Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Parks: General’ Category

Ice Queens: The First Female Speed Skaters in Minnesota

Dorothy “Dot” Franey, one of the best athletes in Minnesota history, achieved her greatest athletic success as the state’s first world-class female speed skater. When a Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame was created in 1958, the inaugural class included one woman, golfer Patty Berg. The second class of inductees, in 1963, featured a second woman, Dot Franey.

In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate some of the women who first clamped on skating blades and raced on Minnesota ice. While not strictly a Minneapolis park story, Minneapolis park rinks and lakes played a central role in the development of speed skating in Minnesota. By the 1930s, when Franey was at her best, the tracks on Powderhorn Lake in Minneapolis and Lake Como in St. Paul were the premier outdoor speed skating venues in the country. Although many of Franey’s finest performances were recorded on Minneapolis ice, she was from St. Paul, and like many other skaters from downriver, she wore the colors of the Hippodrome Skating Club. The State Fair Hippodrome was converted to a skating rink in winter—covered but unheated and advertised as the largest sheet of indoor ice in the country—in  December 1908.Hippodrome postcard

Sadly, we will never know how great Dot Franey might have been in the speed sport she dominated. As an eighteen-year-old she represented the United States in the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid when women’s speed skating was a “demonstration” sport and won third place in the 1,000-meter race—worth a bronze medal in any sport accorded  medal status. Still a teenager, she must have had high hopes for improvement in future Olympics, but that chance never came. Not only was women’s speed skating not promoted to medal status in the 1936 Winter Olympics as expected, its standing as even a demonstration sport was terminated. Women wouldn’t race on ice for Olympic medals until 1960 at Squaw Valley, California. At those Games, Dot Franey Langkop was a leader in the movement of Olympic alumni to support current United States Olympic athletes.

Franey likely would have done well had she had the opportunity to compete for Olympic medals. She won U.S. national championships, either indoor or outdoor or both, from 1933 to 1936. She never competed outside of North America, but her closest rival in the U.S., Kit Klein, won the first overall women’s world championship in 1936 in Sweden. By that measure, it’s fair to speculate that Franey would have excelled on the world stage as she had on the continental stage. She was such a dominant skater in her early 20’s that after she won a major competition in 1936 at Powderhorn Lake, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star wrote facetiously that Franey was “mad at herself” because she broke only one national record that weekend.

When Franey finally turned “pro” in 1938, meaning she could earn money from exhibitions, endorsements and appearing in figure skating shows—there was no professional speed skating circuit—her popularity was demonstrated by her endorsement of Camel cigarettes, which appeared in newspaper “funnies” around the country. Long before cigarettes were considered anathema to athletic performance, Franey claimed that the skaters she knew who smoked preferred Camels.1938-03-06 Dot Franey Camel ad

The timing of Franey’s decision to turn pro, may have been influenced by the decision not to include women’s speed skating in the Winter Olympics in 1936. Women’s participation in sports, which had grown steadily in the first quarter of the 20th Century, dropped off drastically in the 1930s, as notions of athleticism being unladylike were resurrected, vigorously promoted and lingered for another 40 years. In today’s world, Franey may have had even more options for athletic success as she was an all-star softball and basketball player, and a superb golfer. As it was in 1938, her only option to make a living from her athletic ability was limited to figure skating shows. Franey may have been enticed to the professional life by her friendship with Babe Didrikson, the most famous female athlete of her time, who was reported to have inked endorsement and appearance contracts worth $50,000 in her first year alone as a “pro” after she captured the nation’s attention at the 1932 Summer Olympics.  That was long before Didrikson made even more money as a champion golfer when she decided to give that sport a go.

Franey endorsed Camels and began a career skating in ice shows, including producing, directing and performing in an ice show that had a 14-year run at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Between Dot Franey and the Minnesota North Stars, I suspect Minnesota has given Texas about all it knows of skates on ice.

1934-12-30 Tribune 10,000 lakes preview photo rev

The 10,000 Lakes meet was the largest annual event at Powderhorn Lake, sponsored by the Lawrence Wennell American Legion Post. 1. Jimmy Webster, two-time national champ from St. Paul and the Hippodrome club. 2. Dot Franey. 3. Dick Beard, national junior champ from Minneapolis. 4. Olga Mikulak, Minneapolis. 5. Frank Bostrom, a Californian training in Minneapolis. 6. Patty Berg, Minneapolis “girl golf star who is also a flash on the blades.” Minneapolis Tribune, December 30, 1934.

Dot Franey was not the first female speed skater from Minnesota, just the best until then. Minnesota men were among the fastest skaters in the world in the 1890s and early 1900s. John S. Johnson, John Nilsson, Olaf Ruud from Minneapolis and A. D. Smith from St. Paul owned world or national records at distances from 100 yards to 25 miles, but there is no mention in newspapers of that time of women racing. Fancy skaters, such as Minnie Cummings, were well-known performers—she was the headline performer at the official opening of the Hippodrome Skating Rink on Christmas Day 1908—but the results of women’s races didn’t show up in newspapers until 1909.

The earliest reference to a women’s race that I’ve been able to find was a brief clip in the Minneapolis Tribune on March 3, 1909 that previewed the national professional championships in Cleveland, which featured all of the top men, including Charles Rankin from St. Paul. The story concluded, “Miss R. Leonard, champion of Ohio and Mrs. Charles Rankin will meet in a series of races for the women’s championship.”

Proof that women’s racing was in its infancy was offered by a short item in the Dayton Daily News the week of that projected race. “Girl Creates Championship” read the headline, followed by a terse report that began,

“There was no queen of the skating world and women held none of the records that set the speed limits of the ice rinks. So Miss Robina Leonard of Cleveland created a championship for women. She jumped in and set a record for the woman’s championship of the world.”

Later that year the Detroit Free Press published photos of Robina Leonard and Mabel Monroe of Detroit who were racing each other in a match arranged between Cleveland and Detroit speed skaters. Both women were photographed skating in ice-length skirts. The wind resistance created by those yards of fabric must have been demoralizing.

The race anticipated between Leonard and Rankin in Cleveland in 1909 apparently did not materialize. The reporting of the day gives no indication of how Lillian Rankin became a contender for a national championship, of other races she had won, or of  women she had defeated on her rise to national title contender status. Charles Rankin was a successful short distance racer, once holding the world record for 50 yards. Lillian and Charles together oversaw the skating program at the Hippodrome in the 1910-1911 season and the Minneapolis Tribune noted at the outset that they would pay “especial attention…to women skaters.”

Rankin was reported to have skated a few races at the Hippodrome over the next couple years, among them was a warmup race before a hockey game at the Hip against the local junior mens champion, which she won by inches, and a race against a woman figure skater in which they both wore hockey skates. In other words, more novelty than legit competition.

The first time women raced as a part of local competition appears to have been at the Twin City championships sponsored by the Hippodrome Skating Club in 1914. The promoters of the Hip announced they were donating a special cup for a women’s quarter-mile race. Three women entered, but I have not yet found a record of who they were.

Interest in women’s racing appears to pick up from that beginning. In early 1915 the Minneapolis Tribune announced “First Girl Skater to Enter Ice Races at Lake Calhoun” above a posed photo of Mabel Denny in a formal  gown. In a caption, the paper noted that there was a “revival” of ice skating at Lake Calhoun. For a few years interest in skating had waned in general. The Minneapolis Park Board closed its lakeside warming houses for skaters early in 1911 due to a “lack of interest.” The University of Minnesota didn’t even field a hockey team for two years in 1910 and 1911.

But that seemed to change by 1915. The Twin Cities championship at the Hip had more entries than in many years, so many that the organizers had to determine how to run heats and spread the races over two nights or risk massive collisions by running all skaters at once.  (This was in the days of “pack” racing, not two at a time against the clock as is the norm now and was in Europe then.) The 1915 championship included a women’s half-mile race for the first time. The race was won by Lillian Rankin, who had dominated the past with little competition. In second place was Edna Nelson of Minneapolis, who would dominate the future with much stiffer competition.

By the start of the next skating season, public interest in skating increased dramatically. So much so that the Minneapolis Tribune ran a full-page syndicated story in mid-December on the new craze in the most fashionable circles in New York, Boston and Chicago: dancing on ice skates. Dansants a glace and Ice Teas, the paper noted, were so popular that there weren’t enough rinks or instructors to meet the demand. Adding local observation, a Tribune headline two days later proclaimed, “Revival in Skating Seen; Keen Demand for Shining Blades.” The story quoted officials of the Minneapolis hardware store association predicting that 10,000 pairs of skates would be sold in Minneapolis before the skating season was in full glide.

1917-02-18 Star_Tribune PHOTO of Edna Nelson Indoor Champ

Edna Nelson with some of her trophies in 1917. While no longer racing in ankle length skirts, women were still carrying a lot of cloth around the rink. Minneapolis Tribune, February 18, 1917

For the next few years Edna Nelson remained at the top of women’s speed skating in Minnesota usually battling and often sharing the podium with Ethel Lee another Minneapolitan. The duels between the two became a primary draw to long-blade events on Twin Cities ovals. Their quarter-mile face-off was the featured race at the Hippodrome Skating Club’s eighth annual ice carnival in 1917. Nelson won by inches.

Neither of them, however, took part in what was billed as the first international women’s championship at Lake Placid in 1920. The only Twin City skater to score in that meet was Lillian Herman of St. Paul.

 

In the 1920s, Nelson and Lee gave way to Olga Munkholm of St. Paul as the fastest woman on ice in the Northwest, challenged and occasionally beaten by Gladys Malone and Violet Evans. I have been able to find very little information on any of those skaters, except that another Munkholm, Anne, perhaps a sister of Olga, was one of the leading fancy skaters of the time, performing across the western U.S. and Canada. Olga Munkholm was also the catcher on an All Star softball team from St. Paul.

1922-02-19 Star_Tribune PHOTO Olga Munkholm and men incl. Donovan rev

Olga Munkholm was  featured in a Minneapolis Tribune photo February 19, 1922 along with other stars of the Hippodrome Skating Club. In the stocking cap center right is Richard “Duke” Donovan, the first Twin Cities speed skater to compete in the Winter Olympics. He was on the 1924 team that skated at Chamonix, France.

In 1926 the Minneapolis Daily Star began promoting a Silver Skates Derby, a series of races for local boys and girls that gave them a chance to win a pair of high-quality racing skates. Silver Skates races—named for Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates—had already become popular in New York and Chicago and they helped promote skating in general, but especially for girls who were given equal billing and prizes as boys. Preliminary races for boys and girls were held at playgrounds throughout the city with the finals at Lake of the Isles where the top finishers were awarded skates and other prizes.

The Silver Skates Derby also featured open races for adults, without the prize of skates. In the first Silver Skates Derby Amy Ostgard won the senior women’s title followed by Mildred Bjork and Violet Evans in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. Bjork became the dominant woman skater in Minneapolis for the next few years, winning the 1927 Silver Skates title and the 1928 Minnesota championship. She was one of four skaters sent by Minneapolis to the national amateur championships in Detroit in 1928, but she did not place.

When the 1929 national championships came to Lake of the Isles, Bjork must have had high expectations on her home ice and she skated well on her way to a third-place finish. She was completely overshadowed, however, by Detroit skater Loretta Neitzel who stole the show that weekend by setting three new world records in the mile, quarter-mile and sixth-mile distances.

A couple of weeks after that grand spectacle, Dorothy Franey’s name appears for the first time in results of a girls race at the indoor arena off of Lake Street in Uptown Minneapolis. It was the first indication that Franey would skate to the fore of American women speedskaters—where she would remain for much of the next decade.

Perhaps it was fitting that in Franey’s last major race before turning pro, the national indoor championships at Chicago, she was denied a final title by a new teen sensation. The winner of that national title in Chicago was Mary Dolan, a Minneapolis skater in her first season in the senior women’s division.  The Queen was dead, long live the Queen. That victory was the first of many for Mary Dolan. She had skated to the top of women’s speed skating in the skate tracks of pioneer Minnesota skaters over the previous thirty years. There would be many more to come.

David C. Smith

If you know more about the skaters mentioned here or others who deserve recognition, tell us more in the comments section.

©2019 David C. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

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Linden Hills Boulevard: The Carriage Route to Lake Harriet

At a recent picnic with friends who live south of Lake Harriet (Happy Birthday Kathryn!), they were surprised when I told them that the first park connection between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet was not William Berry Parkway (which was named Shady Lane until 1968), but Linden Hills Boulevard. The boulevard was conceived as a scenic approach on the ridge overlooking Lake Harriet and the final link from Central (Loring) Park via Kenwood Parkway to Lake of the Isles, around that shoreline and the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun to Lake Harriet.

Linden Hills Boulevard freshly paved 1921 MHS

Freshly paved Linden Hills Boulevard in 1921. (Minnesota Historical Society, MH5.9 MP2.2 p31.)

Given the recent interest expressed in the boulevard, I am posting a brief history of the parkway I had written originally for the Park Board website (minneapolisparks.org).

Location: William Berry Parkway to Queen Avenue at West Lake Harriet Parkway

Size: 5.71 acres

Name: The land was referred to as Park Boulevard in park board documents for about 25 years until it was officially named Linden Hills Boulevard, after the surrounding neighborhood, in 1912.

Acquisition and Development: From the first time that Linden Hills Boulevard was included as a separate item in the park board’s inventory in 1914, it was described as having been donated by Henry Beard in 1888. However in 1888, the board paid $8,342 for “satisfaction of Beard contract” which included two years and three months worth of interest on an original amount of $7,200 that the park board owed him. It is unclear what land is referred to in the “Beard contract.” It could include portions of the Lake Harriet shore as well as Beard Plaisance or Linden Hills Boulevard. Beard was one of the original donors of the land around Lake Harriet for park purposes.

Park Boulevard was created to link Lake Calhoun to Lake Harriet. Using the math from the report on the Beard contract, the original deal to acquire the land dated to 1886. The boulevard was intended to be the primary connection between the two lakes until a more direct route between the lakes, eventually named William Berry Parkway, was acquired in 1889.

The boulevard was graded and planted in 1889. In the park board’s 1889 annual report, Charles Loring describes it as the “high land west of the Motor track, overlooking the lake.” At that time there were no homes between the boulevard and the lake. The Motor track Loring referred to was the street railway track. The initial layout of the boulevard was a 40-foot-wide driveway flanked by 10-foot-wide walkways and 20-foot-wide planting spaces, which were covered with loam and seeded.

The first homes on the boulevard were not built for a few years after initial improvements were made. The oldest existing homes along the boulevard, built in 1894, include the house at the corner of 40th St. West and 4208 Linden Hills Boulevard according to Hennepin County’s Interactive property map. A house between the Boulevard and Lake Harriet was built at 4236 Queen Avenue in 1897. The rest of the houses on Queen Avenue and the Boulevard were built in 1900 or later.

Original improvements to the Boulevard in 1889 also included a 70-foot viaduct at the end of the boulevard over the street railway tracks at Queen Avenue. The total cost of the improvements was nearly $7,000. The street railway rebuilt the Queen Avenue bridge in 1905 following extensive negotiations with the park board over who was responsible for it. The park board refused to repair the bridge, because it believed the street railway was responsible.

The Linden Hills Boulevard was improved significantly in 1912 at a cost of nearly $5,000 even though it was no longer the main link from Calhoun to Harriet. With the improvements that year came pressure for a more suitable name than Park Boulevard. The board chose the name Linden Hills Boulevard.

The boulevard was paved for the first time in 1921. The entire length of the parkway was repaved in 1993.

Most of the parkways in Minneapolis were officially named “boulevards” until 1968 when they were all renamed “parkways” to indicate more clearly that they were park property. (They were also later paved with a distinctive red-tinted asphalt to further distinguish them from ordinary city streets.) However, Linden Hills Boulevard was overlooked at the time and is, therefore, the only road owned by the park board still officially called a boulevard—even though it, too, is paved red.

David C. Smith

Sheepish: What’s Old is New in Park Maintenance

Minneapolis is now in its second year of testing goats to control invasive plants, especially buckthorn, in parks. The concept may be novel, but it’s not new.

Long ago in park history, attention focused on sheep rather than goats, but you say ovine, I say hircine.  I don’t see much difference between sheep and goats to control plants; whether you ride a Toro or a Deere, the grass gets cut.

800px-Goats_on_an_Argan_(Argania_spinosa)_tree_in_Morocco

Goats eating big weeds in Wirth Park. Not really. These are tree-climbing goats in Morocco, not Minneapolis. Photo: Marco Arcangeli.

The idea of sheep in Minneapolis parks was first proposed in 1906 by recently hired park superintendent Theodore Wirth. He proposed putting sheep in what was then Glenwood Park (the park was renamed for Wirth in 1938). He wrote in the annual report that year,

“There is nothing prettier in landscape effect than a flock of sheep grazing on the meadow and hill-sides.”

Of course Theodore Wirth grew up in Switzerland, so the sight of flocks on a hillside probably stirred warm memories of childhood for him. But he also had the park example of sheep in New York’s Central Park. The huge open space today called the Sheep Meadow in Manhattan was once actually a meadow filled with sheep. Wirth was a great admirer of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park, so what was good enough for the master was good with him too.

(Keep reading, there’s lots of links to restored blog posts at the end of this goat story.) Continue reading

Minneapolis’s Amazing River Parks: West River Parkway

In view of my presentation to the Citizens Advisory Council on the Mississippi River Gorge Master Plan this evening, I am reproducing the histories of the East and West River Parkways here. I would recommend reading them both as not all background information is repeated.

West River Parkway

West River Parkway is the current name for the parkway along the river bluff that extends down the Mississippi River Gorge from Portland Avenue to Minnehaha Park. Included in the 205.13 acres of park land listed in the MPRB inventory is all land from the parkway down the gorge to the river’s edge.

The first official name for the riverside land was West Riverside Park, which was adopted in 1904. (Not to be confused with Riverside Park, which was south of Franklin Avenue and not yet contiguous then with the river gorge park.) William Folwell had proposed naming it Michael Accault Park. Folwell noted that Accault was the leader of the French exploring party that included Father Louis Hennepin as a subordinate member in 1679. Hennepin is credited with being the first European to view St. Anthony Falls, which he named after his patron saint, Saint Anthony of Padua. The park board chose a more descriptive name and Accault’s name has been forgotten. In 1906, when the parkway was given its first permanent pavement, it was renamed River Road West. Continue reading

Minneapolis’s Amazing River Parks: East River Parkway

In view of my presentation to the Citizens Advisory Council on the Mississippi River Gorge Master Plan this evening, I am reproducing the histories of the East and West River Parkways here.

East River Parkway

East River Parkway extends along the east side of the Mississippi River from Arlington Street SE on the University of Minnesota campus downriver to the Minneapolis boundary with St. Paul. The entire acreage from the parkway to the river’s edge is 84.99 acres.

Originally the property was referred to informally as East River Bank Parkway, but was officially named St. Anthony Parkway in 1901. The name of the parkway was changed to East River Road in 1906. At the same time, the east and west river roads, Riverside Park and Minnehaha Park were all officially named parts of Mississippi Park. The current park name was adopted in 1968 when most park roads were officially renamed as “parkways.” In December 1894, upon the suggestion of William Folwell, the board approved naming the east river flats “Cheever’s Landing,” for the man who had operated a ferry on the site in the early days of the city. While the name was officially adopted, the area has always been referred to informally as the East River Flats Park.

The banks of the Mississippi River below St. Anthony Falls, the only true gorge along the entire length of the Mississippi River, played a central role in the creation of the Minneapolis park system. Horace William Shaler Cleveland, the Chicago-based landscape architect Continue reading

Wild River: A rainy morning on the Mississippi

I had a brilliant boat trip on the Mississippi this morning from Bohemian Flats to the Ford Bridge and back. It was raining, and everything was damp except for enthusiasm for the spectacular river scenery. I was in the company of people comprising the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC), which is creating the Park Board’s Master Plan for the Mississippi River Gorge.

The CAC meets next on Monday, 5:30 p.m., at the MPRB Headquarters beside the river in north Minneapolis, if you’re interested. I’m giving a very brief intro to the history of the river gorge to open that meeting.

Long ago H.W.S. Cleveland called the river gorge the “Jewel of Minneapolis.” I agree. and I applaud St. Paul and Minneapolis for working together to preserve and protect the wild banks of the river. We were delighted to be joined this morning by two representatives of the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department as well. As much as the two cities have  competed with each other, sometimes not nicely, their complementary actions to maintain the river banks as protected public property is praiseworthy. Both cities would be different without the effort to protect the river banks.

Former park commissioner Scott Vreeland emphasized on the river ride this morning that the real challenge for the master planners is choosing a wise path between preserving what’s wild and making this great treasure accessible. That is especially true as we contemplate the possibilities of a river without barge traffic and, therefore, without the need for a working lock and dam. Would the restoration of the river gorge to rapids and islands, to its condition before the Ford Dam was built in 1917, enhance the river’s value to the people of Minnesota? Important issues.

I was struck again this morning by the great interest so many people in the area have in the history of our parks and the river—and how so many people know different parts of the story, or have different perceptions of those parts. Reminds me that history is never a single story, not one thread, but many.

Two More Things

A friend is desperately trying to find a photo of Thomas Lowry and his family, especially his eldest daughter, to illustrate a book he is writing that is very near being turned over to the printer. I don’t know of any. If you do, please let me know. Soon.

I have reposted an old favorite on Seven Oaks Oval to keep a promise made this morning. It’s the most unusual park in Minneapolis.

David C. Smith 

New Bell Museum

I found an old post about visiting the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota and wanted to provide a link to the new, renamed Bell Museum near the St. Paul campus which opens in July. I can’t wait to see it. I think it will become a new favorite. It has a planetarium among many other new wonders. Get more info here.

When the little girl I used to take to the old one returns home from college for a short visit this summer, I think we’ll go. I hope they take the wolf and moose with them.

I also just saw for the first time anywhere an old photo of the river flats on the east bank that shows a baseball field there. I hope to be able to post that picture sometime soon. I might have to buy it first!

David C. Smith

Timeless Quote, Ever-changing Parks

“The men and women of today who recall with lively joy the days when they played unwatched through the long summer days in meadow or woods or the old swimmin’ hole are likely to pity the youngsters of the present whose recreation is supervised and scheduled by grownups. For young dreamers with vigorous personalities there was something not to be duplicated in the lazy happiness of those days. But “other times, other customs.” City life of today is immeasurably more complicated: it has manifold possibilities for evil, numerous forces which make the child sophisticated before his time and which make a carefully planned constructive work necessary.”

The quote is from the Minneapolis Tribune, June 20 — 1920! Only 98 years ago. I first published it in these pages in 2010, but it’s worth another look. What a shock Instagram would be to the author of those lines.

I’ve reposted a few more older entries. Thanks to Chris for pointing out some dead links in my Lost Parks posts. I’m restoring those too.

On a personal note: Congratulations to long-time readers and park lovers Dick and Donna Smith on their 70th wedding anniversary last weekend.

In the year they were married, 1948:

  • The Park Board acquired Todd Park, Perkins Hill Park, Armatage Park and the Shingle Creek Valley north from Weber Park
  • Park Superintendent Charles Doell noted in his annual report that Minnehaha Creek was dry almost the entire year except for a short time in the spring, when water flow had been less than half of normal.
  • The Park Board formalized an agreement with the School Board, an effort led by Park Commissioner Maude Armatage, to jointly develop what became Waite Park and School and Armatage Park and School.
  • Park Board gardeners planted 3,613 perennials at the Kenwood Parkway Garden, which is now the southern end of the Sculpture Garden
  • The Auto Tourist Park near the river bluff in what is now the Waubun picnic area of Minnehaha Park hosted 3,010 travellers in 1,051 cars from 31 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Norway. There were 25 small cabins and a main lodge in the camp, which earned net income of $912.57 for the year
  • The most popular indoor activity sponsored by the recreation department that fall and winter was Women’s Bowling with more than 22,000 participants
  • A steep drop in attendance at swimming beaches in August resulted in a 20% decline for the summer. Doell speculated that fear created by a polio outbreak may have caused the drop
  • The wading pool at Van Cleve Park was filled
  • The first stop lights on Minnehaha Parkway were installed at Portland, Bloomington and Lyndale Avenues and on East Calhoun Boulevard at Lake Street.
  • Tenth Avenue South was vacated through Elliot Park to create a playground
  • A water line was installed to Eloise Butler Wild Flower Garden for use in “drouth” conditions
  • The first barge load of stone and sand from the US Army Engineers project to create an “Upper Harbor” was deposited along the west bank of the river downstream from Washington Avenue at the request of the park board as part of plans to create a scenic highway along the river
  • Most of Northeast Park was still occupied by the quonset huts of the veterans housing project, Theodore Wirth Park still extended a couple blocks west of Brownie Lake, and Parade Stadium hadn’t yet been built to be torn down.
  • A new  flagpole base, since replaced, was dedicated on Victory Memorial Drive
  • There were no freeways
  • Hubert Humphrey resigned as Mayor when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, which meant that he also left his ex-officio seat on the Park Board
  • The Park Board participated in the placement of a headstone marking the grave of landscape architect Horace William Shaler Cleveland at Lakewood Cemetery. Cleveland’s body had been interred in an unmarked grave next to his wife’s when he died in 1900.

David C. Smith

Minnehaha Falls Tour: Preserve Minneapolis

I will be leading a walking tour around Minnehaha Falls—More than Just a Little Laugh—on August 21 for Preserve Minneapolis. That, by the way, is the working title of a book I’m writing about the Falls. I’m told that tickets for the tour are still available if you’re interested. You can get more information and reserve your place here. We’ll consider some of the history of the Falls both before and after it became Minnesota’s first state park. If you can’t make that date, Preserve Minneapolis offers quite a few other tours that look fascinating. I know some of the regular readers of these pages will be leading tours too. I hope you’ll check out the full schedule of tours throughout the summer.

I’ve also reposted a few more stories from this blog’s past. Read about the toboggan slides at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in the 1880s (looking down and looking up), the first motorcyle driven by Minneapolis park police called the Flying Merkel (plus a followup), and a north Minneapolis coach who is remembered by many.

David C. Smith

Restored Posts: Makwa Club, Toboggans, Building Restrictions, Parkways

In response to requests and my own whimsy I have restored several posts to these pages today.

I restored one post at the request of author Joe McAleer, whom I met through these pages. He is just finishing a biography of one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in Minneapolis history,  Harry Perry Robinson. Joe’s book is entitled Escape Artist: The Nine Lives of Harry Perry Robinson, which is due out in June 2019 from Oxford University Press. Robinson visited Minneapolis as a young Englishman right out of college in the 1880s and made the city his home for several years while writing for local newspapers, becoming besties with many influential Minneapolitans and marrying the daughter of Thomas Lowry. He achieved his greatest fame as a correspondent covering World War I from the trenches of France for London newspapers and was knighted for his efforts. I’m really looking forward to reading his life story.

Due to a link in the piece Robinson inhabits on this site, I also restored some of my favorite photos: the toboggan slide from Queen Avenue out onto Lake Harriet. There is much to see in those images from 1914.

Toboggan Slide Lake Harriet 1914 side

The impressive structure of the Lake Harriet toboggan slide (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Given continuing discussions of building near Minneapolis lakes, I wanted to restore a piece I wrote a few years ago about how the city passed the first ordinance limiting building heights around lakes. It was passed in 1912 in response to a threat to build a hotel beside Lake of the Isles at 25th Street.

I also reposted stories on the intersection of Dean Parkway and Calhoun Parkway.

I’ve reposted a few other pieces that seemed worthwhile, which I’ll let you discover for yourself by scrolling through the site.

David C. Smith

In the past I included my email address on everything I posted here, but due to the volume of spam I received I had to quit doing that. But you can always reach me by posting a comment on some post or page on this site. Every comment is reviewed before it is posted, so they all come to my attention.

Influential Women in Minneapolis Park History

I just received a new post from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation blog by Janette Law about five important women in the history of Minneapolis parks. Janette wrote her tribute to celebrate Women’s History Month. I wanted to add to Janette’s tribute by adding the name of Alice Dietz to her list, as well as Inez Crimmins and Lorna Phillips. I have re-posted from my archives a profile of some of Ms. Dietz’s accomplishments as well as additional information on one of Janette’s notable women, Maude Armatage. Armatage was the first woman to serve as a park commissioner and still holds the record for the longest consecutive term of service as a commissioner at 30 years. (Francis Gross served a total of 33 years as a commissioner, but in four segments.) The piece on Armatage is especially important because it includes a photo of Armatage with Crimmins and Phillips, the second and third women to be Minneapolis park commissioners. I also re-posted a charming photo and info sent by reader Bea Dunlap on her memory of Alice Dietz and the playground pageants she wrote, choreographed and directed.

I would encourage someone, perhaps even young historians for History Day projects, to investigate further the contributions of park commissioners Crimmins and Phillips who served from the mid-1950s and Beverly Smerling who served as a commissioner from 1963-1969. In addition, little has been written, to my knowledge, of the first women to be elected President of the Park Board:  Naomi Loper was the first in 1980, succeeded by Patricia Hillmeyer in 1982 and Patricia Baker in 1985.

Many other women who served as recreation directors at parks have also had a profound influence on the people and neighborhoods they served. If you remember someone from your park, I’d be happy to publish your recollections here.

David C. Smith

 

New Names for Minneapolis Parks

Naming the meadow at Riverside Park in honor of Annie Young was a very nice gesture by the Minneapolis park board — and appropriate — although it was approved with contempt for board rules and public input, the type of thing you wouldn’t expect from commissioners who seemed to think during the last campaign that they invented the notion that parks are for people. (Those same commissioners, by the way, utterly trashed Annie’s achievements as a commissioner by trying to portray past boards as evil polluters and themselves as eco-saviors. If you will recall, Annie herself did not endorse the present board leadership during the 2017 election, I suspect at least in part, because of their apparent disrespect for her.)

I would not be in favor, however, of changing the name of Riverside Park to include Annie Young’s name. Riverside Park was one of the first four neighborhood parks acquired by the first park board when it was created in 1883. Along with Logan (originally Washburn) Park in northeast, Farview (originally Prospect) Park in north Minneapolis and Loring (originally Central) Park in the southwest, Riverside Park was part of the original plan to give each quadrant of the city a neighborhood park. Among those four original parks, Riverside is the only one that has had only one name. It is the oldest park name in the Minneapolis park system and should remain as it has for almost 135 years.

While contemplating the topic of park names I have gone back and reposted several earlier articles I had written about park names, part of my continuing effort to update this site.

All the names in Minneapolis parks. All 132 names in Minneapolis parks that refer to a person. Now the count grows to 133 with the naming of the meadow at Riverside park for Annie Young.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wrote about the original name change from Nicollet Field to Dr. Martin Luther King Park following King’s assassination in 1968, an excellent decision even though it did require a suspension of the rules, too. Those were dramatic times. The name was subsequently modified again in 2010 to the present mouthful. I’ll give a dollar to anyone who pushed for that last name change who ever uses the full name. MLK is one of the few sets of initials in U.S. history that everyone knows along with FDR and JFK. Maybe LBJ. Men as big as King don’t need honorifics. Still, as a formality, I don’t object. It just seemed needless.

Tower Hill Park. The park is not named for the “Witch’s Hat” tower.

Bde Maka Ska. Some thoughts on the proposed name change for Lake Calhoun before it was passed.

H.W.S. Cleveland. I’ve posted three times —  first, second, third — about adding the name of Horace William Shaler Cleveland to our park system, preferably somewhere in the Mississippi River gorge, which he was so instrumental in preserving from destruction. The third link above celebrates the introduction of a resolution to the park board that set in motion adding Cleveland’s name to the west side of the river gorge. Unfortunately, that effort has stalled.

Perkins Hill Park. The park was not named for Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor. As a member of the cabinet, she was the first woman to be in the line of succession to the Presidency of the U.S. The Perkins name in Minneapolis came long before her tenure in Washington; it goes back to property owners in early Minneapolis.

Loring Park. The first park acquired by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners was officially named Central Park. Loring Park was the third name given to the park.

The Commons. When I wrote about this donation of public land to the Minnesota Vikings — the park is reserved for private use about 20% of the time at essentially no cost — it was called The Yard. A short time after my post, the name was changed to The Commons. That makes me feel so much better about our city’s largesse to a private business to which we had already donated hundreds of millions. Oh, I almost forgot, we got the Super Bowl for it — with lots of events we couldn’t get into. So much fun.

Gentrification. Inevitably names like Devil’s Glen in Glenwood (Wirth) Park were changed. Too bad. There must have been at least a story behind the old name; the new one — Birch Pond — tells none. The Devil had his name on several topographical features back in the day, including “Devil’s Backbone” for the ridge running southwest of downtown Minneapolis.  Lowry Hill was part of it. That hill used to be higher, but was cut down, in part, to create a more manageable grade for Hennepin Avenue. One of the last “mounds” to be cut down is where Thomas Lowry Park now stands. Maybe in that day, the Devil generated as much naming outrage as John C. Calhoun.

These are just a few of past entries on this site that dealt with park names. I will be reposting many more articles in the near future.

David C. Smith