Dean Parkway History

I was asked yesterday about the history of Dean Parkway, the short parkway that connects the west side of Lake of the Isles to Bde Maka Ska from the southern shore of Kenilworth Lagoon to Lake Street. I’ve provided below a brief history of the parkway, which I originally wrote for the Minneapolis Park and Receation Board (MPRB) in 2008. MPRB’s website–minneapolisparks.org–provides histories of most parks in the system, but some of the parkway histories were dropped when the website was redesigned some time back. The Park Board’s website still provides historical information on most park properties and they continue to update my original drafts with recent developments.

Travelling west on Lake St. at Dean Parkway in 1953. Dean Parkway enters on the far right. What was then West Calhoun Pakrway begins at far left. (Norton and Peel, Minnesota Historical Society)

I will review the historical information at the MPRB site to see if any other parkway histories could be posted here. I have already posted the original histories I wrote for East River Parkway and West River Parkway.

A historical note: the Dean Parkway history as well as others were written before the name of Lake Calhoun was changed to Bde Maka Ska. I have not gotten around to editing my old drafts to reflect that change. Someday!

Dean Parkway

Location: SW corner of Lake of the Isles to NW corner of Lake Calhoun

Size: 13.02 acres

Name: Named for Joseph Dean, an early settler in Minneapolis, whose children donated most of the land for the parkway.

Acquisition and Development

Park board records list the official date of the acquisition of Dean Parkway, which connects Lake of the Isles to Lake Calhoun, as July 6, 1892. But that date doesn’t tell the whole story.

Joseph Dean, his son, Alfred Dean, and others had offered to donate land to the park board for a lake-area parkway as early as October 1884. The original proposition was to donate land from Hennepin Avenue (which at that time was a parkway!) to Lake Calhoun—what is now Lake Street—and from Lake Calhoun to Lake of the Isles.

According to the 1892 annual report, the donation was accepted, in part, in 1887. (The annual report of 1886 already included Dean Parkway in the description of Lake of the Isles Boulevard and the 1887 annual report broke out the length of Dean Parkway—1.1 miles at the time—from the rest of the Lake of the Isles parkway.) The land connecting Calhoun and Isles and a 1200-foot strip of land along the north shore of Lake Calhoun was accepted from the Deans, but there were strings attached. The donors of the land asked that a road be opened along the entire length of the parkway by October 1, 1887. “That condition has never been complied with,” the board reported in the 1892 annual report, “because of more urgent calls for the expenditure of park funds in other directions.”

Attempts to resolve the issue were a bit messy from the start. In July 1889, Charles Loring, who had negotiated the original donation of the Dean’s land, as well as the donation of most of the shore of Lake of the Isles, perhaps a bit embarrassed that terms he had negotiated had not been complied with by the board, called the board’s attention to the matter of the delayed improvements. A month later park superintendent William Berry provided the board an estimate of the cost of building a 40-foot-wide parkway: $3,530. It was money the park board wouldn’t spend.

But there was another issue that complicated the affair: the track of the Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Paul Railroad crossed the land and a parkway would have to pass under those tracks, which had been built up over low-lying land. In late 1889, the park board began discussions with the railroad about building the drive under their track.

In 1890 and again in 1891, the heirs of Joseph Dean asked that the parkway be built as promised. The apparent patience of the Deans may have been rewarded along the way, however, by none other than Charles Loring. In November 1889, the park board had authorized Loring to negotiate with the owners of land lying between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet to acquire a parkway connecting those lakes. The owners of the largest piece of that land were the Deans. The park board’s instructions to Loring in those negotiations were to buy the land at the best price he could, but not to exceed $55,000 for the parcel owned by the Deans.

When Loring returned to the park board in January 1890 with an agreement to purchase the Dean’s land for what eventually became William Berry Park, he had agreed to pay them $77,000. The possibility that Loring had agreed to sweeten the deal for the Deans, perhaps as a reward for their patience over Dean Parkway, is suggested by the fact that the other parcel of land needed for William Berry Park was purchased for $36,000 from the Ueland family—exactly the “not to exceed” price specified by the board in Loring’s instructions.

The Dean’s may have received some additional compensation for their patience with the board when they sold to the board in 1891 the two blocks of land connecting east Calhoun and east Isles, which they had at one time donated. The park board had abandoned that donation, where the channel connecting the lakes was eventually built, so it could be replatted to straighten a proposed parkway there. The purchase price for that land was $22,565, payable without interest over ten years. But in a deal that was always perhaps too complicated, the Deans agreed to pay back up to half that amount through assessments on their remaining property in the vicinity.

The park board’s annual report in 1892 reported what seemed to be the happy conclusion of the acquisition of the Dean’s land connecting the lakes on the east when it reported that the “missing link” of the southwestern parkway system finally had been acquired. The report continued that the land “will certainly be of inestimable value should the discussed project of connecting these lakes by a canal be consummated.” This is the first mention in park board documents of the linking of Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, which was eventually done in 1911.

The extent of Loring’s involvement in the resolution of the Dean Parkway issue was clear when, after the board and the Deans reached agreement on building the parkway in 1892, the Deans informed the board that they had executed a warranty deed for the property for the park board and left it in the possession of Charles Loring who would deliver it to the park board after a carriage drive was constructed over the property. What makes that action remarkable is that at the time Loring was no longer a park commissioner.

The railroad bridge over Dean Parkway, which had held up construction for some time, was not completed until 1896. Bridges over and under railroad tracks were a significant cost in the creation of the park system. For instance, the land for Dean Parkway was mostly donated and the initial parkway construction cost roughly $3,500, but the one railroad bridge cost more than $5,200.

Park superintendent Theodore Wirth submitted a plan in 1910 to improve the parkway and recommended in 1913 that the plan be executed, in part because the railroad had built a new concrete bridge over the parkway and the dredge working in Lake Calhoun had deposited on the northwest shore of the lake considerable fill needed for the parkway. The road work, which would cost nearly $8,000, was begun in 1914, at which time more than 55,000 cubic yards of fill were used from the Calhoun dredging. The road and walks were completed to subgrade and finished the next year.

At the time, park superintendent Theodore Wirth suggested that with the ground filled and leveled it could at some time become a playground. Wirth later referred to the improvements to Dean Parkway as an example of how swamps could be drained and how once-impassable roads could be made among the best in the park system.

In 1951 the City Engineering Department completed a new arrangement of the intersection of Dean Parkway with Lake Street, complete with traffic signals, intended to alleviate traffic problems.

Dean Parkway was not finally paved until 1972. The most recent improvements to Dean Parkway, including repaving and traffic calming measures were completed in 1996.

Trivia

The 750 feet of road from Dean Parkway to Cedar Lake over the tracks of the then Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad did not become a part of the Grand Rounds until 1929. That year the city and the railroad paid for the park board to pave the short connecting strip and it was turned over to the park board as part of the parkway system. The connection had long been planned but never took place officially until then. Park superintendent Theodore Wirth had campaigned for the strip to be turned over to the park board as early as 1920. The park board had submitted a plan to the city planning commission in 1923 to make that connection as the park board was contemplating the acquisition of the east and north shores of Cedar Lake.

David Carpentier Smith

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