Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Parks: General’ Category

Charles Loring’s Memorial Arch

In 1908 Charles Loring commissioned young architect William Gray Purcell to design a memorial arch. That project, revealed in Purcell’s papers at the Northwestern Architectural Library (a fabulous historical resource at the University of Minnesota), was a mystery to me.  Where was this memorial arch supposed to be located?

Soldiers Memorial Arch, Purcell

This “presentation rendering” created by William Gray Purcell for Charles Loring is from the UMedia Digital Archive. Additional information on the William Gray Purcell Papers can be found by following the above link — as well as this one from organica.com and Mark Hammons.

I might have found the answer to the location last year when I helped create a record of the archival documents being sent from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to the Minneapolis Central Library for permanent archiving and public access.  Continue reading

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Restoration

I began reposting updated articles yesterday. I apologize for filling subscribers’ inboxes with notices; I didn’t think that alerts would be sent out just for reposting previously existing material. I am restoring some old posts, starting at the beginning—2010—with minor edits, corrections and updated links. It’s amazing how many links die. I will continue that process, a handful of posts at a time, in the near future. If you subscribe, please forgive the annoyance of repeated alerts, but maybe you’ll come across something you missed the first time.

Thanks for reading.

David C. Smith

Horace William Shaler Cleveland and Me at the Library

The temperature will rise just enough on Saturday to allow you out to hear me speak on my favorite subject: Horace William Shaler Cleveland, the landscape architect who shaped the Minneapolis and St. Paul park systems in the 19th Century and beyond.

Come to the Minneapolis Central Library at 2:00 pm, Saturday, January 6 to hear the latest on the surprising life and career of “Professor” Cleveland. I’ve travelled the country for the last three years piecing together the life of this remarkable man who helped shape our thinking on urban parks.

Update: I’m making progress on editing and reorganizing the 270-plus entries on this blog over the last several years, so I hope to re-post most of them in the near future. Until then, we can catch up at the library on Saturday afternoon. Hope to see you there. There should be plenty of time to consider any other park-related topics or questions you might have.

David C. Smith

Taking a Break

After writing a few hundred thousand words for this blog, which were viewed nearly a half-million times, I’m moving on to other subjects. Until I decide what to do with those thousands of words and topics, I have stored them away from this site. Some may reappear here or elsewhere, others probably won’t. Many of the best stories and comments on this site were simply hard to find because there got to be too much. More than 270 entries. Unwieldy. Even cluttered. In need of editing, which I hope to give them someday.

I have left a link to the University of Minnesota Press at right where you can purchase City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks. All profits from those purchases go to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. I receive nothing. It’s a pretty good book. Nine years after writing it and learning a great deal more detail about the history of Minneapolis parks, I would change very few things I wrote in the book.

I have always tried to find the truth. Thanks for reading.

David C. Smith

DIY Minneapolis Park History at the Library

I have been very lucky over the last decade to have had access to the archives of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board because of some park board history projects I was working on. I have always advocated making those archives accessible to the public and it has finally happened. Nearly all of the historical documents of the park board from its creation in 1883 until 1970 have been transferred to the Minneapolis Central library.

Webber Pool 1

The community center at Webber Park was best known for its pool, which was fed originally by water from Shingle Creek. But the building also housed the first branch library in a park building. Branch libraries also were located at Logan Park and the Gateway Pavilion. In addition, the Longfellow House near Minnehaha Creek was leased to the library board as a branch library for 30 years until 1968. If you want to learn more about the community center at Webber Park, you can now go the Central Library and read Charles Webber’s letters to the park board announcing his desire to upgrade the building he and his wife Mary had donated to the park according to her wishes before she died.

Special credit for the new collection at the library should go to park superintendents Jon Gurban, who initiated a park history project to celebrate the park board’s 125th birthday in 2008—that’s when I became involved—and Jayne Miller who committed in 2015 to the big task of organizing park board archives and transferring many historical records to the library for preservation and public access. Credit is also due to park commissioners for recognizing amid the stress of daily challenges that preserving park records and making them accessible was important. Among others, Scott Vreeland and former commissioner Bob Fine were especially supportive of  efforts to document and preserve the history of Minneapolis parks.

Thanks to Dawn Sommers at the park board and Ted Hathaway, manager of special collections at the Minneapolis Central library, for managing with enthusiasm the considerable task of transferring thousands of documents even as they performed their “regular” duties. I should also note that the Minneapolis City Clerk’s Office was very helpful in facilitating the two-stage movement of some documents from City Hall to Park Board to Library.

These are all public servants of the highest order and too-rarely praised for their contributions to the outstanding quality of life in this city. As you will see if you have a chance to dig into the park board’s archives at the library, they follow in the footsteps of giants. The men and women who created Minneapolis parks—and libraries—were far-sighted people who tried to look beyond immediate needs to the future of the city. Where they made mistakes, let’s fix them, but let’s also continue to emulate the qualities that led to their many successes from which we derive daily benefits.

You can learn more about the park board’s mistakes and successes over nearly 100 years by looking at park board records on the fourth floor of the Minneapolis Central Library every Monday to Thursday and some Saturdays.

David C. Smith

 

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

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” according to Folwell. 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

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

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.

emerson-signature-1867-01-31-2

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.” That struck me as one of the funniest things I’ve ever read in a newspaper.

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

© 2017 David C. Smith

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

 

What were the first two names for Loring Park?

A comment received today from Joan Pudvan on the “David C. Smith” page made me think of some little known facts in Minneapolis park history. So here’s your park trivia fix for today.

Joan asked if Loring Park was once named Central Park? Joan is a post card collector and has seen many post cards from the early 1900s labelled “Central Park.” Those cards feature images of what we know is Loring Park, so the answer to Joan is, “Yes.” When did the name change?

Central Park officially became Loring Park in 1890 when the park board’s first president, Charles Loring, was leaving the board. He, along with every other Republican on the Minneapolis ballot that year, had been defeated at the polls in a shift of political power. At the end of Loring’s tenure, his friend and fellow park advocate, William Folwell, proposed renaming Central Park for the man who had helped create it, and had even supervised much of the landscaping in the park (to H.W.S. Cleveland’s design). Loring said he would prefer that the park be named Hennepin Park for its location on that avenue, but the rest of the board agreed with Folwell that Loring should be honored. So the name was changed, a fact that the post card publishers hadn’t caught up with as many as ten or fifteen years later.

Loring was not, however, the first person to have a Minneapolis park named for him. That distinction goes to Jacob Elliot who, in 1883, donated his former garden to the city as Elliot Park. Elliot had been a prominent doctor in Minneapolis who had retired to Santa Monica, California. The handwritten document (as all were at that time) donating the land to the city as a park — recently discovered in a park board correspondence file — was signed by Wyman Elliot as the attorney-in-fact of his father Jacob Elliot. Wyman Elliot later became a park commissioner himself, when he was elected to fill out Portius Deming’s term from 1899-1901 after Deming was elected to the Minnesota legislature.

In the document that officially donated the land, the most interesting paragraph required the creation, within 18 months, of a fountain in the park with a reservoir “of oval shape” with a diameter of at least 50 feet.

eliot-park-donation-1st-condition

One condition of Jacob Elliot’s donation of land for Elliot Park in 1883 was the creation of fountain. Elliot Park was the first Minneapolis park named for a person. The clause pictured is a part of the original document donating the land. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Additional recently found correspondence sought Dr. Elliot’s approval for the plaque he had specified.

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The fountain built as a condition of the donation of Elliot Park. From a postcard published around 1910. The “fountain” was a single standpipe in the middle of the pond. The Elliot Park pond was very similar to the one created in Van Cleve Park in the early 1890s.

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Elliot Park fountain and Asbury Hospital from a post card with an eerie pink tinge. A soccer field now occupies this section of the park.

One other bit of naming trivia before we get to the other name for Central/Loring Park. In 1891, Judson Cross, one of the first 12 appointed park commissioners, wrote to the park board suggesting that the pond in Loring Park be named Wilson Pond for Eugene M. Wilson, one of the first and greatest park commissioners. He also served as the board’s attorney in the 1880s. He had also been elected to Congress and as Mayor of Minneapolis twice. He died at age 56 in 1890 in the Bahamas where he had gone to try to regain his health. Cross claimed that the name was appropriate because Wilson had been the strongest advocate of securing the land surrounding what had once been Johnson’s Pond for the park that became Central Park. Wilson may have played one of the most important roles in creating a park system in Minneapolis because he was one of the most prominent Democrats to strongly favor the creation of the park board. Without Wilson’s influence among Democrats, many of whom opposed the Park Act — the Republican Party supported it — Minneapolis voters may not have passed the act in the April 1883 referendum.

The board did not add Wilson’s name to Loring Park, but it did rename nearby Hawthorne Square, Wilson Park — which was particularly appropriate because Eugene Wilson’s home faced that park. Unfortunately, the park was wiped out for the construction of I-94 in 1967, so we have been without Wilson’s name in our park system for nearly 50 years.

The other name by which Central and Loring Park was known lasted only a month. In 1885, the park board voted to name the park Spring Grove Park. Without much explanation, but apparently in the face of considerable opposition, the park board backtracked to Central Park a month later.

So…Central Park, Spring Grove Park, Loring Park. I think the park board ended up in the right place.

One among many reasons for that opinion is another historical document rediscovered in the last few months: a letter from Charles Loring to the board from which the excerpt below was taken. In the letter, Loring proposes to create a Memorial Drive, a tribute to fallen American soldiers, as part of the Grand Rounds. The result was Victory Memorial Drive.

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Charles Loring suggested a Memorial Boulevard and pledged to create a trust fund that would provide an annual revenue of $2,500 for the perpetual care of trees along the drive. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Without any such intention when I started writing this, I have highlighted the incredible time and resources that have been donated to the Minneapolis park system. Loring, Elliot, Wilson: all people who shared a commitment to parks and were willing to give time, money and land to the city to realize their visions of what city life should be. Their example is particularly significant now as park leaders are trying to raise funds for new park developments downtown, along the river, and in north and northeast Minneapolis. Not a bad way to be remembered.

David C. Smith

 

 

 

 

Shared History: Edina’s Early Days

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

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

There is a Chowen Park in both Edina and Minneapolis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Edina History of Interest to Minneapolitans

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

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

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

Can you still catch northern pike in Centennial Lakes?

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

David C. Smith

Defending Minneapolis Parks

For decades, public and private parties have claimed that they need just a little bit of Minneapolis parkland to achieve their goals. And now even Governor Dayton has joined the shrill chorus of those who think taking parkland is the most expedient solution to political challenges. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is justified in examining very skeptically all desires to take parkland for other purposes and in rejecting nearly all of them categorically.

Commentators writing in December in the StarTribune asserted that the Park Board is wrong to object to just 28 feet of bridge expansion over Kenilworth Lagoon for the construction of the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) corridor. They write as if that bridge and expansion of rail traffic across park property were the only alternative. Gov. Dayton seems to repeat the error. Other political jurisdictions involved in the proposed light rail corridor have objected to this or that provision of the project and their objections have been given a hearing, often favorable.

I didn’t hear Governor Dayton threaten to slash local government aid to St. Louis Park when officials there objected to the Met Council’s original proposals for SWLRT. But the Park Board is supposed to cave into whatever demands remain after everyone else has whined and won. Minneapolis parks are too valuable an asset – for the entire state – to have them viewed as simply the least painful political sacrifice.

Should the SWLRT bridge be built? I don’t know—but I do want the Park Board to ensure that all options have been investigated fully. That desire to consider all feasible options to taking parkland for transportation projects that use federal funds was first expressed in 1960s legislation. The legislation was meant to ensure that parkland would be taken for the nation’s burgeoning freeway system only as a last resort. In the present case, the Park Board was not convinced that the Met Council had investigated all options thoroughly once it had acquiesced to the demands of other interested parties.

A Park Board study in 1960 identified more than 300 acres of Minneapolis parkland that were desired by other entities both private and public. Hennepin County wanted to turn Victory Memorial Drive into the new County Highway 169. A few years later, the Minnesota Department of Highways planned to convert Hiawatha Avenue, Highway 55, into an elevated expressway within yards of Minnehaha Falls—in addition to taking scores of acres of parkland for I-94 and I-35W. In the freeway-building years, parkland was lost in every part of the city: at Loring Park, The Parade, Riverside Park, Murphy Square, Luxton Park, Martin Luther King Park (then Nicollet Park), Perkins Hill, North Mississippi, Theodore Wirth Park and others, not to mention the extinction of Elwell Park and Wilson Park. Chute Square was penciled in to become a parking lot.

In 1966, faced with another assault—a parking garage under Elliot Park—Park Superintendent Robert Ruhe, backed by Park Board President Richard Erdall and Attorney Edward Gearty, urged a new policy for dealing with demands for parkland for other uses. It was blunt, reading in part,

“Those who seek parklands for their own particular ends must look elsewhere to satiate their land hunger. Minneapolis parklands should not be looked upon as land banks upon which others may draw.”

With that policy in place, the Park Board resisted efforts by the Minnesota Department of Highways to take parkland for freeways or, as a last resort, pay next to nothing for it. Still, the Park Board battled the state all the way to the United States Supreme Court over plans to build an elevated freeway within view of Minnehaha Falls—a plan supported by nearly every other elected body or officeholder in the city and state, including the Minneapolis City Council.

Robert Ruhe, middle, Minneapolis Superintendent of Parks 1966-1978 proposed a tough land policy to defend against the taking of parkland for freeways and other uses. In this 1968 photo he is accepting a gift of 60 tennis nets from General Mills. Before that time, nets were not provided on most city courts. Players had to bring their own. (MPRB)

Robert Ruhe, middle, Minneapolis Superintendent of Parks 1966-1978 proposed a tough land policy to defend against the taking of parkland for freeways and other uses. In this 1968 photo he is accepting a gift of 60 tennis nets from General Mills. Before that time, nets were not provided on most city courts. Players had to bring their own. (MPRB)

The driving force behind the park board's defense of its land was better known as a Minnesota legislator and President of the Minnesota Senate from 1977-1981. Ed Gearty, far right, was President of the Minneapolis Park Board in 1962 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. He had to resign his park board seat, but was then hired by the park board as its attorney. He helped devise a pugnacious strategy that helped keep park losses to freeways as small as they were. This photo with other state lawmakers was taken in 1978.

The driving force behind the park board’s defense of its land was better known as a Minnesota legislator and President of the Minnesota Senate from 1977-1981. Ed Gearty, far right, was President of the Minneapolis Park Board in 1962 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. He had to resign his park board seat, but was then hired by the park board as its attorney. He helped devise a pugnacious strategy that helped keep park losses to freeways as small as they were. This photo with other state lawmakers was taken in 1978. Gearty deserves credit along with Ruhe, counsel Ray Haik and park board Presidents Dick Erdall and Walter Carpenter for trying to keep Minneapolis parks intact as a park “system.”

While the Supreme Court chose not to hear the Minnehaha case, its decision in a related case involving parkland in Memphis, Tenn. established a precedent that forced Minnesota to reconsider its Highway 55 plans and provides the basis for the Park Board today to investigate alternatives to taking park property for projects that use federal funds.

The Park Board is right to do so, even at the high cost it must pay—which the Met Council should be paying—and regardless of the results of that investigation. The Park Board needs to reassert very forcefully that taking parkland is a very serious matter and not the easiest way out when other arrangements don’t fall into place.

In a report to park commissioners on a proposed new land policy on April 1, 1966 Robert Ruhe concluded with these words,

“The park lands of Minneapolis are an integral part of our heritage and natural resources and, as such, should be available to all present and future generations of Minneapolitans. This is our public trust and responsibility.”

That trust and responsibility has not changed in the intervening 50 years. And it is not exercised well if the Park Board allows land to be lopped away from parks—even 28 feet at a time—without the most intense scrutiny and, when necessary, resistance. It could help us avoid horrors like elevated freeways near our most famous landmarks.

What I find most troubling about events of the past year relating to Minneapolis parks is the blatant disregard by elected officials—from Minneapolis’s Mayors to Minnesota’s Governor—of the demands and complexity of park planning and administration, as if great parks and park systems happen by accident. They don’t. They take conscientious, informed planning, funding, programming and maintaining. We can’t just write them into and out of existence as mere bargaining chips in some grander game. Parks should not be an afterthought in the crush of city or state business.

I worry when an outgoing mayor negotiates an awful agreement for a “public” park for the benefit of the Minnesota Vikings without the input of the people who would have to build and run it. I wince when an incoming mayor trumpets a youth initiative without input from the organization that has the greatest capacity for interaction with the city’s young people. And I am really perplexed when a governor makes so little effort to engage an elected body with as important a stake in a major project as the park board’s in the SWLRT.

Other elected officials seem more than happy to rub shoulders with park commissioners and staff when the Minneapolis park system receives national awards, or a President highlights the parks on a visit, or when exciting new park projects are unveiled. But they seem to forget who those people are when they are sending out invitations to the table to decide the city’s future. That is a serious and easily avoidable mistake.

David C. Smith

© 2015 David C. Smith