Archive for the ‘Minneapolis parks’ Category

Commemorating the “Great War” in Minneapolis Parks: Cavell, Pershing, Longfellow, an Airport and a Memorial Drive

As we remember the war that didn’t end all wars, which ended 100 years ago this weekend, I searched through my archives for park stories related to World War I. I found several that are worth sharing. I also wanted to make available the history of Victory Memorial Drive, created in the aftermath of that horrific war, which I wrote for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

When the deadliest of all wars began, an English non-combatant nurse was an early casualty. The story of Edith Cavell soon was known around the world. She was so famous that a Minneapolis school, then park, were named for her. Read the story of Cavell Park and a follow-up story with photos and a comment.

Minneapolis parks also commemorate the most famous American soldier of that war, the commander of American forces, Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing, for whom Pershing Park is named.

I’ve also re-published the story of how today’s Longfellow Field , the second property with that name, was created when the first Longfellow Field was sold to a munitions maker during the war. Also included in that post is a sidebar on how the Minneapolis airport, owned and developed by the Minneapolis Park Board, was named Wold-Chamberlain Field for two young pilots from Minneapolis who died in France during the war.

Finally, I’ve published below the story of how Minneapolis created a memorial drive in honor of Americans who had died serving their country through World War I. Many of us still know that parkway as Victory Memorial Drive, even though its official name has been Memorial Parkway for 50 years.

Victory Memorial Drive or Memorial Parkway

The parkway was originally named Glenwood-Camden Parkway when the land was acquired for the parkway in 1911, referring to its route from Glenwood Park to Camden Park. (Before the name was adopted it was referred to informally as North Side Parkway.) It was officially named Victory Memorial Drive in 1919 and included all of Memorial Parkway, what is now Theodore Wirth Parkway and Cedar Lake Parkway. The name was changed to Memorial Parkway in 1968 and applies only to the parkway from Lowry Avenue to Webber (Camden) Park. In 2010, the park board approved the use of Victory Memorial Drive again as a renovation and a 90th anniversary celebration were planned. The parkway now contains 75.23 acres.

The idea of a parkway encircling the city, today’s Grand Rounds, is nearly as old as the park board itself. When landscape architect Horace Cleveland submitted to the first park board his formal “suggestions” for a system of parks and parkways in 1883 he envisioned parkways connecting major parks in each section of the city. His original vision for a system of parkways was largely achieved decades later, although most of those parkways ended up being further from the center of city than Cleveland would have liked.

The first suggestions for a parkway in northwest Minneapolis came in 1884 when commissioners proposed a parkway around the western shore of Cedar Lake and from there through north Minneapolis to Farview Park. Some commissioners thought this was a more scenic and certainly less expensive route for a parkway into north Minneapolis than a direct route form Loring Park to Farview Park along Lyndale Avenue North. The western route had the advantage that the owner of considerable land west of Cedar Lake and in north Minneapolis, William McNair, had offered to donate land for a parkway.

Recognizing that the best route for that parkway would actually pass outside of Minneapolis city limits into what is now Golden Valley, the park board even went so far as to introduce a bill to the state legislature in 1885 that would give the park board the power to acquire land outside the city limits. The legislature granted that power to the park board.

In the summer of 1885, the park board arranged a meeting with McNair, a close friend of several of the first park commissioners, to acquire a strip of land 150-feet wide for the parkway. Charles Loring, the president of the park board then, wrote in 1890 that ultimately the board rejected McNair’s offer of free land because the route around Cedar Lake was too far from the city. McNair died in the fall of 1885 and the matter was not pursued. (Many years later the park board had discussions with McNair’s heirs about acquiring that land once again, but other than the purchase of some of McNair’s land along Cedar Lake, nothing came of the those discussions.)

The idea of a parkway around the city was revived by park commissioner William Folwell in 1891, after the acquisition of the first sixty acres of Saratoga Park, which would eventually be renamed Glenwood Park, then Theodore Wirth Park. In a special report to the board on park expansion, Folwell urged the board not to limit parkway development to the southwestern part of the city around the lakes. Giving the credit for the idea to his friend Horace Cleveland, Folwell proposed a parkway around Cedar Lake, through the new Saratoga Park to a large northwestern park, then across the city to another large park in northeast Minneapolis, continuing down Stinson Boulevard to the Mississippi River at the University of Minnesota, and then along the river to Minnehaha Park. Folwell suggested the parkways could be called the “Grand Rounds.”

The idea—and the name—struck a chord, but before the park board could build the connecting parkways, it needed the anchoring parks. And those would take many years to acquire. Keeping the idea of a northwestern parkway alive, Folwell wrote in 1901 that “but for the sudden deaths of two public-spirited citizens, the Hon. W.W. McNair and the Hon. Eugene M. Wilson, the grand rounds would long since have been extended from Calhoun to Glenwood Park and thence along the west boundary of the city to the north line.”

The idea of the northwestern parkway came up again in 1909, after the board had expanded Glenwood (Wirth) Park from its original sixty-six acres to more than eight hundred acres and also acquired Camden (Webber) Park in north Minneapolis. The park board had acquired Columbia Park in northeast Minneapolis less than two years after Folwell’s proposal. With parks to connect, the desire to build parkways between them took on new urgency.

At the end of 1909, the park board asked park superintendent Theodore Wirth to prepare plans for a parkway from Glenwood Park to Camden Park. The following year, July 21, 1910, the park board designated land for the parkway, on the condition that residents of the area would not request improvements on the land for some years, except for opening a road from 19th Avenue North (Golden Valley Road) into Glenwood (Wirth) Park. With only that stretch of road completed residents of north Minneapolis would have a parkway connection to the lakes in south Minneapolis and Minnehaha Park beyond. The only controversy surrounding the location of the new parkway, which was through open farmland, was whether the east-west section should follow 43rd Avenue or 45th Avenue. The preference expressed by the Camden Park Commercial Club for 45th Avenue seemed to resolve the issue for the board.

A total of 170 acres were acquired for the parkway at a cost of nearly $170,000. The parkway on the western city limit was 333-feet wide and the east-west section on 45th Avenue was 200 feet wide. The cost of the land for the parkway, along with land for the expansion of Glenwood Park and the purchase of the west shore of Cedar Lake, a total of $350,000, was paid for partly with bonds—30%—and the remainder with assessments on property deemed to be benefited by the new parkway.

Construction of the parkway, in keeping with promises that it would take some time, began in 1913 when the parkway was built from 16th Avenue North to 19th. The next stage of the parkway from 19th to Lowry Avenue was begun in 1916, but due to spending constraints during World War I, it wasn’t completed and opened to traffic until 1920. Park superintendent Theodore Wirth called the parkway “one of the most impressive parts of the Grand Rounds system.” In the 1916 annual report, Wirth presented plans for completing the parkway north of Lowry Avenue, then east to Camden (Webber) Park. Noting that “the country traversed is rather uninteresting,” Wirth proposed a straight parkway on the west side of the land, leaving space on the east side of the parkway for playgrounds and athletic fields.

Wirth altered his plans for the parkway in 1919 when former park board president Charles Loring made a generous offer to the park board. Loring had already donated to the park board the recreation shelter in Loring Park and had paid for the construction of an artificial waterfall flowing into Glenwood (Wirth) Lake. Loring had long desired to create a memorial to American soldiers. In 1908 he had commissioned a young Minneapolis architect, William Purcell, to design a memorial arch dedicated to soldiers. Where he hoped to place the arch is not known. But in the wake of World War I, Loring proposed another kind of monument; he would plant memorial trees to soldiers along the city’s parkways. Wirth had a better idea. He thought the planned Camden-Glenwood Parkway was the ideal place to plant rows of stately elm trees as a memorial. Loring liked the idea and agreed to pay for the trees and fund a $50,000 trust account for their perpetual care. The result was a memorial drive, with the parkway centered on the strip of land, instead of off to one side.

The board accepted Loring’s offer, named the new parkway Victory Memorial Drive, and Wirth set out to find the perfect tree. He found a type of elm, called the Moline elm, in nurseries in Chicago and New York, and brought them to the park board’s nursery at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1919, so they would be well-established for replanting along the parkway when it was finished.

With memorial trees ready to be planted, and an additional 5.3 acres of land acquired for a monument at the northwest corner of the parkway, the final three miles of the Victory Memorial Drive were completed in 1921. On June 11, 1921 the new parkway, and its news trees, were dedicated in a grand ceremony. Loring, then age 87, was not healthy enough to attend, but drove over the new parkway the day before with his old friend William Folwell.

Later that year both General John Pershing and Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French commander of Allied forces during World War I, visited the parkway and expressed their admiration for the living memorial. The name of each soldier from Hennepin County who had died in war was placed on a wooden cross in front of a tree. Unfortunately the special elms selected for the drive weren’t hardy enough for Minnesota’s winters and were replaced in 1925.

The wooden crosses were replaced as well in 1928, on the tenth anniversary of the end of World War I, when bronze crosses and stars, each inscribed with the name of a soldier, were installed.

The original wooden flag pole installed as a monument where the northbound parkway turns east at 45th Avenue was replaced by a bronze flag pole and ornamental base in 1923 by the American Legion of Hennepin County. A statue of Abraham Lincoln, a replica of St. Gaudens’ famous sculpture, was installed at the intersection in 1930.

In November 1959, the park board received a scare when consultants hired by the Hennepin County Board recommended that the county take over the parkway for the purpose of creating a county highway. The park board registered its opposition to the proposal in early 1960, as did the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who opposed the “desecration” of memorials to soldiers.

While the conversion of Memorial Parkway into a freeway appears not to have been seriously considered, two years later the board still included Victory Memorial Drive among parks and parkways that could be reduced or lost to freeways. During the 1960s and after when freeways were built across the city, the park board did lose two parks (Wilson Park and Elwell Park) and parts of several more to freeways. But all of those losses were for interstate freeways, not county highways.

Many of the majestic elms in two rows beside the parkway succumbed to Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s and after. Now a less uniform growth of a variety of trees covers the parkway with shade.

The parkway, flag plaza and monuments were renovated prior to the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the parkway and monuments in 2011. Eight intersections across the parkway were vacated, trails were repaved, and new lighting was installed.

Impact on Recreation Programs

One other impact of WWI on parks in Minneapolis as elsewhere was an increase in recreation programming as part of a national reponse to the alarmingly poor physical condition of so many young men who entered the U.S. Army. It was thought that better recreation programs might make the army’s training tasks somewhat easier. The subject might be worth a bit of research someday.

David C. Smith

 

 

 

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Election Day Updates

To celebrate our ability to choose our leaders and to encourage everyone to vote, I have re-posted a few more favorites from my archives. I especially encourage you to see this brief post, which features an image of one of my favorite actors, Peter Sellers. In addition to the classic movie mentioned in the post, perhaps another Peter Sellers’ film, Being There, would be appropriate to consider before you trek to your local polling place. What do we ask of our leaders and what should we expect from them?

Have a look through the archives for a few other old nuggets recently dusted off.

Finally, speaking of dog parks, you might check out the post that raised a question since answered, but featured a picture of Puck, who died last week. We think he was nearly 15 years old, but can’t be sure because he was a rescue dog. He spent most of his long life with us. He is missed.

David C. Smith

More Edith Cavell School and Park

Virginia (Dregger) Dantona sent a note a few weeks ago about my post on Edith Cavell Park and School. She included two photos and a recollection of the school and playground that I thought other readers would appreciate.

Virginia wrote: “I could not resist sending you two pictures of my classmates who enjoyed the playground before it became a park. The one taken on the steps of the school dates to 1944 or 1945, the other, by the side of the school, a few years earlier.”

An informal class photo at Edith Cavell School from 1944 or 1945. (Photo courtesy of Virginia [Dregger]Dantona)

Edith Cavell School classmates in 1944 or 1945. (Virginia [Dregger] Dantona)

Edith Cavell class in early 1940s. (Virginia [Dregger] Dantona)

Some of the same kids a few years earlier. (Virginia [Dregger] Dantona)

 She also had this recollection of an event in the school hallway:

Hardly a man is still alive, who remembers this catch in ‘45.
Bad weather meant indoor recess, held in Edith Cavell’s long hallway. We were playing volleyball, and the ball struck the ceiling fixture! As it fell, the fixture turned over, so the light bulb was on top, with its open glass shade beneath. It fell safely into my waiting hands, and became a vivid memory.

Thanks for the memory, Virginia. Other readers have commented on the original post, so you might check there to see more recollections of former Cavell students.

If you have memories of your favorite park or playground—or school playground that became a park—send me a note.

David C. Smith

 

 

 

A Thank You Note from John J. Pershing

After the park board named a new park and playground in southwest Minneapolis, Pershing Field, December 5, 1922, it received a thank you note from the man it was named for—Gen. John J. Pershing.

A thank-you note from General John J. Pershing to the park board for naming Pershing Field for him. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I have a low resolution photocopy of the letter, which is in the display case in the commissioners room at park board headquarters, and I sent a scan of it to the two people who were the first to answer a question I posed in a posting earlier this week. But it’s so cool I thought everyone should see it.

One of the people I sent it to, Don Lehnhoff, provided this additional information on the letter—which makes it even cooler.

Thanks, Dave. That is very cool. I couldn’t help noticing the letterhead and, having once been an Army draftee myself, was trying to remember the significance. I was thinking of “General of the Army” (singular) which is a 5-star general … I believe there’s only one of those at any given time, and usually only during wartime. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the Pershing rank of “General of the Armies” has only been conferred twice in history:

“Pershing is the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime to the highest rank ever held in the United States Army—General of the Armies  (a retroactive Congressional edict passed in 1976 promoted George Washington to the same rank but with higher seniority.)” Pershing holds the first United States officer service number (O-1).

That’s pretty serious stuff, and puts him in pretty rarefied company … Pershing and G. Washington. Any way … many thanks for sharing that.

Thank you, Don.

David C. Smith

Raise Your Hand If You’ve Visited Cavell Park

Cavell Park is one of the marvelous neighborhood parks that make Minneapolis so livable, but I would bet that few Minneapolitans know where it is or have seen it. I thought I should promote it a bit before I leave the topic of Minneapolis parks and WWI completely. The only connection in this case is the name of the park, because it didn’t become a park until 1968.

British nurse Edith Cavell was executed by the German army in 1915 for treason. (Wikipedia)

Edith Cavell was a British nurse running a hospital in Belgium at the outbreak of World War I. When the German army invaded Belgium, Ms. Cavell helped British, French and Belgian soldiers escape capture and reach safety in the Netherlands. As a nurse, she treated Allied and German soldiers, but her aid to escaping Allied soldiers led to her arrest and a charge of treason by the German army. She was held in prison for ten weeks as her case aroused outrage and indignation around the world. It did little good: she was executed by a German firing squad. Cavell— her name rhymed with travel—became a central focus of British propaganda efforts and, together with the German sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania, was used to depict the depravity of Germans, the barbarous “Huns” of an earlier article.

Edith Cavell School at 3425 Fillmore in 1948.

With the start of the 1918 school year, at the height of the Great War, the Minneapolis school board was faced with overcrowding at Thomas Lowry School in northeast Minneapolis. The solution was to build two temporary portable school houses in the district. In December 1918, less than a month after fighting in Europe ended, the school board suggested that what had been referred to as the Thomas Lowry Annex, be named for Cavell.

Edith Cavell School was a portable school building originally at Tyler and 35th Avenue NE. The portable school was closed in 1933 and a new, modest school was built three blocks east at 34th and Fillmore. That school, pictured above, closed in 1949. (See more photos on the history pages of the Minneapolis public schools website here.)

The park board had considered acquiring the site for a playground park in 1949, but in light of a 1948 cooperative agreement between the park board and school board to develop property together, the two boards opted to build a new school and park four blocks further east instead. That development became Waite Park and School.

The school board continued to own the Edith Cavell School site until 1968, when the park board acquired it for a new neighborhood park. It was the first of four former school sites acquired by the park board from 1968 to 1976. The park board also acquired the old school sites of Margaret Fuller School (now Fuller Park), Lyndale School (Painter Park), and Corcoran School (Corcoran Park), all during the controversial tenure of Robert Ruhe as superintendent of Minneapolis parks. A recreation shelter was built in the park in 1977. (I hope to write a good deal more about Ruhe. His style was abrasive, but his accomplishments were undeniable.)

Sledding at Cavell School about 1935. (Minnesota Historical Society)

For those of you who live in south or north Minneapolis and rarely venture across the river, I’d suggest a drive, hike or bike ride into northeast to visit Cavell Park. Audubon and Windom parks are worth visits too. They are all quite different from the mostly flat parks of south and north Minneapolis. If you are considering a bike ride, I’d recommend it only if you are a fairly strong rider because the hills of northeast could be difficult for some. The highest elevation in the city of Minneapolis is near Waite Park, so you’ll enjoy a good climb from the river.

Do you have a story about Cavell Park — or any of the great northeast neighborhood parks? We’d love to hear it as a coment on tis page. If you have photos, let me know; e’d love to see them.

David C. Smith   

Longfellow Field: The Park that Bombs Bought

If any park in Minneapolis should be a “memorial” park, perhaps it should be Longfellow Field, because it was bought and built with war profits. It would be hard to explain it any other way. The neighborhood around present-day Longfellow Field  is one of the few in the city that didn’t pay assessments to acquire and develop a neighborhood park. That’s because the park board paid for it with profits from WWI.

The story begins with the first Longfellow Field at East 28th St. between Minnehaha Avenue and 26th Avenue South. (There’s a Cub Store there now.) It was once one of the most popular playing fields in the city—and it is the largest playground the park board has ever sold.

The park board purchased the field in the upper right of this photo in 1911 and named it Longfellow Field. This photo, looking northwest, was taken from the top of Longfellow School at Lake St. and Minnehaha Ave. shortly before the land was purchased for a park. Minnehaha runs through the center of the photo and ends at E. 28th St. where the vast yards of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway begin. Minneapolis Steel and Machinery is on the left or west side of Minnehaha. (Charles Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The origins of that field as a Minneapolis park go back to 1910 when the park board’s first recreation director, Clifford Booth, recommended in his annual report that the city needed a playground somewhere between Riverside Park and Powderhorn Park.

Clifford Booth, shown here in 1910, was the first recreation director for Minneapolis parks and an unsung hero in park history.

It was the only addition he recommended to the playground sites he already supervised around the city.

The following year, the park board found the perfect place within the area Booth suggested: an empty field just off Lake Street, about equidistant from Powderhorn and Riverside, a stones throw from Longfellow School, easily accessible by street car, and it was already used as a playing field. The park board purchased the 4-acre field in 1911 for just over $7,000 and spent another $8,000 to install football and baseball fields, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, and playground equipment.

An architect was hired to create plans for a small shelter at the south end of the park, but when bids for the shelter came in at more than $10,000, double what park superintendent Theodore Wirth had estimated, the park board decided it couldn’t afford the shelter.

This plan for the development of Longfellow Field was published in the 1911 Annual Report of the park board. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.)

Despite the absence of a shelter, Wirth wrote in 1912 that Longfellow was one of the most active playfields in the city. Longfellow Field and North Commons were the venues for city football and baseball games for two years while the fields at The Parade were re-graded and seeded. The popularity of the field was attested to by the police report in the 1913 annual report of the park board, which claimed that additional police presence was necessary to control the crowds at football games at Longfellow Field and North Commons.

This Is Where the Intrigue Begins

I was surprised when I learned that the park board sold the park in 1917. The park board had never sold a park before. Why then—after 34 years of managing parks? And why this park? The park board’s explanation in the 1917 annual report was pretty weak, stating only that the field “became unavailable for a playground on account of the growth of manufacturing business in the vicinity.” The property was already on the edge of an industrial zone—see photo above—when it was purchased, so this was no revelation.

Longfellow School, on Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue, was built in 1886 and used until 1918. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The park board resolution on October 17, 1917 to sell the land provided a bit more explanation, but it still seemed less than forthcoming. It wasn’t just the growth of manufacturing business, the resolution claimed, it was also the school board’s decision to close Longfellow School and build a new school farther south. Moreover, the park board claimed that to make the playground useful it would be necessary to invest in improvements and a shelter. Given the other shortcomings of the site, the park board didn’t think it prudent to make those investments at that site.

So the park board declared that the site was no longer useful for a park, a legal requirement to get district court permission to sell the land, and it was sold for $35,000 to the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company.

At the time the park board decided to sell the field it also expressed its intention to find a “more suitable area” for a park and playground nearby in south Minneapolis. Less than two weeks after the sale was announced, the board designated land for a second Longfellow Field, the present park by that name, about a mile southeast in a much less populated neighborhood. The park board paid the $16,000 for the new land—not just four acres, but eight—and for initial improvements to the park from the proceeds of the earlier sale. It was a boon for property owners in the vicinity of the new Longfellow Field: a new park without property assessments to pay for it. The owners of three houses that had just been built across the street from the park must have been thrilled.

When I learned all of this a few years ago, I assumed that in the end the land deal was about the money—the opportunity to sell for $35,000 land the board had bought only six years earlier for $7,000. Even if you subtract the $8,000 spent on improvements, that was a nice return. And to keep that sum in context, remember that the park board shelved plans for a park shelter when bids exceeded estimates by $5,000. Thirty-five grand was a lot of money for a cash-strapped park board.

But the deal still puzzled me, especially because of the unusual way the transaction was introduced in park board records.

Park board proceedings, October 9, 1917, Petitions and Communications:

“From the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company —
Asking the Board to name a price at which it would sell the property included in the tract of park lands known as Longfellow Field.”

Talk about asking to be gouged! Who starts negotiations that way? Name a price? That seemed fishy. So did the speed of the deal. Two committees were asked to report back on the issue the following week, the first indication that someone was in a big hurry to get a deal done. The joint committees not only reported back a week later, they had come up with a price, $35,000, and had essentially concluded the deal. There hadn’t been time for much dickering over the number; the park board had a very motivated buyer. Moreover the board selected land to replace Longfellow Field only two weeks later. As decisive as early park leaders often were, this was unprecedented speed. Too much money. Too fast. Too little explanation.

Perhaps too little deduction on my part as well, but that’s where the matter stood for me the last few years until I decided recently to look into it a bit more as I was compiling a list of “lost parks” in Minneapolis. What I learned is that the decision to sell Longfellow Field had less to do with demographic shifts or manufacturing concentration in south Minneapolis than what was happening in the fields of France and the waters of the North Atlantic.

The United States Joins a World at War

For more than two years, the United States had stayed out of the Great War that embroiled much of the rest of the world. But in early 1917 Germany took the risk that a return to unrestricted submarine warfare and a blockade of Great Britain, including attacks on American ships, could bring about an end to the war before the United States could mobilize its army and economy to have a significant impact on the ground war in Europe. Germany knew that its actions would bring the U.S. into the war—and they did. The U.S. Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917—and began to mobilize in earnest. Part of that mobilization was the enactment of the selective service, or draft, law in May 1917 to build an army. Another part was the procurement of weapons and equipment needed to fight a war.

Of course the manufacturing capacity for war couldn’t be built from scratch. Existing expertise, process and capacity had to be converted to war products. That meant beating plowshares into swords.

That’s where Minneapolis Steel and Machinery came in. In the fifteen years since its founding, Minneapolis Steel had become one of the leading suppliers of structural steel for bridges and buildings in the northwest. That was the “steel” part of the name. The “machinery” was represented most famously by Twin City tractors, but also by engines and parts it manufactured for other companies.

Doesn’t the logo for a line of products from the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company remind you of the logo of our favorite boys of summer? (Thanks to Tony Thompson at twincitytractors.tripod.com)

All I knew about Minneapolis Steel and Machinery was that in the 1920s it was one of the companies that merged to become Minneapolis-Moline and that it was notoriously anti-union. I didn’t know that it was an important military supplier, too.

The first evidence I found of the company’s production for war was a November 10, 1915 article in the Minneapolis Tribune that claimed the company would begin shipping machined six-inch artillery shell casings to Great Britain by January 1, 1916. The paper reported that the initial contract, expected to be only a trial order, was for almost $1.5 million.

Less than two weeks later, another Tribune report made it clear that the company’s involvement in the war was much broader. The paper reported on November 23 an order from Great Britain for 100 tractors from Bull Tractor, another Minneapolis company, for which Minneapolis Steel did the manufacturing and assembly. The tractors, still a relatively new invention, would be shipped from Great Britain to France and Russia to supplant farm horses drafted for war service or already killed in the war. Minneapolis Steel was also shipping 50 steam shovels to be used to dig trenches on the Russian front. Both orders were placed by the London distributor for both Minneapolis Steel and Machinery and Bull Tractor.

Shell orders must have continued for Minneapolis Steel and Machinery after the initial order in 1915, too, because on August 16, 1917 the Tribune reported a new order for the company. Under the headline, “Steel and Machinery Plant to Be Enlarged to Meet Uncle Sam’s Demand for Shells,” the paper reported,

“War orders just taken will necessitate a considerable enlargement of the buildings of the Minneapolis Steel & Machinery company. The company, after completing its shell contract with the British government last spring, decided not to accept any more shell orders, but the United States insisted and a large contract is the result.”

Artillery played an unprecedented role in a war in which both sides were dug into trenches. Blanket bombardments preceded most offensive actions. The result was a French countryside that resembled nothing earthly.

The report, which quoted Minneapolis Steel vice president George Gillette, continued that the company was also manufacturing steam hoists for ships and expected more contracts as the building program progressed. More contracts, unsolicited according to Gillette, did indeed materialize in the next month for carriages for 105 millimeter guns and steering engines for battleships. Those contracts reportedly required a doubling of the company’s manufacturing capacity. At that time government contracts accounted for 75 percent of the company’s output. By early 1918, the Tribune reported that Minneapolis Steel and Machinery had already been awarded $23 million in government contracts.

In the midst of this rash of new military contracts, Minneapolis Steel asked the park board to name its price for Longfellow Field. Even before the district court finished its hearings on the park board’s proposed sale, the company had  obtained building permits for three new warehouses, two of them in the 2800 block of Minnehaha Ave., a short foul pop-up from home plate at the former Longfellow Field.

A Civic Duty

The spirit of the times suggests that while money may have been a factor in the park board’s prompt action, it likely was not the primary motivation for selling Longfellow Field. The park board probably viewed the sale as its civic and patriotic duty to assist the war effort—especially given the other valid reasons for moving the playground.

An example of the patriotic fervor generated by the war—to which park commissioners could not have been immune—was a dinner held at the Minneapolis Club, June 12, 1917, to raise funds for the American Red Cross, which was preparing field hospitals to treat wounded soldiers. (Did the army not have a medical or hospital corps?) The next morning the Tribune reported that in one hour the 200 business and civic leaders at the dinner pledged more than $360,000 to the Red Cross. That amount eclipsed the city’s previous one-evening fund-raising record of $336,000 for the building fund for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a few years earlier.

The report is noteworthy especially for the accounts of the number of men present, among the wealthiest and most influential citizens of Minneapolis, who had sons and nephews on their way to France—so different from the wars of the last four decades.

“Almost every man who rose to name his contribution had a son already in France or on his way. So often did the donor, in making his contribution, add that his boy was wearing the khaki of the army or navy blue that Mr. Partridge (the emcee of the evening) called the roll to ascertain just how many present had sons or nephews in the service. Including two who announced that they themselves were entering the service, the total was 56—mostly sons.”

One of the two men present who was entering military service himself was introduced as Dr. Todd, son-in-law of J. L. Record, who was president of Minneapolis Steel and Machinery. Record pledged $10,000 to the Red Cross on behalf of his company that night.

Ernest G. Wold was one of two WWI pilots  from Minneapolis who died in the air over France. The other was Cyrus Chamberlain. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Among others who pledged money were two bankers who had sons in the military aviation services, F. A. Chamberlain, chairman of First and Security National Bank, and Theodore Wold, governor of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. Both men—and Chamberlain’s wife—were leaders in raising funds for the Red Cross and in selling Liberty Bonds. Their sons never came home. Ernest Wold and Cyrus Chamberlain died in the air over France in 1918. They were jointly honored by having Minneapolis’s airport named Wold-Chamberlain Field, a name that still stands. This was several years before the Minneapolis park board assumed control of building and operating the airport.

The Park Board During the War

Also making pledges at the Minneapolis Club dinner were park commissioners William H. Bovey and David P. Jones. Two other park commissioners who took active roles in the war effort were Leo Harris who resigned from his seat on the park board to enlist and Phelps Wyman who took a leave of absence from the park board to serve as a landscape architect for a group designing new towns for the workers needed at military factories and shipyards.

But it was the president of the park board in 1917 who had the most to lose—or prove—during those days of heated anti-German rhetoric. Francis Gross was the president of the German-American Bank in north Minneapolis. Gross had worked his way up from messenger to the presidency of the bank, which was said to be the largest “non-centrally located” bank in Minneapolis. The bank, founded in 1886, had been located on  the corner of Plymouth Avenue and Washington Avenue North since 1905. Gross eventually served 33 years as a park commissioner between 1910 and 1949, earned the nickname “Mr. Park Board,” and had a Minneapolis golf course named for him. He must have been indefatigable, because his name pops up in association with many civic and financial endeavors.

Of all the park commissioners in Minneapolis history, Frank Gross is one of the most intriguing to me. If I could find some cache of lost journals of any of the city’s park commissioners since Charles Loring and William Folwell, I would most want to find those of Frank Gross. He’d be a great interview subject.

Francis A. Gross, 1918 Annual Report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners

In the second year of the war, before the U. S. entry into the conflict, Gross was quoted in the Tribune expressing his view that Germany’s desire for peace was “sincere.” He urged the U. S. and other neutrals to push for peace. “I have no sympathy with the assertion that one side must be victor,” he said. “There can be a fair settlement now on nationality lines.”

Gross’s role in the war effort changed considerably after the U.S. entered the war. The tension of war in the U.S. was underscored when in March 1918, the German-American Bank officially changed its name to North American Bank. Gross asserted that the old name no longer represented the bank’s business or clients, adding “it is not good or desirable that the name of a foreign nationality be attached to an American institution.” In announcing the name change, Gross emphasized that his bank had been the first Minnesota bank to join the federal reserve system in 1915 “to do its part to establish a national banking system in our country so strong and efficient that it could meet any demand our country might make upon it.” (Tribune, March 8, 1918.) Gross’s implicit message: those demands could even include making war on the fatherland of the bank’s founders.

Only three weeks after Gross’s bank changed its name, he went on a speaking tour of towns outside Minneapolis that had large populations of German immigrants or descendants. The Tribune described his visit to Waconia on March 28, 1918. “In line with the belief of the state war savings and Liberty Loan committees that there is a distinct desire in German communities to have the war explained by persons of German birth or descent, Frank A. Gross, president of the North American bank, has spoken to several meetings composed entirely of Germans in the last few days,” the Tribune’s report began. Gross told of how he had circulated among the estimated crowd of 300 people of German descent, mostly farmers, before he spoke and found a “feeling that anyone of German birth or German descent is not wanted as a citizen of this country.”

He ascribed the feeling to the manner in which “overzealous orators” had attacked the German people, “not distinguishing between German imperialism, against which we are making war, and the German people.” Gross said that he then told the people of Waconia they “certainly were wanted as American citizens, but that the citizenship carried with it the responsibility of 100 per cent loyalty to this nation.” Gross said he also dispelled the notion that this was a “rich man’s war,” asking if they thought the “rich would send their boys to war just so their fathers could make a little more money.”

Family experience: My father, who grew up in a small town in rural Minnesota, recounts that his older brother and sister, born before WWI, spoke primarily German before they went to school, but my father and another sister, born after WWI, were never taught German.

Gross later was a prominent speaker at meetings promoting the purchase of Liberty bonds, especially in predominantly German communities such as New Ulm, Hutchinson and Glencoe, and he spoke at “Americanization” meetings—scheduled in Minneapolis neighborhoods with large “foreign elements” according to the Tribune—about “Patriotism.” He shared the podium at one such meeting in north Minneapolis with Rabbi S. M. Deinard whose subject was “The Obligation of the New Generation to the Old” and Mr. E. Avin of the Talmud Torah who gave a patriotic address in Yiddish. Gross also became an instructor, along with future Minneapolis mayor Wallace Nye, at a school for Minneapolis draftees before they were sent off to military camps.

The park board’s annual reports written while Gross was president of the board in 1917 and 1918 reveal very little of the impact of war on parks other than brief references to the heavy burden of taxes and contributions to welfare organizations and the lack of funds for park maintenance. From Gross’s other activities, however, as well as those of other park commissioners, it is apparent that the board would have had a strong sense of patriotic obligation to do what it could to assist the war effort. And that certainly extended to providing expansion space for one of Minneapolis’s largest military suppliers. So the original Longfellow Field became a casualty of war—and the neighborhood surrounding the new Longfellow Field acquired a park without having to pay property assessments.

The Last Link

One connection remains between the descendants of Minneapolis Steel and Machinery and Minneapolis parks. Minneapolis Steel and Machinery built Bull tractors, but the engines were supplied by another local company, the Toro Motor Company. Bull, Toro, get it? One contemporary newspaper account (November 17, 1918), describes Toro as a subsidiary of Minneapolis Steel and Machinery, but the website of The Toro Company today does not claim that connection. (The Toro website does claim the company produced steam steering engines for ships during WWI, however, a product that newspaper reports in 1917 attributed to Minneapolis Steel and Machinery.) Regardless of legal relationship, the two companies were closely connected and Toro is the sole survivor of the Bull, Minneapolis Steel, and Toro tractor trio.

Toro later focused its efforts on lawn-care products, famously lawn mowers, and still specializes in turf management products mostly for parks, athletic fields and golf courses. Each year in recent times, Toro and its employees, along with the Minnesota Twins Community Fund, have donated the materials, expertise and labor to rehabilitate or upgrade a baseball field in a Minneapolis park. These little gems of ball parks now exist in several Minneapolis parks, from Stewart Park to Creekview Park. Thank you, Toro. I don’t know specific park board needs now, but wouldn’t it be appropriate if Toro helped put in a fabulous field at Longfellow Park in honor of the connection long ago?

I’ll leave the final word on WWI in Minneapolis to a preacher.

“I rejoice that I am no longer needed as a partner in the grim business of killing.”
— Rev. Elmer H. Johnson, pastor of Morningside Congregational church who had worked for 11 months at the artillery shell factory of Minneapolis Steel to augment his church salary. (Minneapolis Morning Tribune, December 22, 1918)

David C. Smith

NOTE: Bob Wolff of The Toro Company provides additional details on that company in a “Comment” on the David C. Smith page. (May 31, 2012). In a separate note, Bob said he’d also look into finding photos of the first Toro turf management products used in Minneapolis parks. Stay tuned.

© David C. Smith

Large Stone Fireplace in Minnehaha Dog Park?

Mary MacDonald recently wrote to ask for info on the large stone fireplace near the long path to the Mississippi River in the Minnehaha Dog Park off 54th and Hiawatha. She said she’s been unable to find any info on who built it and how old it is. Does anyone know? I don’t know anything about it. Leave a comment or e-mail me at the address below.

David C. Smith

Maybe it’s time for Puck to have a sniff.

Puck

Lost Minneapolis Parks: A Fifth Prospect Park Triangle

A fifth Prospect Park triangle was added to Minneapolis parks inventory in 1919 when the City Council turned over a 0.03-acre triangle at the intersection of Bedford Street and University Avenue S.E. The Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners (BPC) instructed the superintendent to plant shrubbery on the triangle and to maintain it.  It was named Midway Triangle. The City Council must have forgotten that it gave the land to the BPC—or ignored the fact—because in November 1944 the BPC adopted a resolution that “inasmuch as the intersection of University Avenue and Bedford Street, including what was formerly Midway Triangle, has been paved,” it was turning  over the land to the City Council. There is still a remnant of the triangle at the intersection, just enough curbed space to hold a traffic signal, a light post and some signs.

The entire neighborhood might have looked quite different if the Minneapolis park board had acted on John Pillsbury’s proposal in 1887. Pillsbury was the former Governor of Minnesota and former Minneapolis park commissioner and still the president of the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents at the time, who had just donated a $150,000 building to the University. He proposed that University Avenue be made a parkway from Central Ave. to the county line (the boundary with St Paul) and that from Oak Street east the parkway be 120 feet wide, or more than 50% wider than it is now.

That might have been spectacular, but it is also possible that a parkway on University Avenue would have suffered the same fate as early parkways on Hennepin Avenue from Loring Park to Lakewood Cemetery and Lyndale Avenue North from Loring Park to Farview Park. They were eventually abandoned by the BPC as parkways and returned to the control of the City of Minneapolis, because they carried too much traffic to be true parkways. I suspect the same would have happened to a parkway on University Avenue; it was a major thoroughfare. But it’s fun to speculate and try to picture a beautiful wide boulevard approaching the University of Minnesota from the east—in the shadow of Tower Hill.

David C. Smith

You Think a Dog Park Was Controversial?

After holding public hearings and receiving “various communications objecting to it,” on April 20, 1960, the Minneapolis park board rescinded an agreement with Minneapolis Civil Defense to build a “demonstration atomic bomb fallout protective shelter” in Nicollet Park. The board granted permission to build the demonstration fallout shelter at The Parade instead. Was it ever built? I don’t know.

The Family Fallout Shelter 1960

This 1960 instructional booklet included plans for a fallout shelter, presumably similar to the one Minneapolis Civil Defense wanted to build at The Parade. This image is from authentichistory.com. The booklet is also available for sale on e-Bay at the time of this posting–if you’re still worried, or think it would do any good.

In 1968 Nicollet Park was renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Park. The park was the focus of bitter debate over the past year. The issue was whether converting a small portion of the park into an off-leash dog park would desecrate the memory of Dr. King. The dog park was not built.

During the 1960 meeting at which the board approved the fallout shelter, it also granted permission to the Twin City Walk for Peace Committee to hold an open air meeting at The Parade at the conclusion of a “peace walk.”

As a point of reference, Stanley Kubrick’s  classic film of the atomic-bomb age, Dr. Strangelove, was released in 1964.

Dr. Strangelove

David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park Crumbs I: Morsels Left Behind from Park Research

Outlawed: The possession or sale of heroin, other opium derivates, and cocaine without a prescription. Penalties established of $50-$100 fine or 30-90 days in the workhouse. Minneapolis City Council Proceedings, October 10, 1913.

Approved: Spanish language classes for Central and West high schools. Existing faculty at each school will teach the classes. Action of the Minneapolis School Board reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, January 13, 1915.

Suggested: A cement wall between Lake Calhoun and Lakewood Cemetery if the city would continue to permit ice to be cut from the lake.  From Minneapolis Journal article, June 8, 1901, about the visit to Minneapolis of Dr. Henry Marcy, “the eminent surgeon and philanthropist of Boston.” Dr. Marcy made the suggestion when he visited Lake Calhoun with Charles Loring. He said he had heard a great deal about Minneapolis’s parks and had a Minneapolis map on which he had sketched out their locations, but wanted to see them.

Found: Gold in Hennepin County, the best sample near Minnehaha Park. The specimen recovered by Prof. J. H. Breese, a former professor at Eastern universities, was confirmed as gold by state geologist Prof. N. H. Winchell. Prof. Breese believes the particles were carried from higher latitudes during the drift period, “but he is quite confident that all has not yet been found.” Reported by Minneapolis Tribune, July 17, 1889.

Built: A 100-foot steamboat named “Minneapolis” by Hobart, Hall and Company. Will begin running freight between Minneapolis and St. Cloud in late July. The company asked the Board of Trade for a free landing near Bassett’s Creek. Reported by Minneapolis Tribune July 8, 1873. The company planned to build another steamboat for the same route, more if “expedient.”

David C. Smith

Has the Park Board Neglected Northeast Minneapolis?

The argument is sometimes made, particularly by “Nordeasters,” that northeast Minneapolis is park poor and that the Minneapolis park board has neglected that part of the city.  “Underserved” seems to be the popular word. The idea even flowed as an undercurrent through the recent Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. The thinking goes that ever since Minneapolis and St. Anthony merged in 1872, and took the name Minneapolis, power, money and prestige—not to mention amenities such as parks—have accumulated west and south of the river. (Read Lucille M. Kane, The Waterfall That Built a City, for a fascinating examination of why that might have happened.)

While writing recently about Alice Dietz and the marvelous programs she ran at the Logan Park field house I thought again about the perceived neglect of Northeast and whether it might be true. I concluded that it is not; northeast Minneapolis has been a victim of industry, topography and opportunity, but not discrimination or even indifference. What’s more, all those elements have now realigned, putting northeast Minneapolis in the position to get a far bigger slice of the park pie in the foreseeable future than any other section of the city.

Read more

The Good Old Days

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

Overheard that discussion lately? Had it yourself?

The quote was taken verbatim from an article about park playgrounds in the Minneapolis Tribune, June 20 — 1920.

Do you have a story about playgrounds in the summer when you were a kid? Send it to me.

David C. Smith