Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Parks: General’ Category

G’day Maka Ska, G’bye Calhoun?

Efforts to eradicate the name Lake Calhoun and replace it with Bde Maka Ska have generated a great deal of discussion and passion on many sides. The usage of the recommended new name and its meaning and pronunciation have been badly muddled, however, which confuses the issues unnecessarily.

Let me, a non-Dakota speaker, try to clarify. Bde Maka Ska is one of the Dakota names for the lake that was named Lake Calhoun by white surveyors or soldiers sometime before 1820. We have been told often that the term translates as White Earth Lake. So far, so good. But let’s break it down further.

Translation
Bde: lake
Maka: earth
Ska: white

Pronunciation
Bde: The “e”, as in Spanish, is more like “ay” as in day. Hear Crocodile Dundee saying “G’day, mate.” Say b’day like an Australian caricature says “g’day” — rather than b-day which suggests a pronunciation more like a fixture in a French bathroom. G’day. B’day. Closer to one syllable than two.
Makaska: I’ve cheated and put the two words together, which to my ear is how Dakota speakers pronounce them. All a’s are pronounced as in “Ma” for mother. Accent the middle syllable, as if you were saying “my Costco.” MaCostco. Makaska.
This is the easy part and should not have any bearing on the merits of changing the name. It’s not hard to say, so let’s not use that excuse. How do you know how to pronounce “Isles” in “Lake of the Isles” with two of five letters silent? You learned — and thought nothing of it. Not difficult.

Usage
This is a little trickier. I don’t know Dakota patterns of usage, but to my view the Minneapolis park board’s master plan entitled Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska-Harriet, which recommended the name change, is confusing. If we are dropping “lake” from Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, in this context shouldn’t we also drop “bde” from Bde Maka Ska. Otherwise it would be Lake Lake White Earth.

In other words, Bde Maka Ska replaces Lake Calhoun, not just Calhoun. Maybe Dakota grammarians would box your ears if you said the equivalent of, “I’m going to bike around Maka Ska this afternoon.” Maybe in Dakota “lake” or “bde” must always be part of a lake name. But if the “bde” doesn’t have to bde there, couldn’t the park board have approved renaming the lake “Maka Ska”? I ask in part because I haven’t heard any objection to the word “lake” itself, although Tony Lake, Lake Street, and Veronica Lake all have had detractors. (I’ve never seen her right eye!)

It matters because any use of Calhoun alone then is unaffected, which is a bit exasperating, because that’s the objectionable part. So on the parkway signs that say East (or West) Calhoun Parkway it was incorrect to add Bde Maka Ska, as was done last year. Only signs that say “Lake Calhoun” should have been changed. Even the vandals of signs at Lake Calhoun last year didn’t know what they were doing when they replaced only Calhoun, but not Lake, with Bde Maka Ska. Pretty ignorant activism.

I raise this issue primarily for clarification. We know some lakes around the world by their indigenous names, Loch Ness comes to mind, and others have retained names given by non-English speakers, such as Lac qui Parle in western Minnesota (not just a lake but a county), a French translation of the Dakota words “lake that speaks”. (Was “bde” part of that Dakota name?)

Something to Consider

So… how should we treat Bde Maka Ska? Wouldn’t it be easier to discuss the merits of a name change if we said we wanted to change the name from Lake Calhoun to Lake Maka Ska? Dakota and Ojibwe names for lakes and places abound in Minnesota and no one seems to have a problem with that. Yet I’ve never seen any other lake named Bde Anything. There are many a “mni” — Dakota for “water” — anglicized to Minnetonka, Minnesota, Minnehaha, but not a “bde” that I know of.

I suspect that some people opposed to renaming the lake get hung up on “bde” for “lake”. It’s a diversion from the real issues, which are, “Calhoun or not?” And, “If not, what?” Lake Maka Ska might eventually be adopted by those who don’t speak Dakota. Bde Maka Ska will take decades longer — if the bde isn’t dropped quickly anyway.

Where Does the Name Come From?

Knowing a bit of the history of Lake Calhoun since 1820, I’m also curious how the lake got the name “White Earth”.  We know that parts of the shoreline, especially on the south and west, were quite marshy by the mid- to late-1800s and had to be filled eventually to hold parkways. But we also know from dredging reports that the beach on the north side at the site of the bath house built in 1912 was created or greatly augmented by considerable dredging  from sand found on the lake bottom.

Lake Calhoun aerial 1a

Lake Calhoun’s northwest shore and Bath House in late 1910s, before a parkway existed on the west side of the lake, although there is a light-colored trail or path. The north beach was mostly man-made. Photo likely taken from near the Minikahda Club. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

To my knowledge the dredging at Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake produced little sand from those lake bottoms. Lake Harriet has never been dredged. It’s not obvious from any accounts I’ve seen of why “maka ska” or “white earth” was used to distinguish this lake from neighboring lakes in Cloud Man’s time or earlier.

Maybe a geologist could enlighten me. Were there relatively white deposits of sand in the vicinity at some point? What is the geological explanation? (For those of us who still believe in science anyway.) Were the shores of Lake Calhoun once sandy — before beaches, parkways and retaining walls?

If anyone can enlighten us about the Dakota language or can explain the park board’s garbled use of Bde Maka Ska, sometimes as a substitute for Lake Calhoun and others for Calhoun only, or can tell us about “white earth”, please do. I won’t post comments on whether we should keep or erase the Calhoun name; many other venues provide space for those arguments.

David C. Smith    minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Happy 99th, Don Johnson

Don Johnson, a great, but little-known Minnesota athlete, just celebrated his 99th birthday. I hope you will join me in wishing him many more.

Don was a champion speed skater at the leading edge of a generation of speed skaters that dominated American speed skating from the 1930s into the 1950s. That was a time when speed skating races at Powderhorn Park and Como Lake in St. Paul drew tens of thousands of spectators and speed skating was an official sport in Minneapolis high schools. The sport thrived in part due to support from the Minneapolis Park Board and the excellent skating track it maintained at Powderhorn Park, but also due to sponsorship and hard work by several American Legion posts. Speed skating had similar support in St. Paul.

Scan Don Johnson 1948 rev.

Don Johnson winning the 440-yard national championship in 1947, narrowly defeating his long-time rivals Ken Bartholomew on the right and another Minneapolitan, Bob Fitzgerald, on the left who tied for the silver medal at 500 meters in the 1948 Winter Olympics.  At that time in the U.S. speed skaters raced in a pack, instead of racing against the clock as was done in the rest of the world.  Pack-style racing was considered more entertaining for fans and resulted in much more strategic races. (Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.)

For another view of Don winning a race, check out this newsreel Clip of him winning the 880 in the 1948 national championships. (His is the second race in the newsreel.)

The first Minnesota skaters to break onto the national scene in that era and win national titles were James Webster of St. Paul, then Marvin Swanson of Minneapolis in the mid-1930s. They were followed by Johnson and Dick Beard, high school teammates at Minneapolis Central, then in rapid succession by Charles Leighton, future Olympic medalists Ken Bartholomew and Bob Fitzgerald, John Werket, Art Seaman, Pat McNamara, Gene Sandvig, Floyd Bedbury, and Tom Gray. All were national or world champions or Olympians. Women enjoyed a run of success nearly as impressive, led by Dorothy Franey, Mary Dolan, and Louise Herou of Minneapolis and Geraldine Scott, Janet Christopherson, Gwendolyn DuBois and Diane White of St. Paul, all of whom won national championships. (Women’s speed skating was an exhibition event at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid and Dorothy Franey of Minneapolis was on the team. Women didn’t compete in speed skating again in the Olympics until 1960. Mary Lawler of Minneapolis made the 1964 team.) Many more Minneapolis skaters excelled — won national championships or set age group records — at junior and intermediate levels. Of course there have been many world-class speed skaters from Minnesota since the early 1960s as well, but by then the Twin Cities, especially Powderhorn Park, was no longer the center of the American speed skating world.

EPSON MFP image

This article from the New York Times, February 8, 1938 tells the story of Johnson’s victory. The rest of the article covers the other races held that night.

 

 

One of Don Johnson’s greatest triumphs was as a 19-year-old at Madison Square Garden where he won the Champion of Champions two-mile race at the Silver Skates tournament before a crowd of nearly 15,000 in 1938.

Johnson recalled that the celebrity starter for the race was former heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey.

What makes Johnson’s victory particularly impressive was that he enjoyed some of his greatest successes at shorter distances such as the 440 and 880 highlighted above — and on longer outdoor tracks. If you’re a sports fan you know that Madison Square Garden is the most famous basketball arena in the world, meaning hardly large enough for a speed skating rink. The track was about the size of the hockey rink when the New York Rangers played in the famous arena. The track hardly had a straightaway. At 16 laps to the mile it was all corners. If there was a precursor to today’s short-track speed skating, MSG was it.

Two Weeks Pay

Johnson almost didn’t make it to New York for that meet. Right out of high school, he had gone to work for General Electric in Minneapolis. He couldn’t afford to miss two weeks of work to make the trip to first Michigan for the national championships and then to New York for the Silver Skates meet. The St. Paul newspaper that sponsored the race locally — he qualified by winning the race in St. Paul — agreed to pick up his pay for the two weeks he would be gone. (The outdoor nationals in Petoskey, Mich. were cancelled due to warm weather and rain showers.)

Johnson returned to MSG the next year, 1939, to defend his title along with his local rival Ken Bartholomew. As the New York Times reported on February 7, 1939 the two were among ten of the leading speed skaters in the country that took part in the event. The race had another capacity crowd in the Garden on their feet at the finish. The grueling race ended in what the Times called a “blanket finish” by the top four skaters. The judges deliberated for five minutes while the crowd awaited an announcement of the winner. The Times reported that spectators thought the delay was due to debate over whether Johnson or Vincent Bozich of Detroit had won or whether it was a dead heat. Ken Bartholomew had finished a hair behind them. The judges’ decision shocked everyone: Johnson, Bozich and Bartholomew were disqualified for “pushing on the turn.” The victory went to the fourth place finisher who represented New York in the race. Such was life in the rough-and-tumble world of pack-style racing — where “pushing” was part of racing.

Don Johnson 2014-9-4 (2)

Don Johnson when he was only 96.

Despite Johnson’s successes, he was not selected for the 1940 Olympic team. Neither was Bartholomew. The only Minnesota skater to make that team was Charles Leighton. Of course he never got to race in the Olympics due to WWII. By the time the Olympics resumed in 1948, although still highly competitive with the country’s best — as witnessed by the photo and clip above — Johnson did not compete in the St. Moritz Olympics, but attended the Games as an alternate.

Two of Don’s long-time competitors from Minneapolis, Ken Bartholomew, who married Don’s sister, and Bob Fitzgerald, who was an altar boy at Don’s wedding, tied for the silver medal in St. Moritz in the 500 meter race, the only Americans to win speed skating medals in those games. They proved that Americans could win medals even when they skated the less exciting European Olympic style. No pushing.

Happy Birthday, Don. We hope we’ve helped revive happy memories of good friendships with tough competitors.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Lake Calhoun Outlet and Lakewood Cemetery Greenhouses

I acquired this photograph because it’s the only one I’ve seen of an outlet from Lake Calhoun. But in light of today’s public tours of Lakewood Cemetery’s greenhouses I looked at the picture differently. Until I was told by Katie Thornton at Lakewood that the cemetery once had six huge greenhouses I had no idea what the buildings in this picture near the southeast shore of Lake Calhoun could be. Now I realize they might be the Lakewood greenhouses.

EPSON MFP image

I don’t know the date of this photograph of the south shore of Lake Calhoun — or the photographer. I was interested in it primarily because of the “outlet” and the parkway running so close to the shore. But it may also be the only picture I’ve seen of the Lakewood Cemetery greenhouses. What else could that be near the southeastern shore of the lake? (Photo: David C. Smith Collection)

If you make it over to the Lakewood Cemetery greenhouse tour today and I don’t, please ask if their greenhouses are what we see here and let me know what you learn. If you have better information — or guesses — on what those structures might be, please share.

David C. Smith    minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Help a Neighborhood Help a Park: Elwell Park III

The first Elwell Park in southeast Minneapolis was traded to a manufacturing company in 1952. The second Elwell Park was obliterated by a new freeway in 1962. Now the third Elwell Park needs your help. It’s not being wiped off the map like its older siblings, but it could use some TLC. The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association is raising money to refurbish the tiny park called a “totlot”. Anyone can contribute to this unusual little park at givemn.org, where you can also learn more about the project.

Elwell Turtle

Elwell Park is often called “Turtle Park” for the mosaic reptile that is its distinguishing feature. Your contribution will help restore the mosaic tiles on the turtle shell as well as a nearby “couch.” Artist Susan Wagner, who created the originals, will do the repair work. Contributions will also help refurbish the park’s metal sculptures by Marcia MacEachron and replant flowers.

Elwell Park III, located at 714 Sixth Street SE, was established in 1968 after I-35W ran over Elwell Park II and cut off the neighborhood from Van Cleve Park to the east. The park serves one of the city’s oldest residential districts, which filled in between the original town of St. Anthony at the falls and the University of Minnesota.

Elwell Field dedication

The dedication of the first Elwell Field in 1940. It was located at the industrial northern edge of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. The neighborhood draws its name from the two elementary schools that originally served the neighborhood. Two parks in the neighborhood also took their names from the schools.

You can read more about the first two Elwell Park’s in my description of Minneapolis’s “Lost Parks.”

Several Minneapolis parks lost land to the construction of freeways in the 1960s, but only two were completely wiped out: Elwell Park II and Wilson Park, which was blocking the path of I-94 ramps into and out of downtown Minneapolis north of the Basilica. (Read more about Wilson Park and other park losses to freeways here.)

The next nice weekend, ride your bike or walk to Elwell “Turtle” Park to get a feel for what you can help accomplish with a donation of a few bucks.

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

After I posted the above I remembered a photo that people in Marcy-Holmes especially might enjoy.EPSON MFP imageThis is a C.P. Gibson photo on a postcard of the second Marcy School at 8th St. and 11th Ave. S.E. The school opened in 1908 and this photo was probably taken around that time. This school building no longer exists, but the property is now Marcy Park. The park board wanted to convert the first Marcy School property at 4th St. and 9th Ave. S.E. into a park around 1910, but property owners in the neighborhood didn’t want to pay assessments to create a park so the property continued as a school, renamed Trudeau School, until 1938. The park board eventually took over the original Marcy School site in 1952 and created a park there named Elwell Park. That was Elwell Park II — which now lies beneath I-35W.

If you want more help in sorting out the many schools that have existed in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, many that had redundant names, visit the school inventory page at electiontrendsproject.org, still one of the most useful resources for Minneapolis historians.

Behind the Scenes: Minneapolis’s First Park?

You have a rare opportunity in April to tour the greenhouses in one of the first parks in Minneapolis: Lakewood Cemetery.

Technically, the first park in Minneapolis was Murphy Square, which Capt. Edward Murphy donated to the city as a park in 1857, but Murphy Square was used as a pasture for nearly two decades.

Lakewood Cemetery was created in 1871 — 12 years before the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners was created — by many of the same people who helped create the Minneapolis park system. Names such as Loring, Brackett, Morrison and King are as much a part of cemetery history as they are of park history. Lakewood Cemetery even donated some of the land that is now the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird sanctuary on the north shore of Lake Harriet to the park board. Once when the park board was short of cash, it borrowed money from the cemetery.

H.W.S. Cleveland and Lakewood Cemetery

Another name that links Lakewood Cemetery with Minneapolis parks is Cleveland — but not in the way that many assume. Horace William Shaler Cleveland, whose blueprint guided the development of Minneapolis and St. Paul parks, did not design Lakewood Cemetery, although he designed many cemeteries across the country. In 1884, the cemetery’s trustees hired Ralph Cleveland, Horace Cleveland’s son, as superintendent. The fact that Ralph had no prior experience in such a position and the trustees consisted largely of men who had worked closely with Horace Cleveland in creating the Minneapolis park system suggests that Ralph’s hire may have been a favor to the father. That became a larger issue in the future of Minneapolis parks in 1886 when Horace and Maryann Cleveland moved from Chicago to Minneapolis, in part to be nearer Ralph and his family.

Cleveland reading

H. W. S. Cleveland 

They had good reasons. Horace was 72 at that time and looking to the day when he could no longer perform the often strenuous physical duties of a landscape architect. He was also raising his two young granddaughters, whose father, Horace’s oldest son, Henry, had died of disease in the jungles of Colombia in 1880. And he couldn’t count on help from his wife, Maryann, who was frail and ill much of her adult life. Living near their only surviving child made sense.

I don’t think the St. Paul and Minneapolis park systems would be what they are today if Horace Cleveland had not moved to Minneapolis when he did. He became a strong presence in park debates. The opinions of Professor Cleveland, as he was called, were often quoted in the newspapers, which would have been far less likely if he had remained at the distance of Chicago. Would Minneapolis have acquired Minnehaha Falls without Cleveland’s prodding? Would St. Paul and Minneapolis have acquired the Mississippi River Gorge on both sides of the river without his constant encouragement and dire warnings? Would park commissioners have continued to heed Cleveland’s advice to forego improvements and decorations in the parks in order to buy more land if Cleveland hadn’t been looking over their shoulders? I suspect the answer to one or all of those questions is “No!”

I think a case could be made that Lakewood Cemetery, by hiring Ralph Cleveland as superintendent in 1884, is indirectly responsible for much of the success of the park systems in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

You’re Invited!

From its inception, Lakewood followed the national trend of creating “garden” cemeteries that were designed to be picturesque parks as well as cemeteries. An integral part of the operations of those cemeteries was growing their own flowers and decorative plants in greenhouses. The flowers were planted to beautify the cemetery grounds and were sold for placement on graves.

Lakewood Cemetery retains one of the largest cemetery greenhouse operations in the country raising 95,000 plants annually in two greenhouses. And it is inviting you to take a closer look and learn more about this colorful part of its history at a time when its greenhouses will be at their showiest!

Lakewood Cemetery will conduct tours of its two greenhouses on Earth Day, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There is much more information at lakewoodcemetery.com. You’ll even get to pot a plant to take home!

I encourage you to check out the website, but don’t wait too long. The tours have a limited capacity, so reservations are required. The tour is open to all ages and it’s free, with an optional donation of $5 suggested.

Whether you’re a gardener or a history buff, it sounds like a great opportunity to see something that’s usually out of sight. Spend a couple hours in the morning helping clean up your favorite park — or join the Minneapolis Parks Foundation or Friends of the Mississippi River in their cleanup efforts — and then dash over to Lakewood Cemetery.

While you’re there, pay your respects at the graves of Horace, Maryann and Ralph Cleveland.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2017 David C. Smith

Naming Rights … and Wrongs? People Commemorated in Minneapolis Parks

Given recent discussions of the propriety of the names of park properties, especially Lake Calhoun, I compiled a list of the 129 people whose names are commemorated in Minneapolis parks. This includes park properties and facilities, such as playing fields, fountains and gardens. Only one of the names is fake.

At the end of the list are several little-known facts about Minneapolis park names. Some of the names most difficult to track down belong to park triangles at street intersections. In many of those cases, the triangles were given the street name, such as Orlin and Clarence triangles. I have not researched the origin of those names, so if you know something, please share.

Also let me know if I have overlooked any names in this list. More information on many of these people is featured in other posts on this site, so if you want to learn more, begin with a quick search here.

Adams, Abraham
Alcott, Louisa May
Anthony, Saint of Padua
Armatage, Maude
Audubon, John James
Barnes, William A.
Barton, Asa Bowers
Bassett, Joel Bean
Beard, Henry Beach

Bethune Mary McLeod portrait (Scurlock)

Mary McLeod Bethune

Beltrami, Giacomo
Berry, William Morse
Bethune, Mary McLeod
Bohanon, John C.
Bossen, Christian A.
Bottineau, Pierre
Brackett, George Augustus
Bryant, William Cullen
Butler, Eloise
Calhoun, Vice Pres. John C.
Carew, Rod (baseball field, Xcel Field Park)
Casey, Bob (baseball field, Stewart Park)
Cavell, Edith

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell

Chergosky, Donald and Janice
Chowen, George
Chute, Richard (and Samuel)
Clarence (unknown, street name)
Cleveland, Pres. Grover
Clifton (unknown, street name)
Corcoran, William Wilson
Cowles, John Jr. and Sage (conservatory, Sculpture Garden)
Coyle, Brian
Crone, Martha (shelter, Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden))
Currie, Edward A.
Cyson, Stan (baseball field, Northeast Park)
Dean, Joseph (and sons)
Deming, Portius

Portius C. Deming 1916 AR

Portius C. Deming

Dickman, Ralph
Dorr, Caleb
Elliot, Dr. Jacob S.
Elwell, James T.
Farwell (unknown, developer)
Folwell, William Watts
Fremont, Gen. John Charles
Fuller, Margaret
Gale, Samuel
Gladstone, William
Gluek, Jacob
Godfrey, Ard
Gross, Francis A.
Hall, Elizabeth
Harrison, Pres. William Henry
Hartman, Sid (baseball field, Northeast Park)
Heffelfinger, Frank (fountain, Lyndale Park)
Hennepin, Father Louis
Holmes, Oliver Wendell
Hull, Agnes “Brownie” McNair

Agnes McNair Hull, ca. 1890, Jordan, Minnesota Historical Society, por 25613 r1

Agnes “Brownie” McNair Hull

Humboldt, Friedrich von
Imme, Roger
Irving, Washington
Isle, Billy, Ezekiel and Otis
Jackson, Pres. Andrew
Jordan, Charles M.
Kenny, Sister Elizabeth
Killebrew, Harmon (baseball field, Pearl Park)
King, Rev. Lyndon (“Lyndale” is derived from Lyndon, father of William S. King)
King, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, Jr.
King, William Smith
Kroening, Carl
Leavenworth, Harriet Lovejoy
Levin, Joanne R.
Logan, Gen. John
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth
Loring, Charles Morgridge

Charles M. Loring

Charles M. Loring

Lovell, C. P.
Lowry, Thomas
Lupient, Jim (water park)
Luxton, George E.
Marcy, William A.
Marshall, Gov. William
Matthews, Charles E.
McRae, Alexander A.
Monroe, Pres. James
Morris, Lucy Wilder
Morrison, Clinton
Morrison, Dorilus
Mueller, Robert C. and Herbert L.
Murphy, Edward
Neiman, Leonard
Nelson, Benjamin Franklin
Newton, Isaac
Nicollet, Joseph
Oliver, Deacon
Olson, Orvin “Ole”
Orlin (unknown, street name)
Painter, Jonathan E.
Peavey, Frank H.
Perkins (unknown, property owner)
Pershing, Gen. John
Phelps, Edmund J.
Phillips, Eddie (football field, Farview Park)
Phillips, Wendell
Pillsbury, Phillip W. (and John S. and Charles A.)
Quilici, Frank (baseball field, Shingle Creek Park)
Reed, Lachlan and Martha Sweatt
Rice, James I.
Ridgway, James Arthur
Rivers, J. D. (garden, Wirth Park)
Roberts, Thomas Sadler
Rollins (John or Mortimer?, developer of Rollins Addition)
Russell, Roswell P.
Sheridan, Gen. Phillip H.
Sibley, Gen. Henry Hastings

Sibley, Henry Brig. Gen.

Gen. Henry Sibley

Smith, Charles Axel (C.A.)
Snelling, Col. Josiah
Solomon, Edward C.
Steele, Franklin
Stevens, Col. John
Stewart, Levi Merrick “Elder”
Stinson, James
Sumner, Sen. Charles
Sweatt, Harold
Todd, George
Van Cleve, Gen. Horatio P. and Charlotte Ouisconsin
Waite, Edward Foote
Washburn, Sen. William Drew
Washington, Pres. George
Webber, Charles C. and Mary Harris
Wells, Frederick (tennis center)
Whittier, John Greenleaf
Willard, Frances
Winchell, Newton (and Horace)
Windom, Sen. William
Wirth, Theodore

Some “names” are not included on this list. Minnehaha is often thought of as a fictional character from Longfellow’s famous poem “Song of Hiawatha.” In fact, it’s a phrase in the Dakota language, “mni haha” that was a generic term for “waterfall.” So Longfellow named his character not for laughing water, but literally for waterfall.

Six other names from Longfellow’s once wildly popular poem also were used in the Minneapolis park system. Four are still used: Hiawatha and Nokomis for lakes, Keewaydin for a park and Wenonah for a triangle. Two others, Iagoo and Osseo, were names of park triangles that no longer exist.

One of the most influential park commissioners on nomenclature opposed the Longfellow-associated names for the two lakes. William Watts Folwell, the first President of University of Minnesota and a historian, opposed naming Lake Amelia and Rice Lake for Nokomis and Hiawatha, respectively, in 1925, because they were Ojibway names, not Dakota names, and were therefore inappropriate in a region once inhabited primarily by Dakota people.

William Watts Folwell dressed for his wedding

William Watts Folwell

In the 1890s Folwell had proposed several names for parks when he was a park commissioner. Only one of the names he suggested was accepted: Loring Park. He proposed the name to honor his friend and first president of the park board Charles Loring, when Loring left the park board in 1891.

In addition to Loring Park, Folwell’s most lasting naming suggestion came in 1891 when he proposed calling Minneapolis’s system of parkways – first imagined by H. W. S. Cleveland – the “Grand Rounds.”

Other names proposed by Folwell that were not accepted for various reasons:

  • Hiyata Lake, for Spring Lake at The Parade, from a Dakota word for “behind the hill.” While the name was never officially adopted when proposed in the 1890s it did appear on several park board maps in the early 1900s.
  • Accault Parkway for West River Parkway, after Michel Accault, the leader of the French exploring party that included Father Hennepin as a subordinate member
  • Lake Medoza, for Lake Calhoun, using a Dakota name for the lake, which meant lake of the “loons”. Folwell, like many others who had fought in the Union Army, weren’t keen on perpetuating Calhoun’s name, which was so closely identified with the secessionist cause. Folwell was pursuing a graduate degree in Germany when the Civil War broke out; he returned home immediately and enlisted, eventually becoming a Lt. Col. in command of a corps of engineers.
  • “Alpha” through “Lambda”, letters of the Greek alphabet, for smaller triangular parks – not one of Folwell’s most brilliant ideas.
sanford maria portrait

Maria Sanford

I recently discovered a suggestion from 1923 to rename the three bridges over canals linking Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun after three prominent women in Minneapolis history: Maria Sanford, Beatrice Lowry and Alice Ames Winter. I haven’t found a record of what became of that idea. They would all be excellent additions to park nomenclature.

 

Cleveland reading

H. W. S. Cleveland

If you have followed this blog for some time you know that I must close with a plea to add a name to this long list: Horace William Shaler Cleveland.

It remains astonishing that one of the people most responsible for the creation of this marvelous park system is not included among the many who have had their names memorialized in it. There is still time to make that right!

 

 

David C. Smith  minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

A few moments later: Thanks to MaryLynn Pulscher, I have added the name of Roger Imme to the list. The recreation center at Whittier Park is named for him. If I got paid for writing these pieces, MaryLynn would get paid as my editor!

3/25: I just added three names I had overlooked in the park system. The Reed Sweat Family Tennis Center at MLK Park was not named by the Minneapolis park board but does operate through a lease agreement within a park. The center is named for Lachlan Reed, his wife Martha Sweatt Reed and her father Harold Sweatt, who founded InnerCity Tennis.

City of Parks among “excellent books”

Many people who love urban parks are familiar with Alan Tate’s tremendous book Great City Parks (2001). It was one of the first books I bought when I began research for City of Parks in 2007. Tate provided an overview, beautifully illustrated, of 19 great urban parks from around the world and one urban park system — Minneapolis’s — which provided context for my own decade-long obsession. Among the individual parks he profiled in addition to the Minneapolis park system were some of my favorites: Central Park and Bryant Park in New York, Regent’s Park in London, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in Paris and Parque de Maria Luisa in Sevilla.

A second edition of Great City Parks was published in 2015. In the preface to that edition, Tate explained why he had decided to produce a revised edition. Among his reasons was that there had been “numerous publications bringing new perspectives on the subject.” He also noted that since he had written his book some “excellent books on the individual parks” had been written. He listed seven books “particularly.” One of them was “David C. Smith’s City of Parks – The Story of Minneapolis Parks.”City of Parks

I mention this for two reasons. One, you really should own a copy of City of Parks. I don’t get a penny from your purchase — I don’t get royalties — so all proceeds go to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. Even if you disagree with Alan Tate, one of the world’s leading authorities on city parks, and don’t think the book is “excellent”, you’ll be supporting Minneapolis parks. Seems worth the risk to me.

The other reason I mention this is ego; writers love praise. So why didn’t I mention it before now? I just learned of it this week. I’m not sure, but some people are saying that the “lying media” has kept this from us. It wasn’t in the New York Times, was it?

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Defining Wirth

The Minneapolis Park Board and Hennepin County Library report that we are probably only weeks away from the transfer of the park board’s historical archives to the downtown Minneapolis library. A valuable trove of historical information will be preserved, protected and made available to the public as never before.

1927-christmas-card

Theodore Wirth outside the house built by the park board at Lyndale Farmstead in 1910. This 1927 Christmas card was found in the park board files moved from the City Hall clock tower to park board headquarters to prepare them for their imminent transfer to the Hennepin County Library. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.)

Among the more intriguing documents discovered in preparing those archives for transfer to a better place was a letter from Theodore Wirth to Charles Loring, July 4, 1905, after Wirth visited Minneapolis to consider taking the position of Superintendent of Parks. Upon returning to his home in Hartford, Connecticut, where he held a similar position, Wirth wrote to thank Loring for his hospitality and, more importantly, to outline his terms for accepting the position in Minneapolis.

The letter was an exciting discovery because for many years I and others have looked for evidence that Loring and the park board had agreed in 1905 to build a house for Wirth. That house was eventually built in 1910, four years after Wirth came to Minneapolis, at Lyndale Farmstead on Bryant Avenue near Lake Harriet. Theodore Wirth lived in the house until 1945, ten years after he retired as park superintendent. It was occupied by succeeding superintendents from then until David Fisher moved out of the house to one of his own choosing in the mid-1990s. The house became the residence of the superintendent once again in 2010, however, when Jayne Miller chose to live there when she moved to Minneapolis.

The construction of a house on park property for Wirth was very controversial in 1910. The park board’s authority to build it was challenged in court. The park board justified its decision in part by claiming that the structure was not just a residence, but an administration building — and also claimed that the house fulfilled a condition of Wirth’s employment years earlier.

Although park board plans to build the house as a residence for Wirth survived a court challenge — by a split vote in the Minnesota Supreme Court — historians, including me, had found no proof that the park board had agreed to provide housing for Wirth. I had seen a copy of Wirth’s five-page letter from 1905 proposing the terms of his employment, but the pertinent portions of that copy were utterly illegible. Now, we can read them in Wirth’s original ink.

1905-07-04-letter-to-cml-p4-rev-excerpt

In his July 4, 1905 letter Wirth wrote that among his conditions for accepting the park superintendent’s job in Minneapolis, “I would expect that as soon as circumstances permit I be furnished a house and privileges similar to what I am having now.” As superintendent of parks in Hartford, Connecticut, Wirth and his family lived on the second floor of a large house that stood on land donated as a park to Hartford. The ground floor of that house served as a concession stand and visitors center.  (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

In a subsequent letter to Loring, Wirth wrote that while he was torn between staying in Hartford or moving to Minneapolis, he had stated his terms for accepting the Minneapolis job and the park board had agreed to them, so he felt honor-bound to accept the new job. That is as close as we can get, without seeing Loring’s actual response to Wirth, to knowing that Loring and the park board had agreed to meet Wirth’s expectation of a house.

Why had the original letter been missing for so long? We found it in a file of park board correspondence not from 1905, but 1911! No one ever would have looked for it there. I suspect it was filed there after the court case had been decided and the supporting documents were no longer needed and were thrown into a current file. It probably hadn’t been looked at between 1911 and last summer.

Proper Attribution: A Park within a Half-mile of Every Residence?

Another discovery of interest to me in the documents soon to take up permanent residence at the library was a memorandum from Wirth that sheds light on the often-repeated claim that he championed a playground within a half-mile of every residence in the city.

The attribution of that claim to Wirth often presumes that he not only supported it but that it originated with him. I have scoured Wirth’s writing and the park board’s published records for the source of that particular measure for playground location. No luck. I couldn’t find that standard proposed by Wirth even in the hundreds of pages he wrote for his annual reports.

The only similar claim I was able to find was in the autobiography of Wirth’s son Conrad, who was the director of the National Park Service 1951-1964. In Parks, Politics and the People, published in 1980, more than 30 years after his father’s death, Conrad associated the “park within a half mile” concept with his father.

Then came the deep dive into once dusty archive boxes. A 1916 committee file contained many petitions signed by residents of south Minneapolis asking for a park at 39th and Chicago — what eventually became Phelps Field. Theodore Wirth submitted his opinion to a joint committee considering the issue. He opposed the playground because it was within the district already served by Nicollet (Martin Luther King) Field and Powderhorn Park. He explained,

“It is conceded by playground authorities from all parts of the country that one good-sized playground per square mile of city area is sufficient for even densely populated districts.”

That hardly seems the statement of a man who had created the standard. While I have not researched the subject on a national scale to see where the standard did originate, it appears that the park per square mile standard was already widely used. Keep in mind that Minneapolis was fairly late to the practice of establishing playgrounds under the auspices of a park board, so it was an unlikely pioneer in developing standards for playground locations. To the credit of Minneapolis and Theodore Wirth, however, Minneapolis probably came closer to meeting that standard eventually than almost all other cities.

By the way, the park board did not take Wirth’s advice in this instance and approved the acquisition of Phelps Field despite its proximity to other playgrounds and the large amount of grading that Wirth asserted would be required to make the land into usable playground space.

Hundreds more documents, like these, that provide information and insights into the creation and evolution of Minneapolis’s parks will soon be available to everyone at the library.

Congratulations!

The transfer of the park board archives culminates the work of several years. Park commissioners, led by Scott Vreeland, superintendent Jayne Miller, and park board staff, especially Dawn Sommers and former real estate attorney Renay Leone, deserve thanks for their commitment to preserving park historical records. The project also owes a great deal to the cooperation of Josh Schaffer in the City Clerk’s office, and Ted Hathaway, director of Special Collections at Hennepin County Library.

I would encourage local historians, especially those with an interest in the first half of the 20th Century, as well as park enthusiasts, to take a look at the archives once Ted and his staff at the library can make them available. They provide a fascinating historical view of not just a park system, but a city.

David C. Smith    minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Straw Men, Women and Children

When I landed in Lusaka, Zambia in 1980, the country was a relatively stable island surrounded by wars and brutal governments. That meant it was a refuge for people fleeing death, destruction and brutality on nearly all sides. As the new Vice Consul at the American Embassy, I had a professional interest in those horrors. Part of my job was to implement a new U.S. State Department program of refugee resettlement from Africa. That experience informs my deep anger and embarrassment at the shameful, unnecessary and likely counterproductive ban on travel, immigration and refugee resettlement in the U.S. targeted at Muslims last week by President Trump.

Zambia shared borders with Angola, Mozambique and Namibia, all of which were war zones as those nations wrestled with their very recent colonial pasts. The fight in Angola in particular was complicated by the presence of Cuban and South African troops. To the south, Zimbabwe had just ended a long civil war against the rule of the white minority, which had displaced many people. To the east, Malawi was governed by a brutal despot and to the north Zaire was afflicted with periodic violent rebellions against an oppressive and corrupt regime. People sought refuge in Zambia in large numbers.

Overshadowing even this cauldron of displacement was the presence of the headquarters in Lusaka of the African National Congress, the outlawed opposition political party in South Africa. Many fleeing South Africans ended up in Lusaka, too, escaping through Botswana or Zimbabwe. Roads and riverbanks on Zambia’s southern and western borders were littered with land mines. Weapons had poured into the region from nearly every major power. In Lusaka, AK-47s were for rent by the night.

The first refugee resettlement program in Africa was a part of the United States humanitarian response to the situation that had overwhelmed the capacity of a country like Zambia to manage. While Zambia presented unique challenges for refugee resettlement, American embassies throughout Africa joined in the effort to resettle the most vulnerable and deserving refugees in the U.S.

With a strict cap on the number of refugees we were allowed to begin processing that year in Lusaka – fewer than two dozen, as I recall – we focused on the most deserving applicants. The experienced staff of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Lusaka was a valuable ally in sorting out legitimate refugee claims.

It was not easy to corroborate or confirm the individual stories we heard from refugees, but we followed a rigorous process. Our concern was not to weed out terrorists, of course – it was a different time – but we were intently focused on granting refugee status to those most deserving, not opportunists. Practically by definition refugees come from chaotic circumstances where record keeping has broken down or where government-sanctioned persecution and reprisals cast doubt on all official records. How were we to evaluate claims or verify details? You don’t send polite letters to dictators who routinely torture and kill their own citizens to ask if torture claims or death threats are true. Sometimes the evidence of torture was visible physically on refugee applicants; in others, it was evident in behaviors. In still others, experienced observers could distinguish fact from fiction. We evaluated claims and investigated as thoroughly as possible given the much more limited investigative tools of that day.

On our end – the screening process – we could rely on our eyes, ears and brains. The other end of the refugee resettlement process required heart and soul. The State Department worked with organizations around the country, mostly faith-based, to find sponsors for refugees. A group of people would provide a community and resources, both material and emotional, for scarred people lucky enough to have a fresh start, unlucky enough to need one. I learned from my State Department colleagues that one of the most reliable places in the U.S. to find generous sponsors for refugees was Minnesota.

In time, with help, we did our job of processing refugees for resettlement in the U.S, although far fewer than were worthy. I later received letters from some of those who established new lives in the U.S.; one worked in an Arizona copper mine, another was working full-time at two 7-11s, saving money for college. All were grateful, even as they were staggered by the incredible wealth of even average Americans. I suspect that the vast majority became contributing members of American society. I hope they healed.

I was proud to play a small part in implementing that humanitarian effort – and proud of the thousands of generous Americans who played their own parts in it for refugees from Africa and around the world.

My reaction was quite different last week when America symbolically discriminated against an entire religion, turning our backs on visitors, students, immigrants, refugees and fellow citizens for purely religious reasons. The oft-repeated defense of the travel and refugee ban imposed – that it didn’t apply to all Muslims – is nonsense, as is the argument that the order targeted only people from countries already identified by President Obama as potential threats. The government of the United States of America officially discriminated against people solely because of their religion.

The outrageous excuses defeated themselves anyway, because terror attacks by immigrants from the cited countries have not happened. So Trump’s “extreme” actions are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist either because visitors, potential immigrants and refugees from those countries do not pose a threat or because the vetting system already in place has been effective. Whichever explanation you choose, Trump’s loudly proclaimed “extreme” solution is wrong and reprehensible, and more so because it is unnecessary.

A vetting system – “regular vetting,” I suppose – has been in place and improved upon for years since my days in the State Department. By all evidence, it has been successful. And please don’t forget that most of the people who have been doing the “regular vetting” are people like me who had family and friends at home to protect just as much as Donald Trump has ever had and were as patriotic as he has ever been. The people doing that “regular vetting” were not only doing so to protect their families and their country, but were often doing it at personal risk in dangerous places. Don’t tell me those people were unpatriotic or unconcerned about the safety of Americans. Don’t tell me that their “regular vetting” has made you less safe, because it hasn’t. They have succeeded spectacularly in helping to keep us safe without insulting or endangering millions of people who should be our allies and friends, and often are our neighbors

Trump’s “extreme vetting” is a meaningless, concocted term that has no substance and will likely lead to no change at all anyway. (Just think of the Goldman Sachs-plated Cabinet that is supposed to drain the swamp, or James Comey’s suspicious emails, or Mexican payments for a wall.) Why does Trump propose an “extreme” solution for an invented problem? Without “enemies,” without fear, Trump stands for nothing. So he creates straw men to knock down, to prove how tough he is, to show us he’s got our back. In this case, the straw men, women and children are Muslims, and not just potential terrorists from seven countries, but all Muslims everywhere. “They” are his enemy. President Trump has placed them all in the shadow of evil. He clearly asserts that if we cannot yet prove they are terrorists, we just have to look harder, extremer. (Maybe some extreme water-boarding would yield proof.)

The scary part of the episode? Who’s next?

As abhorrent as I find our government’s actions of the past week, I am truly baffled by only one thing in President Trump’s explanation of his edict on immigrants and refugees. Why did he single out Christians for preferential treatment, a group with which, by my observation, he has so little in common?

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

I do not apologize for posting political and humanitarian comment on a site that has been largely apolitical. I have always recognized that people of different political beliefs can find common ground on many issues, such as managing and preserving public spaces. But the time comes when silence is not acceptable, when we all must use whatever means we have at our disposal to condemn policies that are so objectionable.

I will approve no comments on this post. If you agree with me, feel free to share my thoughts with others and add your voice. If you disagree, create your own blog.

I’ll return to my regular park-related topics soon.

100 Years Ago: Altered Electoral Map and Shorelines

What has changed in 100 years? A few times on this site, I have looked back 100 years at park history. I’ll expand my scope this year because of extraordinary political developments. Politics first, then parks.

The national electoral map flipped. The electoral map of the 1916 Presidential contest is astonishing. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, won a close re-election against Republican candidate Charles Hughes, a Supreme Court Justice. Compare red and blue states below to today. Nearly inverted. The Northeast, Upper Midwest and Far West — well, Oregon — voted alike. Republican. And lost.

1916_electoral_map

The 1916 electoral map was nearly opposite of the 2016 electoral map in terms of  party preference. Unlike 2016, President Wilson won both the popular vote and the electoral vote, but his electoral-vote margin was smaller than Donald Trump’s. If the total of votes cast in 1916, fewer than 19 million, seems impossibly low even for the population at that time, keep in mind that only men could vote. (Source: Wikipedia)

While Minnesota’s electoral votes were cast for the Republican — although Hughes received only 392 more votes than Wilson out of nearly 400,000 cast — Minneapolis elected Thomas Van Lear as its mayor, the only Socialist to hold that office in city history. One hundred years later, Minneapolis politics are again dominated by left-of-center politicians.

The population of Minneapolis in 1916 and 2016 was about the same: now a little over 400,000, then a little under. Minneapolis population peaked in mid-500,000s in mid-1950s and dropped into mid-300,000s in late 20th Century. One hundred years ago, however, Minneapolis suburbs were very sparsely populated.

The world 100 years ago was a violent and unstable place. World War I was in its bloody, muddy depths, although the U.S. had not yet entered the war, and Russia was on the verge of revolution. Now people are killed indiscriminately by trucks, guns, and bombs. People worldwide debated then how to address the excesses of capitalists, oligarchs and despots unencumbered by morality. We still do.

One notable change? Many Americans campaigned in 1916 to put women in voting booths, in 2016 to put a woman in the Oval Office.

Continuing Park Growth: North and South

How about progress in parks? The Minneapolis park board added significantly to its playground holdings in 1916 and 1917 as public demand for facilities and fields for active recreation increased. In North Minneapolis, Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park was expanded and land for Folwell Park was acquired. In South Minneapolis, Nicollet (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Park and Chicago Avenue (Phelps) Park were purchased and land for Cedar Avenue Park was donated. In 1917, the first Longfellow Field was sold to Minneapolis Steel and steps were initiated to replace it at its present location.

One particular recreational activity was in park headlines in 1916 for the very first time. A nine-hole course was opened that year at Glenwood (Theodore Wirth) Park, the first public golf course in Minneapolis. Golf was free and greens weren’t green, they were made of sand. In less than ten years, the park board operated four 18-hole courses (Glenwood [Wirth], Columbia, Armour [Gross], and Meadowbrook) and was preparing to add a fifth at Lake Hiawatha.

The Grand Rounds were nearly completed conceptually, when first plans for St. Anthony Boulevard from Camden Bridge on the Mississippi River to the Ramsey County line on East Hennepin Avenue were presented in 1916. Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth also suggested that the banks of the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls might be made more attractive with shore parks and plantings, even if the railroads maintained ownership of the land. One hundred years later we’re still working on that, but have made some progress including the continuing purchase by the Park Board of riverfront lots as they have become available.These have been the only notable additions to park acreage in many years.

One important result of the increasing demand for playground space in Minneapolis one hundred years ago was the passage by the Minnesota legislature in 1917 of a bill that enabled the park board to increase property tax collections by 50%. In 2016, the Park Board and the City Council reached an important agreement on funding to maintain and improve neighborhood parks.

 Altered Shorelines

In a city blessed with water and public waterfronts, however, some of the most significant issues facing the Minneapolis park board in 1917 involved shorelines — beyond beautifying polluted river banks.

The most contentious issue was an extension of Lake Calhoun, a South Bay, south on Xerxes Avenue to 43rd Street. Residents of southwest Minneapolis wanted that marshy area either filled or dredged — dry land or lake. There was no parkway at that time around the west and south shore of Lake Calhoun from Lake Street and Dean Parkway to William Berry Parkway. As a part of plans to construct a parkway along that shoreline, the park board in 1916 approved extending Lake Calhoun and putting a drive around a new South Bay as well.

south-bay-map2-rev

This drawing from a 1915 newspaper article shows the initial concept of a South Bay and outlines how it would be paid for. (Source: Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, June 20, 1915)

The challenge, of course was how to pay for it. The park board’s plan to assess property owners in the area for the expensive improvements was met with furiuos opposition and lawsuits. Many property owners thought that assessments they were already paying for acquisitions and improvements over the years at Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and William Berry Park were too heavy. The courts eventually decided in favor of the park board’s right to assess for those improvements, but by then estimated costs for the project had increased and become prohibitive and the South Bay scheme was abandoned.

Instead land for Linden Hills Park was acquired in 1919 and the surrounding wet land was drained into Lake Calhoun in the early 1920s. Dredged material from the lake was used to create a better-defined shoreline on the southwestern and northwestern shores of the lake in 1923 in preparation for the construction of the parkway.

Flowage Rights on the Mississippi River and a Canal to Brownie Lake

Minneapolis parks also lost land to water in 1916. The federal government claimed 27.6 acres of land in the Mississippi River gorge for flowage rights for the reservoir that would be created by a new dam to be built near Minnehaha Creek. Those acres, on the banks of the river and several islands in the river, would be submerged behind what became Lock and Dam No. 1 or the Ford Dam. In exchange for the land to be flooded, the park board did acquire some additional land on the bluffs overlooking the dam.

The other alteration in water courses was the dredging of a navigable channel between Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake, which completed the “linking of the lakes” that was begun with the connection of Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun in 1911. The land lost to the channel was negligible and probably balanced by a slight drop in water level in Brownie Lake. (A five-foot drop in Cedar Lake was caused by the opening of the Kenilworth Lagoon to Lake of the Isles in 1913.)

Another potential loss of water from Minneapolis parks may have occurred in 1917. William Washburn’s Fair Oaks estate at one time had a pond. I don’t know when that pond was filled. The estate became park board property upon the death of Mrs. Washburn in 1915. Perhaps in 1917 when the stables and greenhouses on the southwest corner of the property were demolished, the south end of the estate was graded and the pond was filled. Theodore Wirth’s suggestion for the park, presented in 1917, included an amphitheater in part of the park where the pond had once been.

The Dredge Report

The year 1917 marked the end of the most ambitious dredging project in Minneapolis parks — in fact the biggest single project ever undertaken by the park board until then, according to Theodore Wirth. The four-year project moved more than 2.5 million cubic yards of earth and reduced the lake from 300 shallow acres to 200 acres with a uniform depth of 15 feet.

That wasn’t the end of work at Lake Nokomis, however. The park surrounding the lake, especially the playing fields northwest of the lake couldn’t be graded for another five years, after the dredge fill had settled.

Dredging may again be an issue in 2017 if the Park Board succeeds in raising funds for a new park on the river in northeast Minneapolis. Dredges would carve a new island out of land where an old man-made island once existed next to the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. But that may be a long time off — and could go the way of South Bay.

Park Buzz

One other development in 1917 had more to do with standing water than was probably understood at the time. The Park Board joined with the Real Estate Board in a war on mosquitoes. However, after spending $100 on the project and realizing they would have to spend considerably more to achieve results, park commissioners terminated the project. It was not the first or last battle won by mosquitoes in Minneapolis.

As we look again at new calendars, it’s always worth taking a glance backward to see how we got here. For me, it is much easier to follow the course of events in Minneapolis park history than in American political history.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

Comments: I am not interested in comments of a partisan political nature here, so save those for your favorite political sites.

Where’s Waldo? Minnesota, Lair of Giants!

I was researching other things last spring when I found two letters written by Ralph Waldo Emerson to his daughter Ellen from Minnesota in 1867 — 150 years ago this month.

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Emerson’s signature on his letter to his daughter Ellen in Concord, Massachusetts, January 31, 1867.  (Emerson Family Correspondence, ca. 1725-1900 (MS Am 1280.226) Houghton Library, Harvard University.)

Emerson was on one of his annual lecture tours to the West, but it was his first venture across the Mississippi River into Minnesota.

He seemed to like the place — even commenting in his letter that Minneapolis was “said to be of admirable climate.” Perhaps he was not willing to trust his own judgment on the matter as he was visiting in January and in an account of his visit published in Minnesota History, June 1930, Hubert H. Hoeltje wrote that Emerson travelled from LaCrosse to Winona in an open carriage on a day that the temperature tumbled to 20 below zero. Emerson was kind enough not to frighten his daughter with accounts in his letters of such extreme hardship.

Emerson likely knew something of Minnesota from his old friend Henry David Thoreau who had visited Minneapolis, residing for a time on the shore of Lake Calhoun, in 1861. We also learn from the letters that he had cousins here. And Hoeltje observes in his article that Emerson had purchased property in Wisconsin in 1856.

Despite these connections and a history of lecturing in other not-quite-so-exotic locales since 1852 when he first lectured in St. Louis, Emerson reassured his daughter in his January 31 letter from Faribault that he was “in good new country with plenty of robust people who take kind care of me.” Still he felt it “a little pathetic” that people “born to be delicate and petted” had “removed into this rough yeomanly lair of the giants.”emerson-excerpt-1867-01-31

Writing from St. Paul the next day he recounted for Ellen his meeting with his cousin Hannah Ladd Meyer and her children who lived in Northfield. Hannah, he wrote, “was as good & almost as handsome as in her youth.”

Emerson also recounted that his host in Faribault, grandson of the founder of the eponymous city, had taken him to visit eight “Sioux tepis (conical tents)” near town. He noted that the small village included only older men, women and children as the warriors had been “removed to Nebraska.” With Faribault, who “spoke Indian”, Emerson had visited the tents and in one had listened to two girls sing “quite prettily.” He also wrote that young Faribault, who was three-quarters Indian himself, had gone to school in Montreal and “was as handsome & as accurately dressed and did the honors as gracefully…as any youth from New York could be or do.” Emerson was disappointed that light in the tepis was provided not by burning pine-knots or birchbark, but by kerosene lamps. “I inquired,” he concluded, “whether I could see such another Indian picture between that spot and Boston and I was assured I could not.”

From Faribault, Emerson travelled to St. Paul, which he called a “proud, new, thriving town” of 12-15,000 people with handsome buildings and fine banks. Escorted by Governor William Marshall, he visited the State Capitol, but seemed most struck by the fact that Gov. Marshall was Swedenborgian by religion, a subject on which they conversed.

I do not wish to sow seeds of strife in these troubled times, but I am only here as a chronicler, and am compelled to cite Emerson’s comparison of my present home with my boyhood home.

“Thence to Minneapolis,” Emerson wrote two days later from there, “a town of greatest promise in all the northwest…If Edward [his son, recently graduated from Harvard] were to come west, let him come here. It is the house, St. Paul being only the front door.”

Emerson was not left alone much on his visit. His travelling companion from Faribault to St. Paul was Wisconsin Congressman and future governor, and famous miller, C.C. Washburn, and he ate Sunday dinner in Minneapolis with C.C.’s younger brother and future Minnesota Senator, William Drew Washburn. That day he also visited another cousin, Phebe Chamberlain, whom he had not seen in 30 years.

While in Minneapolis, Emerson lectured twice, once for the Athenaeum Library Association at Harrison Hall and again at the Universalist Church at 4th Ave. South and 5th St. Hubert Hoeltje noted that the only local newspaper coverage of the first Minneapolis lecture cited the time and place and a “large and attentive audience,” but concluded, “lack of space forbids comment.” A newspaper account of Emerson’s second lecture ended with the observation, “So great was the rush of people that scores were unable to obtain admission–among whom was the writer.” 

As popular as Emerson was, he was not the biggest draw for the lecture series that year. Hoeltje reports, for instance, that Frederick Douglass drew an audience to St. Paul twice as large as Emerson’s. Perhaps Emerson’s star had faded somewhat by then. He had been lecturing for many years and was 63 years old, nearing the end of his lecturing career.

Emerson had nothing to do with Minneapolis parks apart from any influence his philosophy may have had on H. W. S. Cleveland’s view of nature and preservation of natural features of the landscape, especially in cities. Cleveland and his partner at the time, Robert Morris Copeland, had designed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Emerson’s hometown of Concord, Mass. in 1855. Emerson was on the committee that commissioned their work and gave the address at the dedication of the cemetery. He was also buried there — along with Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa Mae Alcott. Cleveland and Emerson certainly knew each other. Cleveland scholar Daniel Nadenicek considers Emerson an important influence on Cleveland’s aesthetic. While there are similarities between the two men’s views, the more I have learned of Cleveland’s life, the less weight I have come to place on Emerson’s influence on Cleveland. But that’s probably subject matter for a book one of these days.

For now suffice to say that the frontier city of the northwest that held significant appeal for Emerson in 1867, was also the city in which Cleveland chose to live years later — and beautify with his vision, however it was shaped.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2017 David C. Smith

Thanks Barbara MacLeish for correcting the date Thoreau lived at Lake Calhoun: 1861, not 1860. Corrections are always appreciated.

 

Norma Olson Remembers Prospect Park Triangles

In Devon, England last week a former resident of Minneapolis found this website and was intrigued by my account a few years ago of the smallest parks in Minneapolis, the triangles in Prospect Park, near Tower Hill. Becky Stannard, my correspondent, remembered them well, having attended Pratt School. But she had more than memories, she had a story about how the boulders appeared on the triangles there. It was written by her mother, Norma Olson. I have printed it below, with thanks to Becky and Norma.

Maris’s Mini Parks
By Norma Olson, 2-28-94

In Prospect Park
Where we lived for 40 years
Scattered through the neighborhood
At the intersections of streets
Are small triangles and squares of land
Left over from the making of streets
Whose design was influenced
By the old cow paths
Dating back to farming days.

When Lady Bird declared
With enthusiasm, if not passion
That Beauty was important
That wherever possible, in America
We plant a shrub or tree
We took it to heart.

The local Beauty Committee
Especially Maris Thomes
Who has lived some in Japan
Started talking about the opportunity
Offered by our bits and pieces — the triangles.
She cocked her head and mused
Wouldn’t it be nice
If we had some big rocks
To help us dress up those triangles?

For some months, after finding myself
President of the Minneapolis Committee on Urban Environment
An organization with big ideas, little power and no budget
I had been visiting around City Hall
With the pros at the Park Board, the Housing Authority and Public Works
It’s sort of a treat for middle management bureaucrats
To dream a little and to visit with neighborhood people
Who aren’t asking for anything.

While I knew most of these folks from other contexts
They might have eyed me with
A certain amusement
But a condition of trust existed.
On this day, in late winter I dropped in on Martin,
Associate Operations Engineer
At Public Works, during his coffee break.
“Well, come in and sit a spell. What are you up to today, Norma?”
“Nothing much.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t have a project up your sleeve.”
“Well, there is Maris’ dream.”
“Heavens, what’s that?”
“Well, you know all those triangles in our neighborhood
That you folks long ago left behind
When you designed the streets.
They look bad but they could be a visual asset.”
“How so?”
“We have in mind that we’d like to do
Something with them.
Like clean them up, do some planting.
Maris says we need some big rocks
To add a sculptural quality.
Remember, Martin, you asked me and I thank you.
So thanks for listening.
But as you can see, I’m not setting
The world on fire.”

One evening in early fall, the phone rang at 10 P.M.
“Hello, Norma, this is your friend
Martin from Public Works.
You know, we are excavating
For those huge storm sewers all over S.E.
And you can’t believe the big rocks we are encountering
I mean two or three tons.
Could you use some?
“Oh, yes!”
“How many”
“Twenty-seven. Three for each of the nine street triangles
We talked about earlier.
But we’ve got no trucks, no transport, no manpower, no budget.”
“Well, no problem,” says Martin.
“If you will wait until the ground freezes
So we don’t break the curbs driving over them
And if you will let me know
Exactly where you want them
I will deliver them to you in the evening
And give you warning when they are coming.”
Agreed.
Maris responded to this offer with wild enthusiasm.
And with three weeks of lead-time!
Preparing plans would be easy. Agreed.

Being an artist, it was not difficult for her to take
Measurements of the nine sites.
And in consultation with resident architects
She mapped each triangle xxxing in the rock locations
Respecting that some would be more round or oblong
Than others.
Then came the phone call.
Meet Martin at the Franklin Hill triangle at 8 P.M. tomorrow night.
Before midnight, under Maris’ directions
All 27 rocks were in place
In dynamic groupings of three.
In the morning, neighbors looked out on a new landscape.

Well, not everyone was enchanted.
Bill called to say, “Do you know that one neighbor is hopping mad
To find those big rocks on her triangle.”

But the unfriendly soil was worked
Tulips bought with memorial money were planted
A few shrubs went in
And we sat back to wait for spring.
Propriety residents from the immediate rock locations
Joined the work crews
And soon the neighborhood had a new visual identity
The triangles had become a unifying factor in the
Neighborhood design.

Then came the day
When the street repaving crews showed ready and raring to tear up
Existing curbs and streets. Panics. The phone rang off the hook.
We went immediately to see
Perry, the chief of Public Works and told him our story
And insisted that the triangles had to be respected as follows:
Leave the rocks in place or replace them precisely if the have to be moved.
Let the new landscape designs for the neighborhood include the triangles.
Assign a budget number for new materials
As compensation for time and plant materials expended.

These requests were in written form
We were accompanied on this mission by the
Administrative Assistant of our Alderman.
Perry was impressed that the requests were reasonable
Agreement was reached. The neighborhood was reassured.

And so the newly curbed triangles, after consulting, were
Expertly planted with many new evergreens as a base
Were ready for spring materials.
And so they have become a vital part of
The Neighborhood landscape
With adjacent owners feeling possessive
Looking after maintenance.

Mandy managed her triangles.
Kate planted a tree for John Berryman
The Franklin Avenue Bridgehead Planting included a Ginkgo Tree.
It was a project of enormous satisfaction to me
Because it cost so little, brought staff and citizens
Into an effective working relationship
And strengthened the neighborhood
With another point of pride. It was fun making it happen.

Thanks also to Maris Thomes, Martin, Perry, Bill, Kate, Mandy and everyone else who took part in this successful collaboration.

While on the subject of Prospect Park and Tower Hill, I have a question. Does anyone know the inside story on what happened to plans to vacate Malcolm Ave. S.E. between Pratt School and Tower Hill Park? I recently came across park board resolutions and drawings of plans to vacate the street and turn it into a playground for the school. The original plans were dated 1928, but the issue was raised again in 1950 in response to petitions from the neighborhood and another resolution was approved to complete those plans. The park board announced in the 1950 annual report that the vacation of Malcolm Ave. had added 0.17 acres to Tower Hill Park. But Malcolm Ave. still runs between the school and park. Was it closed, then reopened? I’m sure someone knows the story. Please share.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com