Archive for the ‘Landscape Architects’ Category

Cleveland’s Property and Olmsted’s Fame

I mentioned a couple weeks ago the friendly relationship between Horace William Shaler Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted. While there is so much of note in that relationship, and dozens of letters exchanged between the men attest to it, one of Cleveland’s letters to Frederick Law Olmsted caught my attention because it referred to property Cleveland owned. Later while studying an old plat map of Minneapolis I stumbled across an undivided, 4.7-acre plot of land in South Minneapolis labelled as owned by Cleveland. Like finding a needle in a haystack, I suppose. Another slice of my research into Cleveland’s life which I had previously posted.

Epilogue: Even though he owned some property and worked well into his 80s, Cleveland’s money did run out. His former partner, William Merchant Richardson French, when he was the director of the Chicago Art Institute, sent a letter to Cleveland’s colleagues and friends–including Olmsted–asking for donations to help Cleveland pay his bills as an elderly man.

More to come.

David C. Smith

More Cleveland: Samuel Gale, Oak Lake, Kenwood Parkway

After writing about the Oak Lake Addition in North Minneapolis in 2011, I augmented what I knew about H.W.S. Cleveland’s relationship with Samuel Gale and his work at Oak Lake in “Horace Cleveland Hated Rectangles.” I also wrote more about Cleveland’s eventual work for the Minneapolis park board at Oak Lake and his ideas about Kenwood Parkway.

These are another two archived posts pertaining to Cleveland’s life and work that I just reactivated.

David C. Smith

Cleveland’s First Residential Commission in Minneapolis?

Today I’m reposting an article on the creation and demise of Oak Lake Park as a pricey residential neighborhood on the near north side of Minneapolis in the 1870s. Oak Lake itself sat exactly on the site of today’s Farmers’ Market on Lyndale Avenue. I wrote it in 2011 when the Minnesota Vikings were thought to prefer the Farmers’ Market site for a new stadium. Of course that new stadium was eventually built on the site of the old Metrodome, so that focus of the article is outdated. But the historical information on the site as one of Minneapolis’s first upscale residential developments is still accurate. Not many people know of the ritzy history of the site where the market now stands.

I had set this post aside originally because I had intended to make the case that Horace William Shaler Cleveland was likely the man who advised Samuel Gale on the layout of the new neighborhood. The curving streets adapted to the topography are certainly hallmarks of Cleveland’s work–as are the parcels of land set aside for parks. It is also clear that Cleveland and Gale knew each other. Cleveland’s participation in the Oak Lake development is informed speculation on my part; I have found no documentary evidence of his hand in the project.

The most intriguing part of this post is my surmise that what killed the upscale Oak Lake neighborhood was the creation of the Minneapolis park board. With the acquisition of shores on larger lakes as public park land, wealthy Minneapolitans suddenly had even more attractive sites for their new homes. Without buyers for the larger homes built at Oak Lake, they were eventually divided into rooming houses in a neighborhood that gradually became inhabited by arriving immigrants.

Oak Lake itself was eventually filled in by the park board after it became an unsightly and odiferous hazard.

David C. Smith

Cleveland and Olmsted Revisited

In my continuing effort to restore previously mothballed posts about Horace William Shaler Cleveland, I have reposted three articles from several years ago about the relationship of Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted. The question is often raised whether Olmsted designed any parks in Minneapolis. My answer is no — especially Washburn Fair Oaks. See why in these posts from Part 1 in 2010, Part 2, and Part 3.

Who designed these grounds? Olmsted or Cleveland? Washburn Fair Oaks mansion, probably in the 1880s. Looking west across Third Avenue South in foreground. (W.S. Zinn)

David Carpentier Smith

Horace Cleveland’s House in Danvers

For those who are curious about the house I referred to in my commentary in the StarTribune today in which I praised librarians, here is a photo.

Horace Cleveland lived in this house in Danvers, Mass. from 1857-1868 with his wife, two sons, two servants and his father. His father, Richard Cleveland, died in the house. He was a famous sea captain, one of the early merchant mariners who established a trading route between Salem and China. Sailing that treacherous route around Cape Horn, trading at ports along the way, took Richard Cleveland away from his family for years at a time.

The house did not appear to be occupied, although someone had mowed the grass. When Cleveland lived there, he also owned the five acres around the house. The lot is now 1.5 acres according to Zillow. A freeway passes within 100 yards of the house on the right side of the photo.

It was while living here that H.W.S. Cleveland, already in his 40s, began to look at “landscape gardening” as a profession and had his first commissions. Like his friend and colleague in later life, Frederick Law Olmsted, Cleveland was a farmer as a young man. In fact, they exhibited their produce at some of the same horticulture fairs years before either was associated with landscape architecture.

Danvers town archivist Richard Trask helped me piece together clues from Cleveland’s correspondence that led to us finding the house.

Cleveland’s home before he moved to Danvers is much more famous — but not because Cleveland lived there. The previous occupant of that house in Salem, Mass. wrote one of the most famous American novels while living there. The book was The Scarlet Letter, the author was Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s wife, Sofia Peabody, was a friend of Cleveland’s going back to their childhood.

The white plaque on the corner of the house tells the story.

The amount of information one can get by searching — and asking librarians or archivists for help — is truly astonishing.

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, 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

Frederick Law Olmsted and Minneapolis Parks: Part 3, The Smoking Gun?

I have more circumstantial evidence that Frederick Law Olmsted didn’t design the grounds around Fair Oaks, the mansion of William D. Washburn in Minneapolis — and that H. W. S. Cleveland did.

I found it among my own files of stuff, but it took a long chain of events to help me find it. You can catch up to those events by reading my post and post script from yesterday.

Where we left the issue was that Kerck Kelsey in researching his book, Prairie Lightning, on the life of William Drew Washburn, had found a reference in a 1884 magazine to “Cleveland” having been the landscape architect at Fair Oaks. I had expressed surprise at that claim in an earlier post, because I had never seen it before.

But I can now offer evidence that supports the claim. For the first time in a few years, I returned to the detailed notes I took from the letters of Horace Cleveland to William Watts Folwell, which I read at the Minnesota Historical Society when I was researching, City of Parks, the history of the Minneapolis park system. In those notes I found a passage that connected Washburn and Cleveland. Why wasn’t that detail more “sticky” for me? Why didn’t I remember it before now?

Cleveland’s letter from Chicago to Minneapolis was dated March 18, 1883. and two very important events had occurred just prior to that date that occupied my attention. Only a couple weeks before Cleveland wrote, the Minnesota Legislature had passed legislation creating an independent Board of Park Commissioners for the city of Minneapolis. (The exact date of the legislation was February 27 — which is coincidentally the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and me.) The often-dashed hopes of park advocates in Minneapolis were on the verge of coming true; only a public referendum in Minneapolis remained as an obstacle.

I thought that subject would be addressed by Cleveland in his letter, but it wasn’t. Minneapolis voters did approve the creation of the park board on April 3, 1883 and on April 24 the new board hired Cleveland to make his now-famous “suggestions” for the type of parks Minneapolis should develop. In other words, I was looking for big, important stuff. Something earthshaking: Cleveland writing with trembling hand about soon meeting his destiny.

But life ain’t like that — because another recent event had more immediate consequences: Cleveland had just learned that his friend, William Watts Folwell, the first and only president of the University of Minnesota, had resigned his post as the leader of a university he had practically created. Cleveland knew well the battles Folwell had fought, and had tired of, at the University, and he expressed his happiness upon hearing the news of Folwell’s action. In Minneapolis park history terms this was huge news, too, because Folwell’s return to the classroom and the library enabled him to devote considerable energy to parks as a future Minneapolis park commissioner and extremely influential president of the park board throughout the 1890s.

Park board creation, resignation from a prestigious job: no wonder I overlooked two sentences that had nothing to do with Minneapolis parks at the time.

“I am beginning to hear whispers,” Cleveland wrote, “of coming work in various quarters and am glad that Minneapolis is one of them, though I confess that I shrink from the thought of renewed journeys and protracted absences from home. Gen. Washburn writes me that he will be in Minneapolis about the middle of April and will want to see me there soon after.” (Emphasis added)

What could General William Drew Washburn (not yet a U. S. Senator) have wanted to see Cleveland about if not for designing the grounds of his new mansion, for which ground was probably about to be broken?

One tiny bit of historical evidence that Sam Waterston would scoff at. And I needed help from Dr. Gregory Kaliss, Kerck Kelsey, Andrew Caddock and Dave Stevens to find it. But for a few minutes this morning, I was the only person in the world who knew it. The thrill of discovery and the satisfaction of sharing it: Big reasons we keep reading old letters — and writing new ones.

David C. Smith

© 2013 David C. Smith

Frederick Law Olmsted and Minneapolis Parks: Part 2

One question is answered, but more are raised.

One of my first posts on this blog nearly three years ago examined the likelihood that Frederick Law Olmsted, the most prominent landscape architect in U.S. history, had designed any part of the Minneapolis park system. I wrote then that I didn’t think he had, not even the grounds of William D. Washburn’s Fair Oaks estate/mansion/castle, which later became Washburn Fair Oaks Park.

Frederick Law Olmsted (www.olmsted.org)

Frederick Law Olmsted (www.olmsted.org)

Many writers have attributed the landscape of Fair Oaks to Olmsted, but I have never found evidence to support that claim. As noted in my earlier post, an authoritative online resource guide to Olmsted’s projects, correspondence and plans listed an 1881 letter from the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to Olmsted about the estate of W. D. Washburn. ORGO also listed a reply from Olmsted to that letter. I asked then if anyone knew the content of those letters.

To the rescue comes Dr. Gregory Kaliss, co-editor of Vol. 9 of Frederick Law Olmsted’s letters, which is scheduled for publication in 2015. After an exchange of emails with Greg about correspondence between Olmsted and H. W. S. Cleveland, I mentioned my curiosity about the contents of Olmsted’s communication with McKim et al. This week, Greg graciously sent scans of those letters, which are part of the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers at the Library of Congress. Thanks, Greg.

What I learned doesn’t exactly answer the question of Olmsted’s involvement with the landscape at Washburn Fair Oaks, but it does suggest a story about the design of Fair Oaks itself. There is a good mystery here for someone to solve.

Why did William Washburn part company with McKim, Mead & White and hire E. Townsend Mix?

The letter from McKim to Olmsted, dated June 2, 1881 — signed only “McKim, Mead & White”, so I’ll refer to it as the McKim letter — gives the impression that the job of designing Washburn’s mansion is a done deal.

Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, Stanford White

Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, Stanford White

“We have made plans for a large house for Hon. W. D. Washburn of Minneapolis,” the letter begins, “and he has asked us to advise him as to the laying out of the grounds, and we have suggested he consult with you.” The letter offers Olmsted the option of submitting a proposal through McKim or corresponding directly with Washburn.

The letter continues, “Our house is a large one and the grounds comprise, we believe, 10 acres in the heart of the city. The house will be rather severe in character — 15th Century Renaissance  — and we should think a more or less formal treatment of the grounds immediately around it would be in character.” Enclosed with the letter were notes from Washburn, the nature of which was not divulged.

Olmsted responded two days later. He wrote that because he had just moved to his Brookline, Massachusetts home for the summer, he didn’t want to travel “so far away as Minneapolis,” but added, “I can do so later if required.”

Olmsted continued,

“As the house is large and in the midst of town and of the architectural character you state, it is probable that the design of the grounds would be ruled by considerations of convenience and of suitability and support of the motives of the house rather by those of local topography and distant prospects. In this case, if Mr. Washburn will provide, as he suggests, a good topographical map of the property and a map of the city from which its neighborhood relations can be understood, I could probably agree, in consultation with you, upon what should be arrived at and advise as to site, aspects, entrances and approaches. For such consultation and advice my charge would be $100.”

He added, “I cannot well estimate the charges which I should incur for further planning without knowing more of the circumstances,” including the “degree of detail” that would be required of him.

Olmsted concludes his letter with comments that reveal his close relationship with the principals of the firm. “I need not say,” he writes, “that it would give me great pleasure to cooperate with you.” Olmsted then “warmly” congratulates “Mr. White” (Stanford White) on the “extraordinary success” of the monument he designed to honor Admiral David Farragut, which had been unveiled to critical acclaim the week before in New York’s Madison Square. (That project was the first collaboration between White and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who created the sculpture of Farragut for the monument.) Olmsted called White’s monument a “distinct advance of our public monumental standards.”

Olmsted had a personal interest in the success of the young architects. Charles McKim’s father, James Miller McKim, had been, along with Olmsted, one of the principals in founding the magazine, The Nation. Olmsted was also a friend of White’s father, Richard Grant White, who had written for The Nation. (One common thread is that they were all staunch abolitionists; they were joined by Saint-Gaudens father as well.) Mossette Broderick writes in The Triumvirate: McKim, Mead and White that Olmsted provided counsel to Richard White on a professional path for Stanford and introduced the sixteen-year-old to his friend, famous architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who gave Stanford his first job, setting him on a path to fame and fortune as an architect who never finished high school.

Finally, in his response to the McKim letter, Olmsted added that he was returning Mr. Washburn’s notes. The paper trail linking Olmsted to Washburn ends as abruptly as it began.

William Drew Washburn

William Drew Washburn. Everyone had impressive whiskers!

There appears to be no evidence in Olmsted’s voluminous papers that he carried on any further correspondence on the project with McKim, Washburn — or with another architect, E. Townsend Mix. Mix matters, because he is the architect credited with the design of Fair Oaks in 1883. Mix was a highly regarded architect in Milwaukee who had done little or no work in Minneapolis before that year. How did Washburn meet Mix? And why did he have Mix design his grandiose residence instead of using plans already prepared by McKim, Mead and White who were on their way to becoming the most prestigious architects in the nation? Perhaps there is further evidence in the papers of Charles Follen McKim in the Library of Congress. Another item on the list of things to look up the next time I’m in Washington, D. C. I may have to move there!

Could Washburn have been dissatisfied with the “large…severe…15th Century Renaissance” house that McKim and company had designed for him? Instead he got from Mix a house that Larry Millet, in Once There Were Castles, describes as a “melange of Queen Ann, Tudor, Romanesque, and Gothic elements.”

Fair Oaks, about 1886. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Fair Oaks, looking southeast from E. 22nd Street and Stevens Avenue, about 1886. (Minnesota Historical Society)

In the past, some writers have presumed — mistakenly — from a letter Olmsted wrote to the Minneapolis park board in 1886 — after he had passed through town on his way to California — that he was somehow responsible for Minneapolis’s system of parks. So it’s possible that others could have made the leap from the exchange of letters with McKim to the conclusion that Olmsted does proceed to design the grounds of Fair Oaks. But does he? Dr. Gregory Kaliss : “Whether he actually does or not, I have no idea.”

It is hard to prove a negative — that he did not — but consider these factors.

From all I can learn about Olmsted’s visit to Minneapolis in 1886 on his way to California, he had not been to the city before, another argument against his active participation in the detailed layout of the Fair Oaks estate.

H. W. S. Cleveland never gives a hint in his letters to Olmsted (or others) that Olmsted had ever visited Minneapolis other than the brief stop in 1886. And Cleveland was upset with park board president Charles Loring on that occasion for taking Olmsted only to see Minneapolis’s lakes and not the Mississippi River gorge, which Cleveland considered to be the “jewel” of the city. If Olmsted had spent any time in Minneapolis to work at Fair Oaks he almost certainly would have seen both the lakes and the river gorge before 1886. And if he had designed Fair Oaks landscape from afar, you’d think he would have wanted to see his work, but the newspaper account of his visit (Minneapolis Tribune, August 24, 1886) gives no indication that he visited Fair Oaks.

I don’t know how often Olmsted designed landscapes — to any “degree of detail” — without visiting them first, but his reply to the McKim letter suggests that he was not offering to design a 10-acre landscape anyway. He seems to be offering his advice on the location and situation of the house on the property — “site, aspects, entrances, approaches” — rather than the design of the whole 10 acres. Moreover, I can’t imagine Olmsted doing much more than a cursory mansion site plan for a hundred bucks. That was considerably below the going rate at the time for planning a 10-acre estate.

For a landscape architect to design a pond, stream, bridge, extensive plantings, greenhouse, stables and the rest of 10 acres without visiting the site would have required extensive correspondence with someone and that correspondence doesn’t seem to exist. And there is ample evidence (reel after reel of microfilm at the Library of Congress) that Olmsted saved just about every scrap of paper that crossed his desk.

Olmsted also makes clear by his reference to arriving at a plan “in consultation” with McKim that he would prefer to “cooperate” with McKim rather than work directly with Washburn. His return of Washburn’s notes with his letter confirms that intent.

The pond, stream and bridge that later became well-known appear in an 1890-ish photo of Fair Oaks taken from 3rd Avenue. This is the section of the park that people want to attribute to Olmsted — even though the pond ceased to exist nearly 100 years ago.

Washburn Fair Oaks from 3rd Avenue about 1890 (Hennepin County Library, Minneapolis Collection)

Washburn Fair Oaks from 3rd Avenue, facing west, about 1890 (Hennepin County Library, Minneapolis Collection)

A much lusher version of a pond and fountain on the estate were featured on a postcard in about 1910.

"Washburn Park", meaning the grounds at Fair Oaks, about 1910 (Minnesota Historical Society)

“W. D. Washburn’s Park”, meaning the grounds at Fair Oaks, looking like a tropical garden — and with a different bridge — about 1910 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Now that I’ve had a chance to see the correspondence between McKim and Olmsted, I’m more convinced that Olmsted did not design the landscape of Fair Oaks.

I’d still appreciate hearing from anyone who can make a case for Olmsted on these 10 acres. I’d also like to know more about why Washburn switched architects after McKim, Mead and White had already drawn up a plan for the house. If you know anything, we’d love to hear it.

Thanks again to Dr. Gregory Kaliss for sending copies of the letters cited here. I look forward to seeing his project in print.

David C. Smith

Postscript 6/14/2013: Thanks to an email from Andrew Caddock who was directed to a source by Kerck Kelsey, author of Prairie Lightning, a biography of William D. Washburn, we find this passage in The Northwestern Miller, (1884-1885 Holiday Number, “A Miller’s Palatial Home,” p. 82.) about Washburn’s estate: “The grounds are splendid specimens of landscape gardening from plans by Cleveland who stands at the head of the list of American specialists in this line of work. Broad winding drives and walks lead up to the front and side entrances and end at a large and handsome stable in the rear at the southwest corner of the block.” The reference is almost certainly to H. W. S. Cleveland. This is the only reference I’ve seen to Cleveland designing a private estate in Minneapolis. Thanks, Andrew.

© 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.

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

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