Archive for the ‘Lake Harriet’ Category

Dancing with the Fishes

Recent news about the discovery of a zebra mussel in Lake Harriet prompted a flurry of activity at the lake to see if more could be found. Thankfully, after nearly 70 hours of searching, no more of the striped invaders were located. Some of that searching was done by divers who filmed their searches.

Although they found no more mussels, what they did find is a bit of a mystery. You can view their discovery on YouTube here.  Thanks to MaryLynn Pulscher at the Park Board for the link.

The divers speculated that what they found was a dance floor from one of the old pavilions at the lake. It is entirely possible that what they found was a remnant of an old pavilion, although I have serious doubts if it was dance floor because dancing was frowned on by a significant portion of society in early park history. I’m not aware of dancing at any of the Lake Harriet pavilions. (When the first recreation center was built at Logan Park in 1913, there was angry opposition to it by those who didn’t want any kind of dances held in their neighborhood. To appease them, the Park Board limited the type and frequency of dances that were permitted.)

The first pavilion constructed at water’s edge burned down in 1903. Perhaps part of that wreckage was simply pushed into the lake. I’ve never seen photos or read descriptions of how any remains of that fire were disposed.

Lake Harriet Pavilion 1895 MHS

First pavilion built on the Lake Harriet shoreline in 1892. The pavilion was designed by Harry Wild Jones. It burned down in 1903. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Another possibility is that when the succeeding pavilion, which extended into the lake, was destroyed by a tornado in 1925, part of the pavilion was blown into the lake and never retrieved.

Lake Harriet pavilion and boat dock, 1906

The new Lake Harriet pavilion, also designed by Harry Wild Jones, and boat dock in 1905. The bandstand seen here on top of the pavilion lasted only one year due to terrible acoustics. It was moved to the east side of the lake at 46th Street where it served as an overlook or “belvidere”.

Lake Harriet Pavilion damaged by tornado

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

Lake Harriet 1925

This photo was taken very shortly after the Lake Harriet pavilion was destroyed in 1925. It’s the only photo I’ve seen of Lake Harriet without a pavilion. A pile of rubble marks the spot where the pavilion once stood. Did some of that rubble remain in the lake? Or were these extensive boat docks eventually dismantled and scuttled in the lake? (David C. Smith)

The second pavilion designed by Jones, which extended into the lake, was also rearranged in 1912 and 1913 because it had become unsafe for the large crowds that listened to concerts on the rooftop. The pilings under the pavilion were replaced in 1912 and the pavilion was extensively remodeled. Perhaps debris was left in the lake when that work was concluded. Another possibility could be that a portion of one of the two floating band shells that were used in the early history of Lake Harriet entertainment were sunk there.

If the remains found on the bottom of Lake Harriet near the shore were just wood, however, why did they sink instead of floating to shore? It’s hard to imagine someone like park superintendent Theodore Wirth, who served in that capacity 1906-1935, permitting something as unsightly as pavilion wreckage to bob around in one of his lakes until it sank.

I would welcome speculation from our many knowledgable readers on what that wreckage on the bottom of Lake Harriet could be and how it got there.

Before leaving the subject, I want to express my support and gratitude to the park commissioners and staff who have kept our lakes mussel-free for this long and to encourage boat owners to exercise extreme caution when putting their craft into city lakes. I hope the lone zebra mussel found was an anomaly — as it appears to be.

David C. Smith

Advertisements

Charles Loring: “We must control the lake.”

If you have read my history of the Minneapolis park system, City of Parks, you may recall that Charles Loring’s efforts to acquire land around lakes Harriet, Isles and Calhoun remain a subject of speculation. No one has ever found a clear strategy or well-documented plan by Loring, the first president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, to acquire the lakes, even though he spent the better part of several years in getting those complicated real estate deals done. I focused mostly on Loring’s desire to create a parkway from Loring Park, then still called Central Park, around the lakes to Lake Harriet, which had been acquired already for the fledgling park board largely by gift. Even the generous gift of land around Lake Harriet by Henry Beard, James Merritt, Charles Reeve and, ultimately, William King, was prompted by the desire to have a parkway around the lake, which accounts for the limits of the original gift: a strip of land only 125 feet wide around Lake Harriet — just enough for a walking path, a carriage way and a few trees or flowers to dress it up.

A new discovery suggests, however, that Loring had much more in mind than parkways. As part of the ongoing project to inventory the park board’s historical records with the goal of making them more accessible to researchers, I recently found a letter written by Loring in 1886 that sheds more light on his thinking about the lakes.

The letter, dated June 14, 1886 and addressed to park board secretary Rufus Baldwin, discusses Loring’s views on what needs to be done to acquire land at Lake of the Isles. Loring notes that Alfred Dean, who owned much of the land that had to be crossed by a parkway at Lake of the Isles, had already told Loring he could do whatever he wished. Loring then wrote,

“My opinion is that we do not want the land on the outside, but do want it next the lake. As the plat now is, the boulevard goes around the little marsh thus.”

Loring then includes a small drawing.

EPSON MFP image

Charles Loring’s letter to Rufus Baldwin, June 14, 1886

He is very explicit, writing on the road next to the lake “This is what we want” and concluding bluntly, “We must control the lake.”

This evidence that Loring was thinking far beyond parkways is reinforced by the concluding page of his letter when he addresses a new topic: boats on Lake Harriet. He notes that a steamer has been placed on the lake and he has asked the owner to remove it, but adds that after talking with “Judge Fish” — park board attorney Daniel Fish — Loring doesn’t want legal questions raised yet about “rights on the water”.  Clearly, Loring is thinking about park board control not just of boulevards around the lake, but activity on the lake as well. His earlier comment, “We must control the lake”, takes on even greater significance.

We may owe even more to Charles Loring and his vision than we previously knew.

While on the subject of Loring I want to mention a note I received a while ago from, William Scott, the great-great-nephew of Charles Loring’s second wife Florence Barton Loring. You can read more about his family’s relationship with the Bartons and Lorings in the “Comments” section here.

This is the carte de visite of Florence Barton that he refers to. Thanks to William Scott for sharing the photos below.

Florence Barton

Florence Barton, date unknown. (Beal Art Gallery, Harold W. Scott Collection, courtesy William Scott)

This must have been taken long before she married Charles Loring at age 45 in 1895. Read much more about Florence Barton Loring here.

William Scott also sent a photograph of family and friends at Minnehaha Falls in about 1910. Love those hats! The new bridge with the boulder face over a concrete structure was brand new in 1910. Appears to be a dry year.

1912 ca. Falls Scott

David C. Smith

© 2016 David C. Smith

Shared History: Edina’s Early Days

Edina and Minneapolis share more than France Avenue — and history buffs aren’t restricted by city boundaries.

Henry Brown played an important role in the history of Edina as well as the history of Minnehaha Falls as a Minneapolis park.

There is a Chowen Park in both Edina and Minneapolis.

Minnehaha Creek flows through Minneapolis parkland  before it gets to Edina — and, of course, all of Minnehaha Creek after it leaves Edina on its way through Minneapolis to Minnehaha Falls and the Mississippi River is parkland.

The Interlachen neighborhood grew up around a golf course created by golfers who had outgrown their nine-hole Bryn Mawr course near downtown Minneapolis. 

That’s just a taste of the rich information on Edina history — and Minneapolis history  — on the web site of realtor Ben Ganje. Go to the neighborhood directory on his site then look at the right margin for a list of Edina neighborhoods. Each of Edina’s 45 official neighborhoods is profiled with historical info and interesting bits of trivia.

I read about Todd Park because of my interest in famous diva Emma Abbott, a Minneapolis girl made good. Her father was one of those first interested in developing this part of Edina.

Why was I interested in Emma Abbott? She was buried next to her husband in Oak Grove Cemetery in his home town, Gloucester, Mass. Their monument is the most impressive in that cemetery, which I visited this fall.

Oak Grove, Emma Abbott Memorial

Emma Abbott’s memorial in Oak Grove Cemetery, Gloucester, Mass. Designing the cemetery was one of H.W.S. Cleveland’s first commissions as a landscape architect in 1854. (Photos: David C. Smith)

Laying out Oak Grove Cemetery was one of the first commissions Horace William Shaler Cleveland received as a landscape architect. Oak Grove, Emma Abbott WetherleyHe was hired for that job, with his young partner Robert Copeland, in 1854. The next year they tackled the design of the much more prestigious Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass., the eventual resting place of many of the great writers of early America: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, a childhood friend of Horace Cleveland.

More Edina History of Interest to Minneapolitans

Another Edina neighborhood profile I liked was Creek Knoll, which borders Minneapolis and was first promoted as a residential development for its nearness to Lake Harriet.

Also check out the profile of Morningside, a neighborhood that was also subdivided and developed partly because of the rapidly rising prices of residential lots nearer Lake Harriet in the early 1900s.

For those of you interested in park history in general, you might want to read about park development at Pamela Park, Bredesen Park and also the land once owned by four-term Minneapolis mayor, George Leach, that became Braemar Golf Course. The Lake Cornelia history also presents some of the challenges of park making as well as stormwater management that face cities as well as suburbs.

Can you still catch northern pike in Centennial Lakes?

Worth a look if you want to know more about our southwestern neighbor — and our metropolitan area from water management and freeways to shopping centers.

David C. Smith

Update for Historians and Grammarians

A brief Minneapolis park history update. Essential for Minneapolis historians. Trivial for grammarians.

Grammarians first: King’s Highway, Bassett’s Creek, but not Beard’s Plaisance. (This apostrophic comment was begun here.) The “pleasure ground” was originally named “The Beard Plaisance.” Perhaps the ground had been Henry Beard’s, but without pleasure. Who knows? By the time the transfer of title to the land from Beard to the park board took place, Beard’s assets were in receivership — not much pleasure in that — and the park board did end up writing his receiver a check for about eight grand. But it’s never been clear to me if that payment was for The Beard Plaisance, Linden Hills Parkway or the Lake Harriet shoreline, all of which belonged to Beard at one point. (Beard built the city’s first consciously “affordable” housing for laborers and their families. He built a block of apartments on Washington Avenue — complete with a sewage system, before the city had one — near the flour mills.)

By the way, King’s Highway was a name given by the park board to a stretch of Dupont Avenue when it asked the city to turn over that section of street as a parkway. The park board did not name Bassett’s Creek; the name was commonly used as the name for the creek about 75 years before the park board acquired the land for a park with that name.

More trivia before we get to the important stuff. The Beard Plaisance is one of four Minneapolis park properties with “the” as part of the official name. There is another with a “the” that is widely used, but was not part of an officially approved name. Can you name the other three parks with an official “the”? Bonus points for naming the one with an unofficial “the”.

Spoiler: I’ll type the names backward to give you time to think. edaraP ehT, llaM ehT, yawetaG ehT. The park property with an unofficial “the”: selsI eht fo ekaL. The lake was named long before the park board was created, and it’s usage was so widely accepted that the park board never had to adopt or approve the name — much like Calhoun, Harriet and Cedar.

Speaking of lake names, which Minneapolis lake had the most names? I’d vote for Wirth Lake, or Theodore Wirth Lake for sticklers. Previously it had been Keegan’s Lake and Glenwood Lake. Part of the original Glenwood Park, which became Theodore Wirth Park, was first named Saratoga Park, but that didn’t include what was then Keegan’s Lake.

Now the Big News for Historians

Historic Minneapolis Tribune. The digital, searchable historic Minneapolis Tribune is now back online. Thank you, thank you to all the people at the Hennepin County Library and the Minnesota Historical Society who worked hard to make this happen. Here’s the link. Woo-hoo! (Thanks to Wendy Epstein for bringing this to my attention.)

Minnesota Reflections. The Minnesota Digital Library has posted about 150 items from park board annual reports at Minnesota Reflections. The items scanned were fold-out plans, maps, charts, tables and photos that could not be properly scanned during the efforts of Google Books, Hathitrust and other libraries to digitize annual reports. Most of the fold-outs had been printed on very fragile tissue paper, so digitization has not only made them accessible, but will preserve them. I hope you have a chance to look at some of them. All were produced while Theodore Wirth was Superintendent of Minneapolis parks, when he was also the landscape architect. So they are especially useful as a means of examining his view of parks and his design priorities.

Keep in mind that most of the plans Wirth presented in annual reports were “proposals” or “suggestions” and many were never built as he first proposed. Some designs were fanciful, others represented an ideal or a wish list of amenities from which the park board usually negotiated more modest facilities. During most of Wirth’s tenure, neighborhood parks were only developed if property owners in the area agreed in advance to pay assessments on their property. Property owners essentially had veto power over park designs they considered extravagant. As plans were scaled down and the price of improvements dropped, more owners were willing to approve the assessments. Wealthier neighborhoods were more likely to approve park facilities than poorer ones, and neighborhoods with more homeowners were more likely to approve plans than neighborhoods with more apartment owners.

After several of his plans were rejected for the improvement of Stevens Square, a residential area that then, as now, was primarily apartment buildings, an exasperated Wirth urged the park board to consult not only landlords, but their tenants as well.

If you’re looking for plans relating to specific parks, you might want to consult the index of annual report plans (foldouts as well as those printed on a single-page), which I published a couple of years ago in Volume I: 1906-1915, Volume II: 1916-1925 and Volume III: 1926-1935.

There will be much more to come from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on the Minnesota Reflections site, including Annual Reports and Proceedings in the public domain that are not yet on Google Books or Hathitrust, as well as, we hope, many more published after 1922. We also hope that many historical photos of Minneapolis parks will be added to the site.

Minneapolisparks.org. In case you missed it, the park board introduced a completely new website at minneapolisparks.org this spring  One advantage of the new design from a history perspective is that the historical profile of each park property is accessible from its individual park page. You no longer have to download the profiles of all 190 or so parks to get the ones you want. Have a look. The park histories are a good starting point for more research. If you have questions or corrections — or interesting sidebars — on anything in those histories let me know, and I’ll either publish them here or, as appropriate, pass the corrections on to park board staff.

Since the new park pages were introduced, the links to those park histories in my posts here for the past five years are broken. I will try to update them soon, but with more than 230 articles published here, it may take me a while to get to them all.

David C. Smith

Something’s Missing at Lake Harriet

After my post yesterday of Margaret Hall’s letter and a Minnesota Historical Society photo of the tornado-damaged pavilion at Lake Harriet in 1925, I dug out my favorite Lake Harriet photo of all time. Notice what’s missing?

This photo was taken very shortly after the Lake Harriet pavilion was destroyed by a tornado in 1925. It's the only photo I've seen of Lake Harriet without a pavilion.  A pile of rubble marks the spot where the pavilion once stood. It's unlikely that a man as insistent upon beauty and efficiency as park superintendent Theodore Wirth would have allowed the rubble to remain for long, so this photo must have been taken in the few days after the storm in mid-July. (From the author's personal collection.)

No pavilion!

This photo was taken very shortly after the Lake Harriet pavilion was destroyed. It’s the only photo I’ve seen of Lake Harriet’s north shore without a pavilion. A “temporary” replacement band stand was built the next summer so concerts could continue at the lake. That small band stand stood for 60 years.

A pile of rubble marks the spot in this photo where the pavilion once stood. It’s unlikely that a man as insistent upon beauty and efficiency as park superintendent Theodore Wirth would have allowed the rubble to remain for long, so this photo must have been taken in the few days after the storm in mid-July. Surprisingly, the storm appears not to have damaged the boat docks or boats, lending credence to claims that the pavilion was destroyed by a tornado, not straight-line winds.

Like many others who have developed an interest in local history, I have begun searching for photos that reveal more of the history of a place than one can find in written accounts. One of the best places to find photos — of a certain era — is on postcards. This photo comes from a vintage postcard I purchased. There is no attribution of the photo on the card. It was never mailed, although it was quite beat up. I cropped the creases and stains on the edges of this postcard.

If you have a favorite, non-commercial image of Minneapolis, especially parks, send me a scan or print and I’ll post it here. Please identify the photographer if at all possible.

David C. Smith

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

Lake Harriet: The Heart of the Minneapolis Park System

NOTE: The following outline and photos introduce the important role of Lake Harriet in the creation and growth of the Minneapolis park system. While much of this information is familiar to Minneapolis residents, I prepared this presentation for students visiting Minneapolis today from University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. I thought other readers of minneapolisparkhistory.com might enjoy the images and information as well. For more in-depth info visit the history pages of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. For a more complete picture of the parks surrounding Lake Harriet see the history of Lake Harriet, but also of William Berry Park and Lyndale Park.

 

If the prized Minneapolis park system were a living thing, Lake Harriet would be its heart. The Grand Rounds — 60 miles of parkways threaded through the city — would be the rest of the circulatory system of veins and arteries. The analogy holds more for the creation of the park system, with parkways radiating out from Lake Harriet and back, than for the current function of Lake Harriet in the system.

Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun had always been primary targets of people in Minneapolis and St. Anthony who believed the growing towns needed parks. For decades, residents of the small towns beside St. Anthony Falls had taken Sunday excursions to the shores of the lakes for picnics and relaxation. As early as 1869, the Board of Trade, a chamber-of-commerce type organization, had voted to acquire the shores of Lake Calhoun for a “pleasure drive” and had secured commitments from all landowners around the lake except one to donate their shoreline for that purpose. That one unnamed holdout must have torpedoed the entire plan.

When the Minneapolis park board was created by an act of the Minnesota Legislature and ratified by Minneapolis voters in 1883, it was well-understood that the lakes would become part of a new park system. Proof was easy: the legislature expanded the city limits of Minneapolis to include Lake Harriet at the same time it created the park board. One went with the other.

One of the park board’s first acts was to hire landscape architect and park advocate H. W. S. Cleveland to advise the board on the creation of parks. About a month later Cleveland presented his “Suggestions” to the broad for a new park system featuring interconnected parkways rather than just a couple large parks. The map that accompanied his suggestions, below, shows in red the parkways he recommended. Note that only Lake Harriet is fully encircled by parkway, the “heart” of this circulatory system.

Horace Cleveland proposed this system of parks and parkways in 1883. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Horace Cleveland proposed this system of parks and parkways in 1883. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The map provided a blueprint for a park system that the park board tried to implement. Although the board failed to acquire many of the specific routes proposed by Cleveland — and added others — the concept of a system of parkways encircling the city eventually became the Grand Rounds parkway system of today.

Cleveland used another anatomical metaphor in the park system he proposed that focused on what was most important to him. He called the Mississippi River gorge and parkways on both sides the “lungs” of the city. He meant that a corridor of green on both sides of the river — the “jewel” of the city — would provide a flow of fresh air through the city north to south, which would help prevent pollution and disease.  It was not a coinage that originated with Cleveland, but had been used to advocate city parks in the dense and squalid urban cores of Paris and London since early in the century.

In fact, however, the Grand Rounds parkway system had its start at Lake Harriet and the rest of the parkways followed. It was the first parkway the park board attempted to acquire. A first appraisal of the shores of the lake put the cost at $300,000, much more than the park board could legally spend. Then landowners Henry Beard, Charles Reeve and James Merritt approached park board president Charles Loring with an offer: they would donate to the park board a strip of land 125 feet wide that nearly encircled the lake. The park board gratefully accepted that offer in 1885. (Ownership of a portion of that land was being contested at the time in court and a court ruling returned much of the land to William S. King, then a park commissioner. He honored the deal already struck with the other landowners and the park board owned a strip of land for a parkway around most of the lake.)

The park board’s other parkway projects revolved primarily around creating routes from other parts of Minneapolis to Lake Harriet. Hennepin Avenue was acquired to be a parkway connection from Central (Loring) Park to Lake Harriet. But when heavy traffic on that road dimmed its prospects for ever being a parkway, an alternative route to Harriet was found. Land was donated for Kenwood Parkway from Central Park to Lake of the Isles, then around Lake of the Isles, which hadn’t figured at all in Cleveland’s plan, to Lake Calhoun. The park board purchased the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun, at what Loring considered an exorbitant but necessary price, to reach the southern tip of Lake Calhoun. From there, Linden Hills Boulevard, also acquired from Henry Beard, would carry traffic to Lake Harriet.

Cleveland conceived of another major circulatory connection to Lake Harriet as a parkway east from Lake Harriet to the Mississippi River. He envisioned that to be Lake Street, but that thoroughfare already was home to a concentration of businesses that made it too expensive to acquire. The route east from Harriet that later emerged, largely due to free land, was Minnehaha Creek. Although much farther south and far from the central city neighborhoods that Cleveland thought would need a parkway, Minnehaha Parkway became the park connection to Minnehaha Falls and the river parkways.

Even the parkways from the Lake District into north Minneapolis were really arteries directly from the north side to Lake Harriet. When it became evident that Lyndale Avenue could not be converted into a parkway from Central Park north, the park board looked to the west to connect Lake Harriet via Cedar Lake and what eventually became Theodore Wirth Park and Parkway to north Minneapolis. Once again the appeal, at first, was the prospect of free land along that route from William McNair, a friend of the parks and several park commissioners.

Further supporting the Lake Harriet-as-heart metaphor is that the northern half of the Grand Rounds was inspired by what had already occurred in the southern half of the city connecting lakes, river, and creek to Lake Harriet. William Folwell, former University of Minnesota president, park commissioner and Cleveland’s close friend, urged the park board in a special report at the end of 1890 to return to the vision of Cleveland. In his report, he urged the board to resurrect and finish the system of parkways throughout the city that Cleveland had suggested. Folwell even gave that system of parkways, which began and ended at Lake Harriet, a name for the first time: Grand Rounds.

To the Water’s Edge

The parkway at Lake Harriet also established another critical precedent in the history of Minneapolis parks. In keeping with Cleveland’s plan for an interconnected system of parkways, the park board wanted a parkway around the lake instead of just a large park beside it. The parkway acquired encircled the lake on its shoreline. That meant the park board owned the entire lake and it established that precedent for later acquisitions at Lake of Isles, Lake Calhoun, Minnehaha Creek, even the Mississippi River gorge. Nearly everywhere in Minneapolis, the park board owns the water front. The only places that is not true today is the banks of the Mississippi River above the falls, and that is in the process of being acquired piece by piece, and those parts of Bassett’s Creek that had been tunneled below ground even before the park board was created.

The unique and defining feature of Minneapolis today is not only the lakes and creeks and river running through it, but that almost all land abutting those bodies of water is publicly owned and preserved as parkland.  We aren’t restricted to a glimpse of water between mansions built on lakeshores; the people own the lake shores. The effect on the prosperity of the city has always been significant. As Minneapolis park board studies have shown, property values are increased not only adjacent to the lakes, creeks and river but up to several blocks away from those amenities because they are publicly owned and freely accessible.

Donation of Land

Another reason for the centrality of Lake Harriet to the development of the Minneapolis park system was the means by which the park board acquired the Lake Harriet shoreline: it was donated. That also established a precedent that Charles Loring, in particular, was very successful in replicating. Loring secured other land donations in the few years after the donations at Lake Harriet by Beard, Reeve, Merritt and King: Kenwood Parkway, most of Lake of the Isles, half of Lake Calhoun, part of Cedar Lake, much of Minnehaha Creek, Stinson Parkway, Lyndale Park and The Parade. Even much of the river gorge was sold to the park board well below market value.

Let Us Entertain You

Lake Harriet was also the heart of park board expansion into new areas, especially providing entertainment and recreation. Entertainment at the lake began at a pavilion built by the street railway company on private land beside  the lake, but became one of the most popular destinations in the city after the park board allowed the street railway company to build a pavilion on the shores of the lake in 1892. The park board didn’t provide the entertainment directly, but did exercise considerable control over the types of entertainment the railway company was allowed to present. That entertainment did not always meet the approval of all park commissioners, but it continued because people liked it and turned out by the thousands. It is one of the first examples of the nature of parks being adapted to what people wanted.

First pavilion built on the Lake Harriet shoreline in 1892. The pavilion ws designed by Harry Wild Jones. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The first pavilion built on the Lake Harriet shoreline in 1892. The pavilion was designed by Harry Wild Jones. This view is from the streetcar station in about 1895. (Minnesota Historical Society.)

Another important attraction at the Lake Harriet Pavilion were row boats. One of the donors of land around the lake, Charles Reeve, offered in 1887 to pay the park board $1,000 for the right to rent boats and sell refreshments at the lake. Competitive bidding pushed the price up to $1,250, a large sum in the day, before Reeve gained concession rights. But by 1889 the park board realized it could make a nice profit running the boat and refreshment concessions itself and purchased Reeve’s boats.

The park board's boats for rent next to the Lake Harriet pavilion in 1895. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The park board’s boats for rent next to the Lake Harriet pavilion in 1895. (Minnesota Historical Society)

 

Lake Harriet pavilion and boat dock, 1905

When the first lakeside pavilion burned down, it was replaced by another Harry Wild Jones-designed structure that extended into the lake in 1904. At the new pavilion, musical performances took place on the roof. The bandshell pictured had terrible acoustics and was replaced after one year. The bandstand was moved to the east side of the lake at 46th Street as a lookout. The boat rental business continued to thrive. (Minnesota Historical Society)

View from the bandstand on top of the Lake Harriet Pavlion in 1905. (Minnesota Historical Society)

View from the bandstand on top of the Lake Harriet Pavilion in 1905. Notice how far down the shore the boat dock stretches. A seat on the roof for a concert cost 25 cents. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The crowd attanding a concert on the pavilion roof in 1912. Photographed from the stage. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The crowd at a concert on the pavilion roof in 1912, photographed from the stage. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Bicycle Craze

Active recreation–physical exercise–began at Lake Harriet with boating and canoeing, but then along came the bicycle craze of the 1890s and the park board continued what has become a long tradition of accommodating what people wanted from their parks.

Bicycling was so popular that the park board built a bicycle path around the lake in 1896. So many people rode bicycles to the lake that the park board built an enclosure where people could check their bicycles while they were at the pavilion or renting a boat. It was built to hold 800 bicycles. Soon after, the park board built bicycle trails along Minnehaha Creek as well.

This is one of my favorite park photos. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet in 1896. Notice that the layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

One of my favorite Minneapolis park photos shows the bicycle path around Lake Harriet in 1896. This was the first bicycle path in Minneapolis. The layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage road is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

These are just the beginning of the accommodation of public desires at Lake Harriet and then other park properties. What began at Lake Harriet, like the parkways radiating out from it, quickly extended to other parts of the park system even as new amenities were added at Lake Harriet. From the picnic shelter at Beard Plaisance on the west side of the lake in 1904 to the Rose Garden created on the east side of the lake in 1907, the throngs drawn to the lake were regularly provided new attractions.

David C. Smith

© 2014 David C. Smith

 

The Streetcar through Linden Hills: 100 Years on Xerxes Avenue

Another centennial in our young city. On October 1, 1913 streetcars began running south through Linden Hills on Xerxes Avenue into the Fulton neighborhood. The extension of the Oak and Harriet line ran south on Xerxes from the streetcar right-of-way near 44th out to 50th Street. The hope at the time was that as population in the region grew, the line would be extended east on 50th from Xerxes to Penn and south from there. (The Xerxes line was extended east on 50th to Penn the following year, but the line ended there. The line that eventually ran south on Penn was the Bryant Avenue line.)

Articles in the Minneapolis Tribune (see October 2 and October 6, 1913 issues) gave much of the credit for the line extension on Xerxes to the Robert Fulton School District Improvement Association. The Harriet Heights Improvement Association had supported a six-year campaign for the line extension, but the Fulton association, created in the fall of 1912, “had for its avowed purpose the securing of the car line extension.”

Xerxes Avenue South looking south in the 4500 block. A street car line opened here October 1, 1913.

Xerxes Avenue South looking south in the 4500 block. A streetcar line opened here October 1, 1913, carrying passengers as far as 50th Street. Some rails still lie beneath the pavement. (David C. Smith)

The original idea had been to run the line out from Linden Hills on Upton Avenue or build a new east-west streetcar line along 50th to serve the area south of Lake Harriet. Both plans were “negatived” by the street railway company, the Upton Avenue route due to “mechanical” difficulties and the crosstown route because the company didn’t project enough traffic to make it profitable. (In a 1914 atlas of the neighborhood there were only 11 houses on Xerxes between 47th and 50th, but only a handful of empty lots from 44th to 47th.)

The problem with the Xerxes route was that the streetcar company wouldn’t lay track until the street was graded. The city council was willing to spend only $600 for the grading project, so the neighborhood had to come up with an additional $1,600 to do the job. The Fulton association raised more than three-quarters of that sum.

One of the contributors to the grading fund was Tingdale Bros. Inc., which was developing Harriet Manor, a subdivision that included those blocks of empty lots along Xerxes. A small park in Edina, where the Tingdales were later also active residential developers, is named Tingdale Park,

The economic success of the campaign to extend the streetcar line — and the Tingdale brothers contribution to the road grading fund that made the extension possible — is highlighted by the fact that a quite large, new Robert Fulton School was built at 49th and Washburn only two years later to meet the needs of the burgeoning neighborhood.

The land for Linden Hills Park at Xerxes and 42nd, mostly bog, was not acquired by the park board until 1921 and construction of the park wasn’t begun until 1924. The land for Pershing Field, further south, was acquired in 1922, but construction didn’t begin until 1931. Southwest High School near Pershing Field was built in 1940.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

The Worst Idea Ever #8: Power Boat Canal from Minnetonka to Harriet

Ok, it wasn’t really a Minneapolis park project, but it still deserves a laugh: Minnehaha Creek converted into a 30-foot-wide power boat canal from Lake Minnetonka to Lake Harriet!

Lake Harriet could have been more like Lake Minnetonka

Lake Harriet could have been more like Lake Minnetonka.

Minneapolis was obsessed in the spring of 1911 with the upcoming Civic Celebration during which the channel between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles would be opened. That was a very good thing. Huzzah, huzzah. But the attention it was drawing to the city also focused a lot of eyes on a very bad thing: Minnehaha Creek was nearly dry — in the spring! — which meant almost no water over Minnehaha Falls. Minneapolis could hardly celebrate the opening of the lake connection at the same time it suffered the ignominy of a dry Minnehaha Falls. The many out-of-town visitors anticipated for the celebration would surely want to see both. And let’s face it, a fifty-foot waterfall written about by a Harvard poet, which attracted visitors from around the world was a bit more impressive to most people than a short canal under a busy road and railroad tracks. The Minneapolis PR machine could call the city the “Venice of North America” all it wanted with its new canal, but visitors’ imaginations were still probably fueled more by the images of the famous poet’s noble heathen, beautiful maiden, and “laughing waters.”

The generally accepted solution to the lack of water over Minnehaha Falls was to divert Minnehaha Creek into Lake Amelia (Nokomis), drain Rice Lake (Hiawatha), dam the outlet of the creek from Amelia to create a reservoir, and release the impounded water as needed — perhaps 8 hours a day — to keep a pleasing flow over the falls. Unfortunately, with all the last-minute dredging and bridge-building for the Isles-Calhoun channel, that couldn’t be done in 1911 between April and July 4, when the Civic Celebration would launch.

Into this superheated environment of waterways and self-promotion stepped Albert Graber, according to the Saturday Evening Tribune, May 28, 1911. With the backing of “members of the board of county commissioners, capitalists, attorneys and real estate dealers”, Graber proposed to dredge Minnehaha Creek into a canal 30-feet wide from Lake Minnetonka to Lake Harriet. This would provide not only a water superhighway from Minnetonka to Minneapolis, and boost real estate prices along the creek, but it would also create a much larger water flow in Minnehaha Creek, solving the embarrassment of no laughing water.

“The plan, say the promoters, would enable residents of summer houses on the big lake to have their launches waiting at the town lake.”
Saturday Evening Tribune, May 28, 1911

Sure, there were problems. Not every plan could be perfect. The plan would require dismantling the dam at Gray’s Bay at the head of Minnehaha Creek, which might lower the level of Lake Minnetonka. But Graber and his backers had thought of that. The Minnesota River watershed in the area of St. Bonifacius and Waconia would be diverted into Lake Minnetonka — no problem! — which also solved another bother: it would reduce flooding on the Minnesota River.

The dam at Gray’s Bay had been operated by Hennepin Country since 1897. Many people then and now consider the dam the cause of low water flow in Minnehaha Creek, but the earliest reference I can find to low water in the creek was in 1820, when the soldiers of Fort Snelling wanted to open a mill on Minnehaha Creek, but were forced to move to St. Anthony Falls due to low water. That was even before two intrepid teenagers from the fort discovered that the creek flowed out of a pretty big lake to the west.

Graber estimated that dredging Minnehaha Creek would cost about $4,000 a mile for the nine miles between the two lakes. He and his backers, which included an officer of the Savings Bank of Minneapolis (who presumably had a summer house on the big lake and could put a launch on the town lake), provided assurances that the money to finance the project could be “readily found.”

The Evening Tribune article concluded with an announcement that meetings of those interested in the project would be held in the near future with an eye to beginning work before the end of the summer. Graber noted that his inspection of the project had been, no surprise, “superficial”, but that he would make a thorough report soon to his backers. I can find no evidence that the idea progressed any further.

The Board of Park Commissioners would have had no role in the plan, except, perhaps, allowing power boats to enter and be anchored on Lake Harriet. (I think they would have said no.) Park board ownership of Minnehaha Creek west of Lake Harriet to Edina wasn’t proposed until 1919 and the deal wasn’t done until 1930.

David C. Smith

© 2013 David C. Smith

H. W. S. Cleveland and Lake Harriet

While looking for other things I keep encountering bits of information that deepen my understanding of and appreciation for Horace W. S. Cleveland’s profound contribution to Minneapolis parks.

More than a year before the creation of the Minneapolis park board and Cleveland’s “Suggestions for a System of Parks for the City of Minneapolis” a Minneapolis Tribune editorial, published January 22, 1882, announced “A Prospective Park.” The editorial noted that Philo Remington and Col. Innes, who ran the Minneapolis Lyndale Motor Line, were planning to lay out a park on the shores of Lake Harriet and “may eventually” donate it to the city. The newspaper had high praise for the property.

“It is a natural forest, with hill and dale, and comprises without exception one of the most beautiful bits of woodland scenery that can be found anywhere.”

But it was the following sentence that caught my attention and provided more insight into Cleveland’s influence in the city before the park board.

“Col. Innes has made arrangements with Mr. Cleveland, the celebrated landscape gardener, who laid out Union Park, Chicago, whereby that gentleman will take immediate charge of the work of superintending the laying out of a park that will not only be a credit to the city but an inestimable benefit to our citizens.”

I have found no evidence in Cleveland’s correspondence that he was actually hired for any work at Lake Harriet; he never mentions it. And who knows, Remington and Innes may have been blowing smoke. They had other grand plans that didn’t materialize. But whether they were serious or not about a park at Lake Harriet, the editorial indicates the high regard in which Cleveland was held in the city and the likelihood that, at the very least, he was already being consulted on park matters, especially around the lakes, before the park board existed.

A bit prematurely the Tribune enthused, “Minneapolitans may now congratulate themselves on the fact that a public park, the need of which has so long been felt, will soon be completed for their pleasure and benefit.”

Only a year later, at the next session of the legislature, a bill  was passed that created the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. Although Cleveland was never credited with designing any of the parks at Lake Harriet, he likely had considerable influence on how the lake shore was perceived and, later, developed.

Just another small piece of evidence of Cleveland’s immense influence on the Minneapolis park system. And yet his name does not appear on a Minneapolis park property.

David C. Smith

For more on Col. Innes’s plans for Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet see this entry.

For more on why Cleveland’s name should be connected to the vast park that is the Mississippi River Gorge see this entry and this one, too.

For more on Cleveland in general, search above for his name or click on his name in the tag cloud at right. I’ve written quite a bit about him. Take a closer look at the map from his “Suggestions…” at right, too.

Park Progress: 100 Years of Engines, Wheels, Automobiles and Metropolitan Parks

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.”

This is one of my favorite park photos. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet in 1896. Notice that the layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

This is one of my favorite park photos. It first appeared in the Minneapolis park board’s 1896 annual report. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet created that year. The layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

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.

1903 Model A Ford

1903 Model A Ford. It also came in a two-seat version. It was manufactured only in red. It had a top speed of 28 mph. (americanfords.com)

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

© David C. Smith

Lake Harriet Toboggan Slide

As the heat continues to burn grass and crops this summer, I’ll provide cool respite on the edge of Lake Harriet. Fred Perl, the park board’s forester, took these photos of the Queen Avenue toboggan slide at Lake Harriet in 1914.

Looking up toward Queen Avenue on the western shore of Lake Harriet. (MPRB)

Check out the canoe racks that line the shore.

The view from the top of the slide along Queen Avenue above the street car barn. (MPRB)

The views from top and bottom are cool, but they don’t show all the work that went into building this slide. You can only appreciate that from a side view.

The impressive structure of the Lake Harriet toboggan slide. Note the passage made for cars on the parkway through the lattice. (MPRB)

Feel any cooler?

David C. Smith