Archive for the ‘James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History’ Tag

Two New Park-Related Books by Joe Bissen and Sue Leaf

I’m happy to recommend two books that I’ve recently added to my shelves on Minneapolis history.

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelf

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelves.

Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999 by Joe Bissen. Joe contacted me after reading my pieces on the old Bryn Mawr Golf Club before it spun off Minikahda and then Interlachen. We ended up spending an enjoyable morning roaming around the Bryn Mawr neighborhood trying to pin down the location of the course and the clubhouse. It was a task made more difficult by the changes in street names and house numbering systems over the last 115 years. Bryn Mawr is only one of many long-gone golf courses that Bissen writes about in this entertaining book. If you’ve played much golf in the state, you’ll find these stories especially enjoyable, but you needn’t be a fan of “a good walk spoiled” to enjoy these stories of changing landscapes.

For Minneapolis history buffs, I’d recommend a visit to Joe’s blog as well, where he goes into greater detail on his search for more info on the ancient Camden Park Golf Club that was supposedly built around Shingle Creek by employees of C.A. Smith’s lumber company.

A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, by Sue Leaf. The wild landscape north of Lake Harriet, which is named for Thomas Sadler Roberts, is widely known as a bird sanctuary in the Minneapolis park system. What is probably less-well known,  is that the entire Minneapolis park system is a bird refuge — and has been for about 75 years. Roberts was a doctor and later in life an ornithologist at the University of Minnesota who was instrumental in creating the fabulous displays at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the U.

When I was still in grade school in the 1960s I remember my parents taking us to see those displays on Sunday afternoons. I don’t think they are as heavily visited now as they once were, but I had such fond memories of those life-like exhibits that I took my daughter there several times in this century. A couple of years ago I included in this blog  a photo of wolves attacking a moose outside the museum.

Now, thanks to author Sue Leaf, I know the story of how the Bell Museum came into existence — as well as many other details of the life of a remarkable man. Leaf places Roberts’ life in the context of the early history of Minneapolis. His friends, colleagues and benefactors included many influential people in the creation of the city’s economy and institutions.

The story Leaf tells heightens appreciation for the wildlife habitat that Minneapolis parks have preserved not only in the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary, but throughout the park system.

I hope you will keep both books in mind for your book-inclined friends and family this gift-giving season. Or buy one for yourself and save it for a day when you’re snowed in. Sorry, but you know it’s coming.

David C. Smith

Post script: Check back in a couple days and perhaps you can help us solve a mystery in Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary.

© 2014 David C. Smith


New Rodents at the U: Beavers, not Gophers

Beavers invade Minneapolis park near University of Minnesota!

That’s the gist of my favorite, undated newspaper clip from Victor Gallant’s scrapbook: Minneapolis Parks, 1923-1949. The article had to be from the late 1940s, I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Here’s the story. Three beavers have moved into the east river flats below the U. Need proof? They’ve been felling cottonwood trees along the river bank. Two dozen of them! (Cottonwoods are nobody’s favorite tree, in fact the park board once considered banning the planting of them in the city, but they do spring up on river banks and provide greenery and shade that is flood tolerant.)

The newspaper reports that the beavers are living under a sunken houseboat along the river bank. Park superintendent Charles Doell asks the game warden to remove the beavers so they don’t cut down more trees. (Seems to me it would have been smarter to remove the sunken houseboat to eliminate the avant garde urban beaver habitat.) But Dr. W. J. Breckenridge of the University’s Museum of Natural History points out the advantages of having a living natural history exhibit virtually on campus. Doell relents and instead of evicting Goldy’s cousins, he has a couple loads of poplar trees delivered to the riverbank so the beavers have something to eat other than living cottonwoods. It is believed that the beavers immigrated from known colonies on the Mississippi River at Dayton and Anoka. (Did they come over the falls or through the mill races?)

Big Yellow Taxi

That’s the first and last I’ve heard of beavers in Minneapolis. I suspect they didn’t stay long. I’m pretty sure that the article appeared between 1945 and 1949. It had to be after Doell became Superintendent in 1945 and before Gallant quit keeping the scrapbook in 1949. But I didn’t need to know that was the end of Gallant’s newspaper clipping to figure out that date, because it was in 1949 that the University and park board signed a ten-year agreement for the U to use the river flats as a parking lot. I’m guessing that the beavers wouldn’t have settled next to a busy parking lot. And if they had, everyone would have been happy to evict them if their gnawing was endangering cars instead of just trees. Nobody wants a cottonwood in their back seat, even if its young.

The U’s lease of the parking lot kept being extended beyond the original ten-year term. The park board didn’t take back the land for a park until 1976! Some cottonwood trees only live about as long as that lease lasted.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Do you know the official name of the park where the rodents lived for a while? It rhymes with beavers.

In 1894 the park board named the east river flats “Cheever’s Landing,” after the man who operated a ferry across the river there. I don’t believe the name ever has been changed officially.

And speaking of wildlife and the James Ford Bell Musuem of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, the coolest sculpture in the city is the wolf pack attacking a moose near the entrance to that museum. Worth a visit. Don’t jump when you see them.

A partial view of the sculpture by Ian Dudley outside the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota (Photo: Tara C. Patty)

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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