Archive for the ‘Winter Sports’ Category

The Makwa Club’s Lake Calhoun Toboggan Slide

A couple of months ago I posted photos of a toboggan slide at Lake Harriet in 1914. Now I’ve rediscovered a description I had saved long ago of a toboggan slide from an earlier time on a Minneapolis lake. The Makwa Club—makwa is the Ojibwe word for “bear”—built a toboggan slide at Lake Calhoun in 1888, according to the Minneapolis Tribune, January 22, 1888.

The Tribune reported that the Makwa Club was formed in 1885 and had its first toboggan slide on Lowry Hill near Thomas Lowry’s house. For the winter of 1888 the club built a much grander slide at Lake Calhoun. The Tribune reported, “The slide is much superior to any that has been built in Minneapolis before and is probably as fine as any that is in existence in the country.”

The other toboggan slides in the city that winter were maintained by the Flour City Toboggan and Snowshoe Club and the North Star Toboggan Club. (Newspapers of the time referred often to the toboggan “craze,” much like the bicycle craze that would soon follow, and the canoe craze that came after that. Today, I suppose, we text or tweet.) The Flour City slide was a 1,000-foot slide near Ridgewood Avenue that ended near Franklin and Lyndale. The North Star slide was west of the city in what is now Theodore Wirth Park.

The only photo I can find of a toboggan slide from that era was the North Star chute on Glenwood Hill, 1887. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The Makwa slide was 220-feet long, running onto Lake Calhoun from the bluff on the east side of the lake where the Lyndale Hotel once stood. The slide had three chutes that had a drop of 55 feet and crossed both the street railway track—15 feet above the track—and Calhoun Parkway—24 feet above the road. (Yes, the Makwas did get the permission of the park board to build its slide over the parkway.) The slide met the lake ice about 50 feet out from the shore and the level runway continued 1,500 feet onto the lake. After a run of about 1/3 mile, toboggans hit roughed up lake ice that prevented them from running onto Lake Calhoun’s horse trotting track.

The grandest feature of the slide, however, “had never before been tried in any slide,” according to the Tribune: a wooden warming house and starting platform at the top of the slide, 10 feet off the ground. The front of the warming room was made almost entirely of glass and looked straight down the slide. The slide was illuminated by five electric lights.

The Makwas even had an arrangement with the motor (trolley) company by which the 7:40 train out from town every evening stopped at the foot of the slide to drop off club members and the 9:57 train made a special stop at the same place to pick them up for a return to the city after an evening of mirth. The slide was for the use of club members only.

The Makwa uniform was breeches and blouse of heavy gray French wool and stockings, toque and sash of cardinal. The membership of the club was limited to 200 and included many of the best-known young men of Minneapolis. The president of the club in 1888 was English journalist Harry P. Robinson, who was featured in an earlier article about his close friend John S. Bradstreet. Bradstreet was a Makwa, as was park commissioner Eugene Wilson.

The problem with the Makwa’s grand slide was that no one was willing to pay for it. In 1891, the Tribune reported that a lawsuit had been filed—in what it called the “Makwa mess”—by the man who built the slide in an attempt to recover his costs from the officers of the defunct club. Makwa Club members had been assessed $10 each to pay for the slide in 1888, but most didn’t pay. Some claimed that the officers of the club did not have the authority to spend the money on the slide. (I wonder if these claimants used the slide!) Of the $800 charged to build the slide, only about $300 had been paid. The Makwa directors, including Robinson, then sued individual members who hadn’t paid up. The Tribune reported on only two of those cases: one was not contested and the other lost on a technicality.

One of the “chief forms of pleasure that the belles and bloods of the city indulged in” that winter through “the most select of all the clubs” ended up being a free toboggan ride for most of them. (Tribune, March 20, October 18, December 22, 1891.)

By the fall of 1891, however, Makwa president Robinson had married the daughter of one of the wealthier men in Minneapolis, Thomas Lowry, so he may have found the means to pay the builder of the toboggan slide that was “much superior” to any other in Minneapolis.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of the Makwa Club’s Lake Calhoun toboggan slide, please let us know. We’d love to see it.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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Lake Harriet Toboggan Slide

As the heat continues to burn grass and crops this summer, I’ll provide cool respite on the edge of Lake Harriet. Fred Perl, the park board’s forester, took these photos of the Queen Avenue toboggan slide at Lake Harriet in 1914.

Looking up toward Queen Avenue on the western shore of Lake Harriet. (MPRB)

Check out the canoe racks that line the shore.

The view from the top of the slide along Queen Avenue above the street car barn. (MPRB)

The views from top and bottom are cool, but they don’t show all the work that went into building this slide. You can only appreciate that from a side view.

The impressive structure of the Lake Harriet toboggan slide. Note the passage made for cars on the parkway through the lattice. (MPRB)

Feel any cooler?

David C. Smith

Glenwood Toboggan Slide II: 1887

Since posting a newspaper photo of a toboggan slide on “Glenwood Hill” in 1887, I found this photo in the Minnesota Historical Society Visual Resources Database. This photo is purportedly of the same toboggan chute on the same hill in the same year, but they are obviously different places. The photo clipped from a newspaper had trees right up to the sides of the track.

The North Star toboggan chute on Glenwood Hill, 1887. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Looking up the hill instead of down, gives a completely different prespective on the possible location of the slide. I doubt that the slide in this photo is in the same location as the ski jumps that were built after the park board acquired land in the vicinity. Any guesses as to the location of this toboggan slide? Or the other one? Which one is the real “North Star” chute?

In the same wonderful photo collection, I found this picture of the St. Paul toboggan slide in front of the State Capitol, which I referred to in my earlier post.

A 1957 photo of the toboggan slide I rode as a kid, a few years later, in front of the State Capitol. (Minnesota Historical Society)

David C. Smith

This is why we love our parks: Powderhorn Art Sled Rally

Creative use of space. It is the true gift of parks. If anyone ever needed convincing of the incredible benefits of public spaces, they should have been at Powderhorn Park yesterday for the 4th Annual Art Sled Rally. Thrills, chills and plenty of spills. Marvelous creativity. Wacky fun. It’s what a creative community can do when it has a place to do it.

Cheers to South Sixteenth Hijinks for the idea and energy. Be sure to click the link above to learn more about the event and organizers. Especially check out the sponsors and please support them.

I didn’t see all the sleds, but among my favorites were the bear from Puppet Farm, (picture a bear sliding on its stomach, and, yes, there was a child seated on top of the bear sled, too) and a wild dinner table on a sled, which I believe was called “Dinner at the Carlisle’s.” Other favorites were a couple of dragons, a dragon fly, a bunch of eyeballs and a London Bridge, which did indeed fall down. Some pictures are already posted on artsledrally.com from Dan Stedman. I hope others will soon follow.

The greatest tribute to the event and the people who made it happen: as we walked away my daughter asked, “Can we make a sled next year?”

David C. Smith

Glenwood Toboggan Slide: 1887

It’s an old, wrinkled photo clipped from an unidentified newspaper, but it’s also the oldest photo I’ve seen of a toboggan slide in Minneapolis.

A privately run toboggan slide on “Glenwood” hill in 1887, years before the park board acquired land in the area.

The newspaper caption calls it the “North Star” chute and puts the date at 1887. That was two years before the first land (64 acres) was acquired for what was then Saratoga Park. The park was renamed Glenwood Park in 1890 and was renamed for Theodore Wirth in 1938. The majority of the land for the park we know today was acquired in 1909. I suspect that this hill was a part of that acquisition. Although I’m not certain, I think this slide was located near where the ski jumps were later built.

At different times the park board operated toboggan slides at Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Glenwood (Wirth) Park, Columbia Park and Minnehaha Park. I don’t believe any of them were operated after the 1940s, but as always its difficult to discern from park board records when such services or programs were stopped.

The only toboggan slide I remember from growing up in the Twin Cities was the long slide erected on the approach to the State Capitol in St. Paul. I remember it being operated as a part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. It was one of the highlights of winter life as a boy in St. Paul.

David C. Smith