Two hundred and fifty pages weren’t enough. When I was hired to write the history of the Minneapolis park system in 2007 by the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks, that was the page limit I was given.

You can find the book that resulted, City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks, at your favorite bookseller or library. It’s distributed by the University of Minnesota Press.

The book tells the story of how the Minneapolis park system was created and how it grew and changed, but a lot of information about individual parks had to be left out. Fortunately I was able to include much more park-specific information when I wrote a history of each Minneapolis park – more than 180 of them — for the website of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. But I still have pages of fascinating, curious, amusing, odd details that didn’t fit into the book or the website. This space will allow me to pass along some of the most interesting information on Minneapolis parks I continue to discover.

Since finishing the book and website I have met many people who have great stories about Minneapolis parks, but no place to share them. So this blog provides space for anyone to tell their stories about our parks. Visit the park board’s website and read the history there of your favorite park then augment, embellish, clarify, or (gasp!) correct those histories through this blog. What do you remember of parks years ago? What are your favorite parks? How have they changed? Tell us what you do remember and cherish. Maybe it was fifty years ago. Maybe it was last week.

If your observations or memories are fairly brief, respond on this site as a “comment.” If you have more to say, let me know and I’ll send you my email address, so I can post your story for you. We’d also love to include your pictures of parks in days gone by. If you have digital versions of those pictures let me know and I’ll find a way to post them.

I welcome all comments on park history, but I’m not terribly interested in comments on present park politics. Other blogs or websites can address those issues. I may edit submissions for clarity or brevity or double-check with you on facts if warranted. All comments will be reviewed by me before posting. Please be patient if it takes me a bit of time to get to your comments.

David C. Smith

25 comments so far

  1. Fred H Olson on

    I’m disappointed that I did not find anything on your site (or much on
    the web generally) about the Wirth Lake swim exhibition facility (I
    dont recall it’s real name. I have not read your book yet tho I
    requested it from the library.)

    I think there is a plaque near the lake about it. I’ll look next time
    I’m over there. I did find this:


  2. Chris Tveitbakk on

    I’ve lived in the Corcoran neighborhood since 1997 and am just now learning about William Corcoran and the fact that he was a Southern sympathizer during the Civil War and friends with Robert E. Lee. With the recent changes to Calhoun, have there been any talks about changing other names of Minneapolis landmarks like Corcoran park? Why did they name the school after him in the first place? Great website, thank you!

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for reading, Chris. I haven’t heard of any efforts to change the name of Corcoran Park. I believe all the school properties acquired as playgrounds in the 1970s were given the name of the former school. I think all names are fluid these days. I’m sure the school was named to honor his philanthropy, however he earned his fortune. For more information see http://www.corcoran.org/about. This is from the website of the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C., which he founded.

  3. Craig David on

    Hello David,

    I am researching Currie Park on the West Bank. I haven’t been able to find any information, including why the park was named thus. Do you have any knowledge about the park? Thanks much for your help. Craig David

    • David C. Smith on

      Hi Craig,
      Currie Park is one of the least appreciated parks in the city, in part because it is secluded, hidden by tall buildings and a freeway. A good place to start researching the park is with the “History” tab on the park board’s page for the park at https://www.minneapolisparks.org/parks__destinations/parks__lakes/currie_park/
      I am presently writing a book that will go into far greater detail on Ed Currie and Pillsbury Settlement House. It’s a great story. I hope to have the book finished this year. I’ll provide updates here, so stay tuned.
      David C. Smith

      • Craig David on

        Thanks much David for the link and the information. I look forward to your reading about the parks history. cd

  4. […] edited to reflect information in comments at Minneapolis Park History. Slowly, information […]

    • Karen Cooper on

      Hey, Dave,

      I don’t quite know how it is that my WordPress and yours are connected so that a link to you over there shows up as a comment here? But I did write about the caves of Minnehaha Park, and would love to hear more from people who recall them.

      Laurie asks about the storm drain, which runs under the park from 50th or 54th Street (I forget which).

      • David C. Smith on

        I don’t know how that works either, Karen. I’d love to see more stories about that too. If readers know more, write to me or to Karen at urbancreek.com.

  5. lori on

    thank you for your reply about the Loring Park fountain. Could you please send me any pictures and inform me as to whether the fountain is still there?

    • David C. Smith on

      I don’t have any pictures of the fountain, which is still there, but I suspect there are some on the park board’s website.

  6. Laurie on

    I have been getting some feedback from the Facebook group South Minneapolis! about the bobsled run. Here are the comments, with the identities of the posters removed:

    It sounds familiar, but I’m not 65 yet!

    My Mom (89 yrs) has spoke of this. Think it was the north hill going into “The Deer Pen” area

    I am 66 and I remember sone kind of slide over there

    By the ski jump?

    That is where I remember it being we would take our tobogan to slide below the ski Jump

    I used to go there all the time (67) but the bobsled run was removed, I heard, before my time as unsafe.

    Thanks! Keep the memories coming. I feel less crazy each time someone posts!

    I’m 57, and I remember it, or one like it, right there off the parkway. We bugged our dad forever about it. Finally he relented. But I got so scared going down that I didn’t want to go again. My dad was furious because he had spent so much money …

    Wow or wish????

    There was a bobsled run AND a ski jump on the other side

  7. Laurie on

    Thanks so much for your work, David. I stumbled upon this while trying to find out about the cave that used to be at the juncture of Minnehaha Creek and the river. I walked down there today for the first time in decades, and found no trace! None! I posted on the South Minneapolis site, but think I am older than many of the people there. One person suggested that the caves (first partially blocked off, then totally) had been dynamited. I’m sorry if you have already addressed this. Also, I remember there being a bobsled run in Minnehaha Park- in the 60’s most likely- that lasted only a year or two. Any record of that? Thanks again and apologies if this is a repeat for you.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks, Laurie. I have never come across park records of any action on caves in the Minnehaha Creek bluffs. Sorry I can’t shed any light. Anybody else have a recollection? As for the bobsled run, I don’t know of any winter sports structure in Minnehaha Park other than the ski jump and I’ve had a very hard time pinning down the exact dates of that. Does anyone know of a bobsled track? Please tell us what you remember!

      • Laurie on

        I would have to go back to look at the park, but I do remember the bobsled run being on a hill sloping down from the parkway, between the Wabun area and the park building. It had a wooden structure, and I believe it cost something like $.50 or $1 a run- lots of money in those days. I would guess it was there in late ’50’s or early 1960’s, but perhaps only for one year.

        Can you tell me anything of the concrete structure that is to the right of the creek as it enters the river? The way it is built you can’t see into it, and I wonder if that is where the old cave was. Again, my memories are from the late 50’s into the 60’s. Thanks.

      • David C. Smith on

        I’ll look around for info on that structure. I haven’t been down to the river there for a couple of years either! Maybe I need to visit again. I’ll also do some digging on a sled run at the park. I’ve never heard of that one before. Thanks for the info, Laurie.

    • Markys Foster on

      The cave was on the north side of the creek. They tried blocking the cave with bars or fences a few times, but the sandstone was so soft that kids (we) could easily work them loose. Blocking, then destroying them, became a priority after some kids got sick (probably from smoke inhalation after a ‘camp fire’ was built inside and smoke filled the cave. Rescue personnel had a hard time getting them out, the passage was small.

      You could tell when someone had spent time in the cave in the late fifties/early sixties, because they’d have the telltale traces of soot around their nose and blow black boogers for days.

      We were told by the park police (who had an office with radio communication, at the pavilion building, next to the concessions) the cave had been used for storage for Fort Snelling. They also told us it was dangerous in heavy rain and during spring thaw, because it was a natural drainage outlet and could fill. It was always wet and cold.

      My understanding is that they had to knock down the surrounding rock and reroute drainage, and that much of the rock rubble on the “beach” is from the destruction of the cave. I remember the beach being sandy from dredging the channel below the Ford Dam.

      • David C. Smith on

        Thanks for the descriptions, Markys.

    • Gail on

      Laurie –
      I, too, remember that cavern. My dad said it wasn’t a natural cave; it was actually a tunnel that was cut under the Veterans’ Home to provide access for utilities.

      The sandstone was so soft it could be scraped away with a twig, so efforts to seal the tunnel were fruitless. People just dug around the concrete seal and kept exploring it. I remember it being 8-10 feet in diameter. Someone told me it dead-ended at sewer or sanitary sewer pipes, but I don’t remember ever going all the way to the end. (We never thought to bring a flashlight with us.)

      Yes, I do believe it was dynamited. I think it would’ve happened around the time I graduated from high school in 1973. (I was born in 1955, so we’re the same approximate age.)

      There are also many man-made caverns on the opposite (east) side of the Mississippi, at the base of the bluff where the Ford plant was located. Until shortly after WWII, Ford Motor Company actually mined the 98-percent-pure silica sand and produced its own auto window glass on site. Those caverns are not accessible.

  8. laurie on

    where and what was the history of the round fountain in loring park

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for your question, Laurie. The Berger “Dandelion” Fountain was installed in Loring Park in 1975. It was a gift from park commissioner Ben Berger. He had seen the original fountain in Melbourne, Australia and wanted to put a replica in a Minneapolis park. The fountain was first proposed for Kenwood Gardens, where the Sculpture Garden is today, but the Walker Art Center urged the park board not to put the fountain there because it was not an original work of art. In the 1970s, long before the Sculpture Garden was created (1988), the park board and Walker were already considering a joint project on the park land across the street from the museum. The park board acceded to the wishes of the Walker and erected the fountain in Loring Park instead. According to Al Wittman, Assistant Superintendent of Parks at the time, the erection of the replica fountain ended up being much more expensive than Berger had planned, but he received a windfall when his movie theater had the bad luck to draw the rights to show a movie that no one else wanted, The Exorcist. It ran in his theater for a year and he reported that he made enough on the sale of popcorn alone at that movie to pay the couple hundred thousand dollars the fountain installation cost. Berger is perhaps better known as one of the original owners of the Minneapolis Lakers.

      Original work of art or not, I think Berger’s gift is a beautiful fountain. You can read more about the history of Loring Park at the website of the Minneapolis park board.

  9. patrick on

    Speaking of Triangles – in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster, you should post something about Snyder Triangle — since it was named for the family of John Pillsbury Snyder, a 1st class Titanic survivor, who was returning from his honeymoon with his new wife Nellie. (They are buried in Lakewood Cemetery, and I visited them on Saturday to pay my respects – they are also represented as extras in the James Cameron film)

    I haven’t read your book, so I don’t know if you included it in that, or even if it really is a park — I found it on an old map of Minneapolis – its basically in the old Snyder Addition in the Philips Neighborhood by that newer condo high rise. I don’t think it officially exists anymore, but I swear the remnants of the triangle are still there…. 11th street, E. Grant Street, and the Grant St Exit forming its three sides.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the comment, Patrick. I have been looking into the background of that triangle for more of my “Lost Parks” series. I wasn’t aware of the Titanic connection though. Thanks for sharing that. Snyder Triangle was purchased and named in 1916 for Simon P. Snyder who at one time owned the land that became the triangle. He was the grandafther of John Pillsbury Snyder. More soon.

  10. Bill Payne on

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    I’ve been doing some research on TLP, and have enjoyed and relied on and Parks, Lakes, Trails … and especially minneapolisparkhistory.com. Thanks for doing.

    Is there available in Park Board or other records original source materials? I have the photos from the Minnesota Historical Society, my wife was able to purchase the original colored site plan from an antiques dealer (it appears to be from a book that was torn apart) and I have Wyman Phelps bio from the Birnbaum book, which has a 1931 picture of TLP. I live across the street from it.

    I have an explanation of “Mt. Curve Triangles.” At one time Bryant Avenue went through to Mt. Curve, creating two triangles, which were later combined when Bryant was abandoned. The westerly triangle would have been a trapezoid if Bryant had gone straight through, but it curved to the west, creating a rounded east side for the trapezoid, so it was closer to a triangle.

    I’m not entirely sure that “Triangles” was really used. I did a Google search for any reference to”Mt. Curve Triangle.” Virtually all hits were to your blog, but there did seem to be some report about lighting from 1928 that used the singular. Also, the caption in the Birnbaum book to the picture uses the singular. But the plat creating the official addition for real property purposes does use “Triangles.”

    Hope you’ll be able to point me in the right direction. Thanks again.

    Bill Payne

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the information on Thomas Lowry Park, Bill. I don’t believe the name Mount Curve Triangles (plural) was ever used other than in the official proceedings of the park board on November 4, 1925 when the name was adopted. In that regard it is much like Beard Plaisance, the official name of the park on the west side of Lake Harriet, which is always called Beard’s Plaisance.

      Here is the language from the proceedings of November 4, 1925 (copies are avaialble at the downtown Hennepin County Library and the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul):

      “Your Committee further recommends that the present Mount Curve Triangle be renamed “Fremont Triangle”; and that the present Douglas Triangle, and the new triangular tract of land recently improved adjacent thereto bounded by Mount Curve, Douglas and Bryant avenues South, be jointly known as “Mount Curve Triangles.”

      That is the only source I know of for the official name of the property. The use of “jointly” suggests that the plural was likely intentional and not a typo.

      I agree that the plural was likely due to having two patches of land — on either side of Bryant — combined into one property, although the explantion from the proceedings quoted above incorrectly describes the property after the closure of Bryant through the triangle.

      Wyman’s original color plan was published in the 1922 annual report as a plan for improvement of the “Douglas Avenue Triangle.” However, the 1923 annual report refers to the property as “Mount Curve Triangle (so-called)”. The 1924 and 1925 annual reports (available at the same libraries) have photos of the new park labelled “Mount Curve Triangle.” The plural wasn’t used even in the annual report published shortly after the official name change. You might enjoy seeing those photos.

      David C. Smith

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: