Archive for the ‘Horace Cleveland’ Tag

Frederick Law Olmsted and Minneapolis Parks: Part 2

One question is answered, but more are raised.

One of my first posts on this blog nearly three years ago examined the likelihood that Frederick Law Olmsted, the most prominent landscape architect in U.S. history, had designed any part of the Minneapolis park system. I wrote then that I didn’t think he had, not even the grounds of William D. Washburn’s Fair Oaks estate/mansion/castle, which later became Washburn Fair Oaks Park.

Frederick Law Olmsted (www.olmsted.org)

Frederick Law Olmsted (www.olmsted.org)

Many writers have attributed the landscape of Fair Oaks to Olmsted, but I have never found evidence to support that claim. As noted in my earlier post, an authoritative online resource guide to Olmsted’s projects, correspondence and plans listed an 1881 letter from the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to Olmsted about the estate of W. D. Washburn. ORGO also listed a reply from Olmsted to that letter. I asked then if anyone knew the content of those letters.

To the rescue comes Dr. Gregory Kaliss, co-editor of Vol. 9 of Frederick Law Olmsted’s letters, which is scheduled for publication in 2015. After an exchange of emails with Greg about correspondence between Olmsted and H. W. S. Cleveland, I mentioned my curiosity about the contents of Olmsted’s communication with McKim et al. This week, Greg graciously sent scans of those letters, which are part of the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers at the Library of Congress. Thanks, Greg.

What I learned doesn’t exactly answer the question of Olmsted’s involvement with the landscape at Washburn Fair Oaks, but it does suggest a story about the design of Fair Oaks itself. There is a good mystery here for someone to solve.

Why did William Washburn part company with McKim, Mead & White and hire E. Townsend Mix?

The letter from McKim to Olmsted, dated June 2, 1881 — signed only “McKim, Mead & White”, so I’ll refer to it as the McKim letter — gives the impression that the job of designing Washburn’s mansion is a done deal.

Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, Stanford White

Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, Stanford White

“We have made plans for a large house for Hon. W. D. Washburn of Minneapolis,” the letter begins, “and he has asked us to advise him as to the laying out of the grounds, and we have suggested he consult with you.” The letter offers Olmsted the option of submitting a proposal through McKim or corresponding directly with Washburn.

The letter continues, “Our house is a large one and the grounds comprise, we believe, 10 acres in the heart of the city. The house will be rather severe in character — 15th Century Renaissance  — and we should think a more or less formal treatment of the grounds immediately around it would be in character.” Enclosed with the letter were notes from Washburn, the nature of which was not divulged.

Olmsted responded two days later. He wrote that because he had just moved to his Brookline, Massachusetts home for the summer, he didn’t want to travel “so far away as Minneapolis,” but added, “I can do so later if required.”

Olmsted continued,

“As the house is large and in the midst of town and of the architectural character you state, it is probable that the design of the grounds would be ruled by considerations of convenience and of suitability and support of the motives of the house rather by those of local topography and distant prospects. In this case, if Mr. Washburn will provide, as he suggests, a good topographical map of the property and a map of the city from which its neighborhood relations can be understood, I could probably agree, in consultation with you, upon what should be arrived at and advise as to site, aspects, entrances and approaches. For such consultation and advice my charge would be $100.”

He added, “I cannot well estimate the charges which I should incur for further planning without knowing more of the circumstances,” including the “degree of detail” that would be required of him.

Olmsted concludes his letter with comments that reveal his close relationship with the principals of the firm. “I need not say,” he writes, “that it would give me great pleasure to cooperate with you.” Olmsted then “warmly” congratulates “Mr. White” (Stanford White) on the “extraordinary success” of the monument he designed to honor Admiral David Farragut, which had been unveiled to critical acclaim the week before in New York’s Madison Square. (That project was the first collaboration between White and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who created the sculpture of Farragut for the monument.) Olmsted called White’s monument a “distinct advance of our public monumental standards.”

Olmsted had a personal interest in the success of the young architects. Charles McKim’s father, James Miller McKim, had been, along with Olmsted, one of the principals in founding the magazine, The Nation. Olmsted was also a friend of White’s father, Richard Grant White, who had written for The Nation. (One common thread is that they were all staunch abolitionists; they were joined by Saint-Gaudens father as well.) Mossette Broderick writes in The Triumvirate: McKim, Mead and White that Olmsted provided counsel to Richard White on a professional path for Stanford and introduced the sixteen-year-old to his friend, famous architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who gave Stanford his first job, setting him on a path to fame and fortune as an architect who never finished high school.

Finally, in his response to the McKim letter, Olmsted added that he was returning Mr. Washburn’s notes. The paper trail linking Olmsted to Washburn ends as abruptly as it began.

William Drew Washburn

William Drew Washburn. Everyone had impressive whiskers!

There appears to be no evidence in Olmsted’s voluminous papers that he carried on any further correspondence on the project with McKim, Washburn — or with another architect, E. Townsend Mix. Mix matters, because he is the architect credited with the design of Fair Oaks in 1883. Mix was a highly regarded architect in Milwaukee who had done little or no work in Minneapolis before that year. How did Washburn meet Mix? And why did he have Mix design his grandiose residence instead of using plans already prepared by McKim, Mead and White who were on their way to becoming the most prestigious architects in the nation? Perhaps there is further evidence in the papers of Charles Follen McKim in the Library of Congress. Another item on the list of things to look up the next time I’m in Washington, D. C. I may have to move there!

Could Washburn have been dissatisfied with the “large…severe…15th Century Renaissance” house that McKim and company had designed for him? Instead he got from Mix a house that Larry Millet, in Once There Were Castles, describes as a “melange of Queen Ann, Tudor, Romanesque, and Gothic elements.”

Fair Oaks, about 1886. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Fair Oaks, looking southeast from E. 22nd Street and Stevens Avenue, about 1886. (Minnesota Historical Society)

In the past, some writers have presumed — mistakenly — from a letter Olmsted wrote to the Minneapolis park board in 1886 — after he had passed through town on his way to California — that he was somehow responsible for Minneapolis’s system of parks. So it’s possible that others could have made the leap from the exchange of letters with McKim to the conclusion that Olmsted does proceed to design the grounds of Fair Oaks. But does he? Dr. Gregory Kaliss : “Whether he actually does or not, I have no idea.”

It is hard to prove a negative — that he did not — but consider these factors.

From all I can learn about Olmsted’s visit to Minneapolis in 1886 on his way to California, he had not been to the city before, another argument against his active participation in the detailed layout of the Fair Oaks estate.

H. W. S. Cleveland never gives a hint in his letters to Olmsted (or others) that Olmsted had ever visited Minneapolis other than the brief stop in 1886. And Cleveland was upset with park board president Charles Loring on that occasion for taking Olmsted only to see Minneapolis’s lakes and not the Mississippi River gorge, which Cleveland considered to be the “jewel” of the city. If Olmsted had spent any time in Minneapolis to work at Fair Oaks he almost certainly would have seen both the lakes and the river gorge before 1886. And if he had designed Fair Oaks landscape from afar, you’d think he would have wanted to see his work, but the newspaper account of his visit (Minneapolis Tribune, August 24, 1886) gives no indication that he visited Fair Oaks.

I don’t know how often Olmsted designed landscapes — to any “degree of detail” — without visiting them first, but his reply to the McKim letter suggests that he was not offering to design a 10-acre landscape anyway. He seems to be offering his advice on the location and situation of the house on the property — “site, aspects, entrances, approaches” — rather than the design of the whole 10 acres. Moreover, I can’t imagine Olmsted doing much more than a cursory mansion site plan for a hundred bucks. That was considerably below the going rate at the time for planning a 10-acre estate.

For a landscape architect to design a pond, stream, bridge, extensive plantings, greenhouse, stables and the rest of 10 acres without visiting the site would have required extensive correspondence with someone and that correspondence doesn’t seem to exist. And there is ample evidence (reel after reel of microfilm at the Library of Congress) that Olmsted saved just about every scrap of paper that crossed his desk.

Olmsted also makes clear by his reference to arriving at a plan “in consultation” with McKim that he would prefer to “cooperate” with McKim rather than work directly with Washburn. His return of Washburn’s notes with his letter confirms that intent.

The pond, stream and bridge that later became well-known appear in an 1890-ish photo of Fair Oaks taken from 3rd Avenue. This is the section of the park that people want to attribute to Olmsted — even though the pond ceased to exist nearly 100 years ago.

Washburn Fair Oaks from 3rd Avenue about 1890 (Hennepin County Library, Minneapolis Collection)

Washburn Fair Oaks from 3rd Avenue, facing west, about 1890 (Hennepin County Library, Minneapolis Collection)

A much lusher version of a pond and fountain on the estate were featured on a postcard in about 1910.

"Washburn Park", meaning the grounds at Fair Oaks, about 1910 (Minnesota Historical Society)

“W. D. Washburn’s Park”, meaning the grounds at Fair Oaks, looking like a tropical garden — and with a different bridge — about 1910 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Now that I’ve had a chance to see the correspondence between McKim and Olmsted, I’m more convinced that Olmsted did not design the landscape of Fair Oaks.

I’d still appreciate hearing from anyone who can make a case for Olmsted on these 10 acres. I’d also like to know more about why Washburn switched architects after McKim, Mead and White had already drawn up a plan for the house. If you know anything, we’d love to hear it.

Thanks again to Dr. Gregory Kaliss for sending copies of the letters cited here. I look forward to seeing his project in print.

David C. Smith

Postscript 6/14/2013: Thanks to an email from Andrew Caddock who was directed to a source by Kerck Kelsey, author of Prairie Lightning, a biography of William D. Washburn, we find this passage in The Northwestern Miller, (1884-1885 Holiday Number, “A Miller’s Palatial Home,” p. 82.) about Washburn’s estate: “The grounds are splendid specimens of landscape gardening from plans by Cleveland who stands at the head of the list of American specialists in this line of work. Broad winding drives and walks lead up to the front and side entrances and end at a large and handsome stable in the rear at the southwest corner of the block.” The reference is almost certainly to H. W. S. Cleveland. This is the only reference I’ve seen to Cleveland designing a private estate in Minneapolis. Thanks, Andrew.

© 2013 David C. Smith

H. W. S. Cleveland and Lake Harriet

While looking for other things I keep encountering bits of information that deepen my understanding of and appreciation for Horace W. S. Cleveland’s profound contribution to Minneapolis parks.

More than a year before the creation of the Minneapolis park board and Cleveland’s “Suggestions for a System of Parks for the City of Minneapolis” a Minneapolis Tribune editorial, published January 22, 1882, announced “A Prospective Park.” The editorial noted that Philo Remington and Col. Innes, who ran the Minneapolis Lyndale Motor Line, were planning to lay out a park on the shores of Lake Harriet and “may eventually” donate it to the city. The newspaper had high praise for the property.

“It is a natural forest, with hill and dale, and comprises without exception one of the most beautiful bits of woodland scenery that can be found anywhere.”

But it was the following sentence that caught my attention and provided more insight into Cleveland’s influence in the city before the park board.

“Col. Innes has made arrangements with Mr. Cleveland, the celebrated landscape gardener, who laid out Union Park, Chicago, whereby that gentleman will take immediate charge of the work of superintending the laying out of a park that will not only be a credit to the city but an inestimable benefit to our citizens.”

I have found no evidence in Cleveland’s correspondence that he was actually hired for any work at Lake Harriet; he never mentions it. And who knows, Remington and Innes may have been blowing smoke. They had other grand plans that didn’t materialize. But whether they were serious or not about a park at Lake Harriet, the editorial indicates the high regard in which Cleveland was held in the city and the likelihood that, at the very least, he was already being consulted on park matters, especially around the lakes, before the park board existed.

A bit prematurely the Tribune enthused, “Minneapolitans may now congratulate themselves on the fact that a public park, the need of which has so long been felt, will soon be completed for their pleasure and benefit.”

Only a year later, at the next session of the legislature, a bill  was passed that created the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. Although Cleveland was never credited with designing any of the parks at Lake Harriet, he likely had considerable influence on how the lake shore was perceived and, later, developed.

Just another small piece of evidence of Cleveland’s immense influence on the Minneapolis park system. And yet his name does not appear on a Minneapolis park property.

David C. Smith

For more on Col. Innes’s plans for Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet see this entry.

For more on why Cleveland’s name should be connected to the vast park that is the Mississippi River Gorge see this entry and this one, too.

For more on Cleveland in general, search above for his name or click on his name in the tag cloud at right. I’ve written quite a bit about him. Take a closer look at the map from his “Suggestions…” at right, too.

Cleveland’s Van Cleve: A Playground or a Pond

A tantalizing paragraph.

“Professor Cleveland submitted a plan of the improvement of the 2nd Ward Park, whereupon Commissioner Folwell moved that that part of the park designated as a play ground be changed to a pond and that so changed the plan be approved.”

“2nd Ward Park” was later named Van Cleve Park.  It was the first park in southeast Minneapolis, not far from the University of Minnesota. I find it odd that the park board would create a pond in a city full of lakes, streams and rivers, but more significant, and unexpected, is what the pond replaced in the plan. A playground. Huh! Horace William Shaler Cleveland, often referred to in Minneapolis by the honorific “Professor,” never seemed a playground sort of guy.

The paragraph appeared in the proceedings of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners from its meeting of May 19, 1890. That date is important because at that time few playgrounds existed. Anywhere.

Before Van Cleve Park was named, it was referred to as 2nd Ward Park as seen here in the 1892 Plat Book for Minneapolis. The man-made pond took the place of what would have been the first “playground” in a Minneapolis park. (C.M. Foote & Co., John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

Unfortunately Cleveland’s drawings for Van Cleve Park didn’t survive. Six of his other park designs—large-scale drawings—are owned by Hennepin History Museum, but the Van Cleve plan is not among them. Neither was it ever published in an annual report, as several other of his plans were. No documents explaining Cleveland’s intent with his plan have been found either, so we really don’t know what type of playground he imagined for the center of the new park. We can only guess.

The Infancy of Playgrounds

The idea of public space devoted to play was still quite new at the time—to Cleveland and to everyone else. In his most famous book, Landscape Architecture as Applied to the Wants of the West, published in 1873, Cleveland mentioned “play ground” only as something that might be desired in the back yard of a home. In his famous 1883 blueprint for Minneapolis’s park system, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, he doesn’t mention play or playgrounds at all. Even in the notes that accompanied his first six individual park designs in Minneapolis (unpublished) in 1883 and 1885, he never mentioned play spaces. Yet, in 1890, when he was 76 years old, Cleveland proposed to put a playground in a new park.

The idea was just being explored elsewhere then. In 1886 Boston had placed sand piles for kids play in some parks. The next year San Francisco created a formal children’s play area in Golden Gate Park. In New York, reform mayor Abram Hewitt supported a movement in 1887 to create small, city-sponsored combination parks and playgrounds, but that effort bore little fruit until a decade later. In 1889, Boston created a playstead at Franklin Park and an outdoor gymnasium on the bank of the Charles River, a collaboration of a Harvard professor and Cleveland’s friend Frederick Law Olmsted. Historian Steven A. Riess calls it the “first American effort to provide active play space for slum residents.” (See Riess’s City Games for a fascinating account of the growth of sports in American cities.)

The social reform movement, which later helped create playgrounds in many cities, was gaining steam with the publication in 1890 of Jacob Riis’s, How the Other Half Lives, a glimpse of grinding poverty in the slums of New York. That movement would have an enormous impact on cities in the early 1900s, especially Chicago, which became the playground capital of the United States, led in part by Jane Addams of Hull House settlement fame.

Even though Cleveland addressed many of his efforts in civic improvement to providing fresh air, green spaces and access to nature’s beauty for the urban poor, especially children, he seems an unlikely proponent of playgrounds in parks. Based on the bitter complaint in a letter to William Folwell, July 29, 1884, I had taken Cleveland to be opposed to any manufactured entertainments at the cost of natural beauty. He wrote from Chicago,

“There’s no controlling the objects of men’s worship or the means by which they attain them. A beautiful oak grove was sacrificed just before I left Minneapolis to make room for a baseball club.” (Folwell Papers, Minnesota Historical Society)

Yet, we have proof that Cleveland had a much more positive view of play areas for children in parks than he had of ball fields. A playground at Van Cleve Park, would have been a first in Minneapolis parks.

The Pond Instead

With the revised plan of the park approved, construction of the pond began immediately in the summer of 1890. A pond of 1.5 acres was created in the southern half of the park. The earth removed to create the pond was used to grade the rest of the park. That winter the park board had the pond cleared of snow so it could serve as a skating rink, too.

The artificial pond at Van Cleve was a popular skating rink. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The artificial pond at Van Cleve was a popular skating rink. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

There must have been problems keeping water in the pond, because the next summer it was drained and the pond basin was lined with puddled clay. An artist’s rendering of the park in the 1891 annual report shows a fountain spraying a geyser of water in the middle of the pond. I’ve never seen a photo of such a fountain at Van Cleve, or read an account of it, but a similar fountain was built into the pond at Elliot Park, the only other pond created in a Minneapolis park, so it is possible a fountain existed. The park board erected a temporary warming house and toilet rooms for skaters on the pond beginning in the winter of 1905.

When Theodore Wirth arrived in Minneapolis as park superintendent in 1906, he placed a priority on improving Van Cleve Park as “half playground, half show park.” He recommended creating a sand bottom for the pond so it could be used as a wading pool and building a small shelter beside it that could double as a warming house for skaters.

The Van Cleve pond in 1905. Sweet, Minnesota Historical Society)

Van Cleve pond, 1905. (Sweet, Minnesota Historical Society)

The first playground equipment was installed in Van Cleve Park in 1907, following the huge popularity of the first playground equipment installed at Riverside and Logan parks in 1906.

The shelter was finally built in 1910, along with shelters at North Commons and Jackson Square. The Van Cleve shelter was designed by Minneapolis architect Cecil Bayless Chapman and was built at a total cost of just over $6,000. It included a boiler room, toilets and a large central room. The Van Cleve shelter was considerably more modest than the shelters at Jackson Square and North Commons, which cost approximately $12,000 and $16,000 respectively. On the other hand, neither of those parks had a pond. (Jackson Square actually had been a pond at one time, however, called Long John Pond. The cost of the Jackson Square shelter rose due to the need to drive pilings down 26 feet to get through the peat on which the park was built.)

Van Cleve Park Recreation Shelter

The original recreation shelter at Van Cleve Park was built in 1910 facing the man-made pond. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Wirth published a new plan for Van Cleve Park in the 1911 annual report. Although he claimed that Van Cleve demonstrated that a playground and show park could exist without “interfering” with each other, the playground occupied only a narrow strip of land between the pond and 14th Ave. SE. There were still no playing fields of any kind in the park then.

In 1917, Wirth recommended pouring a concrete bottom for the pond, really converting it into a shallow pool. Two years later the park board did pave the pond basin, but with tar macadam.

The Van Cleve Shelter long after renovations in 1940.

The Van Cleve shelter well after 1940 renovations, date unknown. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Very few improvements were made at Van Cleve, or any other park in the city, for many years from the late-1920s to the late- 1940s. In 1935, in his last year as park superintendent, Wirth recommended that a swimming pool be built at Van Cleve in place of the pond, but the park board didn’t have the money for such a project during the Great Depression.

The park did get its share of WPA attention in 1940 when the federal work relief agency completed several renovations on the Van Cleve shelter to improve its capacity to host indoor recreation activities. Also included in those repairs were such basics as a concrete floor in the shelter’s boiler room. Comparing the two photos above, it’s obvious that the veranda was enclosed and the ground around the shelter was paved as well.

The man-made pond was finally filled in 1948. A modern, much smaller concrete wading pool was built to replace it the next year. The little rec shelter stood until a new community center was built at Van Cleve in 1970. By then Van Cleve, like most other neighborhood parks in the city, had been given over almost completely to active playgrounds and athletic fields.

Despite Cleveland’s aborted provision for a playground of some kind in his plan for Van Cleve Park in 1890, I imagine him astonished and a bit saddened to see neighborhood parks change so completely from the pastoral reserves and quiet gardens he had once preserved or coaxed from the urban landscapes of his time.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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

The Preservation Instincts of Charles M. Loring

Charles Loring’s view on preserving natural landscapes was so well-known that this anonymous poem appeared in the St. Paul Daily Globe on September 8, 1889 in a humor column, “All of Everything: A Symposium of Gossip About Minneapolis Men and Matters.”

A grasping feature butcher,
With adamantine gall,
Wants to build a gallery
At Minnehaha’s fall.

He wants to catch the people
Who come to see the falls,
And sell them Injun moccasins
And beaded overalls.

He wants to take their “phizes,”
A dozen at a crack,
With the foliage around them
And the water at the back.

But the shade of Hiawatha
No such sacrilege would brook:
And he’d shake the stone foundations
Ere a “picter had been took.”

C. M. Loring doesn’t like it,
For he says he’d like to see
The lovely falls, the creek, the woods,
Just as they used to be.

Loring had chaired a commission appointed by the governor to acquire Minnehaha Falls as a state park in 1885. The land was finally acquired, after a long court fight over valuations, in the winter of 1889. (The total paid for the 180-plus acres was about $95,000.) See City of Parks for the story of how George Brackett and Henry Brown took extraordinary action to ensure the falls would be preserved as a park.

The poem in the Daily Globe appeared because the park board was considering permitting construction of a small building beside the falls for the express purpose of taking people’s photos with “the water at the back.” And of course charging them for the privilege.

That proposal elicited a sharp response from landscape architect H. W. S. Cleveland who also opposed having any structure marring the natural beauty of the falls. Cleveland used language much harsher than the reserved Loring likely would have used. In a letter to his friend William W. Folwell, Cleveland wrote on September 5, 1889,

I cannot be silent in view of this proposed vandalism which I am sure you cannot sanction, and which I am equally sure will forever be a stigma upon Minneapolis, and elicit the anathema of every man of sense and taste who visits the place.

If erected it will simply be pandering to the tastes of the army of boobies who think to boost themselves into notoriety by connecting their own stupid features with the representation of one of the most beautiful of God’s works.

The preservation passion of Loring and Cleveland is evident today in the public lakeshores and river banks throughout Minneapolis. The next time you take a stroll around a lake or beside the river, or fight to acquire as parks the sections of the Mississippi River banks that remain in private hands, say a little “thank you” to people like Loring and Cleveland who saw the need to acquire lakes and rivers as parks more than 125 years ago—and nearly got them all.

And the photography shack was never built.

David C. Smith

The Myth of Bassett’s Creek

I heard again recently the old complaint that north Minneapolis would be a different place if Bassett’s Creek had gotten the same treatment as Minnehaha Creek. Another story of neglect. Another myth.

You can find extensive information on the history of Bassett’s Creek online: a thorough account of the archeology of the area surrounding Bassett’s Creek near the Mississippi River by Scott Anfinson at From Site to Story — must reading for anyone who has even a passing interest in Mississippi River history; a more recent account of the region in a very good article by Meleah Maynard in City Pages in 2000; and, the creek’s greatest advocate, Dave Stack, provides info on the creek at the Friends of Bassett Creek , as well as updates on a Yahoo group site. Follow the links from the “Friends” site for more detailed information from the city and other sources.

What none of those provided to my satisfaction, however, was perspective on Bassett’s Creek itself after European settlement. A search of Minneapolis Tribune articles and Minneapolis City Council Proceedings, added to other sources, provides a clearer picture of the degree of degradation of Bassett’s Creek — mostly in the context of discussions of the city’s water supply. This was several years before the creation of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners in 1883 — a time when Minnehaha Creek was still two miles outside of Minneapolis city limits. The region around the mouth of Bassett’s Creek was an economic powerhouse and an environmental disaster at a very early date — a mix that has never worked well for park acquisition and development.

Idyllic Minnehaha Creek, still in rural surroundings around 1900, quite a different setting than Bassett’s Creek, which had already been partly covered over by then. (Minnesota Historical Society)

“A Lady Precipitated from Bassett’s Creek Bridge”

Anfinson provides many details of the industrial development of the area around the mouth of Bassett’s Creek from shortly after Joel Bean Bassett built his first farm at the junction of the river and the creek in 1852. By the time the Minneapolis Tribune came into existence in 1867, industry was already well established near the banks of the creek. A June 1867 article relates how the three-story North Star Shingle Mill had been erected earlier that year near the creek. The next March an article related the decision to build a new steam-powered linseed oil plant near the creek on Washington Avenue.

Even more informative is a June 27, 1868 story about an elderly woman who fell from a wagon off the First Street bridge over the creek. “A Lady Precipitated from Bassett’s Creek Bridge, a Distance of Thirty Feet,” was the actual headline. (I’m a little embarrassed that I laughed at the odd headline, which evoked an image of old ladies raining down on the city; sadly, her injuries were feared to be fatal.) But a bridge height of thirty feet? That’s no piddling creek — even if a headline writer may have exaggerated a bit. The article was written from the perspective that the bridge was worn out and dangerous and should have been replaced when the city council had considered the matter a year earlier. Continue reading

Northeast River Parks

I enjoyed a walk yesterday along the riverfront parks in northeast Minneapolis sponsored by the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership. I told a few historical stories and park commissioner Liz Wielinski, Above the Falls committee member Mary Jamin Maguire, and Cordelia Pierson, executive director of the partnership, provided insights into park developments, past and future, along the river. We were also delighted to hear stories of the neighborhood from a few longtime residents of the area.

We visited Marshall Terrace, Edgewater Park, and Gluek Park and along the way we passed the newest, still unnamed, Minneapolis park at 2220 Marshall Street—a single lot from Marshall to the river purchased by the park board in 2010.

These are a few of the notes I made for my input into the program.

Marshall Terrace

Marshall Terrace was purchased in 1914. The first land chosen for a First Ward Park was a few blocks farther upriver, but neighborhood objections resulted in the park board asking for suggestions from residents and politicians for a better site. This eight-acre parcel further downriver was the result. (The park board also acquired the upriver acreage, but as a segment of a planned parkway across northeast Minneapolis, now St. Anthony Parkway, instead of a playground park.)

Park superintendent Theodore Wirth prepared these two plans for the new park, which were included in the 1915 Annual Report. (The same report included plans for nearby Bottineau Park.) Continue reading

Horace W. S. Cleveland’s Real Estate: Pleasant Avenue and West 44th Street

In a fascinating and sad letter to Frederick Law Olmsted, dated February 23, 1892, Horace W. S. Cleveland proposed that the two collaborate as writers on “professional themes.” (Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Library of Congress.) Cleveland mentions that Olmsted had written in “complimentary terms” of Cleveland’s writing style and that Olmsted had also noted his own desire to write more, which was frustrated by many demands on his time and energy. (At the time, Olmsted was overseeing preparation for the grounds at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition and was about to take a six-month trip to Europe, in part, to regain his health.)

“Often the thought has come to me,” Cleveland explained, “that if I could join forces with you, we might together produce something that would be essentially serviceable to the public and your name would suffice to summon an audience who would not listen to me.”

Cleveland explained that his motive was primarily to make money.

“I have been able to do but little more than keep even with my expenses, but thank God I have done that and am entirely clear of debt, and own some real estate which I hope to dispose of whenever a new demand arises, and may be worth two or three thousand dollars. You perceive that in this situation it is impossible for me to fold my hands and wait the course of events. I am constantly trying to devise means to stave off the necessity of becoming dependent on others.”

There is no record of Olmsted’s response to Cleveland’s proposal, nor any evidence that the men ever did attempt to write anything together. The health of both men deteriorated rapidly over the next couple years. Witold Rybczynski in his biography of Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance, notes that Olmsted was managing to save about $1,000 a year at the time.

The real estate Cleveland referred to was likely the two half-blocks of land northwest of the intersection of West 44th Street and Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.

H. W. S. Cleveland is listed as the owner of 4.7 acres on West 44th Street between Pleasant and Harriet in the upper left corner of this section of an 1892 plat map of Minneapolis. (John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota. Go to http://map.lib.umn.edu/collections/digitizedplatbooks/minn1892index.htm for the complete map.)

If you know anyone who lives in the southern halves of the 4300 blocks of Pleasant, Grand and Harriet, they live on land once owned by one of the most important people in the history of Minneapolis.

The Washburn Park neighborhood at the bottom of the map above, often called “Tangletown,”  was laid out  by Cleveland.

David C. Smith

More Horace W. S. Cleveland: A Bit of Oak Lake and More of Kenwood Parkway

Since I wrote about Oak Lake and speculated whether Samuel Gale might have hired Horace Cleveland to lay out his Oak Lake Addition to Minneapolis — it had the look of Cleveland’s work — I have been digging through notes to see if I could find a connection between the two men. I couldn’t find anything that put the two of them together in 1873 when Gale was platting Oak Lake, but I did find two interesting pieces of paper linking Cleveland with Oak Lake and with Gale in 1886.

One connection between Cleveland and Gale in 1886 comes from the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers at the Library of Congress. Continue reading

Horace Cleveland Hated Rectangles

Oak Lake Addition was a rare real estate development in Minneapolis because the streets followed the contour of the land instead of a grid pattern. While I’ve found no evidence of who was responsible for the layout of the addition in 1873, it is reminiscent of Horace Cleveland’s work in St. Anthony Park for William Marshall at about the same time and later in Washburn Park or Tangletown near Minnehaha Creek. Although I find no reference to the project in Cleveland’s correspondence, it is plausible that he was involved in the layout of Oak Lake Addition.

Oak Lake Addition, platted in 1873. 1892 plat map (John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

Samuel Gale, the man who platted the Oak Lake Addition, had his hands in nearly everything in the young city: School Board, Athenaeum and Library Board, Academy of Natural Sciences, Society of Fine Arts, Board of Trade,  City Council, the public lecture series, he even sang in the city’s most celebrated quartet along with his brother, Harlow, and it was later claimed that although nearly everyone speculated in real estate in those days, he was the dean of realtors in the city. Given his wide interests and involvement in civic affairs, it would be incredible if Gale hadn’t been one of those who welcomed Horace Cleveland to the city during his first visits in 1872.

In July, 1873 Gale was the chair of the Board of Trade’s committee on parks, which reported that several “public-spirited citizens” planned to devote considerable time to the issue of parks with “Mr. Cleveland, well-known landscape gardener” before the next Board of Trade meeting. (Minneapolis Tribune, July 18, 1873.) I think it is safe to assume that Gale himself was one of those who planned to meet with Cleveland. So it appears almost certain that Gale and Cleveland knew each other and had likely discussed park issues before Gale produced his plat for the Oak Lake Addition.

Absent information on who designed Oak Lake Addition, it’s fun to speculate that Cleveland may have had a hand in it, or at least influenced it through the book he published in early 1873, Landscape Architecture as Applied to the Wants of the West. In his classic of landscape architecture, Cleveland expressed his distaste for the grid pattern of streets in so many cities, because it ignored “sanitary, economic and esthetic sense.”

Every Western traveller is familiar with the monotonous character of towns resulting from the endless repetition of the dreary uniformity of rectangles,” he wrote.

While he singled out western cities — it was his book’s theme — it takes only a glimpse of a map of Manhattan to know that rectangularism was not a sin peculiar to the frontier. For New York, however, it was already too late to do anything about that “dreary uniformity”; the West still had a chance to get it right. Cleveland added that “even when the site is level” the rectangular fashion of laying out cities “is on many accounts objectionable.”

He suggested that if blocks had to be rectangular at least they should be Continue reading

Lost Minneapolis Parks: Oak Lake, Two Ovals and Two Triangles

Another convergence: the season of farmers’ markets is upon us and so is a decision on whether the Minnesota Vikings get a new tax-supported stadium. The site favored for a stadium by some Hennepin County commissioners is the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market on Lyndale Avenue just west of downtown and Target Field.

You’d never know by looking at it today, but the site is rich in history. The current market sits in the middle of what was once Oak Lake, one of the attractions of a semi-exclusive and progressive residential neighborhood late in the 19th Century. It was Minneapolis’s second-oldest park. A bandstand near the lake was built in 1881 to host some of the earliest outdoor concerts in the city. The gracefully curved streets of the neighborhood filled with the carriages of wealthier concert goers, while residents of the neighborhood and music lovers without carriages sat on the sloping hillside in what was called a natural amphitheater near the lake.

Oak Lake Addition, platted in 1873. 1892 plat map (John R. Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

Some people say the Oak Lake Addition experienced gentile flight, then white flight, as the neighborhood went from mostly white Protestant to Jewish to black before it finally gave way to industrial and market uses. And it happened fast. But the trendy little neighborhood was probably doomed by something much more benign than ethnic, religious or racial bigotry; the creation of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners helped kill the Oak Lake Addition.

Continue reading

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.

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