Archive for the ‘Hall’s Island’ Tag

The First River Plans: Long Before “Above the Falls” and “RiverFirst”

“I have been trying hard all Winter to save the river banks and have had some of the best men for backers, but Satan has beaten us.” H. W. S. Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted on efforts to have the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis preserved as parkland, June 13, 1889 (Letter: Olmsted Papers, Library of Congress. Photo: H. W. S. Cleveland, undated, Ramsey County Historical Society)

Considerable time, effort and expense — $1.5 million spent or contractually committed to date — have been invested in the last two years to create “RiverFirst,” a new vision and plans for park development in Minneapolis along the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls. That’s in addition to the old vision and plans, which were actually called “Above the Falls” and haven’t been set aside either. If you’re confused, you’re not alone.

Efforts to “improve” the banks of the Mississippi River above the falls have a long and disappointing history. Despite the impression given since the riverfront design competition was announced in 2010, the river banks above the falls — the sinew of the early Minneapolis economy — have been given considerable attention at various times over the last 150 years. There’s much more


Hall’s Island and a Baseball Field?

Some of our readers must have played here — the baseball fields next to Scherer Brothers lumber yard in northeast Minneapolis between Marshall Avenue and the Mississippi River in the 1950s. I’ve never heard anything about those fields — which are now Graco parking lots — but they’re hard to miss in this photo. Who owned or maintained the fields — dugouts and all? Who played there? Do you have memories of these fields on Sibley Street?

Note the baseball field on the right side of this photo north of Scherer Brothers’ lumber yard. Hall’s Island and the Plymouth Avenue bridge are at the bottom of the photo, which was taken looking north or upriver. The Broadway Bridge is in the middle of the photo. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I’ve never seen mention of the property in park board records, so I’m sure they didn’t belong to the park board. The nearest park board ball fields would have been almost a mile away at Logan Park. Diamonds at Bottineau Field were a bit farther away to the north. Dickman Park was the nearest park, but it had only recently been acquired and hadn’t been developed yet in 1955 — and wasn’t big enough for a full baseball field anyway.

The picture is one in a series of aerial photos of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis taken in 1955 by Fairchild Aerial Surveys. The photos were recently discovered in city archives and park planner Andrew Caddock shared them with me. I’ll be posting more information on them as time allows.

Halls’ Island appears in this photo probably much as it did in the mid-1960s when Scherer Brothers acquired it from the city and filled in the eastern channel to expand its yard. (I posted a history of Hall’s Island a few months ago.) The Minneapolis park board acquired much of the land from Scherer Brothers in early 2010.

Preliminary plans for the Scherer property, proposed by Tom Leader Studio/Kennedy & Violich Architecture, winners of the 2011 Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition, would dredge again the eastern channel and make a beach and kayak cove there and build a swimming pool/skating rink on the recreated Hall’s Island. (Among other things — I hope. Swimming and ice-skating opportunities are not a particular novelty in Minneapolis, where swimming in the Mississippi was abandoned nearly 100 years ago at the same location and park board ice-skating rinks throughout the city are strikingly under-used. I look forward to seeing more imaginative final designs for our $1.5 million cost to date.)

Some people have questioned why the park board didn’t develop parks along the river in north and northeast Minneapolis sooner. Another Fairchild Aerial photo from the same series as the one above — of nearly the same location — provides an answer. Railroads dominated the riverscape.

The Plymouth Avenue Bridge crosses Hall’s Island in the middle of the photo. (The photo was taken looking upriver, northeast Minneapolis on the right, north Minneapolis on the left.) Boom Island, lower right, was a railroad yard, as was most of the property west (left) of the river. Not a landscape very conducive to park development. Note also that Boom Island was no longer an island. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The history of park planning for the river upstream from St. Anthony Falls began more than 100 years ago. I’ll get to that story later this week.

David C. Smith

The Re-creation of Hall’s Island: Part I

Before he saved enough money to go to medical school, Pearl Hall’s job as a teenager in the mid-1870s was pitching wood onto a cart at a lumber yard near the Plymouth Avenue Bridge on the east bank of the Mississippi River. He remembered vividly from those days of hard labor what he called a little steeple of land sticking out of the Mississippi near the bridge. He could see the tiny patch of ground when he stood on top of his loaded wagon–and he saw the little steeple gradually grow.

Hall’s Island in 1903 plat book (John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

What Pearl Hall saw from his perch of pine was the beginning of Hall’s Island, the island that as Dr. P. M. Hall he would eventually acquire and turn over to the city, the island that became the site of a popular municipal bath house, the island that eventually was dredged onto the east bank of the great river, and the island that the Minneapolis park board will soon begin to re-create as the first step in its RiverFIRST development plan.

Hall didn’t think about that little speck of land again until he was elected to be Minneapolis’s Health Officer in 1901. Then he wrestled with the problem all health officers everywhere wrestled with and usually lost to: how to dispose of garbage. Not just coffee grounds, melon rinds, and chicken bones, but real garbage — offal, dead horses, night soil — where death could take took root and grow. Read more