David C. Smith

Notes for Stories I Could Tell, Some about Parks

I grew up in St. Paul near Mounds Park, one of the great parks anywhere. What a place to dream: the mighty river, sprawling railroad, airport, highways, skyline all stretched out below. Mysterious mounds. We ran up and down them then, intending no disrespect. We played at Dayton’s Bluff and Margaret Street playgrounds. Skated at one or the other most winter days. Won my first trophy playing in a citywide basketball tournament representing Margaret playground. No coach or uniforms, just plain t-shirts with a number inked by hand. The playground director was astonished when we brought him a trophy. Visited downtown library every few weeks. Never was really aware of Rice Park outside. On Sunday evenings our family went to the Como Park pavilion on the lake for hymn sings. We swam in the summers at Lake Phalen; watched tough, muscular guys work out on gymnastic apparatus on the beach. Hoped the girls we liked would show up, and not think us hopelessly wimpy compared to the muscular guys.

College at Hamline University. Near Como Park. Newell Park too, a little gem of oak savannah. Inducted into an honor society in that park. Played basketball for the Pipers. We were terrible, but formed lasting friendships. Coached by the first white man to lose his job as a professional baseball player to a black man: Howie Schultz was the first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson was called up and took over at first. Howie was a funny man and a great athlete. I wrote a few poems that were published in school literary magazine. Someday I’ll find them. Officially studied political science.

Spent a semester of my senior year in London. Lived near Kensington Garden and Hyde Park. Favorite place was Peter Pan statue. Sundays I listened to poetry and politics at Speaker’s Corner. “Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop?” Recited as serious poetry. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Drove a truck in the mountains of Arizona, near Sedona, delivering feed to ranches. Before it was a trendy place. Walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Nice park. Big park.

Went to Colombia in the Peace Corps. After learning beginners Spanish, worked as a recreation director in a national prison. Don’t remember parks in Colombia. Too poor for parks. An influential prisoner took me under his wing. Ismael Castilla’s nickname: Al Capone. Usually wore a black turtleneck and a deerstalker hat. The best athlete in the prison, also a playwright. Said he was a political prisoner. Today would be called a terrorist. He cried the day his parole was denied. Six months later, after I was gone, he got his parole. He died weeks later, killed by police who were attempting to rescue a kidnapped government minister.

Transferred by Peace Corps to Nigeria where I became the national basketball coach. Won a silver medal at first All-Africa University Games in Accra, Ghana. Spent most of a year living out of a white and green VW bug, staying in hotels as I drove from town to town conducting basketball clinics. Learned the oppressing visibility of looking different. Was once the only white man I could see in a stadium of 50,000 people. Was nearly always treated well, but got tired of standing out. How much did I stand out? When I attended a local basketball game in a small town, the big attraction court side was a tame monkey — until I showed up. The young children abandoned the monkey as they fought to sit next to me, so they could touch the blond hair on my arms. Monkeys they could see anytime. Not every day could they touch an oyebo. Not many parks in Nigeria either. Hope they’ve preserved some open space since in that crowded part of the world. Lagos, Enugu and Port Harcourt needed open spaces then. Probably need them more now. Someday I’ll tell the story of the man who almost drowned swimming in the surf near Lagos.

Attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota. Journalism. Lived in Prospect Park. Rode my bike past Tower Hill every day. Missed the opening week of school the third quarter to attend my grandma’s funeral in southern Ohio. Didn’t run in that cemetery. Saw my grandfather a last time. The one who was a safecracker, convict and later an undercover operative for FBI. I never returned to grad school. Took the entrance exam for the Foreign Service instead. Passed.  Became a diplomat.

Went to Washington, D.C. for training and orientation at the State Department. Great parks. Lived a couple blocks from Lincoln Memorial. Assigned to U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain as Vice Consul. Spent many hours in Retiro, the great central park of Madrid. Went there mostly with Angeles, eyes and hair the color of coal, with as much latent heat. Sometimes to the country park instead, Casa De Campo. Loved the fountains in streets. Favorite was the one with dolphins playing near my home. Driving past it once I made my first pun in Spanish. To Angeles. Had to do with complejo and espejo. I thought I was very clever. She laughed at me, eyes smoldering a little.

Cuenca. A favorite stop on the way from Madrid to Cordoba. (David C. Smith)

Second assignment was Lusaka, Zambia. Game parks were spectacular. Best in the world said some who knew about those things. Endless open spaces outside cities. Lightly populated place then. Fewer people now, I’m told. Aids. Travelled often in the bush. Visited American missionaries. Investigated starvation near border with Angola. A war zone. Helped organize delivery of relief food.

Luangwa National Park, Zambia. The one on the left looked like he was trying to remember something. (David C. Smith)

Resigned from Foreign Service. Restless. Travelled across Africa, Middle East and Europe for four months on my way home.

No gleaming sun on Mykonos. Airport was closed for three days by a snowstorm in March. (David C. Smith)

Took up writing to make a living. Helped clients sell everything from soup to soap, silicon to silicone. Ghost writer, speech writer, copy writer. About the only thing I’ve not written for hire is limericks. Might try it sometime. If you know anyone who needs a limerick writer…

Became a husband, became a father, stayed a son. Stayed in Minneapolis longer than I expected, too. Keep losing, then rediscovering, the little things. Miracles. The small, secret happinesses on which we thrive. Some to be shared, some to be savored, hoarded. That’s why Minneapolis parks have their hold on me. Places for any mood. And the founders amaze me. Loring, Cleveland, Brackett, King, Morrison, Folwell. I might tell their stories, too. Anybody know Levi Stewart? Didn’t think so. Now there’s a story.

44 comments so far

  1. Derek Engelen on

    Mr. Smith – I appreciated your pieces on Powderhorn Park and Louise Herou’s medal collection. I too have a skating medal collection from my mother who is Audrey Naas and was a Junior Champion with PSC after Louise Herou. Her old records from the pre-1940 days still stood before the conversion to metric distances. Few people are aware of how important the ‘natural’ ice venues were for competitive skating in their day. Thanks for your writing and let me know if you are interested in any of the PSC photos from that era. DKE

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for your comments. I would love to see photos of your mother — as would many readers. I will contact you to see what we can do.

  2. David Gleason on

    I researched information about the Bottineau Athletic Club, and found your great article. I am a Grandnephew of Charlie Cells. It was fun to read about his dedication to this group. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him growing up, so these stories never came up. I do happen to have two double sided pages of football photos, and two double sided pages of baseball photos. Like the photos in your article, they are on black paper, with the white printing he did to identify each photo. The pages are now very brittle, although the photos are perfectly intact. I had to tape pieces of the captions back to the pages. I have not wanted to throw these pages away, but I no longer wish to keep them. If you have a contact that would like to have these pages, I would be happy to send them off to a new home. Thanks for any information you could offer to me. Thanks.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the contact and info. I am working on another project that will provide more info on Cells and some of that Bottineau crew. I’ll contact you directly.

  3. Julie Durand on

    Hello David, I purchased several copies of your book- thank you! I also see that MPRB has excerpted your work in the master plan recently published. On page 191 it says that there was a fire at Burroughs school in 2005. I don’t recall such a fire? Please provide more details. Can’t find anything online either. I don’t think this is accurate. The original Burroughs school from 1926 was demolished around 2000, it was too expensive for the district to keep pumping water from the basement. The new Burroughs building was opened in 2003. It could not be accurate that a fire at Burroughs in 2005 necessitated a renovation of the (then separated) Lynnhurst Rec Center. Please enlighten! Thank you.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the correction on the opening date of Burroughs School, Julie. The new building was opened for the 2003, not 2005, school year. Significant upgrades were made to the Lynnhurst recreation center in 2005. The history you refer to was written 12 years ago for the park board’s website and I no longer have notes on sources, so I can’t review proximate causes of the schools demolition. For the most part, the park board has incorporated the individual park histories (180+, all written originally in 2008) from its website into various park planning documents. There is a “History” tab on the individual pages for most park properties. I would recommend that you contact the park board directly to suggest corrections to any of those pages. The park board updates them periodically and, I’m sure, would appreciate input.
      David C. Smith

      • julie durand on

        Thanks David, I’ll check out the park history on the MPRB website and comment there as you suggested. Appreciate it! Julie

  4. Farley Tobin, on

    Does the 1913 Logan Park Fieldhouse Building still exist? If not do you know where I might find interior photos?

    07/24/ 2017

    • David Smith on

      Hi Farley, Sorry for the delay in responding. I was out of town and missed your comment. The first Logan Park Fieldhouse was demolished and replaced in 1970. I know of only a few interior photos from the old building. You might try the park pictures posted at the Minnesota Digital Library. Other sites that might yield results are the Minnesota Historical Society and the Hennepin County Library, Special Collections. I don’t have their inventories in my head anymore, but remember a couple of banquet scenes as well as one or two shots of activities in the basement: marbles and boxing as I recall.

  5. joan on


    • David C. Smith on

      Hi Joan, Yes it’s always puzzled me why many early 1900s postcards refer to “Central Park” in Minneapolis. That was the original name of the park, but the name was changed to Loring Park in 1890 to honor Charles Loring when he left the park board. That was more than a decade before the post card craze began. I’ll post another name for Loring Park on a new post later today. Thanks for reading, Joan.

  6. sueleaf on

    You seem so well-informed that I won’t be telling you anything new that Spirit Island was indeed a quarry and that stone for Old Main at the U of M was quarried there. Have any idea how they got it up the bluff to the campus?

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the information, Sue. I had not heard that about Old Main and Spirit Island before. I’m a bit surprised because Spirit Island still existed long after Old Main was built. Perhaps the effort to remove stone from the island when there was more accessible limestone on the river banks discouraged further quarrying efforts there for some years. The only logical way to move the stone to the campus would have been to float it down to Cheevers Landing, the present East River Flats, but that would have been no easy task because of the rapids on the river between those points. I have read petitions filed with the park board in the 1880s protesting park board appraisals of land on the east river bank downriver from the University because the appraisers didn’t place — in the opinion of the landowners — an appropriately high value on the limestone yet to be quarried from some of that land. The protests of appraisals by nearly all landowners along the east side of the river prevented the acquisition of that land for a parkway for several years. Horace Cleveland implored the park board to acquire the land so it couldn’t be quarried, which he believed would scar the river gorge permanently and irreparably.

  7. Romayne Kilde on

    I am conducting research on the landscape plan that Horace Cleveland did for the Fergus Falls State Hospital and am very interested in locating a drawing or plan for the project. Do you know have any suggestions of where I might find the plan? I have searched extensively on the internet and have not come across it yet. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

    • David C. Smith on

      Hi Romayne,
      Great question, but unfortunately I can’t help you. I have not seen Cleveland’s plans for that facility. You might try to locate them through the state as it was a state hospital. I would love to see them myself, so if you’re successful, let me know. Good luck.
      David C. Smith

  8. Peter J. Hansen on

    David, in 1996 a few Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Nigeria started Friends of Nigeria essentially an alumni group. Since then we have located 1600+ Nigeria RPCVs. We send our quarterly newsletter to every Nigeria RPCV we can locate and would love to have you join us. Several of the 1970s coaches are on our mailing list.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for contacting me, Peter. I’ll follow up privately. One of the unexpected benefits of writing this blog has been that several old friends have found me. With a name like mine, some biographical details are needed for indentification

  9. Carl Smith, Corinna resident and Stewart descendant on

    Just discovered your 2011 comment on Levi Stewart. I am a member of the Library Preservation Group which is directing a significant preservation project. We are also considering a change of venue for his Private Library collection from a static display room to an interactive museum format. If you have materials that would add meaning in honoring his life and achievements we would be delighted to view and possibly share them. I had heard that he had diaries, possibly possessed by O’Doul’s (sp) book store, but have never been able to source them. Any knowledge of those or other items that highlight his life in MN would be appreciated. We are preparing for a 2016 bicentennial celebration of our town incorporation and want to display our benefactor in the most beneficial manner.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the info, Carl. I’ll be in touch with you soon. Unfortunately, I don’t have any info on the missing diaries, but I do have a lot of information on Levi Stewart’s life in Minneapolis. His brother, the executor of Levi’s estate, donated land to the Minneapolis Park Board for Stewart Park and Cedar Avenue Field in honor of Levi.

      Background for other readers: Levi Stewart was a Maine native who lived in Minneapolis from the 1850s until his death in 1910. While living, he donated a library, which still stands, to his hometown Corinna, Maine. That is the library to which Carl Smith refers.

  10. Dan Johnson on

    Great work Dave…..Enjoyed your interview

    • David C. Smith on

      My pleasure, Dan. I look forward to writing more about your Dad and his recollections of the speedskating scene. Soon.

  11. susan dryden on

    do you have any photos of the pony rides that were given at lake minnehaha. thanks,

    • David C. Smith on

      Susan, the Minnesota Historical Society has a picture in their collection here. I have seen this post card for sale many times on E-Bay if you’d like to own one. It is the only photo I recall of the pony track. Does anybody know of other photos?
      David C. Smith

  12. Dee Dee Larson on

    I have an original surveyors plot map from October of 1882 by Baker and Gilmore of Calhoun Park. I would like to sell it and am wondering if you know anyone who would be interested?

    • David C. Smith on

      If anyone is interested they can contact me and I’ll give them your email address.

  13. Joe Finley on

    What can you tell us about the pond in Loring Park?

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the question, Joe. I’ll pull together some info for you and post it soon.

  14. Tony Gross on

    I am Francis A Gross III. I have many of my great grandfathers writings including his notes for the speeches he gave during WW1, and the original handwritten copy of his autobiography.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for contacting me, Tony. I’m a huge admirer of your great-grandfather. I’ll be in touch soon.
      David C. Smith

  15. Bob Wolff on

    Mr. Smith,

    I enjoyed the original post about Longfellow Park – your additional post about the Toro ad in a 1919 Parks and Recreation magazine was just brought to my attention as I’m the unofficial/official historian for the Toro Company. I’ll offer a couple notes and then a question.

    As you know, we did have an affiliation with Minneapolis Steel and Machinery but I don’t know if you are aware of the exact nature. Toro was founded on July 10, 1914 as The Toro Motor Company by 7 men, 6 of whom were executives or key investors in The Bull Tractor Company and the 7th was J.L. Record, co-founder and at one time president of Minneapolis Steel and Machinery. Bull tractor had been an overnight success, essentially creating the small farm tractor business with the introduction of their first Bull tractor. Smaller and more affordable than the typical tractor behemoths of the day, it was sized and priced to better fit the average farmer’s needs – consequently in its first full year of production Bull outsold every other brand in the business. The growth was so explosive the out-of-state engine suppliers could not meet the demand so the group I mentioned founded Toro to build motors for Bull. Bull’s fortunes soured almost as quickly as they had risen and, contrary to published accounts, they were pretty much finished in the tractor business by the end of 1916 existing simply on paper for a couple years longer. Toro, an independent company, continued by building steam steering winches for merchant marine ships as part of the World War I effort and manufacturing heavy duty engines for tractors and trucks as well as other automotive components. Following the war we introduced our own farm utility tractor and transitioned, as you noted, to the turf maintenance business. Our first small plant was in St. Paul (570 North Prior Ave) but when Bull failed we relocated our plant and established our corporate offices (our executives had officed at Bull’s HQ at 2628 University Ave SE, Minneapolis) at 3042 Snelling Ave, Minneapolis, which is across what is now Lake Street from the former location of Minneapolis Steel. I know that’s more than you wanted to know.

    Now, my question: you noted the ad you posted is from a 1919 issue of Parks and Recreation magazine. We have the same ad on file but not the entire tearsheet so we could not confirm the date. Our early years were such a challenge that historical records are less than complete and the date of our first mowing unit (from the ad’s photo) had been identified as 1920 or 1921. Other materials I have recently discovered led me to believe the correct date is 1919 – so if you can confirm that the ad you have in your files is definitely from a 1919 issue, that will help narrow my search considerably (in fact it makes me wonder if perhaps 1918 is more likely). So if you can let me know if your document shows the 1919 date, I’d really appreciate.

    I assume you are aware of the Lake Street Council’s “Museum in the Streets” project that is posting placards for walkng tours in the area – both Minnepaolis Steel’s and Toro’s sites will be included.


    Bob Wolff
    The Toro Company

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for all of the info, Bob. Much appreciated.

      Here is a link to the ad for the Toro lawnmower in Parks and Recreation I reprinted: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/chi.72780251?urlappend=%3Bseq=524. Unfortunately I had the date of the ad wrong. The library volume that was scanned included issues of Parks and Recreation magazines from 1919-1921, but this ad is from the April, 1921 edition. I checked some earlier editions of the magazine and this is the first Toro ad — or reference to Toro — I could find. Sorry to mislead you on the date.

      David C. Smith

  16. Linda Swalin on

    I am searching for information on family member James Chase. It seems he was a parkkeeper at Glenwood/Wirth Park for 30 years, starting about 1890. I am wondering if there are any records/documents/photos with the Park Board that would be available to me. What would have been his parkkeeping duties? Thank you. Linda Swalin

    • David C. Smith on

      I am not aware of any records of park personnel that long ago. Very few photos exist from that time period and I don’t recall seeing a James Chase in a photo. I did a quick search of park board proceedings and annual reports that are searchable at Hathitrust.org and didn’t get any hits with that name, but the years covered are limited. You might go to the library and find the proceedings of the park board for 1890 or 1891 and flip through them to see if the name appears. It would probably only show up if he applied for the position. That would likely be listed under “petitions and communications” at the beginning of each park board meeting. You could also try a name search in the Historical Minneapolis Tribunes available at the Hennepin County Library website hclib.org. They are searchable 1865-1922. It’s possible the name could have been in the paper. Park keepers were responsible for maintenance of the parks. Sorry I can’t provide more specific information.
      David C. Smith

    • David C. Smith on

      Linda, I just stumbled across an interesting entry in the Minneapolis Tribune from November 20, 1916, while researching another story. The article relates the efforts of “J. O. Chase, head park keeper” to capture 21 Canadian geese–whose wings were clipped–in Glenwood Park to put them in “winter quarters.” The annual “game” was abandoned after a few days due to dangerous ice on the lake. The headline? “Wild Goose Chase Is Postponed Until There Is More Ice On Lake.” Clever.

      So, there is proof of a “Chase” as park keeper at Glenwood Park. As I had suspected, there was reference to him in the paper. The key fact here is that he used his initials instead of first name, which should inform further searches for him in the papers.

      Good luck.

  17. Cara Letofsky on


    I’m wondering if you can tell me when the Minneapolis Park Board designated Hennepin Avenue as a parkway. I know that that designation was removed in 1905, which opened it up for more intensive development. Thanks!

    • David C. Smith on

      Cara, the first land to widen Hennepin Avenue from 66 feet to 88 feet to make it a parkway was acquired in 1884. The park board acquired eleven feet on each side of Hennepin from Lyndale to Lake Street at a cost of over $16,000. Work on the avenue began late in 1884. In the first annual report of the park board for 1883 the board expressed its intention to make Hennepin a parkway 200-feet wide, but as often happened available funds didn’t permit the board to acquire everything it wanted. I don’t have the exact date of designation in front of me, but it must have been in 1884. If you need to know an exact date you could check in the 1884 Proceedings of the Board of Park Commissioners at the Central Library.
      Thanks for reading.
      David C. Smith

  18. karen on

    David Smith I am researching a Frederick B Chute. an early settler to the old Cheevertown area of the University of Minnesota and founding parishoner of St Lawrence Chuch 1887. His wife was Elizabeth. Would this be any relation to the Richard Chute of Chute Square? From my research Frederick B Chute had dealing with a man named Broderick

    • David C. Smith on

      I’m sorry, Karen, but your question seems to have been cut off. Here’s what I have found: Frederick Butterfield Chute was a nephew of Richard Chute for whom Chute Square was named. Fred’s father was Samuel H. Chute who was one of the original Minneapolis park commissioners appointed in 1883. Fred was born in 1872 and was a away at school in 1887, so was not likely a founder of any church at that time. You can find an extensive biographical sketch of Fred Chute in Horace Hudson’s, A Half Century of Minneapolis, published in 1908. It is available at many area libraries as well as on line.

  19. john orrison on

    Thanks for talking to our Prospect Park garden club tonight. At another party later someone remembered that when the freeway gorge for 94 was excavated the neighborhood requested some large boulders that were found Where are they?
    John Orrison

  20. Hope A. Hilliker on

    I am the widow of Darrell Densmore Hilliker of Corinna, Maine, who was a direct decendant of Levi M. Stewart. The library in Corinna was a gift to the town by Levi and is now on the Historical Records. His law library and large collection of books on Napoleon and on Abraham Lincoln are in that library,as well as personal effects, such as his top hat which he wore to the opera, opera tickets, his typewriter and desk. He and his family were well-respected. My youngest grandson is named Levi Stewart Hilliker.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks so much for your comment on Levi Stewart. I’m delighted to hear of your grandson’s name. I’ve been planning for a long time to write much more about Levi Stewart, who was a prominent attorney and land owner in Minneapolis. Two Minneapolis parks, Stewart Field and Cedar Avenue Field, were donations in part from Levi Stewart’s estate managed by his brother. I haven’t yet made a trip to Corinna to see the library and Levi Stewart’s papers, but I hope to do so soon. I have been in correspondence with others in Corinna about those papers. I will reply to you directly about that.

      David C. Smith

  21. Debbie Ross on

    I love your description of Mounds Park, it is a special oasis in the city one that I enjoyed many, many times with good friends.My second favorite is Minehaha Falls; the Twin cities are very lucky to have the parks and such a great historian. The east coast could use some of these parks!

  22. Jim Krave on

    Mpls. golf history seems to give little note to the Westwood Hills course out in St. Louis Park. The site was not developed until the 50’s and has a 60’s vintage jr. high were MSA soccer clubs Cardinals, Corinthians, and Royals would play. What prompted change from Westwood to Meadowbrook. Great site. JimK

    • David C. Smith on

      Glad you enjoy the site, Jim. Westwood and Meadowbrook are different properties. Meadowbrook is on Excelsior Blvd. and was built and is still owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The course opened for play in 1926.
      David C. Smith

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