Archive for the ‘Landscape Architects’ Category

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, who was 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

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.

Cleveland’s Van Cleve: A Playground or a Pond

A tantalizing paragraph.

“Professor Cleveland submitted a plan of the improvement of the 2nd Ward Park, whereupon Commissioner Folwell moved that that part of the park designated as a play ground be changed to a pond and that so changed the plan be approved.”

“2nd Ward Park” was later named Van Cleve Park.  It was the first park in southeast Minneapolis, not far from the University of Minnesota. I find it odd that the park board would create a pond in a city full of lakes, streams and rivers, but more significant, and unexpected, is what the pond replaced in the plan. A playground. Huh! Horace William Shaler Cleveland, often referred to in Minneapolis by the honorific “Professor,” never seemed a playground sort of guy.

The paragraph appeared in the proceedings of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners from its meeting of May 19, 1890. That date is important because at that time few playgrounds existed. Anywhere.

Before Van Cleve Park was named, it was referred to as 2nd Ward Park as seen here in the 1892 Plat Book for Minneapolis. The man-made pond took the place of what would have been the first “playground” in a Minneapolis park. (C.M. Foote & Co., John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

Unfortunately Cleveland’s drawings for Van Cleve Park didn’t survive. Six of his other park designs—large-scale drawings—are owned by Hennepin History Museum, but the Van Cleve plan is not among them. Neither was it ever published in an annual report, as several other of his plans were. No documents explaining Cleveland’s intent with his plan have been found either, so we really don’t know what type of playground he imagined for the center of the new park. We can only guess.

The Infancy of Playgrounds

The idea of public space devoted to play was still quite new at the time—to Cleveland and to everyone else. In his most famous book, Landscape Architecture as Applied to the Wants of the West, published in 1873, Cleveland mentioned “play ground” only as something that might be desired in the back yard of a home. In his famous 1883 blueprint for Minneapolis’s park system, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, he doesn’t mention play or playgrounds at all. Even in the notes that accompanied his first six individual park designs in Minneapolis (unpublished) in 1883 and 1885, he never mentioned play spaces. Yet, in 1890, when he was 76 years old, Cleveland proposed to put a playground in a new park.

The idea was just being explored elsewhere then. In 1886 Boston had placed sand piles for kids play in some parks. The next year San Francisco created a formal children’s play area in Golden Gate Park. In New York, reform mayor Abram Hewitt supported a movement in 1887 to create small, city-sponsored combination parks and playgrounds, but that effort bore little fruit until a decade later. In 1889, Boston created a playstead at Franklin Park and an outdoor gymnasium on the bank of the Charles River, a collaboration of a Harvard professor and Cleveland’s friend Frederick Law Olmsted. Historian Steven A. Riess calls it the “first American effort to provide active play space for slum residents.” (See Riess’s City Games for a fascinating account of the growth of sports in American cities.)

The social reform movement, which later helped create playgrounds in many cities, was gaining steam with the publication in 1890 of Jacob Riis’s, How the Other Half Lives, a glimpse of grinding poverty in the slums of New York. That movement would have an enormous impact on cities in the early 1900s, especially Chicago, which became the playground capital of the United States, led in part by Jane Addams of Hull House settlement fame.

Even though Cleveland addressed many of his efforts in civic improvement to providing fresh air, green spaces and access to nature’s beauty for the urban poor, especially children, he seems an unlikely proponent of playgrounds in parks. Based on the bitter complaint in a letter to William Folwell, July 29, 1884, I had taken Cleveland to be opposed to any manufactured entertainments at the cost of natural beauty. He wrote from Chicago,

“There’s no controlling the objects of men’s worship or the means by which they attain them. A beautiful oak grove was sacrificed just before I left Minneapolis to make room for a baseball club.” (Folwell Papers, Minnesota Historical Society)

Yet, we have proof that Cleveland had a much more positive view of play areas for children in parks than he had of ball fields. A playground at Van Cleve Park, would have been a first in Minneapolis parks.

The Pond Instead

With the revised plan of the park approved, construction of the pond began immediately in the summer of 1890. A pond of 1.5 acres was created in the southern half of the park. The earth removed to create the pond was used to grade the rest of the park. That winter the park board had the pond cleared of snow so it could serve as a skating rink, too.

The artificial pond at Van Cleve was a popular skating rink. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The artificial pond at Van Cleve was a popular skating rink. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

There must have been problems keeping water in the pond, because the next summer it was drained and the pond basin was lined with puddled clay. An artist’s rendering of the park in the 1891 annual report shows a fountain spraying a geyser of water in the middle of the pond. I’ve never seen a photo of such a fountain at Van Cleve, or read an account of it, but a similar fountain was built into the pond at Elliot Park, the only other pond created in a Minneapolis park, so it is possible a fountain existed. The park board erected a temporary warming house and toilet rooms for skaters on the pond beginning in the winter of 1905.

When Theodore Wirth arrived in Minneapolis as park superintendent in 1906, he placed a priority on improving Van Cleve Park as “half playground, half show park.” He recommended creating a sand bottom for the pond so it could be used as a wading pool and building a small shelter beside it that could double as a warming house for skaters.

The Van Cleve pond in 1905. Sweet, Minnesota Historical Society)

Van Cleve pond, 1905. (Sweet, Minnesota Historical Society)

The first playground equipment was installed in Van Cleve Park in 1907, following the huge popularity of the first playground equipment installed at Riverside and Logan parks in 1906.

The shelter was finally built in 1910, along with shelters at North Commons and Jackson Square. The Van Cleve shelter was designed by Minneapolis architect Cecil Bayless Chapman and was built at a total cost of just over $6,000. It included a boiler room, toilets and a large central room. The Van Cleve shelter was considerably more modest than the shelters at Jackson Square and North Commons, which cost approximately $12,000 and $16,000 respectively. On the other hand, neither of those parks had a pond. (Jackson Square actually had been a pond at one time, however, called Long John Pond. The cost of the Jackson Square shelter rose due to the need to drive pilings down 26 feet to get through the peat on which the park was built.)

Van Cleve Park Recreation Shelter

The original recreation shelter at Van Cleve Park was built in 1910 facing the man-made pond. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Wirth published a new plan for Van Cleve Park in the 1911 annual report. Although he claimed that Van Cleve demonstrated that a playground and show park could exist without “interfering” with each other, the playground occupied only a narrow strip of land between the pond and 14th Ave. SE. There were still no playing fields of any kind in the park then.

In 1917, Wirth recommended pouring a concrete bottom for the pond, really converting it into a shallow pool. Two years later the park board did pave the pond basin, but with tar macadam.

The Van Cleve Shelter long after renovations in 1940.

The Van Cleve shelter well after 1940 renovations, date unknown. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Very few improvements were made at Van Cleve, or any other park in the city, for many years from the late-1920s to the late- 1940s. In 1935, in his last year as park superintendent, Wirth recommended that a swimming pool be built at Van Cleve in place of the pond, but the park board didn’t have the money for such a project during the Great Depression.

The park did get its share of WPA attention in 1940 when the federal work relief agency completed several renovations on the Van Cleve shelter to improve its capacity to host indoor recreation activities. Also included in those repairs were such basics as a concrete floor in the shelter’s boiler room. Comparing the two photos above, it’s obvious that the veranda was enclosed and the ground around the shelter was paved as well.

The man-made pond was finally filled in 1948. A modern, much smaller concrete wading pool was built to replace it the next year. The little rec shelter stood until a new community center was built at Van Cleve in 1970. By then Van Cleve, like most other neighborhood parks in the city, had been given over almost completely to active playgrounds and athletic fields.

Despite Cleveland’s aborted provision for a playground of some kind in his plan for Van Cleve Park in 1890, I imagine him astonished and a bit saddened to see neighborhood parks change so completely from the pastoral reserves and quiet gardens he had once preserved or coaxed from the urban landscapes of his time.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Horace Bushnell’s Ghost

Horace Bushnell, one of America’s most influential theologians in the 19th Century, was among the first people to promote parks in Minneapolis. His ghost may still haunt us.

I don’t know if this is really a six-degrees-of-separation story—Bushnell and Kevin Bacon couldn’t have met—but there are quite a number of coincidences involved. They center on the famous Congregational minister from Hartford, Conn. who was also known for his early advocacy of city planning. And I mean really early. 1860s.

I’ll let you do your own research on Horace Bushnell’s sermons and books on theology, but here’s a sample of what he had to say on cities in his book Work and Play; or Literary Varieties in 1864:

The peoples of the old world have their cities built for times gone by, when railroads and gunpowder were unknown. We can have cities for the new age that has come, adapted to its better conditions of use and ornament. So great an advantage ought not to be thrown away. We want therefore a city-planning profession, as truly as an architectural, house-planning profession. Every new village, town, city, ought to be contrived as a work of art, and prepared for the new age of ornament to come.

Horace Bushnell

Horace Bushnell, famous preacher and theologian, encouraged Minneapolis to acquire parkland in 1859-60.

Bushnell expressed an idea well ahead of his time and also coined a phrase: this was one of the first uses of the term “city-planning.”

Of more parochial interest here is Bushnell’s advocacy for creating a park in Minneapolis. More specifically, he was the first to recommend that the towns of St. Anthony and Minneapolis acquire Nicollet Island to be a park. Only Edward Murphy, with his donation to Minneapolis of Murphy Square in 1857, can claim an earlier promotion of parks for the young city.

I only came across the story of Bushnell in Minnesota recently while investigating another subject. Sifting through old newspaper files, I found this comment from “Mr. Chute” (likely Richard, instead of Samuel) at a Minneapolis Board of Trade meeting as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, February 3, 1874:

“Many of you remember Dr. Horace Bushnell, of Hartford, Conn., who spent a year with us in 1858-59 (sic). He was a gentleman of large heart, if not large means, who, seeing the necessity for a park in Hartford to accommodate the laboring man, whose firm friend he always was, procured and donated the ground to the city for a park, which is now the pride of that wealthy place. When Dr. Bushnell was here his constant burden was, you must secure Nicollet Island; it is a shame and a disgrace to neglect your opportunities; buy it at any price.”

I sought corroboration of Chute’s claim and found it in Isaac Atwater’s History of Minneapolis, Vol. 2. In a profile of Andrew Talcott Hale, the author was explaining that Hale came to Minneapolis from Hartford, Connecticut for his pulmonary health, inspired by the experience of Dr. Bushnell, when he provided this digression:

“While yet Minneapolis was a rural settlement, Dr. Horace Bushnell, of Hartford, Conn., visited it for the benefit of his health, impaired by serious inroads of pulmonary disease. After summering and wintering here, with excursions through out the unsettled prairies of the Dakota, during which he freely contributed by his pulpit ministrations, as well as enthusiastic advocacy of park improvements to the improvement of the morals and culture of the community, he returned to his work in Hartford apparently restored to health and vigor.” (Emphasis added.)

In the mid-1800s, Minneapolis was a destination for many people with pulmonary problems. It was thought that the dry air was a tonic for the lungs. Bushnell’s experience seems to substantiate that belief. He wrote of the Minneapolis climate,

“One who is properly dressed finds the climate much more enjoyable than the amphibious, half-fluid, half-solid, sloppy, grave-like chill of the East.”

Bushnell’s letters to his family, published in The Life and Letters of Horace Bushnell, provide some further descriptions of his life in Minnesota from July 1859 to May 1860. Among my favorite passages is this one on Lake Minnetonka:

“Well, I have talked a long yarn, telling you nothing about the Lake, the strangest compound of bays, promontories, islands and straits ever put together—a perfect maze, in which a stranger would be utterly lost.”

The advantages of Minnesota weather aside, two prominent Minneapolitans—Chute and Atwater—remembered Bushnell’s sojourn in Minnesota and they both recalled his commitment to the idea of parks in cities, Minneapolis included. He had already helped Hartford get one.

Hell without the Fire

The Hartford park referred to by Mr. Chute above was created in 1854 when Bushnell helped convince the residents of that city to approve spending more than $100,000 to purchase forty acres in the center of the city for a public park. That must have taken some doing because it was an abused, polluted tract—”tenements, tanneries and garbage dumps,” according to the Bushnell Park Foundation—that Bushnell himself called, “Hell without the fire.” It is considered the first publicly funded park in the United States.

When Bushnell returned to Hartford from Minneapolis after regaining his health in 1860, little had been done to convert the land into a useful park. So he turned to a friend and former parishioner, who at that time was considered to know something about parks. But Frederick Law Olmsted was occupied with his own park project; he was still working on his most famous creation, Central Park in New York. Pressed for a recommendation, Olmsted suggested landscape architect Jacob Weidenmann for the job.

Weidenmann was an immigrant from Winterthur, Switzerland. (Remember that.) Olmsted later wrote that the only two landscape architects in the U.S. he knew of who were qualified to advise park commissions, other than himself and his partner Calvert Vaux, were Weidenmann and H. W. S. Cleveland. Weidenmann was hired and spent eight years as superintendent of Hartford’s City Park, creating a much less formal park there than was typical in Europe. After Weidenmann’s work was done, Connecticut began building its state capitol adjacent to the park in 1872. It wasn’t until Horace Bushnell was dying in 1876 that Hartford renamed the park in his honor: Bushnell Park. He died two days later.

Meanwhile Samuel Clemens had taken up residence in Hartford in 1871 and had turned to writing fiction. His first novel, The Gilded Age, was co-written with Charles Dudley Warner, who was a Hartford park commissioner.

The Minneapolis Connection

Theodore Wirth in about 1900 (Picturesque Parks of Hartford)

Theodore Wirth in about 1900 (Picturesque Parks of Hartford, 1900)

How does this all tie back to Minneapolis? Through Theodore Wirth. As many other cities, including Minneapolis, had caught up to and passed Hartford on the park-o-meter in the 1890s, several of Hartford’s winners in the Gilded Age sweepstakes gave land to the city for parks. Albert Pope left 73 acres to the city for a park in 1894. The same year, Charles Pond left 90 acres of his estate for Elizabeth Park — his wife’s name — and threw in his house and half his fortune to maintain them. Henry Keney went Pope and Pond several hundred acres better that year and donated 533 acres for Keney Park. In 1895 the city purchased another 70 acres for Riverside Park and another 200 acres in the southern part of the city for what became Goodwin Park.

That was a lot of new real estate to whip into park shape. Hartford needed a park superintendent to manage its sudden riches. Hartford’s leaders must have had fond recollections of working with Weidenmann thirty years earlier because when they looked through applicants for the job, they picked someone from the same small town in Switzerland—Winterthur—that Weidenmann had called home. That man was Theodore Wirth.

When Wirth began the job in Hartford, his experience was mostly in horticulture, so Hartford hired Olmsted’s sons—Olmsted Sr. had already retired—as landscape architects for some of the first projects. But after a few years on the job working with the Olmsted firm, Wirth himself designed new park layouts for Elizabeth Park and Colt Park, another 100-plus acre park gift, this from the family famous for revolvers. With those park plans, Wirth established himself as a landscape architect as well as a gardener.

The only Hartford park Wirth did not manage was the enormous Keney Park, which was administered by its own Board of Trustees, separate from the Hartford park commission, and had its own park superintendent, George A. Parker. Wirth and Parker knew each other well. I believe that George Parker was likely responsible for Charles Loring meeting Theodore Wirth in 1905 when he was a committee of one of the Minneapolis park board looking for a replacement for retiring Minneapolis park superintendent William Berry. Parker was the likeliest link between Wirth and Loring because Parker was very active in the new national park organization, American Park and Outdoor Art Association, of which Loring was president 1898-1900. When Loring hired Wirth to become park superintendent in Minneapolis, Parker became the superintendent of all Hartford parks.

Theodore Wirth lived in the upper level of the residence in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Conn. The ground floor was open to the public.(Picturesque Parks of Hartford, 1900)

Theodore Wirth lived in the upper level of the former Pond house in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Conn. The ground floor was open to the public. (Picturesque Parks of Hartford, 1900)

The home, at right, in Hartford’s Elizabeth Park also features prominently in an important decision in Minneapolis park history. The reason the Minneapolis park board built a residence for Theodore Wirth at Lyndale Farmstead in 1910 was to fulfill a promise made to Wirth by Charles Loring, when Loring was negotiating terms for Wirth to take the superintendent’s job in Minneapolis. Wirth had been provided housing in Elizabeth Park in Hartford and wanted a similar deal in Minneapolis. Wirth and family had lived in the upper level of the former home of Charles Pond on the estate Pond had bequeathed to the city. The ground floor and verandas of the Pond home were open to the public as shelters in the summer. The Hartford Public Library operated a small library in the building as well.

Elizabeth Park was also the site of Wirth’s earliest claim to fame: the first public rose garden in the United States, a feature he replicated at Lyndale Park near Lake Harriet in 1907.

The extensive greenhouses of A. N. Pierson, the "Rose King" in Cromwell, Conn. near Hartford. (connecticuthistory.com)

This turn-of-the-century postcard features one portion of the extensive greenhouses of A. N. Pierson, the “Rose King,” of Cromwell, Conn. about ten miles from Hartford. In 1895 Pierson won the gold medal at the New York Flower Show for a new rose, Killarney, that was beautiful and hardy. He also won 17 firsts and two seconds. “Roses became a profit-making flower, Pierson became the Rose King and Cromwell became Rosetown,” wrote Robert Owen Decker in Cromwell, Connecticut, 1650-1990. A profile of Pierson in American Florist in 1903 speculated, “There are so many rose houses in this establishment that it is doubtful the proprietor knows the exact number.” Pierson started a dairy with 65 cows just to supply sufficient manure for his growing houses. Pierson and Wirth were both vice-presidents of the Connecticut Horticultural Society 1899-1904. I would think it quite likely that Wirth’s very successful public rose garden, established in Elizabeth Park in 1903-4, drew on the cultivating research and expertise of Pierson, too. (Postcard photo: connecticuthistory.com)

Another peculiar connection between Horace Bushnell and Minneapolis parks might be appreciated only by people who have searched for information on the “Father of Minneapolis Parks,” Charles Loring. To begin with, Loring came to Minneapolis the same winter Bushnell was here and for the same reason. Loring had an unspecified health condition—likely a pulmonary malady—that caused him to come west from his Maine home. He tried Chicago first, then Milwaukee, and finally arrived in Minneapolis in the winter of 1860. Although he often spent winters in Riverside, California, he remained a resident of Minneapolis until he died here in 1922.

But an odd link to Bushnell goes further. A young Congregational minister from Hartford, a protege of Bushnell’s, became the founder of the Children’s Aid Society of New York. He publicized widely the plight of children in New York’s slums and, finally, in an attempt to improve the lives of those children he organized what came to be known as “Orphan Trains” that sent New York orphans to better lives, supposedly, with settlers in the west. His name was Charles Loring Brace. Perhaps it is only coincidence that Loring’s rationale for creating parks and playgrounds in Minneapolis was often that children needed places to play and grow.

A final link between Minneapolis and Horace Bushnell’s long visit here. For many years, local historians have turned to a number of late 1800s-early 1900s profiles of Minneapolis that included “vanity” or “subscription” biographies of prominent citizens. One of those, A Half-Century of Minneapolis, was compiled by influential Minneapolis journalist Horace B. Hudson. You’ve probably already guessed the middle name of Mr. Hudson, who was born in 1861, shortly after Dr. Bushnell’s visit here. Yes, his full name is Horace Bushnell Hudson.

More than 150 years have passed since Horace Bushnell implored the people of the little towns on either side of St. Anthony Falls to acquire Nicollet Island as a park. Many attempts have been made, several surveys completed, many speeches delivered in favor and opposed, and part of it acquired, but it’s never become the park Bushnell imagined. Horace Bushnell’s ghost might haunt us until we get it right.

David C Smith

© David C. Smith

Delineators in Minneapolis Park Plans

When the park board employed its first full-time engineers it’s likely that those engineers also did the drafting or “delineating” of the plans for new parks. The assumption is supported by the attributions on the first plans published in Minneapolis park board annual reports that included someone’s name other than that of Theodore Wirth, who became superintendent of parks in 1906. In the 1908 and 1909 annual reports, the park system’s two engineers, A. C. Godward and W. E. Stoopes, were cited as both engineer and delineator and no other delineators were credited. There may have been none.

Brief biographical sketches of Godward and Stoopes are provided in a previous post on Engineers, so I’ll begin with the first delineator who was never cited as an “engineer” on a park plan. That man was…

I. Kvitrud. I haven’t even discovered his first name. (Note 11/29: Thanks to an anonymous tip, which I’ve confirmed, I learned that Mr. Kvitrud’s first name was Ingwald. Thanks, “T”. For the Google spiders, that’s Ingwald Kvitrud!) Kvitrud was identified as the delineator of three park plans in 1910 and 1912. He was an engineering graduate of the University of Minnesota and served as an officer of the Minnesota Engineering Society in 1910 and 1912. He was hired in 1914 as a full-time instructor in Drawing and Geometry at his alma mater and he was still employed there in 1919, his annual salary having increased in five years from $900 to $1500, according to University records.

The most interesting reference I’ve found to Kvitrud was in an article in the San Francisco Call, July 19, 1913. In a story datelined Minneapolis, Kvitrud was identified as the Minneapolis park board clerk in charge of selling material from the demolition of buildings for a park at The Gateway. Read more

Engineers in Minneapolis Park Plans

I was curious about the people who created the park plans I featured in the Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans, 1906-1935, which was presented in three installments recently (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3). The catalog identifies all the plans and drawings published in Minneapolis park board annual reports during the tenure of Theodore Wirth as Minneapolis’s park superintendent.

I’ve tried to piece together info on the men whose names appear on those plans as engineers or delineators using park board reports, newspaper archives, and miscellaneous documents found through online searches. I’m not aware of any other background information at the park board on the early engineering and planning staff.

The park board engineering staff about 1915 in their 4th floor offices in City Hall. From left: Alfred C. Godward, Charles E. Doell, Clyde Peterson, Herman Olson, Dick Butler, “Spud” Huxtable, “Spike” Miller and Al Berthe. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The man whose name appears on almost all of the plans, Theodore Wirth, superintendent of parks, is already well-known. Most of the others, much less so—although two of them, Charles Doell and Harold Lathrop, became very well-known nationally as park administrators.

During that time, the park board employed no “landscape architects.” The profession was still relatively new. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) was founded in 1898 and the first university programs in the field were created at Harvard and MIT around the turn of the century. This was after the first generation of true landscape architects in the United States, led by Frederick Law Olmsted and H W. S. Cleveland, had already passed from the scene. Cleveland had been the Minneapolis park board’s advisor and landscape architect from the creation of the park board in 1883, and had helped define the profession in this country. The park board had also hired landscape architect Warren Manning on a few occasions from 1899-1904 to provide advice and park plans after Cleveland retired.

Theodore Wirth was likely hired as park superintendent in Minneapolis in part because he had some experience designing parks in Hartford, Conn. He is credited with the designs of Colt and Elizabeth parks in Hartford. (Early in Wirth’s time in Hartford, the landscape architect role was filled by the Olmsted Brothers, the firm run by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted. The senior Olmsted was a native of Hartford.) Wirth certainly played the role of landscape architect in Minneapolis, but I’m not aware of him ever calling himself one. He was active in the American Institute of Park Executives, and its predecessor organizations, but never ASLA. For ten years, 1925-1934, Wirth’s name appears on park plans as “Sup’t & Engineer” even though he did not have a formal engineering credential—apart from a course at a technical school in his native Switzerland as a young man. That course may have focused more on gardening than engineering. His first jobs were as a gardener. I could only guess at Wirth’s reasons for taking the “Engineer” title on park plans for the first time at age 62.

During his long tenure in Minneapolis, Wirth built a staff of men with Civil Engineering degrees—all from the University of Minnesota—not landscape architecture degrees or training. The first landscape architect hired full-time by the park board was Felix Dhainin in 1938. (If anyone could tell us more about Dhainin, I’d appreciate it.)

Here’s what I learned about the engineers for the park board 1906-1935. I’ll get to the draftsmen and delineators in a later post. Turns out the most interesting of all the park board engineers wasn’t featured in annual report plans at all! Read on

Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans: Volume III, 1926-1935

The thirty annual reports produced while Theodore Wirth was superintendent of parks in Minneapolis—1906-1935—were rich in detail and illustrations. Those reports included 328 plans, designs and maps of parks and park structures. The publication of those plans usually coincided with the acquisition or development of new properties or the improvement of older ones, so they are a good guide to where to find some discussion of those park properties in annual reports or proceedings. So, long ago I catalogued all of those plans in one document to create a searchable guide to park development during those years. I have relied on that list for the last few years and assumed other researchers and park lovers would find it useful as well.  I’ve already posted the first twenty years worth of plans, and today is Volume III, 1926-1935.

Detail of a plan published in the 1912 annual report showing a proposed canoe house on a peninsula in Lake Harriet. (1912 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

The plans published in annual reports were not the only plans created by the park board staff in the years Wirth was superintendent of parks. They are mostly conceptual plans, rather than working plans. The park board requested many of the plans specifically as park commissioners considered various park proposals and possibilities.

The number of employees in the park board’s engineering department are not published in every annual report, but in most years for which that info is provided, it appears that one or two draftsmen were employed. A few of their names appear as “Delineator” or “Del.” on the plans. Sometime in the near future, I’ll provide a guide to some of the names of the people who helped prepare plans.

The titles of the plans are verbatim as they appear on plans. I’ve also copied dates, names and titles as they appear, but have added some punctuation to make them easier to read. Parenthetical comments identify current park names or mention important plan elements.

The annual reports from 1931 to 1935 were not typeset in order to cut costs during the Depression. The reports also contained very few plans or illustrations, not just to reduce printing costs, but because the park board had no money to spend on improving parks. Continue reading

Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans: Volume II, 1916-1925

A few days ago I published the first installment (1906-1915) of a Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans presented in the annual reports of the Minneapolis park board while Theodore Wirth was superintendent of Minneapolis parks (1906-1935). Today I publish the second installment of plans and drawings in annual reports covering 1916-1925.

Along with this “volume” I want to add a dedication and explanation: I am publishing this list of plans for anyone to use, like the rest of the research I have posted here, partly out of my interest in the  subject and our civic history. But I also want to acknowledge former park superintendent Jon Gurban’s role in my research. When Jon informed me in early 2007 that I had been selected to write the history of the first 125 years of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board—the book City of Parks was the result—he had one request. He asked that, in addition to writing the book, I would share with park board staff and him other useful, important and interesting information that I uncovered in my research. While conducting research just to write my book proposal that winter, I had found several items that I had brought to his attention that I thought were fascinating. He said that my enthusiasm for those finds and my willingness to share them were factors in me getting the assignment.

So this Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans is published with a nod to Jon Gurban, in my experience an honorable man treated dishonorably by some with whom he shared a passion for Minneapolis parks.

This plan for the Minnehaha Stone Quarry from the 1919 annual report is representative of the plans listed below. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Remember that many of the plans presented in annual reports were conceptual plans and many were not implemented or were revised extensively. Most of the plans were created by park superintendent Theodore Wirth, with exceptions as noted. It would be a mistake, however, to assume  because Wirth created the plans that the ideas for the parks also came from him. Some of the plans grew from Wirth’s own vision, while many other plans were requested by the park board or were concepts that had been bouncing around for some years.

This catalog will be most useful for park planners and historians, but also provides many insights into our park system for casual observers or fans of particular parks. After I publish the last third of the catalog (soon), I’ll provide a bit of information on the various individuals who are credited on these plans—as well as some others who weren’t given credit.

The titles of the plans are verbatim as they appear on plans. I’ve also copied dates, names and titles as they appear, but have added some punctuation to make them easier to read. Parenthetical comments identify current park names or mention important plan elements. /s/ indicates a signature.

A quick explanatory note: 1925 was the first year that Theodore Wirth added “engineer” to his title on park plans. That doesn’t indicate a new credential for Wirth, but the departure of A.C. Godward as the park board’s engineer. Godward had taken the job of Engineer for Minneapolis’s new City Planning Department in June 1922, but continued to supervise engineering at the park board, too. When Godward left the park board completely in 1925, his assistant, A. E. Berthe, kept the title Assistant Engineer and Wirth took the Engineer title himself. Despite Wirth’s praise for Berthe’s work, and Berthe being listed in annual reports as “head” of the engineering department, he remained the Asst Engr to Wirth until 1935, when Berthe was listed as Park Engineer or Civil Engineer and Wirth as General Superintendent.

Go to Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans, 1916-1925

Minneapolis Park Planning: Theodore Wirth as Landscape Architect. Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans, Volume I, 1906-1915

In Theodore Wirth’s 30 years as Minneapolis’s superintendent of parks (1906-1935), he produced annual reports that contained 328 maps, plans or designs for parks and park structures. Most of the plans were accompanied by some explanatory text, which provides a rich record of park board activity and Theodore Wirth’s priorities.

Theodore Wirth, Superintendent of Parks, 1906-1935 (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The annual reports include plans for recreation shelters, bridges, parkways, parks, playgrounds, gardens, golf courses, and more. Nearly every Minneapolis park is represented in some form, from if-cost-were-no-object conceptual designs for new parks to the “rearrangement” of existing parks. Many of the plans were never implemented due to cost or other objections; others were considerably modified after input from commissioners and the public.

In many cases over the years, Wirth referred in his written narratives to plans published in prior years that he hoped the board would implement. Sometimes it did, often it didn’t. One of the drawbacks to implementing Wirth’s plans was the method of financing park acquisitions and improvements during much of his tenure as superintendent. The costs of both were often assessed on “benefitted” property, along with real estate tax bills. In other words, the people who lived near a park and received the “benefit” of it—both in enjoyment and increased property values—had to pay the cost, usually through assessments spread over ten years. To be able to assess those costs, however, a majority of property owners had to agree to the assessment, and in many neighborhoods property owners refused to agree until plans were modified considerably to reduce costs.

Phelps Wyman’s plan for what is now Thomas Lowry Park from the 1922 annual report is one of the only colored plans and one of the only plans that wasn’t produced by the park board staff.

Many of the annual report drawings contain a “Designed by” tag, but many do not have any attribution. For those that don’t, it is sometimes unclear who the actual designer was. In many cases it would have been Wirth, but in some cases—the golf courses are notable examples—others would have been responsible for the layouts even though they weren’t credited. William Clark, for instance, is known to have designed the first Minneapolis golf courses, Wirth said so, but only Wirth’s name appears on these plans, not Clark’s.

Also, because these plans were created while Wirth was superintendent does not mean that the idea for each project originated with Wirth. Some of the demands for the parks featured here pre-dated Wirth’s arrival in Minneapolis by decades. Other plans were largely his creation. In most cases, however, Wirth was responsible for implementing those plans.

The majority of the drawings were reproduced on a thin, tissue-like paper that could be folded small enough to be glued into the annual reports. The intent was to publish plans large enough to be readable, but not too bulky.  The paper is fragile and easily torn when unfolding; I doubt that many of the plans survive. Even where efforts have been made to preserve and digitize the annual reports, such as by Hathitrust and Google Books, the plans on the translucent sheets are not reproduced. In many cases it would require a large-format scanner to digitize them from the annual reports. Originals do not exist for most of these plans, because they were not working plans.

This plan for the original Longfellow Field in 1912 was typical of the plans in the annual reports,

Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans

I’ve been threatening for some time to do something that probably only the planners at the Minneapolis park board and a few others will appreciate. I’m publishing a complete list of the park plans that appeared in the annual reports of the park board. I’m periodically asked when a certain park was discussed, acquired or planned and I search my list of annual report plans quickly to provide some direction. I hope that by publishing this catalog of park plans I can save other researchers a great deal of time.

Unfortunately I do not have copies or scans of the plans themselves. Neither does the park board. You’ll have to go to the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis to view the original annual reports and see these plans. The Gale Library at the Minnesota Historical Society also has copies of the park board’s annual reports for many years.

I’ve started this catalog with the 1906 annual report, the first year that Theodore Wirth was responsible for producing the report, his first year as superintendent of Minneapolis parks. (Several of H.W.S. Cleveland’s original park designs were reproduced in earlier annual reports. I’ll provide a list of those in the very near future. You may still view the very large originals of many of Cleveland’s plans, by appointment, at the Hennepin History Museum. It’s worth a visit!)

The annual reports of the park board were divided into several parts: a report by the president of the park board, reports by the superintendent and attorney, financial reports, and an inventory of park properties. Most of the plans described here were a part of the superintendent’s report. For that reason, I’ve cited the date on Wirth’s reports rather than the date of the president’s report, which at times differed.

I will post the catalog of plans, maps and drawings in three “volumes” due to the size of the file—more than 9,000 words in total. Go to the Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans 1906-1915

The Statue of Liberty in a Minneapolis Park?

If you could put a replica of this statue anywhere in a Minneapolis park, where would you put it?

One of the most intriguing “might-have-beens” in Minneapolis park history was the proposed construction of a Japanese Temple on an island in Lake of the Isles. (If you missed it, read the story of John Bradstreet’s proposal.) But that was not the only proposal to spruce up an island in a Minneapolis park.

On March 15, 1961 the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners approved the placement of a replica of the Statue of Liberty on an island in another body of water.

Park board proceedings attribute the proposal to a Mr. Iner Johnson. He offered to donate and install the 10-foot tall replica statue made of copper and the park board accepted the offer — as long as the park board would incur no expense.

I can find no further information on the proposal or why the plan was never executed — or if it was, what happened to the statue.

The intended location of the statue was the island in … Powderhorn Lake.

Island in Powderhorn Lake from the southeast shore, near the rec center in 2012. The willow gives the impression of an entrance to a green cave. (David C. Smith)

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune of March 16, 1961 reported that Lady Liberty was to be installed for the Aquatennial that summer. Was it? Does anyone remember it? I’ve never seen a picture or read a description.

Another park feature from H.W.S. Cleveland

The man-made island was first proposed in the plan created for Powderhorn Park in 1892 by H. W. S. Cleveland and Son. It is the only Minneapolis park plan that carried that attribution. Horace Cleveland’s son, Ralph, who had been the superintendent of Lakewood Cemetery since 1884, joined his father’s business in 1891 according to a note in Garden and Forest (July 1, 1891).

More on Garden and Forest. Horace Cleveland contributed frequently to the influential weekly horticulture and landscape art magazine through his letters to the editor, Charles Sprague Sargent. Sargent was also the first director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. Click on Garden and Forest to learn more about the magazine and its searchable archive. (Thank you, Library of Congress.)

Cleveland’s plan for Powderhorn Park featured a bridge over the lake, about where the north shore is now, and an island. The plan was published in the park board’s 1892 annual report. (Horace W. S. Cleveland, MPRB)

Horace Cleveland was 78 and finding the field work of landscape architecture physically challenging when he and Ralph joined forces to produce a plan for Powderhorn. Only a year later his doctor prohibited him from working further. The Cleveland’s were paid $546 for their work at Powderhorn, but the park board didn’t implement parts of the plan for more than ten years.

Horace Cleveland had been a strong booster for making the lake and surrounding land into a park. Powderhorn Lake had been considered for acquisition as a park from the earliest days of the park board in 1883. However, the park board believed landowners in the vicinity of the lake were asking far too high a price for their land. To learn more of the park’s creation see the park board’s history of Powderhorn Park.

After I wrote that history, I found a transcript of a letter Cleveland had written to the park board (Minneapolis Tribune, July 26, 1885) encouraging the board to acquire about 150 acres from Lake Street to 35th Street between Bloomington and Yale avenues, which was, Cleveland claimed, the watershed for Powderhorn Lake. (I can find no Yale Avenue on maps of that time. Does anyone know what was once Yale Avenue?)

The letter repeated Cleveland’s frequent message about acquiring land for parks before it was developed or became prohibitively expensive. But he also claimed that due to the unique topography around the lake that if it were allowed to be developed it would become a nuisance that would be very costly to clean up.

I’ll quote a couple highlights from his argument for the acquisition of Powderhorn Lake and Park:

I am so deeply impressed with the value and importance of one section…I am impelled to lay before you the reasons …that you will very bitterly regret your failure to secure it if you suffer the present opportunity to escape.

The surrounding region is generally very level and the lake is sunk so deep below this average surface, that its presence is not suspected till the visitor looks down upon it from its abrupt and beautifully rounded banks. The water is pure and transparent and thirty feet deep, and its shape (from which it derives its name) is such as to afford the most favorable opportunity for picturesque development by tasteful planting of its banks…All the most costly work of park construction has already been done by nature.

Cleveland concluded his letter to the park board by writing,

I feel it my duty in return for the bounty you have done in employing me as your professional advisor, to lay before you this statement of my own convictions, and request, in justice to myself, that it may be placed on your records, whatever may be your decision.

On the day Cleveland’s letter was presented to the park board, the board voted not to acquire Powderhorn Lake as a park and Cleveland’s letter was not printed in the proceedings of the park board either. Still the lake and surrounding land—about 60 acres, or 40 percent of what Cleveland had initially recommended—were acquired in 1890-1891 and Cleveland was hired to create a design for the park. Cleveland’s proposed foot bridge over the narrow neck of the lake was not built, even though Theodore Wirth incorporated Cleveland’s bridge into his own plan presented in 1907. However Cleveland’s island was created in the lake in the ensuing years.

In a recap of park work in 1893, park board president Charles Loring noted in his annual report that a “substantial dredge boat was built and equipped and is ready to work” at Powderhorn Lake. “I hope the board will be able to make an appropriation large enough,” he continued, “to keep the apparatus employed all of the next season.”

Loring’s hope was really more of a wish because the depression of 1893 was already having drastic consequences for the Minneapolis economy, property tax revenues and park board budgets. Despite severe cutbacks in spending in 1894, however, the park board devoted about 20% of its $48,000 improvement budget to Powderhorn. Park superintendent William Berry reported that the dredge was active in the lake for 90 days. The result was about 1.7 new acres of land created by dredging and filling along the lake’s marshy shore. In addition, nearly 15,000 cubic yards of earth were moved from near 10th Avenue to fill low areas on the north end of the lake.

An island emerges

The next year, 1895, the island was finally created. The park board spent $10,000, one-third of its dwindling improvement budget, dredging the lake and creating the island. Another 7.3 acres of dry land were created along the lake shore and an island measuring just over one-half acre was created in the southern end of the lake.

An island being created by a dredge in Powderhorn Lake, 1895. Tram tracks were built on a pontoon bridge to carry the dredged material. The photo appeared in the 1895 annual report of the park board. Not a lot of trees around at the time. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

By 1897, the only activity at Powderhorn covered in the annual report was the “raising of the dredge boat,” which had sunk that spring, and watering trees and mowing lawns in the “finished portion” of the park. Two years later, Berry reported that the west side of the park was graded, another nine acres of lawn were seeded and 100 trees and 1600 shrubs were planted to a plan created by noted landscape architect Warren Manning. Horace Cleveland had left Minneapolis in 1896, moving with his son to Chicago, where he died in 1900.

It’s unlikely, due to his age, that Cleveland played any role in the actual creation of the island in Powderhorn Lake in 1895. And credit for the idea of an island may not be due solely to Cleveland either, but also to a coincidence in the creation of Loring (Central) Park in 1884. Cleveland’s original plan for Loring Park did not include an island in the pond then known as Johnson’s Lake. Charles Loring later told the story in his diary entry of June 12, 1884 (Charles Loring Scrapbooks, Minnesota Historical Society),

“In grading the lake in Central [Loring] Park the workmen left a piece in the center which I stopped them from taking out. I wrote Mr. Cleveland that I should be pleased to leave it for a small island. He replied that it would be alright. I only wish I had thought of it earlier so as to have had a larger island.”

The development of the island envisioned by Loring while supervising construction, then approved by Cleveland, proved to be a famous success. (The island no longer exists.) Four years later, on October 3, 1888, Garden and Forest published an article about Central (Loring) Park and concluded a glowing tribute with these words:

When it is considered that artificial lakes and islands are always counted difficult of construction if they are to be invested with any charm of naturalness, the success of this attempt will not be questioned, while the rapidity with which the artist’s idea has grown into an interesting picture is certainly unusual. The park was designed by Mr. H.W.S. Cleveland.

Given such praise, it is not surprising that Cleveland would be willing to try an island from the beginning in Powderhorn Lake. Between the time it was proposed by Cleveland and actually created three years later, decorative islands had also earned a faddish following on the heels of Frederick Law Olmsted’s highly praised island and shore plantings on the grounds of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. One landscape historian wondered whether Olmsted’s creation and treatment of his island in Chicago could have been influenced by his 1886 visit to Minneapolis where he would have seen Loring and Cleveland’s island in Loring Park.

The success of islands in Loring Pond and Powderhorn Lake likely also influenced Theodore Wirth when he proposed creating islands in Lake Nokomis and Lake Hiawatha. Both of those islands were scratched from final plans.

The island in Powderhorn Lake is one of three islands that remain in Minneapolis lakes—and the only one that was man-made. Only two of the four original islands in Lake of the Isles still exist. The two long-gone islands were incorporated into the southwestern shore of the lake when it was dredged and reshaped from 1907 to 1910. The two islands that remain were significantly augmented by fill during that period.

A handful of islands still exist in the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, although many more were flooded when the Ford Dam was built. Another augmented island—Hall’s Island—may be re-created in the near future as part of the RiverFIRST plan for the Scherer site upstream from the Plymouth Avenue bridge.

Although Horace Cleveland died in 1900, when the Minneapolis economy finally boomed again the park board voted in April 1903 to dust off and implement the rest of the 1892 Powderhorn Lake Park plan of H.W.S. Cleveland and Son.

The lake was reduced by about a third in 1925 when the northern arm of the lake was filled. Theodore Wirth, the park superintendent at the time, contended that the lake level had dropped six feet for unknown reasons after his arrival in 1906. The filled portion of the lake was converted into ball fields — a use of park land that was unheard of in Horace Cleveland’s time. The lake that Cleveland estimated at 30 to 40 acres in 1885, when he recommended its acquisition as a park, is now only a little over 11 acres.

The northern arm of Powderhorn Lake was filled in 1925. I wonder if the folks who lived in the apartments on Powderhorn Terrace had their rent reduced when they no longer had lakeshore addresses? (City of Parks, MPRB)

Now about that Statue of Liberty. Does anyone remember it in Powderhorn Lake?

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Nearby Parks: Landscape architect Arthur Nichols and park fireplaces

This is not about Minneapolis parks, but let’s not be parochial.  These coincidences are too good to pass up—and they are little more than a stones throw from Minneapolis.

I recently came across more information on Arthur Nichols, a Minneapolis landscape architect I had written about here and another notable park fireplace: the Beehive in St. Louis Park.

Read more about this “beehive” fireplace at slphistory.org or follow the link at right.

Nichols designed a series of roadside parks along Highway 100 from St. Louis Park to Robbinsdale when Highway 100 was constructed in the late 1930s. Read more about those mostly paved-over parks at the website of the St. Louis Park Historical Society here.

The beehive fireplace is of interest not only because it’s a cool design that could accommodate three picnicking families at a time, but because it is similar in several ways to the Minnehaha Park incinerator I wrote about a few days ago. Like the incinerator it was built in 1939. The slphistory web page claims it was built by unemployed masons, which I assume means it was part of a government relief work program, much like the WPA which was responsible for the Minnehaha incinerator. The beehive and incinerator were also both made of locally quarried limestone, the beehive limestone from the Minnesota River bluffs near the Mendota Bridge and the incinerator limestone from at or near Minnehaha Park which is only a couple miles north.

What I have yet to learn is whether Arthur Nichols designed the beehive fireplace himself or just specified it in his park plans. If anybody knows, please fill us in.

David C. Smith

Pioneering Minneapolis Landscape Architects: Wyman, Morell and Nichols, but not Wirth?

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.

Regional Parks

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.

Phelps Wyman’s design for Victory Memorial Drive, 1921 (1929 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

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

© David C. Smith