Archive for the ‘Lake Calhoun’ Tag

Friday Photo: Lake Calhoun North Shore

One of my favorite photos of Lake Calhoun. The photo is undated, but I would estimate that it was taken in the late 1910s. The view indicates it was taken near the Minikahda Club on the west side of the lake looking northeast toward downtown. The photo was taken after the Lake Calhoun Bath House (center) was completed in 1912, but before a parkway was built on the west side of the lake, which occurred in the early 1920s.

Lake Calhoun's northwest shore and Bath House in late 1910s. Photo taken from Minikahda Club. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Lake Calhoun’s northwest shore and Bath House in late 1910s. Photo taken from Minikahda Club. Click to enlarge. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Note how far into the lake the diving platforms were built.

One of things I like from this photo is a sense of the connection between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun. There is some open land between them. This was taken a few years before construction began on the Calhoun Beach Club across Lake Street from the bath house.

Another remarkable feature of this photo is the prominence of the Basilica on the skyline west of downtown. The Basilica was dedicated in 1914.

This is the view that Theodore Wirth hoped could one day be incorporated into the park system if the Minikahda Club ever relocated. Wirth wrote in the 1906 Annual Report of the Board of Park Commissioners, his first, that this view was of “such scenic beauty that it is almost a crime to pass it unnoticed.”

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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

1955 Was a Very Dry Year

It’s not a common sight. I’d never seen it myself until I saw this picture from Fairchild Aerial Surveys taken in 1955. St. Anthony Falls is completely dry.

The concrete apron at St. Anthony Falls is bone dry in 1955. The 3rd Avenue Bridge crosses the photo. Dry land — even a small structure — left (west) of the falls stand where the entrance to the lock is now. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Water levels were down everywhere at the time. Meteorological charts list 1955 as the 13th driest year on record in Minneapolis, but a look at longer-term data reveal that rainfall had been below normal for most of the previous 40 years. Downstream from St. Anthony Falls, the river was also very low, revealing the former structure of the locks at the Meeker Island Dam.

The old lock structure from the Meeker Island Dam protrudes from the low water in 1955. The old lock and dam between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street were destroyed when the new “high dam” or Ford dam was built near the mouth of Minnehaha Creek downriver. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

That dry spell had a significant impact on park property. Many park board facilities, from beach houses to boat houses and docks, were permanent structures that required proximity to the water’s edge. Parks were also landscaped and mowed to the water line and, since the depression, at least, many lakes had WPA-built shore walls that looked goofy a few feet up on dry land.

Park board annual reports provide time-lapse updates.

1948: Minnehaha Creek dry most of the year, lakes down 1.5 feet.

1949: Chain of Lakes 2 feet below normal, rainfall 2.5 inches below normal, water in Minnehaha for limited time during year

1950: Lake levels at record lows, lake channels dredged 4.5 feet deeper to allow continued use, water in Minnehaha Creek for only brief period in spring

1951: Record snowfall and heavy rains raised lake levels 0.44 feet above normal in April; flooding problems along Minnehaha Creek golf courses required dikes to make courses playable; attendance at Minnehaha Park high all year due to impressive water flow over falls.

1952: Wet early in year, dry late; lake levels stable except those that depend on groundwater runoff, such as Loring Pond and Powderhorn Lake, which were down considerably at end of year

1953: Lake levels fluctuated 1.5 feet from early summer to very dry fall; flow in Minnehaha Creek stopped in November; U.S. Geological Survey began testing water flow in Bassett’s Creek for possible diversion

1954: Again, water level fluctuations; near normal in early summer, low in fall; Minnehaha Creek again dry in November.

1955: Fall Chain of Lakes elevation lowest since 1932, but Lake Harriet near historical normal; Minnehaha dry most of year

1956: Lakes 4 feet below normal, weed control required, boat rentals incurred $10,000 loss

1957: City water — purchased at a discount! — pumped into lakes raised lake levels 1.5 feet; park board began construction of $210,000 pipeline from Bassett’s Creek, which, unlike Minnehaha Creek, had never been completely dry, to Brownie Lake.

1958: Second driest year on record; Minnehaha Creek dry second half of year; pumps activated on pipeline from Bassett’s Creek, raised water level in lakes 4.2 inches by pumping 84,000,000 gallons of water.

1959: Dry weather continued; Park board suggested reduction in water table may be result of development; Park board won a lawsuit against Minikahda Club for pumping water from Lake Calhoun to water golf course. When Minikahda donated lake shore to park board for West Calhoun Parkway in 1908 it retained water rights,  but a judge ruled the club couldn’t exercise those rights unless lake level was at a certain height — higher than the lake was at that time — except in emergencies when it could water the greens only. Lakes were treated with sodium arsenite to prevent weed growth in shallower water; low water permitted park crews to clean exposed shorelines of debris.

1960: Lake levels up 4 feet due to pumping and rain fall; channels between lakes opened for first time in two years; hydrologist Adolph Meyer hired to devise a permanent solution to low water levels.

To celebrate the rise in water levels sufficient to make the channels between the lakes navigable after being closed for a couple of years, park superintendent Howard Moore helped launch a canoe in the channel between Lake of the Isles (in background) and Lake Calhoun in 1960. He seems not to mind that one foot is in the drink. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

That’s more than a decade’s worth of weather reports. The recommendation of hydrologist Adolph Meyer was very creative: collect and recycle water from the air-conditioners in downtown office buildings and stores, and pump it to the lakes. That seemed like a good idea until the people who ran all those air-conditioners downtown thought about it and realized they could recycle all that water themselves through their own air-conditioners and save a lot of money on water bills. End of good idea. Instead the park board extended its Chain of Lakes pumping pipeline from Bassett’s Creek all the way to the Mississippi River.  But that’s a story for another time.

If you’ve followed the extensive shoreline construction at Lake of the Isles over the last many years, you know that water levels in city lakes remains an important, and costly, issue—and it probably always will be. It’s the price we pay for our city’s water-based beauty.

David C. Smith

Afterthought: The lowest I ever remember seeing the river was following the collapse of the I-35W bridge. The river was lowered above the Ford Dam to facilitate recovery of wreckage from that tragedy. Following a suggestion from Friends of the Mississippi River, my Dad and I took a few heavy-duty trash bags down to the river bank near the site of the Meeker Island Dam to pick up trash exposed by the lower water levels. Even then the water level wasn’t as low as in the Fairchild photos.

Canoe Jam on the Chain of Lakes

The newspaper headline hinted of a sordid affair: “Long Line Waits Grimly in Courthouse Corridor.” Many were so young they should have been in school. Others had skipped work. They stood anxiously in the dim hallway, waiting. News accounts put their numbers at 500 when the clock struck 8:30 that April morning. Many had already been there for hours by then. They prayed they would be among the lucky ones to get permits to store their canoes at the most popular park board docks and on the lower levels of the lakeside canoe racks, so they wouldn’t have to hoist their dripping canoes overhead.

The year was 1912 and nearly 2,000 spaces were available on park board canoe racks and dock slips at Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. Nearly all of them were needed, which represented a huge increase over the 200 permits issued only two years earlier. The city was canoe crazed.

By contrast, in 2011 the park board rented 485 spaces in canoe racks at all Minneapolis lakes, in addition to 368 sail boat buoys at Calhoun, Harriet and Nokomis.

Canoeing was extremely popular on city lakes, especially after Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun were linked by a canal in 1911, followed by a link to Cedar Lake in 1913. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The demand for canoe racks was so great that park superintendent Theodore Wirth proposed a dramatic change at Lake Harriet at the end of 1912 to accommodate canoeists.

Wirth’s plan (above),  presented in the 1912 annual report, would have created a five-acre peninsula in Lake Harriet near Beard Plaisance to accommodate a boat house that would hold 864 canoes. The boat house would have been filled with racks for private canoes, as well as lockers for canoeists to store paddles and gear. The boat house, in Wirth’s words, “would protect the boat owners’ property, and would relieve the shores of the unsightly, vari-colored canoes.”

The board never seriously considered building the boat house and that summer the number of watercraft on Lake Harriet reached 800 canoes and 192 rowboats. Most of the rowboats and about 100 of the canoes were owned and rented out by the park board. Even more crowded conditions prevailed at smaller Lake of the Isles where the park board did not rent watercraft, but issued permits for 475 private canoes and 121 private rowboats.

Rental canoes were piled up on the docks near the pavilion at Lake Harriet ca. 1912. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The park board’s challenge with so many watercraft wasn’t just how to store them, but how to keep order on the lake. An effort to maintain decorum on city lakes began in April 1913 when another year of permits was issued. The park board announced before permits went on sale that because of “considerable agitation about objectionable names” on boats and canoes the year before, permits would not be issued to canoes that bore offensive names.

The previous summer newspapers reported that commissioners had condemned naughty names such as, “Thehelusa,” “Damfino,” “Ilgetu,” “Skwizmtyt,” “Ildaryoo,” “O-U-Q-T,” “What the?,” “Joy Tub,” “Cupid’s Nest,” and “I’d Like to Try It.” The commissioners decided then that such salacious names would not be permitted the next year, even though Theodore Wirth urged the board to take the offending canoes off the water immediately.

When the naming rules were announced the next spring, park board secretary J. A. Ridgway was given absolute power to decide whether a name was acceptable. To begin with he allowed only monograms or proper names, but used his discretion to ban names such as “Yum-Yum” even though that was the name of a character in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Even proper names could be improper.

Despite the strict naming rules, all but 75 of the park board’s 1400 canoe rack spaces were sold by late April, and practically all remaining spaces were “uppers” scattered around the three lakes.

The crackdown on canoe-naming wasn’t the end of the park board protecting the morals of the city’s youth on the water however. Take a close look at the 1914 photo below by Charles Hibbard from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection.

The photo shows canoeists listening to a summer concert at the Lake Harriet Pavilion. Notice the width of the typical canoe and how two people could sit cozily side-by-side in the middle of the canoe. Now imagine how easy it would be to drift into the dark, get tangled up with the person next to you and make the canoe a bit tippy. Clearly a safety issue.

The Morning Tribune announced June 28, 1913 that the park board would have no more of such behavior. “The park board decided yesterday afternoon, ” the paper reported, “that misconduct in canoes has become so grave and flagrant that it threatens to throw a shadow upon the lakes as recreation resorts and to bring shame upon the city.”

The solution? A new park ordinance required people of opposite sex over the age of 10 occupying the same section of a canoe to sit facing each other. No more of this side-by-side stuff, sometimes recumbent. According to the paper, park commissioners said the situation had become one of “serious peril to the morals of young people.” Park police were given motorized canoes and flashlights to seek and apprehend offenders.

The need for flashlights became evident after seeing the park police report in the park board’s 1913 annual report. Sergeant-in-Command C. S. Barnard, referring to the ordinance that parks close at midnight, noted a policing success for the year. To get canoeists off the lake by midnight, the police installed a red light on the Lake Harriet boat house that was turned on to alert lake lovers that it was near 11:30 pm, the time canoes had to leave the lake. Barnard reported that the red light “has been a great help in getting canoeists off the lake by 11:30 p.m., but owing to the large number who stay out past that time (emphasis added), I would suggest that the hour be changed to 11 o’clock in order to enable the parks to be cleared by 12 o’clock.”

Indignant protest against the side-by-side seating ban arose immediately. Arthur T. Conley, attorney for the Lake Harriet Canoe Club, suggested that the park board show a little initiative and arrest those whose conduct was immoral rather than cast a slur on “every woman or girl who enters a canoe.” If Conley believed the ordinance was a slur on men and boys as well he didn’t say so, but he did add, “We dislike to hear that we are engaged in a sport which is compared with an immoral occupation and that we are on the lake for immoral purposes.”

In the face of protests, the new ordinance was not vigorously enforced and was repealed before the start of the 1914 canoe season. The Tribune noted in announcing the repeal that “the public did not take kindly to the ordinance last year and boat receipts at Lake Harriet fell off considerably on account of it.”

Despite the repeal of the unpopular ordinance, boating fell off even more in 1914. In the annual report at the close of the year Wirth attributed the decline partly to a terrible storm that passed over Lake Harriet on June 23 resulting in the drowning of three canoeists. Newspapers reported dramatic rescues of several others. By 1915 the number of canoe permits had dropped under 1400 even though canoe racks had been added to Cedar Lake, Glenwood (Wirth) Lake and Camden Pond.

The popularity of canoeing continued to decline. Wirth noted in 1917 that there had been a very perceptible decrease again in the number of private boats and canoes on the lakes. While he attributed that decline partly to unfavorable weather, he also noted the “large number of young men drawn from civil life and occupations to military service” as the United States entered WWI.

There were only six sail boats on city lakes in 1917, and all six were kept on Lake Calhoun. The first year that the park board derived more revenue from renting buoys for sail boats than racks for canoes was not until 1940. From then until now sailing has generated more revenue for the park board than canoeing.

The number of canoe permits leveled off for a while in the 1920s at about 1000 per year, but the canoe craze on the lakes had passed, much as the bicycle craze of the 1890s. During the bicycle craze the park board had built a corral where people could check their bikes while at Lake Harriet. That corral held 800 bicycles. At the peak of the much shorter-lived canoe craze in the 1910s, the park board provided rack space at Lake Harriet for 800 canoes. Popular number. Fortunately, the park board did not build permanent facilities—or a peninsula into Lake Harriet—to accommodate a passing fad.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

City Ordinance Restricts Building Height Around Minneapolis Lakes

If you’re a long-time follower of Minneapolis politics, you might think this headline came from the 1988 fight to prevent a high-rise building from being constructed next to the Calhoun Beach Club facing Lake Calhoun. But you have to go back much farther in history to get to the first city ordinance to restrict construction on parkways encircling Minneapolis lakes.

I wrote a few weeks ago about Theodore Wirth’s description of the Calhoun Beach Club as a “disfigurement.” In that post I noted that Charles Loring was the first to warn the park board of the likelihood of commercial encroachment on the lake following the highly successful opening of the Lake Calhoun Bath House in July, 1912. Loring urged the park board to acquire the property across Lake Street from the bath house to prevent commercial development there. The fear, I’m sure, was the opening of saloons or dance halls. (Just two years earlier, in June 1910, the park board expanded Riverside Park when a dance hall was planned for land facing the park. The board preempted the dance hall plans by acquiring the land through condemnation.)

Since I wrote that post I’ve learned that by the time Loring made his suggestion in August 1912, the city had already passed an ordinance limiting construction on parkways around the lakes. And it had nothing to do with the Lake Calhoun Bath House. The purpose of the ordinance was essentially to facilitate the construction of this castle. Continue reading

Lake Calhoun Bath House and Calhoun Beach Club: From “Disfigurement” to National Register

Charles Loring was the first to sound the alarm about businesses across Lake Street from the Lake Calhoun Bath House, but no one put the criticism so bluntly as Theodore Wirth.

The Calhoun Beach Club loomed over the beach and lake in 1940. The old three-level diving platform was a bit less timid than today’s rafts. (Minneapolis Tribune, Minnesota Historical Society)

Four days after the official dedication of the new bath house—with changing rooms, lockers and showers, not to mention $10,000 worth of sand on the new beach—Loring appeared in person at the August 5, 1912 meeting of the Board of Park Commissioners, a board he had once presided over, to plead for the park board to acquire the land across Lake Street from the beach before it became filled with “refreshment stands.” He wasn’t proposing a massive acquisition: the park board already owned Dean Parkway to the west and much of the land between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles to the east. Loring only wanted the board to buy the strip between Lake Street and the railroad tracks sandwiched between existing park lands.

It didn’t. Which gave rise to one of the most novel criticisms ever of a Minneapolis landscape. From one of the most unusual locations.

Writing from a ship sailing from Capetown, South Africa to the Canary Islands in 1936, Theodore Wirth wrote this about Durban, a South African city on the Indian Ocean (see Letters from Theodore post):

Modern Durban. The buildings might still be “monster rent barracks,” to use Wirth’s phrase, but the atmosphere at Durban’s beach has changed much more since 1936 than at Lake Calhoun. This photo looks nothing like what I remember from a visit in 1980.

Along the city side of the Durban Bay is the Marine Parade or Ocean Beach, flanked by a number of imposing modern buildings serving apartment and hotel purposes. The latter are called “flats” here and some of them are deserving of no better name, for they are anything but attractive. I am inclined to classify them as “monster rent barracks” — a still worse disfigurement of an otherwise attractive landscape than our Calhoun Beach Hotel at Dean Boulevard.

Theodore Wirth’s first opinion on the land across from the bath house was expressed in the 1912 annual report when he seconded the words of Loring and then board president Wilbur Decker encouraging the board to acquire the land to preserve it from commercial development.

Their fears may have been prompted by unpleasantness around Minnehaha Park in the  early 1900s. Saloons and other commercial establishments near the falls had contributed to an objectionable environment in the park. In the 1905 annual report of the park board, president Fred Smith wrote that a new pavilion, changes in policing and support from the city administration had “done much to redeem Minnehaha from its unsavory reputation and make it a place where women and children can visit and enjoy their picnics without fear of molestation or insult.”

I can imagine that specter haunting Loring in particular, a man who had run for mayor of Minneapolis in 1882 on a strong anti-saloon platform. Loring also deserved most of the credit for the park board acquiring Minnehaha Falls, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, the three jewels in the park crown at the time, and I’m sure he took a proprietary interest in their well-being, which would not have included “refreshment stands” nearby.

Despite their fears, the land across Lake Street from the immensely popular bath house — it was called the best beach between the oceans — was not filled with houses of debauchery. At least that’s the inference we can draw from another round of encouragement for the park board to acquire the land in 1917. Still it didn’t happen.

Another ten years passed before grand plans for the property took shape. It would become a residential building fitted with its own entertainment and recreation facilities. Curiously, the last mention of the development in park board proceedings is Wirth’s recommendation on April 20, 1927 that the board consent to a building permit for the facility as long as the building did not come within 15 feet of park property along Dean Parkway. The board agreed. Perhaps plans for the property were too far along for Wirth and the park board to fight, or they had no real alternative after taking no action themselves for 15 years

But perhaps Wirth’s objection in 1936 was not that the building was there, but that it was unfinished. Although construction began in 1927 the building remained unfinished and empty until 1946. In a bit of irony, the property Wirth worried would fall into private hands and the building which he said “disfigured” the lake was the site of a tribute dinner to him in 1946 before he moved from Minneapolis to San Diego for health reasons.

The Calhoun Beach Club was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 for its architecture and engineering. The building now adjacent to the commercial and residential “club” was the focus of a fight in 1988 to limit the height of buildings around Minneapolis lakes. That battle resulted in a city ordinance that limits the height of such buildings. When the Calhoun Beach Club was first designed in 1927, at ten stories, it was the tallest building in the city outside of downtown.

David C. Smith

Linking the Lakes: Making Minneapolis the Venice of North America

Happy Belated Centennial! Yesterday was the hundredth birthday of the channel that links Lake of the Isles with Lake Calhoun. It was the first of the navigable lake connections that later extended to Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake. Some background on those lake connections was featured in an earlier post on Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.

The “Linking of the Lakes” was turned into a civic celebration that lasted nearly a week. The event was conceived and planned by the Minneapolis Publicity Club. The idea for a civic celebration was apparently hatched in November 1910 at the Minneapolis Harvest Dinner, a more modest one-evening event. While the central event of the civic celebration was the linking of the lakes, it appears to have been pretense for a party.

“It is argued by the business men that in no better way can the city merchant get in more personal touch with his country customers than through the Civic celebration when, under the spirit of merrymaking and jollity, they come together.”
Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 2, 1911

The park board knew exactly what the intent was when it passed a resolution on December 5, 1910 that “irrespective of the benefits which may accrue to the city through such a celebration, the occasion is of such peculiar interest and significance to this board, that every effort should be made to do its full part…”

The construction of a channel between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles was not a particularly challenging or imaginative endeavor. As noted in the earlier post, the project had been considered for many years and treated as a done deal as early as 1899 by landscape architect Warren Manning in his recommendations for the Minneapolis park system. In engineering terms it was simpler than the dredging that had been going on for years at Lake of the Isles, both in the 1880s and 1900s. The only construction needed for the project were bridges over the excavated channel, which were not more challenging to plan and build than bridges elsewhere in the city — although the park board’s 1909 annual report included the admission that bridge construction estimates were 50 to 100 percent over budget.

Park superintendent Howard Moore helps launch a canoe in 1960 to celebrate navigable water once again after a few years of a dry channel between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Even the design competition for bridges, with a top prize of $800, had been disappointing. Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth wrote in the 1909 annual report, “With a few exceptions the designs submitted were not of the high-class character which it was thought the competition would bring forth.” The third prize was not even awarded. To make matters worse, the bridge over the channel from Lake of the Isles to Cedar Lake had to be partially torn down and rebuilt because it began to settle as soon as it was built, which delayed the connection of Isles and Cedar.

The connection of Lake of the Isles to  Cedar Lake was finally completed in 1913, and Cedar Lake was linked to Brownie Lake in 1917. That final connection made possible a new feat of municipal athletic endurance: the swimming of the Chain of Lakes. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, August 8, 1918 reported the setting of a new record when Dan Bessessen, the new captain of the University of Minnesota swim team and a life guard at Lake Calhoun, swam from the north end of Brownie Lake (off Superior Avenue then) to Thomas Avenue on the southern shore of Lake Calhoun in one hour and thirty-eight minutes. The swim was supervised by Frank Berry, the park board’s recreation director, who accompanied Bessessen in a boat that also carried four time keepers.

Despite the $125,000 price tag to link Isles and Calhoun, the park board appeared not to be profligate with funds. When Wirth submitted plans and an estimate for a park board float for the water parade during the celebration, it was defeated by a vote of 10-1 even though the City of Minneapolis was spending $500 for a float. Another request from Wirth to spend $200 to buy evergreen trees to temporarily cover the “unsightly” railroad embankment adjacent to the lagoon during the celebration was defeated by a vote of 11-0.

I think it’s debatable if the “Linking of the Lakes” was even the park board’s biggest role in municipal or state history in the spring and summer of 1911. I’d give top billing to another event that the park board didn’t initiate, but went along with: the donation to the park board by Clinton Morrison of the land for an art museum. The result of that transaction was the eventual construction of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Dorilus Morrison Park.

I love the channels that connect the lakes, which Jesse Northrop said would make Minneapolis the “Venice of North America,” but I think the construction of what has become an excellent art museum, while it might not make Minneapolis the “Florence of North America,” is still of greater importance to our city today. Even without the channels between lakes Minneapolis was still blessed with exceptional natural attributes. The art museum filled an otherwise unmet need at the time, despite Thomas Barlow Walker’s incredible art collection.

David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park Crumbs I: Morsels Left Behind from Park Research

Outlawed: The possession or sale of heroin, other opium derivates, and cocaine without a prescription. Penalties established of $50-$100 fine or 30-90 days in the workhouse. Minneapolis City Council Proceedings, October 10, 1913.

Approved: Spanish language classes for Central and West high schools. Existing faculty at each school will teach the classes. Action of the Minneapolis School Board reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, January 13, 1915.

Suggested: A cement wall between Lake Calhoun and Lakewood Cemetery if the city would continue to permit ice to be cut from the lake.  From Minneapolis Journal article, June 8, 1901, about the visit to Minneapolis of Dr. Henry Marcy, “the eminent surgeon and philanthropist of Boston.” Dr. Marcy made the suggestion when he visited Lake Calhoun with Charles Loring. He said he had heard a great deal about Minneapolis’s parks and had a Minneapolis map on which he had sketched out their locations, but wanted to see them.

Found: Gold in Hennepin County, the best sample near Minnehaha Park. The specimen recovered by Prof. J. H. Breese, a former professor at Eastern universities, was confirmed as gold by state geologist Prof. N. H. Winchell. Prof. Breese believes the particles were carried from higher latitudes during the drift period, “but he is quite confident that all has not yet been found.” Reported by Minneapolis Tribune, July 17, 1889.

Built: A 100-foot steamboat named “Minneapolis” by Hobart, Hall and Company. Will begin running freight between Minneapolis and St. Cloud in late July. The company asked the Board of Trade for a free landing near Bassett’s Creek. Reported by Minneapolis Tribune July 8, 1873. The company planned to build another steamboat for the same route, more if “expedient.”

David C. Smith

Minneapolis Park Memory: A Wonderful Gift

About two years ago, when our son-in-law was in the North St. Paul Library, he saw David Smith’s book about Minneapolis parks. He bought one and gave it to me for Christmas. We have enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures.

Jim became acquainted with Minnehaha Park and Parkway when he came to freshman orientation at Hamline in 1948. He particularly remembers the beauty of the lilac trees. When we lived in Rosemount, we came to Nokomis Park to picnic, swim and sail with friends. When we moved to Columbia Heights, Jim started to bike daily, and a few times each summer, he biked the Grand Rounds. We biked it with a church group a time or two. We continued to do that when we lived in Champlin and in north Minneapolis.

The house we owned since 1985 was near Lake Harriet and we biked around that lake and  also Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. We slid in the snow and watched our grandson’s rugby games at Columbia Park. We enjoyed many picnics near each of those lakes and the Rose Garden, Hiawatha, Nokomis, Farwell, Powderhorn and Wirth. Sometimes there were only two of us; other times it was a family gathering. We celebrated many birthdays and events by having picnics at a park. Following Thanksgiving dinner at our house, most of the guests enjoyed a walk around all or part of Lake Harriet. A recent memory is walking with our five-year-old granddaughter to a bridge over Minnehaha Creek and dropping sticks into the water and watching them float away. We are glad that our new home is near the Parkway, Minnehaha Park and Lake Nokomis, so we can continue to enjoy our wonderful gift of parks.

Phyllis Minehart

Public-private collaborations that work: Sea Salt, Tin Fish and…Bread and Pickle?

The mention of Sea Salt restaurant in Alice Streed’s Minneapolis Park Memory: Treasure (below) is noteworthy. A relatively new development in our parks is mentioned in the same sentences as long-celebrated spaces and activities. The popular restaurant in the Minnehaha Park refectory — run as a private, for-profit business — is a marvelous example of the best of public-private collaboration. It proves that private enterprise can do some things, such as serving delicious sea food, better than a public agency. I believe it also demonstrates the silliness of claims that the sky is falling whenever an agency like the park board considers change.

Lest private enterprise advocates get carried away here, however, let me state quite emphatically that there would be no park system in which to place these wonderful little restaurants if we would have relied on private interests to create parks. Our parks prove that public agencies can do some things, such as creating a park system, that private enterprise will not do.

The debate over allowing businesses to operate in Minneapolis parks is old — and sometimes entertaining. The park board began granting concessions for boat rentals, then food sales, to private businesses at Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet very early in the history of Minneapolis parks. The park board assumed control of the boat rentals at Lake Harriet in the late 1880s when Charles Loring noted that the business could be easily managed by the park board. On other issues, however, the presence of private enterprise on park property was vigorously opposed.

Permit me to quote myself — and Horace Cleveland — from City of Parks:

(Cleveland) had also written (to William Folwell) of his disgust that the park board was considering permitting a structure next to Minnehaha Falls where people could have their photos taken beside the cataract. “If erected,” Cleveland complained, “it will be simply 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.”

You didn’t mess with Cleveland’s favorite natural landscapes — one of the things that made him one of the first great landscape architects. Fortunately, William Folwell, who was president of the park board at the time, agreed with his friend.

Another early private business on park property was a service to pump up deflated bicycle tires on the new bicycle paths created by the park board during the bicycle craze of the 1880s-1890s. The park board did exercise some control over the business, however, by stipulating that the business could not charge more than a penny for filling a tire.

The park board began to take over food service in park buildings after Theodore Wirth became park superintendent in 1906. Wirth, like many park executives of the day, believed that no private concessions should be operated in parks — although he seemed to make an exception for pony rides and probably would have for the polo fields and barns he proposed for Bryn Mawr Meadows. (And, of course, the sheep he brought in to graze at Glenwood Park in 1921 were not owned by the park board. Wirth wrote that he thought sheep grazing in a park was a cool visual effect and that the sheep would earn their keep by cutting grass, keeping weeds down, which reduced fire risk, and fertilizing. Unfortunately they didn’t mow evenly and ate other plants too, so the borrowed sheep were evicted in 1922. ) One of the few other historical examples of a private venture operating on park property was the Minneapolis Tennis Club, which operated first at The Parade and then moved to Nicollet (Martin Luther King) Park in the early 1950s when Parade Stadium was built.

Do you remember concession stands in parks? What about treats at the Calhoun, Nokomis or Wirth beach houses?  As good as fish tacos?

I have high hopes for Bread & Pickle, the new food service contracted for Lake Harriet next summer. I hope the Citizens Advisory Council that worked so hard on the recommendations wasn’t too conservative in forcing  a new service into old space.

David C. Smith

The Mother of All Minneapolis Golf Courses: Bryn Mawr I

The first golf course in Minneapolis was not Minikahda. A year before Minikahda opened, many of its members, Minneapolis’s highest society, played at a course much closer to the central city. The first Minneapolis golf course and club were in Bryn Mawr. The course didn’t last long, a little more than 10 years, but it did spawn two of the more famous golf courses in Minnesota: Minikahda and Interlachen.

When I discovered Warren Manning’s proposal for a public golf course at The Parade in 1903, I became curious about the first golf played in Minneapolis. I wanted to know what led up to the park board creating the first public golf course at Glenwood (Wirth) Park in 1916. I was surprised to learn about courses, or plans for them, at four locations in the city by 1900. The only one that still exists is Minikahda, which overlooks Lake Calhoun.

The first mention I can find of a golf course in Minneapolis — St. Paul already had Town and Country just across the Mississippi River at Lake Street — was in a Minneapolis Tribune article from April 23, 1898, which noted that twenty men who were interested in golf and wanted links closer than Town and Country had met at the West Hotel on Hennepin Avenue for the purpose of forming a Minneapolis golf club. The paper reported, “The grounds proposed are in Bryn Mawr and the high land west, ideal in location and well adapted to links, with sufficient hazards to make the game interesting.” The article also mentioned that the course was advantageously placed near the streetcar line, which ran out Laurel Avenue.

Less than two weeks later, the Tribune reported that the Minneapolis Golf Club had been formally organized, the links were almost ready for play, and a greenskeeper—Scottish, of course—had been hired away from the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois. He called the new course the “best inland links he had seen,” according to a Tribune article a few days later.

Golfing at Bryn Mawr in 1898. (Photo from Visual Resources Database at Minnesota Historical Society, mnhs.org.)

Golf duds at the turn of the century.

The Bryn Mawr clubhouse was formally opened on June 18. The Tribune reported the next day that several hundred people attended. “An orchestra greeted the visitors with music,” wrote the Tribune, “and there was a stream of handsome turnouts over the Laurel avenue bridge, bringing the women in their lovely summer frocks to smile on the men in their gay golfing suits.”

The nine-hole course measured a bit over 2300 yards with only two holes longer than 300 yards. The first tee was west of the clubhouse and the first green was on the east side of Cedar Lake Road. The second green was across that highway and a small pond.  

Par for the course, at that time referred to as “bogey,” was set at 45 strokes. That must have seemed an impossible achievement for club members, based on early scores. At the first handicap tourney on the day the clubhouse opened, Martin Hanley beat a field of 40 golfers for the prize of a box of gutta percha balls. His net score was 101. Adding his handicap of 30, he had actually played the course in 131 strokes! That’s not three over par, it’s nearly three times par. The game was young. Hanley remained one of the club’s top golfers after the club moved to Minikahda.

It’s worth noting that the most thorough description of the new course and club appeared on May 15, 1898 in the Tribune’s society column, not its sports pages. The list of the first 200-plus members reads like a who’s who of early Minneapolis society: Pillsbury, Peavey, Heffelfinger, Jaffray, Rand, Lowry, Bell, Dunwoody, Christian, Morrison, Koon, Loring. The original plan was to admit 150 men and 100 women as members, but the initial number of female applicants was a bit lower than expected at only 62.

The new club had not only a course and greenskeeper, but a club house. The Woodburn residence had been “secured” for that purpose. The clubhouse featured “capacious rooms” and “broad verandas” and was being renovated to provide locker rooms and a restaurant. The location of the clubhouse is indicated by a report in the Saint Paul Globe of July 27, 1898 of a fire at the “quarters of the Bryn Mawr Golf club at the rear of 95 Elm Street.” Elm Street was later renamed Morgan Avenue North. So what was then 95 Elm Street would now likely be in Bryn Mawr Meadows—but that was more than ten years before Bryn Mawr Meadows was a park. The Globe reported that the total loss from the fire was not expected to exceed $200, so it was not likely a factor in the decision of the club to build a new clubhouse in a new—and now famous—location the next year.

Over the winter the members of the Bryn Mawr golf club must have become dissatisfied with the course or clubhouse or both, because the membership built a new golf course and a much grander clubhouse near the western shore of Lake Calhoun, the Minikahda Club.

On June 25, 1899 the Minneapolis Tribune reported, “Although somewhat late in starting its tournament season, the golf club which is now using the Bryn Mawr links until the Minikahda links are completed, had its tournament yesterday afternoon.” Some of the golfers at the club must have been quick learners, because early in the club’s second season scores had dropped dramatically. C. T. Jaffray won the opening tournament with a score of 85. The Tribune noted that the club was looking forward to the opening of the Minikahda clubhouse in “about three weeks.”

Roughly on schedule, the Tribune announced on July 14, “the activities that have centered around the Bryn Mawr links since the first of the season will be transferred tomorrow afternoon to the Minikahda links…The new club house on the west shore of Lake Calhoun is practically finished.”

The Minikahda clubhouse overlooking Lake Calhoun. The club’s boathouse was removed several years later when the club and other land owners along Lake Calhoun donated land for a parkway along the shore.

That was not the end of the Bryn Mawr golf links, but before it was resurrected another Minneapolis golf course emerged. “The Camden Park golf club has been organized among the young men in the employ of the C. A. Smith Lumber company,” the Minneapolis Tribune reported on July 21, 1899. The new club had a membership of 25 and growing. “It plays over a beautiful course of nine holes laid out in the Camden park region and crosses the creek three times,” wrote the Tribune. The reference must have been to Shingle Creek.

As with the Bryn Mawr course, it is not clear that the club owned the land on which it had laid out its holes. Although the Tribune noted that the new club was “particularly fortunate in its course” and that the club “anticipates becoming a large and influential organization some day,” this article is the only mention I can find in Minneapolis newspapers of a golf course in north Minneapolis. A description of the course was included in Harper’s Official Golf Guide published in 1901, with distances and “bogey” for nine holes and the clubs officers. Based on newspaper descriptions of a course that crossed a creek, the course was perhaps laid out on land that became part of Camden (Webber) Park when the park board acquired land for that park in 1908.

Next: The Mother of All Minneapolis Golf Courses: Bryn Mawr II. A new Bryn Mawr Golf Club leads to yet another famous club.

David C. Smith