Archive for the ‘Minneapolis parks’ Category

Accept When Offered: A Brief History of Minnehaha Parkway

Given recent discussion of the history of Minnehaha Parkway, I thought it might be useful to consider a brief timeline of when and why the parkway was acquired by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners and how it was developed. I wrote some of this for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in 2008, but it is not presently accessible at minneapolisparks.org. Most other individual park histories, such as Minnehaha Park and Minnehaha Creek Park (the creek west of Minnehaha Parkway to Edina), are available there under the “History” tab on each park page. I would encourage you to read them.

Park board records do not reveal the origin of the idea of a parkway along the valley of Minnehaha Creek. The first mention of a park along the creek is in the park board proceedings of October 8, 1887 when, after hearing from “interested parties,” the park board resolved that when lands along Minnehaha Creek “are offered, they be accepted” between Lake Harriet and the Soldier’s Home. (The Soldier’s Home was then planned to be built at the mouth of Minnehaha Creek on the Mississippi River on land donated to the state by the city. Minnehaha Falls was not yet a park, although it was in the works.) As part of the resolution, the park commissioners expressed their intent to create a parkway beside the creek when they deemed best to do so—meaning if they ever had the money.

Mpls Parks Fig 00-02 Minnehaha Boulevard

An early 1900s postcard image of the parkway and path at an unknown location. Don’t you want to follow that path? It’s a favorite image I included in City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks

Today Minnehaha Parkway begins at Lake Harriet Parkway on the south shore of Lake Harriet and Continue reading

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Troublesome Lake Hiawatha

Of all Minneapolis lakes, the one that might not exist if it hadn’t been dredged nearly a century ago is Lake Hiawatha.

1915 Lake Hiawatha looking north

Lake Hiawatha, then Rice Lake, middle right, looking north from bridge over Minnehaha Creek in 1915. (Photo by Charles J. Hibbard from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in the Minnesota Reflections Digital Library.)

1922 Hibbard Lake Hiawatha looking south

Lake Hiawatha before dredging and golf course creation looking south in 1922. Lake Nokomis, with a lakeshore already defined by dredging, is on the horizon just right of center. (Hibbard, Minnesota Reflections Digital Library.)

1929 Lake and Golf Course before course was built

It’s hard to tell from this 1929 photo looking east across the Lake Hiawatha and soon-to-be golf course how much water is standing. (Hibbard, Minnesota Reflections Digital Library. The same collection has many more photos of the area from different years.)

When you see the lake today, it’s hard to imagine that these photos show the same property. And it likely wouldn’t exist as a lake today if not for golf. The photos also illustrate the problems that still exist with excess water on the golf course and in the neighborhood.

Lake Hiawatha, or Rice Lake as it was called until 1925, was viewed primarily for its relationship to Minnehaha Creek for much of Minneapolis’s early history. As described in the history of Lake Hiawatha Park I wrote for the park board, the lake was viewed as a potential reservoir to maintain a constant flow of water over Minnehaha Falls. Absent that, Theodore Wirth argued that the lake would be more attractive as a meadow than a swamp and recommended draining it by diverting Minnehaha Creek through Lake Nokomis.

What changed thinking about the lake was golf. The Lake Hiawatha wetland was viewed as the only undeveloped plot of land in south Minneapolis large enough to hold a golf course. (In the late 1910s, 150 acres was considered sufficient for a golf course.) Minneapolis’s first two golf courses were at Wirth Park (then Glenwood) and Columbia Park in north Minneapolis. Gross (then Armour) and Meadowbrook golf courses, were added in the mid-1920s, both outside city limits and neither in south Minneapolis.

The other reason for maintaining Lake Hiawatha as a lake and dredging it much deeper is obvious when you look at the panoramic view above: the property was dead flat. Now I’m not a golfer, but I understand from those who are that dead flat does not make the most interesting golf courses (unless you’re being caressed by ocean breezes). To create a course that was more “sporty” in Theodore Wirth’s words, some variances in terrain would have to be created. For a park board that had little extra dirt—fill was always in demand because most neighborhood parks had been created on low lying land that was of little use, thus cheap, and needed filling—the best place to get fill was from a lake bottom. Wirth had already followed that formula at Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Cedar Lake and Lake Nokomis. He had used dredged material to reshape lakefront and create firmer shorelines. Why not dredge Lake Hiawatha, making it a “real” lake, and use the dredge “spoils” to create a golf course with (small) hills? One stone. Two birds. The results: another blue sheet of water, one less swamp (considered detrimental to health and beauy at that time), and another golf course, which proved in its early days to be one of the most profitable in the city.

Those who love the lake but hate the golf course might want to keep in mind that they may have one because of the other.

But that’s only part of the story that I’m still investigating. The other part of the story is what Theodore Wirth and park commissioners assumed about natural water levels in the Minnehaha Creek watershed. In the first few decades of the park board’s existence, water levels in the city’s lakes and creeks may have been higher than normal, although Minnehaha Creek was still dry at times. By the 1920s, however, water levels appear to have dropped and they remained low for the next few decades at least. That was when Lake Hiawatha and the Hiawatha Golf Course were created. In many years mid-century, there was no water in Minnehaha Creek except early spring and late fall. In the late 1950s water levels in the Chain of Lakes were sometimes seven feet below where they had been fifty years earlier.

The assumptions made about water levels, which affected depths of dredging and heights of filling, continue to impact how water flows or doesn’t in and around Lake Hiawatha and the golf course today when water levels are near all-time highs.

I mention this history today to remind people that a park system built around water—from the acquisition of Loring Pond and Lake Harriet in the 1880s; to renovation plans for Lake Hiawatha, Minnehaha Parkway and the Lake Calhoun boathouse site; to the development of new waterfront properties along the Mississippi River downtown and in North and Northeast—require special planning, precautions and contingencies especially in a time of climate change. Water levels will fluctuate. Know the depth before you dive.

As a postscript I’m told that some seats remain on the bus tour I’m leading of the city’s lakes, streams, ponds and river on August 17. The tour is organized by Preserve Minneapolis. Reserve your seat on the bus for the two-hour tour here.

David Carpentier Smith

 

 

Closing Parkways: Not a New Idea, or a Good One

The Minneapolis Park Board considered chopping up the Grand Rounds once before. That proposal was rejected, as I hope this one will be.

On May 30, the park board published a draft of its “preferred concept” for the Minnehaha Parkway Regional Trail from where Minnehaha Creek enters Minneapolis from Edina, east to Hiawatha Avenue near Minnehaha Park. I would encourage everyone to review the draft concept, especially page 7 of the linked document, which addresses “Parkway Vehicluar Circulation.” I believe that is where the plan fails, because it proposes to place roadblocks at some intersections that will force cars to leave the parkway, which creates in essence more “missing links” in the Grand Rounds. It will essentially end the practice of driving Minnehaha Parkway for pleasure. Continue reading

Minneapolis Park Names Added and Reconsidered

In light of rekindled debates over park names, prompted by the Appeals Court decision rescinding the name change of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the park board’s vote to alter the process for changing parkway names, and debate at the University of Minnesota over changing building names, I revisited my compilation of people commemorated in Minneapolis parks.

I just added two names that were designated since I originally compiled that list.

  • Annie Young: the meadow in Riverside Park was named to honor the former park commissioner who died in 2018.
  • Mary Merrill: the headquarters building of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, previously unnamed, was named after the former park superintendent and park commissioner, known then as Mary Merrill Anderson, who also served as the acting superintendent in 2018.

Changing Names

The park board suspended its naming rules to approve both names, which had also been done in recent years to name park baseball fields for Rod Carew, Frank Quilici and Sid Hartman. Previous board policy had prevented naming park properties for people still living or for a couple years after they died. The policy was refined after controversy in 1964 over the naming of Todd Park across Portland Avenue from Diamond Lake. George Todd was a park commissioner dying of cancer at the time. The objective was to honor him while still living for his work in creating the park . The policy was also suspended in 1968 to rename Nicollet Field for Martin Luther King, without a waiting period, shortly after his murder.

The park board also, with little discussion, has altered the process for changing parkway names. Continue reading

Lake, Creek and River Tour … History Archive … Aerial Photos

How did Minneapolis preserve nearly all waterfront in the city as public property? Lakes, creeks, ponds, river, even some bodies of water that no longer exist. Public property! You can walk up to the water and put your toe or your canoe in. Nobody’s permission needed.

That extraordinary distinguishing feature of Minneapolis will be the subject of a bus tour I will lead this summer as part of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer tour schedule. Reserve your seat on the bus for our two-hour tour on Saturday, August 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. All proceeds go to Preserve Minneapolis. I hope you will join me and in the process support the ongoing efforts to preserve the best of Minneapolis’s built and natural environments.

And check out the rest of Preserve Minneapolis’s summer tours. I’m sure you’ll see others you want to sign up for as well. The schedule was just posted and in the past most tours have sold out, so reserve your place early.

Michael Wilson’s Hill and Lake Press Archive

Michael Wilson has been writing about “history, issues and goings-on” in the Lowry Hill and lakes neighborhoods for Hill and Lake Press since 2015 and now he has collected his articles on his own blog at michaelwilsonmpls.com. I’d recommend a visit to Michael’s site for historical perspective on a wide range of issues affecting those neighborhoods as well as the city’s park resources. Bookmark it.

Aerial Treasures

An amazing trove of aerial photos of Minneapolis in the 1920s has been acquired by the Hennepin County Library and is in the process of being digitized for internet access. Michael Wilson has been instrumental in acquiring that collection for the library and wrote about it here. The spectacular collection, which I have viewed, should come with a warning that you will be tempted to spend hours and hours looking through them to find your house, street, neighborhood or landmarks as they once were.

The photographs were taken by early aerial photographer Joe Quigley for the Minneapolis School Board and were discovered in storage only in the last couple years. The photos were commissioned when the city was growing dramatically and the school board was trying to anticipate the exploding demand for classrooms and also planning to absorb the school-age population from the annexation of a large portion of Richfield.

One result of those challenges was increasing cooperation between the school board and park board to stretch their budgets without redundancy. That effort was initiated in the 1920s at the park board by commissioner Maude Armatage. Her efforts on that score continued for the next three decades and were recognized when a joint school and park constructed in southwest Minneapolis—part of the Richfield annexation—was named for her.

David Carpentier Smith

What Year Was It? Vaccinations, Assault, Free Trade and Snow Shoveling

I’ve been researching several park topics lately in archival newspapers and stumbled across peripheral incidents that made me double-check the date of publication. These aren’t directly park-related, but fascinating if you’re interested in the arcs of history. I consider myself an optimist, mostly because I think our kids are smarter than we are, but sometimes you wonder whether we learn. See if you can guess when these events occurred.

What year was it when…

Minneapolis’s Health Officer made a concerted effort to vaccinate more citizens against a potentially lethal disease only to be opposed by activists who claimed the vaccine was more dangerous than the disease it was meant to prevent?

1902

The Health Officer was Dr. Pearl Hall who was battling an outbreak of smallpox that was worse in Wisconsin and Minnesota than the rest of the nation. He was joined in his vaccination campaign by Dr. Ohage, the chief health officer of St. Paul. They were opposed by Anti-Vaccination Societies in both cities. The common refrain of those societies was that smallpox had killed thousands but the vaccine had killed tens of thousands. That claim, as pointed out by a letter writer to one newspaper, was attributed to “they say.”

Caricature,1902-09-12

A caricature of Dr. Hall. The issue he “explains” here was why the city should build a garbage burner on an island in the river he had acquired and given to the city, hence the name Hall’s Island. (Minneapolis Journal, September 12, 1902.)

Hall said he had two job openings at the Minneapolis quarantine hospital and he invited the anti-vaxers to provide two workers for those jobs who had never been vaccinated to measure their health against the rest of the staff, all of whom had been vaccinated and had not contracted smallpox. The offer was declined because the jobs were for a laundry worker and a housekeeper at low pay.  The Tribune opined that the city attorney would never have allowed such an experiment to go forward anyway.

Hall claimed that of the 1000 patients who had been treated at the smallpox hospital only five had been vaccinated and four of those probably had been vaccinated incorrectly. Hall estimated that 70-80% of Minneapolitans had been vaccinated at that time.

The argument raged for much of the winter of 1902 with the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers carrying multiple articles many days on the disease and the debate. Editorially all the papers sided with Dr. Hall.

The last known case of smallpox—in the world—was reported in 1977, after a coordinated campaign of vaccination worldwide. Gee, maybe vaccines work. And, yet, here we are a century of knowledge later with vaccine “doubters.”

(Sources: St. Paul Daily Globe, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Minneapolis Evening Journal, February, 1902; World Health Organization)

What year was it when…

A woman who was verbally accosted in downtown Minneapolis asked a policeman to arrest the man for assault. He did and the next day she testified about the incident in court and the offensive man was given 20 days in the workhouse for disorderly conduct?

1912

Katherine Halvorson was walking along Nicollet Avenue when she stumbled on an imperfection in the sidewalk. Charles Canington, who was standing nearby, then made “several rude and indelicate remarks and waxed familiar,” in the words of the Morning Tribune. Halvorson walked to a nearby patrolman and said, “That man insulted me. Won’t you please arrest him?” The patrolman complied and Canington was charged and convicted. Miss Halvorson’s closing thought on the incident: “It will be nice when girls can walk the streets in Minneapolis without having men call out to them.”

Are we closer to that day?

(Source: Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 25, 1912)

What year was it when…

An influential group of Minneapolis business people urged Congress to secure a commercial treaty that would facilitate free trade with Canada?

1888

The Minneapolis Board of Trade (the Chamber of Commerce of its time) passed a resolution urging the “present congress” to “use their influence” to secure such a treaty because “in the opinion of this board, free trade and uninterrupted trade and intercourse between the people of the United States and the people of the Dominion of Canada… would be alike advantageous to both.”

We’ve known trade barriers were a bad idea for quite a while.

(Source: St. Paul Daily Globe, Jan. 24, 1888)

What year was it when…

Minneapolis threatened to charge property owners for shoveling their sidewalks if they didn’t do it themselves.

1897

The most famous case of refusing to shovel was the eccentric millionaire lawyer Levi Stewart who lived on the corner of Hennepin and 4th. He claimed it was the city’s responsibility to clear the walks the same as it was to clear the streets. (The city had sued Stewart in 1871 to force him to put in a sidewalk—which were then made of planks—so he considered it the city’s responsibility to maintain it.) An article in 1885 claimed slippery sidewalks were a particular hazard at Stewart’s property because the fence he put around his yard was made of barbed wire.

Minneapolis had tried to create a shoveling ordinance in 1891 but due to technicalities it had to be rewritten. In 1897 Stewart suggested that they take the issue to the courts again to determine the legality of the rewritten ordinances. The City must not have accepted Stewart’s challenge then because in 1905 a Journal editorial urged the City to take Stewart to court to test the new/old ordinance because he still wasn’t shoveling his walks. That’s as far as I’ve gotten into investigating that particular argument between Stewart and the City, there were many others, but I hope to tell much more in a forthcoming longer piece on Levi Stewart.

I saw what looked like a city crew out shoveling and plowing a sidewalk in my neighborhood this week in the most recent crackdown on snowy walks.

(Sources: St. Paul Daily Globe, Feb. 1, 1885; Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 9, 1897; Minneapolis Journal, Dec. 19, 1905)

While snow-covered sidewalks might not be in the same category of threat to the common good as infectious disease, verbal assault and protectionism, accessibility is a much more serious issue today than 120 years ago—and evidence of how public opinion and policy have changed significantly over time.

David C. Smith

 

 

Sharing Streets: An Old Discussion

The lively continuting discussion of the use of Minneapolis streets and parkways by bicycles, pedestrians and cars reminds me of something I wrote on these pages about six years ago.

That post—100 Years of Engines, Wheels and Metropolitan Parks—addressed the coming of cars to Minneapolis parkways and the increasing importance of automobiles, with a comment on bicyles and horses on parkways, too.

Lake Harriet Bicycle Path 1896

This is one of my favorite park photos. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet in 1896. Notice that the layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I regret that we don’t have the “Greater Grand Rounds” that Edmund Phelps (for whom Phelps Park was named) and many others advocated in the early 1900s—one long parkway from White Bear Lake to Lake Minnetonka and along the Minnesota River as well as the Mississippi. Still, what we have is not bad.

David C. Smith

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

 

 

 

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

Happy 99th, Don Johnson

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

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

Scan Don Johnson 1948 rev.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Two Weeks Pay

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

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

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Don Johnson when he was only 96.

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

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

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

David C. Smith

Help a Neighborhood Help a Park: Elwell Park III

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

Elwell Turtle

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

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

Elwell Field dedication

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

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

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

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

David C. Smith

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

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

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