Archive for the ‘Grand Rounds’ Category
What has changed in 100 years? A few times on this site, I have looked back 100 years at park history. I’ll expand my scope this year because of extraordinary political developments. Politics first, then parks.
The national electoral map flipped. The electoral map of the 1916 Presidential contest is astonishing. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, won a close re-election against Republican candidate Charles Hughes, a Supreme Court Justice. Compare red and blue states below to today. Nearly inverted. The Northeast, Upper Midwest and Far West — well, Oregon — voted alike. Republican. And lost.
While Minnesota’s electoral votes were cast for the Republican — although Hughes received only 392 more votes than Wilson out of nearly 400,000 cast — Minneapolis elected Thomas Van Lear as its mayor, the only Socialist to hold that office in city history. One hundred years later, Minneapolis politics are again dominated by left-of-center politicians.
The population of Minneapolis in 1916 and 2016 was about the same: now a little over 400,000, then a little under. Minneapolis population peaked in mid-500,000s in mid-1950s and dropped into mid-300,000s in late 20th Century. One hundred years ago, however, Minneapolis suburbs were very sparsely populated.
The world 100 years ago was a violent and unstable place. World War I was in its bloody, muddy depths, although the U.S. had not yet entered the war, and Russia was on the verge of revolution. Now people are killed indiscriminately by trucks, guns, and bombs. People worldwide debated then how to address the excesses of capitalists, oligarchs and despots unencumbered by morality. We still do.
One notable change? Many Americans campaigned in 1916 to put women in voting booths, in 2016 to put a woman in the Oval Office.
Continuing Park Growth: North and South
How about progress in parks? The Minneapolis park board added significantly to its playground holdings in 1916 and 1917 as public demand for facilities and fields for active recreation increased. In North Minneapolis, Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park was expanded and land for Folwell Park was acquired. In South Minneapolis, Nicollet (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Park and Chicago Avenue (Phelps) Park were purchased and land for Cedar Avenue Park was donated. In 1917, the first Longfellow Field was sold to Minneapolis Steel and steps were initiated to replace it at its present location.
One particular recreational activity was in park headlines in 1916 for the very first time. A nine-hole course was opened that year at Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park, the first public golf course in Minneapolis. Golf was free and greens weren’t green, they were made of sand. In less than ten years, the park board operated four 18-hole courses (Glenwood [Wirth], Columbia, Armour [Gross], and Meadowbrook) and was preparing to add a fifth at Lake Hiawatha.
The Grand Rounds were nearly completed conceptually, when first plans for St. Anthony Boulevard from Camden Bridge on the Mississippi River to the Ramsey County line on East Hennepin Avenue were presented in 1916. Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth also suggested that the banks of the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls might be made more attractive with shore parks and plantings, even if the railroads maintained ownership of the land. One hundred years later we’re still working on that, but have made some progress including the continuing purchase by the Park Board of riverfront lots as they have become available.These have been the only notable additions to park acreage in many years.
One important result of the increasing demand for playground space in Minneapolis one hundred years ago was the passage by the Minnesota legislature in 1917 of a bill that enabled the park board to increase property tax collections by 50%. In 2016, the Park Board and the City Council reached an important agreement on funding to maintain and improve neighborhood parks.
In a city blessed with water and public waterfronts, however, some of the most significant issues facing the Minneapolis park board in 1917 involved shorelines — beyond beautifying polluted river banks.
The most contentious issue was an extension of Lake Calhoun, a South Bay, south on Xerxes Avenue to 43rd Street. Residents of southwest Minneapolis wanted that marshy area either filled or dredged — dry land or lake. There was no parkway at that time around the west and south shore of Lake Calhoun from Lake Street and Dean Parkway to William Berry Parkway. As a part of plans to construct a parkway along that shoreline, the park board in 1916 approved extending Lake Calhoun and putting a drive around a new South Bay as well.
The challenge, of course was how to pay for it. The park board’s plan to assess property owners in the area for the expensive improvements was met with furiuos opposition and lawsuits. Many property owners thought that assessments they were already paying for acquisitions and improvements over the years at Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and William Berry Park were too heavy. The courts eventually decided in favor of the park board’s right to assess for those improvements, but by then estimated costs for the project had increased and become prohibitive and the South Bay scheme was abandoned.
Instead land for Linden Hills Park was acquired in 1919 and the surrounding wet land was drained into Lake Calhoun in the early 1920s. Dredged material from the lake was used to create a better-defined shoreline on the southwestern and northwestern shores of the lake in 1923 in preparation for the construction of the parkway.
Flowage Rights on the Mississippi River and a Canal to Brownie Lake
Minneapolis parks also lost land to water in 1916. The federal government claimed 27.6 acres of land in the Mississippi River gorge for flowage rights for the reservoir that would be created by a new dam to be built near Minnehaha Creek. Those acres, on the banks of the river and several islands in the river, would be submerged behind what became Lock and Dam No. 1 or the Ford Dam. In exchange for the land to be flooded, the park board did acquire some additional land on the bluffs overlooking the dam.
The other alteration in water courses was the dredging of a navigable channel between Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake, which completed the “linking of the lakes” that was begun with the connection of Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun in 1911. The land lost to the channel was negligible and probably balanced by a slight drop in water level in Brownie Lake. (A five-foot drop in Cedar Lake was caused by the opening of the Kenilworth Lagoon to Lake of the Isles in 1913.)
Another potential loss of water from Minneapolis parks may have occurred in 1917. William Washburn’s Fair Oaks estate at one time had a pond. I don’t know when that pond was filled. The estate became park board property upon the death of Mrs. Washburn in 1915. Perhaps in 1917 when the stables and greenhouses on the southwest corner of the property were demolished, the south end of the estate was graded and the pond was filled. Theodore Wirth’s suggestion for the park, presented in 1917, included an amphitheater in part of the park where the pond had once been.
The Dredge Report
The year 1917 marked the end of the most ambitious dredging project in Minneapolis parks — in fact the biggest single project ever undertaken by the park board until then, according to Theodore Wirth. The four-year project moved more than 2.5 million cubic yards of earth and reduced the lake from 300 shallow acres to 200 acres with a uniform depth of 15 feet.
That wasn’t the end of work at Lake Nokomis, however. The park surrounding the lake, especially the playing fields northwest of the lake couldn’t be graded for another five years, after the dredge fill had settled.
Dredging may again be an issue in 2017 if the Park Board succeeds in raising funds for a new park on the river in northeast Minneapolis. Dredges would carve a new island out of land where an old man-made island once existed next to the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. But that may be a long time off — and could go the way of South Bay.
One other development in 1917 had more to do with standing water than was probably understood at the time. The Park Board joined with the Real Estate Board in a war on mosquitoes. However, after spending $100 on the project and realizing they would have to spend considerably more to achieve results, park commissioners terminated the project. It was not the first or last battle won by mosquitoes in Minneapolis.
As we look again at new calendars, it’s always worth taking a glance backward to see how we got here. For me, it is much easier to follow the course of events in Minneapolis park history than in American political history.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
Comments: I am not interested in comments of a partisan political nature here, so save those for your favorite political sites.
Writing one hundred years ago this week, then Minneapolis park board president Edmund Phelps, made several observations in the park board’s annual report for 1912 that attracted my attention.
“I notice in the Board’s report, especially between 1894 and 1900, frequent references to our bicycle paths and the very general use of the bicycle itself. It will be remembered that at one time there was great agitation for fine bicycle paths upon all main thoroughfares. During the last few years there has been nothing said in the reports and there has been no attention paid to keeping up bicycle paths for the reason that the use of the wheel, unfortunately, was very largely diminished.”
The “wheel,” as Phelps called the bicycle, has made quite a comeback. Bicycle riders were generally called “wheel men” then although as this picture demonstrates riding bicycles was not strictly a male pursuit. Perhaps most remarkable however, despite the fact that today you could spend more on a bicycle than the park board paid for Lake Calhoun, the basic concept of the bicycle has not changed at all: two wheels on a connecting frame, pedals, seat, handlebars — and a dog out for exercise.
Another thematically related passage from Phelps’s 1912 report is worth noting.
“We ought not to mow forty acres of lawn at Lake of the Isles by handpower, but the best power lawn mowers, such as are used by parks and country clubs, should be provided, as they facilitate the work and reduce greatly the expense per acre.”
I have no idea if Phelps was a stockholder in The Toro Company.
Greater Grand Rounds
Finally, Phelps recommended an idea that was not new, but was placed in an automotive context I haven’t seen before. Writing thirty years after the creation of the park board, Phelps looked thirty years into the future and foresaw,
“Two or three trunk lines of excellent highway will connect the eastern and western extremities of our great country. Good roads of high class construction will prevail throughout every state of the Union. While these state roads should and will radiate from the large cities of the commonwealths, yet all will connect in a nearly direct line with the nearest transcontinental highway.”
Combining the development of good roads for automobiles with his prediction that there would be more than a million people in the Twin Cities in thirty years (1943), Phelps wrote,
“Long before that time the boulevard system of the two cities should be extended so as to make one ‘Greater Grand Rounds’ of one hundred miles or more.”
Phelps then described a parkway system that followed Minnehaha Creek to Lake Minnetonka, around that lake, then south from Excelsior to Shakopee, down the Minnesota River valley and its “enchanting scenery” to Fort Snelling, through St. Paul to and around White Bear Lake, then to Anoka and the Mississippi River, passing many beautiful lakes on the way,” then back to Minneapolis along the river. Phelps concluded,
“I am sure that a boulevard similar to the one suggested eventually will be built. An enabling act should be prepared and presented to the Legislature at the present session, and passed, so that the work may be prosecuted later.”
The parkway Phelps recommended was never authorized or built, but parks have been acquired along much of the route he suggested.
The First Automobile Ordinance
Phelps vision of automobiles, transcontinental highways and “Greater Grand Rounds” is not surprising given his early adoption of the automobile himself.
Phelps first appearance before the park board, more than a year before he was elected to be a park commissioner, was on behalf of the Automobile Club of Minneapolis. On May 7, 1903 Phelps requested permission for the club to have an automobile hill-climbing contest on the steep hill on Kenwood Parkway near Spring Lake. Hill-climbing contests were an early form of car racing, seeing whose car could climb a steep hill in the shortest time. As an inducement for approval of the club’s request perhaps, Phelps invited park commissioners and friends to attend the contest and afterwards be given a ride by automobile around the parkways.
Phelps’s request for use of the parkway was approved, but he may have gotten more than he bargained for. Immediately following approval of his request, the board directed the Privileges and Entertainments Committee to meet with the City Council Committee on Ordinances to develop an ordinance governing the use of automobiles in parks.
The park board subsequently passed an automobile ordinance on June 20, 1903. The ordinance restricted automobile speeds to 15 miles per hour, required that each car powered by gasoline have a muffler, that each car have a bell or horn, and a have at least one lighted lamp if operated after dark. In addition,
“Every person operating an automobile shall stop upon request or signal from any person in charge of a horse or horses, and shall also stop whenever a horse or horses show signs of fright at the automobile.”
Anyone convicted of violating the ordinance was subject to a fine of $2-$100 and, if in default of payment of a fine, imprisonment in the City Work House for a period of up to 90 days.
To give you some idea of how new cars were at the time, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated only four days before the park board’s automobile ordinance was passed in June 1903 and Ford’s first three Model A’s were manufactured in July. The success of those vehicles is still evident in Minneapolis where we refer to the Ford Dam and Ford Bridge, named for their proximity to and relationship with the Ford assembly plant in St Paul. The construction of the Ford Bridge made Minnehaha Park easily accessible to St. Paulites.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith
Here’s an exclusive club: William Watts Folwell, Thomas Sadler Roberts and Edward Foote Waite. Each has had a Minneapolis park property named for him, and each also received an honorary degree from the University of Minnesota.
William Watts Folwell
1925 was a big year for Folwell when, at age 92, he received the first honorary Doctor of Laws degree ever awarded by the University of Minnesota and Folwell Park was dedicated in his honor. The name for the park had been chosen in 1917, but it took eight years for the park to be finished and dedicated.
Folwell was hired as the first president of the University of Minnesota in 1869. He was elected to the Minneapolis park board in 1888 and served on the board — many years as its president — until 1906. He was the first to propose the name “Grand Rounds” for the city’s ring of parkways.
He is pictured in 1925 when he received his honorary degree, apparently in ceremonies at Memorial Stadium. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.
Roberts was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Minnesota in 1940, when he was 82. In the photo, taken sometime that year, he is perusing a book of Audubon prints.
The Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary in Lyndale Park near the north shore of Lake Harriet was named in his honor in 1947, a year after his death.
Roberts was a doctor known for his extraordinary capacity to diagnose unusual diseases and illnesses largely due to his prodigious memory. He retired from medicine in his 50s and devoted his time to ornithology. He taught at the University of Minnesota and was a director of the Museum of Natural History. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society.
Waite received his honorary degree from the University of Minnesota and had a Minneapolis park named for him in the same year — 1949 — when he was 89. His Doctor of Science degree honored a legal career best known for years of service as a juvenile court judge in Minneapolis. But he was far more than a wise and compassionate judge; he helped shape the field of juvenile law in the United States.
Waite is less well-known for his five-month stint as Minneapolis’s police chief in 1902. It was not an easy job in the wake of a scandal known nationally as the “Shame of Minneapolis,” centered around corrupt Mayor Albert Ames and his brother Fred, whom he had appointed police chief. David P. Jones was appointed mayor to replace the fugitive Mayor Ames and turned to his friend, Waite, an assistant district attorney with no police experience, to clean up a corrupt police force and restore public faith in law enforcement.
Waite Park was developed along with Waite Elementary School as a joint project between the park board and school board from 1949-1951. The park and school opened for the 1950 school year but final improvements to the site were not completed until the following year.
Waite is pictured snowshoeing in about 1945 at the age of 85. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society. (See another photo of Waite at the school named for him.)
From this very exclusive list it would appear that the good do not die young.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
I’ve been surprised at the interest generated by posts here about landscape architects who worked on Minneapolis parks, so I’ll add the latest info I have on a few landscape architects.
I once compiled a list of all the park designs and plans published in the annual reports of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners for the first 60 years of its existence, 1883-1943. For the most part, that means the plans of Horace W. S. Cleveland, who designed the first Minneapolis parks, and Theodore Wirth, who was superintendent of parks 1906-1935.
From the time Cleveland stopped working, about 1893, until Wirth was hired in 1906, the Minneapolis park board did not have a landscape architect — nor the money to pay one following a severe economic downturn — except for hiring Warren H. Manning for various projects from 1899 to 1905. No Manning plans for Minneapolis parks have survived, although his in-depth written recommendations for Minneapolis parks were published in the 1899 Annual Report of the Minneapolis park board. More on Manning in a later post.
While Wirth was superintendent, he prepared nearly all park plans himself, although I believe he identified himself more as a gardener and engineer than a landscape architect. He listed himself as “Sup’t.” on most of his park plans until 1926 when he added “Eng’r.” He was an early and active member of the American Institute of Park Executives, but did not, to my knowledge, join the American Society of Landscape Architects. Wirth was not included in Pioneers of American Landscape Design, a compilation by Charles Birnbaum and Robin Karson of Americans who influenced the nation’s landscape. I think that is an oversight.
While Wirth gets too much credit from some in Minneapolis for creating the city’s park system, his omission from a list of more than 160 prominent landscape designers in the United States probably gives him too little credit for shaping one of the nation’s premier urban park systems.
Wirth’s omission from the “pioneers” list is more striking because three landscape architects who practiced in Minneapolis while Wirth was parks chief were profiled as pioneers: Anthony Urbanski Morell, Arthur Richardson Nichols and Phelps Wyman. I don’t believe it could be argued that any of the three had nearly as great an impact on the landscape of Minneapolis — and perhaps urban parks in general — as Wirth did, although they all worked in other locations as well.
I have already written about Wyman, but would like to add notes on Morell and Nichols’s involvement with Minneapolis parks and update info on Wyman.
Morell and Nichols
Morell and Nichols became partners in 1909 and relocated to Minneapolis to take advantage of connections they had made in Minnesota while working for a New York landscape architect on projects in Duluth — the Congdon Mansion and the Morgan Park neighborhood — according to Pioneers of American Landscape Design. Their names first appeared in Minneapolis park board documents in the park board’s annual report of 1910. They are cited as the creators of a design for Farwell Park in North Minneapolis for the David C. Bell Investment Company, one of the city’s most prominent real estate developers. The 1.2-acre park was platted in the Oak Park (not Oak Lake) Supplement in 1889, but it wasn’t until 1910 that the developer asked the park board to take control of the land and improve it as a park using a plan the developer provided. The plan itself was not unusual, but it was the first landscape plan to appear in an annual report that had not been commissioned by the park board. That Wirth chose to publish the plan in the annual report suggests his regard for Morell and Nichols. Wirth encouraged park commissioners to approve the plan, which they did. Wirth wrote in the 1910 annual report:
The proposed arrangement of lawns, plantings and walks, is very pleasing and appropriate to the surroundings and the present topography of the grounds, and the execution of the plan will not involve a very large expenditure.
Improvements to the park were begun in 1911 and completed in 1912. The Bell company originally paid for the work, but was reimbursed by the park board.
The other references to Morell and Nichols in park board annual reports were in the 1930 and 1935 reports in connection with their work for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, when they prepared a preliminary study for a county-wide park system in 1922 . Theodore Wirth referred to their plan in the 1930 annual report in his yearly words of encouragement for the Minneapolis park board to lead the effort to create a regional park authority. Wirth advocated including Minnehaha Creek, Bassett’s Creek and Shingle Creek, from their sources in Hennepin County lakes to the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, in a regional park system. In the 1930 report, Wirth included a map of the territory embracing the sources of Shingle Creek and Bassett’s Creek and highlighted park areas recommended by Morell and Nichols in their earlier report. Among the areas they had suggested for parks in northwest Hennepin County were portions of the shores of Medicine Lake, Bass Lake, Eagle Lake, Lime Lake, and all of Sweeney Lake adjacent to Glenwood Park. The map legend indicated that Robbinsdale planned to preserve the entire shorelines of Twin Lakes and Crystal Lake as parkland as well. Too bad that didn’t happen.
Five years later, in the 1935 annual report, Wirth’s last as park superintendent, he published his own “Tentative Study Plan” for a park district for the west metropolitan region. Wirth had been directed by the park board in February 1935 to undertake the study in hopes that the board could apply for federal work relief funds to begin to implement a metropolitan park plan. Although funds were not forthcoming for that project, the idea of a county park system eventually led to the creation of what is today the Three Rivers Park District.
Wirth submitted his report to the board in November 1935 and it was published in its entirety in that year’s annual report. Wirth noted that his plan had been created in collaboration with Arthur Nichols, who was then the consulting landscape architect to the Minnesota Highway Department. Wirth wrote that he and Nichols had spent one afternoon a week for two months touring possible park and parkway sites in suburban and rural Hennepin County and had completed their research with aerial reconnaissance of prospective parks.
These two events in which Morell and Nichols worked with Wirth on park design don’t tell us much about their practice, except that they seemed to have an effective working relationship with Wirth and were well-known to him and other decision makers, from developers to county commissioners. Phelps Wyman also knew Morell and Nichols. Morell was a consultant to the Minneapolis Planning Commission on which Wyman sat as the representative of the park board in the early 1920s. Wyman and Nichols had worked together for the US Housing Corporation in Washington, D.C. during the Great War. Moreover Nichols had been the first graduate in 1902 of MIT’s landscape architecture program, which Wyman completed a few years later. Having attended the same educational institution at a time when few academic programs in landscape architecture existed would have likely created some bond between them.
Phelps Wyman and Victory Memorial Drive
Of the three “pioneers” in landscape design, Wyman had by far the most input on park landscape architecture in Minneapolis due to his service as an elected park commissioner 1917-1924. In an earlier post I noted Wyman’s design of what is now Thomas Lowry Park, his proposed plan for Washburn Fair Oaks, and his suggestion of a traffic circle to relieve congestion at the Hennepin and Lyndale Avenue bottleneck. What I overlooked in that post was perhaps Wyman’s most creative park design, which Wirth included in the park board’s annual report of 1929 even though the plan had been created eight years earlier. (Phelps resigned from the park board and moved to Milwaukee in 1924, one reason I didn’t consider looking for Wyman’s influence on park designs in documents from the late 1920s.)
In the 1929 annual report Wirth included Wyman’s “Preliminary Sketch of Victory Memorial Drive” from 1921 to illustrate the need for grade separations between parkways and city streets in some locations. In Wyman’s sketch, Broadway Avenue West tunneled under a large plaza at the intersection of Victory Memorial Drive and Lowry Avenue North. Wirth provided no explanation of why Wyman created his “decorative scheme” for the parkway, but it is a fascinating design.
Among Wyman’s more interesting ideas — in addition to putting Broadway underneath an extensive plaza:
- Three plazas would have anchored the drive: one at Camden (Webber) Park was labelled “America Mobilized,” the monument plaza and flag pole at the northwest corner of the drive was titled “Humanity,” and the Lowry Avenue Plaza was called “America at Peace.”
- Another plaza, “Freedom of Seas”, would have connected Victory Memorial Drive to Crystal Lake between 39th and 40th avenues north. The only connection I can imagine between a stretch of land along a Robbinsdale lake and a “Freedom of Seas” park is the sinking of the Lusitania, an important factor in the U.S. entry into WWI and the resulting dead young men and women who were honored along Victory Memorial Drive.
- The west side of Victory Memorial Drive from Lowry Avenue to 45th would have been reserved for “Public Institutions.”
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith
The argument is sometimes made, particularly by “Nordeasters,” that northeast Minneapolis is park poor and that the Minneapolis park board has neglected that part of the city. “Underserved” seems to be the popular word. The idea even flowed as an undercurrent through the recent Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. The thinking goes that ever since Minneapolis and St. Anthony merged in 1872, and took the name Minneapolis, power, money and prestige — not to mention amenities such as parks — have accumulated west and south of the river. (Read Lucille M. Kane, The Waterfall That Built a City, for a fascinating examination of why that might have happened.)
While writing recently about Alice Dietz and the marvelous programs she ran at the Logan Park field house I thought again about the perceived neglect of Northeast and whether it might be true. I concluded that it is not; northeast Minneapolis has been a victim of industry, topography and opportunity, but not discrimination or even indifference. What’s more, all those elements have now realigned, putting northeast Minneapolis in the position to get a far bigger slice of the park pie in the foreseeable future than any other section of the city.
About two years ago, when our son-in-law was in the North St. Paul Library, he saw David Smith’s book about Minneapolis parks. He bought one and gave it to me for Christmas. We have enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures.
Jim became acquainted with Minnehaha Park and Parkway when he came to freshman orientation at Hamline in 1948. He particularly remembers the beauty of the lilac trees. When we lived in Rosemount, we came to Nokomis Park to picnic, swim and sail with friends. When we moved to Columbia Heights, Jim started to bike daily, and a few times each summer, he biked the Grand Rounds. We biked it with a church group a time or two. We continued to do that when we lived in Champlin and in north Minneapolis.
The house we owned since 1985 was near Lake Harriet and we biked around that lake and also Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. We slid in the snow and watched our grandson’s rugby games at Columbia Park. We enjoyed many picnics near each of those lakes and the Rose Garden, Hiawatha, Nokomis, Farwell, Powderhorn and Wirth. Sometimes there were only two of us; other times it was a family gathering. We celebrated many birthdays and events by having picnics at a park. Following Thanksgiving dinner at our house, most of the guests enjoyed a walk around all or part of Lake Harriet. A recent memory is walking with our five-year-old granddaughter to a bridge over Minnehaha Creek and dropping sticks into the water and watching them float away. We are glad that our new home is near the Parkway, Minnehaha Park and Lake Nokomis, so we can continue to enjoy our wonderful gift of parks.