Did you know that H.W.S. Cleveland was a bad park namer?

The recent good news from park commissioner Scott Vreeland and the Minneapolis park board that part of the spectacular Mississippi River Gorge will be named after visionary landscape architect and preservationist Horace William Shaler Cleveland recalled for me a passage in a letter from Cleveland to William Watts Folwell. In that letter, Cleveland pondered names for a yet-to-be-acquired river gorge park. His effort at park naming wasn’t nearly as impressive as his “sermons” on preserving and protecting the river gorge in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In a letter dated February 11, 1889, Cleveland discussed strategy for getting the Minnesota legislature to approve acquisition of the land around Minnehaha Falls on the Minneapolis side of the river and a mirror park on the St. Paul side of the river. He concluded his letter,

By the way, help me to find a name for that area — “Mississippi Park” or “River Park” are the first that suggest themselves — but are not satisfactory. “Giants Cradle” has occurred to me, the river being the infant giant lying in its bed, but I fear that would need interpretation.
— William Watts Folwell Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society

The legislature did approve the acquisition of the land on the Minneapolis side of the river, including Minnehaha Falls, for a park, but did not provide money to purchase the land. That’s when several Minneapolis people, led by George Brackett and Henry Brown, loaned the city the money to buy the land. It would be another 13 years before the park board acquired the rest of the west side of the Mississippi River Gorge from Minnehaha Park to Franklin Avenue. By then, Horace Cleveland had died.

As for the name, I think Cleveland’s fears about “Giants Cradle” were well-justified! The entire river gorge park was formally named Mississippi Park for a long time. The name of Horace Cleveland strikes me as much more “satisfactory” for that land than anything he suggested.

Clean Up

I recently had a chance to take a very close look at part of the river gorge during the April 26 Earth Day cleanup sponsored by Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR). I scoured a small part of the river bank picking up an astonishing variety of trash. The most abundant type of trash surprised me: bits of styrofoam.

I was pleased to see such a large turnout of volunteers that the organizers ran out of garbage bags at the 36th St. site. If you can spare an hour sometime, volunteer at one of the cleanup sites organized by FMR (check fmr.org for a calendar) or at your local park. If you’re like me, it will heighten your appreciation for our parks. I think the beauty and delicacy of the landscape tends to elicit a very protective response. It certainly did from Horace Cleveland, which I believe is the primary reason we still have that wild river gorge. As marvelous as it is, I couldn’t help but wonder what that river gorge might have looked like before it became a reservoir.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith





4 comments so far

  1. Whitney Clark on

    Hello David:

    Another interesting post. A lot of stuff in my inbox goes unopened…not Minneapolis Park History.

    Thanks for your attention to Horace Cleveland, one of my heros, and of course, the river. Also, thanks much for coming out to volunteer and for the plug. It’s much appreciated!

    Happy Spring!


  2. Connie Sullivan on

    Intrigued by your last sentence in this nice post, about what the gorge would have looked like before it became a reservoir (with the Ford Dam?). Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but there are lots of pictures of that gorge from before 1923–shallow water, lots of rocks and rapids south of St. Anthony Falls, a very difficult stretch of the river for boats to navigate. There were people who lived on the shoreline, too, before the dam’s water build-up. At least that’s what I’ve seen on the MNHS website, and the Minneapolis public library’s city collection.

    Or, wasn’t that what you meant?

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for your comment, Connie. I was referring to the gorge before the dams. I have seen several photos of the river before it was a reservoir, but they tend to be from either near Fort Snelling or near St. Anthony Falls and I don’t recall any pictures from the river’s edge downstream from the east river flats, which was my perspective on the day of the river cleanup. I think the closest thing to that is probably photos of the construction of the Meeker Island Dam, but in those the wilder river seems already tamed. One of the better photos of the river gorge before dams is in one of the my earlier posts on naming a park for Horace Cleveland (Dec. 2010), but that too was taken from the bluff.

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