Memories of Lake Harriet

The following letter, dated July 9, 2014, was addressed to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board:

On July 4, 2014 my daughter sent me pictures of two of my great grandsons enjoying the holiday at Lake Harriet. I recently celebrated my 95th birthday and those pictures brought a deluge of memories to me. My two sisters and I grew up on Bryant Ave. So. in the 4100 block, just a few blocks from Lake Harriet, Lyndale Park and Lyndale Farmstead.

One of my early memories is from the early 1920s when dinners were served in the old pavilion where the modern band shell now stands. It was July 8, 1925 and my father decided it looked too stormy to go to dinner at the pavilion. That evening a tornado struck the area and the pavilion was devastated. Several lives were lost when the pavilion collapsed. I was 6 years old but I remember walking around the lake several days later and seeing the damage to the trees and the lake shore.

A storm destroyed the Lake Harriet Pavilion  in 1925, resulting in two deaths. (Minnesota Historical Society)

A storm destroyed the Lake Harriet Pavilion in 1925, resulting in two deaths. (Minnesota Historical Society)

There is no continuity to these memories as I write them down. Walking to the lake in the early spring and the scent and beauty of the lilacs along King’s Highway. The rose garden in summer which still looked the same in the pictures with the boys. The walk through the woods on the bridle path with the sounds and sights of the birds in the bird sanctuary.

The many picnics we had as a family by the lake and the band concerts that climaxed the day. The salt-water taffy, popcorn and balloons, the walk home along the lake shore through the park where it seemed there were always fire flies lighting our way. Often we left before the end of the concert and if the wind was right, we could hear the band playing the Star Spangled Banner and we knew the concert was over. All summer we swam at the 48th Street beach

I also recall when the launch on Lake Harriet was part of the Minneapolis Street Car Company and made stops at the docks at Penn. Ave., Morgan Ave., 48th Street and 43rd Street. We enjoyed coming from downtown on the Oak Harriet line and transferring to the launch at the pavilion for a cool ride home on a hot summer day, and a short walk home from the 43rd Street dock.

In the winter our sleds were on the easy slopes in the park adjacent to the rose garden. When we grew older, we advanced to Lyndale Farmstead and dared to slide on King’s Hill. At that park we skated all winter, played tennis in the summer and enjoyed the chrysanthemum gardens in the fall.

Another memory of Lyndale Park was the annual pageant with acts from every park in the city. The pageant was magic in the eyes of children.

Over the years I have made many trips back to the Bryant Ave. home. My mother and I would walk around the lake and my children and grandchildren would enjoy the same things I did as a child.

Theodore Wirth’s dream of a park within 6 blocks of every home in Minneapolis has been perpetuated and I, at 95, can from my home in Alaska live these memories.

Margaret J. Hall, Kodiak, Alaska

Note: I was given this letter recently at a meeting at the park board, so I wrote to Ms. Hall to ask her permission to reprint it here. Because the letter was nearly a year old and Ms. Hall was 95 when she wrote it, I wasn’t sure if I would get a response. I was delighted to receive a letter from her this morning granting permission to publish her letter.

She added:

When I got your letter I went to my computer and looked at your blog. (Yes, I do have a computer, but I still prefer letter writing.) More memories immediately came. My letter only included the parks within walking distance of our home and didn’t include the street car rides to Minnehaha Park and all its magic, Sunday rides to Loring Park, and to Powderhorn Park for the fireworks.

As I approach my 96th birthday on June 15th, I think of an ideal celebration: a picnic at Lake Harriet, a ride on the launch, and a band concert in the evening.

Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Margaret. So much has changed in the last  century, yet some things endure.

David C. Smith

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8 comments so far

  1. Kathy Swenson on

    I wonder if Margaret Hall, as well as any readers of your blog in their 80s and 90s might consider sharing additional memories. The lakes get a lot of mention but I wonder what Mississippi River memories folks might have. I never tire of hearing about Minnehaha Park memories, especially of the tourist camp or WPA work.

    • David C. Smith on

      I agree, Kathy, great suggestion! I’d be delighed to post more recollections of parks or the city in general. One reason I started this site was to provide a venue for reminiscing. I encourage readers also to look back over comments on various articles I have written. See, for instance, comments on articles about Sibley Park.

      Can anyone tell us what they remember of WPA improvements to our parks? In the very near future, the Minnesota Digital Library will post extraordinary accounts, with pictures, of WPA work in parks. One aspect of WPA park projects was recording those events in text and photos. The park board has one “book” for WPA projects in each year from 1937 through 1941. Those books are now being scanned and prepared for posting on the library’s website. As soon as I know more details on availablility and access, I’ll pass them along.

  2. Joseph Finley on

    Wonderful story!

  3. Nancy Smith on

    Such a great letter…it wud b so cool if she did come here for her 96th birthday

  4. cheryl luger on

    dear Margaret,

    thanks for sharing these incredible nostalgic moments with the rest of us.

    and thanks, david, for hosting this web site, your research and searching for permission to publish the comments.

    my folks passed a decade ago and would have now been in their early 90’s.
    our family shared many similar memories which were passed on to us in the 50’s and 60’s …. from the homesteads on west elm (grandparents) and 45th and Garfield/lyndale.

    near minnehaha park, the fish jones zoo and Longfellow house were part of my grandparents experience with dad and aunt..

    with their number and accessibility in mpls.,

    *** parks make memories ***.

    best,

    Cheryl luger

    Minnehaha east Nokomis

    • David C. Smith on

      I love your tagline, Parks Make Memories. Thanks, Cheryl.

  5. JOAN PUDVAN on

    I TOO ENJOYED THESE LAKE HARRIET MEMORIES, FOR I AM 84 AND HAVE SUCH SIMILAR WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF PROSPECT PARK WHERE I GREW UP…WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME AT CALHOUN AND HARRIET, THOUGH WHEN MY FRIENDS AND I WERE OLD ENOUGH TO DRIVE. WHEN I WAS ABOUT 4 Y.O., MY MOM TOOK ME TO A BAND CONCERT AT HARRIET AND I SLIPPED AWAY FROM HER AND SCRMBLED UP TO JOIN THE CONDUCTOR, WHO LET ME LEAD PART OF THE MUSIC, TO GREAT APPLAUSE. I STILL REMEMBER HIM SMILING AT ME AND GIVING ME HIS BATON….NO FOOL, HE. HE KNEW A CROWD PLEASER WHEN HE SAW ONE!!
    YES,LIVING IN MINNEAPOLIS ON EITHER SIDE OF THE CITY WAS GREAT FOR IT’S PARKS, LAKES AND ALL YEAR ROUND FUN!
    THANKS FOR MARGARET’S LETTER….
    JOAN


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