888. Cleveland described that visit.
Cleveland’s letter addressed the subject of the city’s water supply, noting that when he and his family moved to Minneapolis from Chicago in 1886 they experienced deleterious health effects — “winter cholera,” as he put it — that they thought might be associated with Minneapolis tap water. He reported that after they began using Glenwood spring water his family had no further health issues and they also found the spring water more “palatable” than the city water, which was taken from the Mississippi. Cleveland wrote that he had used the spring water for more than a year before he visited the neighborhood of the springs. When he finally did visit,
“I was not alone surprised and delighted by the beauty of the springs themselves, and their topographical surroundings, but amazed and grieved that my attention had not been called to the locality when I first came by invitation of the park commissioners, five years previous, to study the possibilities of park improvements.”
Cleveland claimed that because he was put in charge of an engineer, Frank Nutter, who, he was told, was familiar with all the sites desirable for park purposes, he didn’t feel it necessary to look at areas he was not shown. Cleveland didn’t believe he was deceived or misled, but…
“An hour’s inspection of the area in the neighborhood of these springs satisfied me that no place in the neighborhood of the city, except the vicinity of Minnehaha falls, was so well adapted by nature for the construction of a park, comprising rarely attractive topographical features — while the distance from the center of business was less than half that to Minnehaha, and the apparently unlimited capacity of the springs, which gushed from the hillsides at various points over a widely extended area, seemed to offer every possible opportunity for the ornamental use of water.”
The prospect of bubbling springs of clear water and “hills and valleys of graceful form” that wouldn’t have needed “heavy expense in grading” to be transformed into parkland appealed to Cleveland’s aesthetic sense. He also asked “whether it is worth our while to ascertain the character and capacity of the springs” to supply the entire city with water. Cleveland suggested that if the springs were capable of meeting the city’s water needs, “the city should secure them, and enough land around them to preserve them from contamination, and then enclose the area as an ornamental reservoir as had been done in Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
What Cleveland didn’t know at the time was that the Glenwood and Inglewood springs may not have been well-known in 1883, when Nutter hosted Cleveland’s park exploration visit. Most accounts I can find of Glenwood Spring’s history claim it was discovered by William Fruen in 1884, a year after Cleveland wrote his “Suggestions for a System of Parks for the City of Minneapolis.” One account suggests Fruen found the springs in 1882. Some accounts have him discovering Glenwood Spring when building a mill on Bassett’s Creek, others when he was digging a fish pond. The latter tale, probably a tall one, was disseminated on the cached web site of the Glenwood Inglewood Water Company.
Fruen’s history with the spring includes filing the first vending machine patent in U. S. history. He invented a coin-operated machine in 1884 to dispense his spring water by the glass. Fruen also attempted to distribute his water by pipeline as Cleveland thought might be desirable. John West, owner of the posh West Hotel in Minneapolis, Thomas Lowry and Fruen wanted to build a two-mile pipeline from the spring to the West Hotel, and also sought permission to pipe the water into homes and restaurants along the way. That plan was vetoed in 1885 by Mayor George Pillsbury.
In the spring of 1885, Fruen published ads in the Tribune touting the purity of water from Glenwood Spring. He published a chemical analysis of the water conducted by Professor James Dodge of the University of Minnesota, who attested, “This water is extremely pure, being almost entirely free from organic matter.”
The ad invited readers to, “Drive out and see as fine a spring as you ever looked upon.” Another admonition in the copy is particularly interesting given the long association in later years of the Glenwood and Inglewood springs:
“Do not confound this spring with the Inglewood. Ours is the Glenwood.”
William Fruen’s son, Arthur, donated 13 acres of land along Bassett’s Creek to the park board in 1930, which was the beginning of Bassett’s Creek Valley Park. Arthur Fruen was a city council member at the time and an ex-officio member of the park board. I don’t know if that 13 acres included the site of the original spring — in other words, if Cleveland’s vision of a park that included the spring was partially realized nearly 50 years after he first saw it.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith