Archive for the ‘Lake Harriet’ Tag

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

More Flying Merkel v. Horse: Depreciation

Another element in the debate over whether a motorcycle or a horse is a more efficient means of conveyance for park police officers, which I introduced last week in a post about Flying Merkels, is the depreciation of each. I was forced to consider that by an entry in the Proceedings of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners for February 5, 1919.

In January of that year a hired horse pulling an ice scraper over the ice skating rink on Lake Harriet had plunged through the ice and drowned. The owner of the horse submitted a bill for $125 to the park board to compensate him for the loss, which the park board paid. But knowing that in 1911 a Flying Merkel had cost the park board $238.50, I wondered if the horse was maybe old and worn out. $125 doesn’t seem like much for a horse; the price must have reflected considerable depreciation. What would a used Flying Merkel have been worth? And were there children skating on the lake the day the horse broke through the ice? Did the ice crack like a pistol shot or simply submerge with a gurgle. Did the horse make a sound or did it confront death with equine-imity? The Flying Merkel would have sunk quickly and quietly—but wouldn’t have been worth a damn pulling an ice scraper.

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

Minneapolis Park Memory: Treasure

How I have enjoyed the Minneapolis parks: watching fireworks at Powderhorn Park; concerts at Lake Harriet, with picnics on the hill; swimming and canoeing at Calhoun; walking in Minnehaha Park and eating crab cakes at Sea Salt; walking and biking at Nokomis; watching my children play hockey at various parks, and baseball at McRae and Diamond Lake; teaching the children to skate at Diamond Lake; my sons in their early teens taking the bus from our home at 48th and Clinton all the way to Theodore Wirth Park to play golf; my boys golfing at Hiawatha and telling us that they played with two really nice “old guys.” (These “old guys” happened to be friends of ours from church and were our age, in their 40s.)

My son Glen would leave the house in the summer early in the morning, bike to Lake Harriet with his fishing equipment, climb on a tree branch overhanging the lake and stay until suppertime. He enjoyed being outdoors even if he didn’t catch fish.

But here is my most treasured memory: In 1945, my future husband took me canoeing at Calhoun and then into Lake of the Isles, and gave me my engagement ring.

Alice Streed

The Romantic Route (from City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Minneapolis Park Memory: Lake Harriet Hijinx

My favorite story of the Minneapolis parks was one autumn weekend night in 1968, when I was in 11th grade.  The standard place for “couples” to go and “make out” was around Lake Harriet on the east shore.  There was a lane for parking and the cars would line up as soon as it was dark.  I was with a couple of buddies and we had a few M-80’s. We drove around the east shore until we saw a couple having at it in their car.  Then the M-80 was lit and rolled strategically under their car and we waited for the explosion.  The ensuing few seconds in the car of the “parkers” was always indescribably hilarious.  Well, after surprising a couple in their car we peeled out and headed to our favorite spot “Porky’s Drive-In” on 58th and Lyndale Ave. So.

About two hours later there was a noticeable “buzz” at Porky’s.  We asked what was up and we heard the story.  Apparently someone had lit an M-80 around the east shore of Lake Harriet and part of the explosion flew across the street and started a fairly large brush fire on the slope that surrounds the lake on that shore.  It was about three blocks long by about 40 yards wide.  There had been “numerous” fire trucks called to put out the fire.  OOPS.

Name withheld by request, Washburn High School, Class of 1970

Editors note: Our parkways have served many useful purposes!

The Minneapolis city council banned fireworks in the city, without a permit, in 1873. At the same time the council passed an ordinance banning the firing of guns, pistols and cannons within the city. Prior to the Fourth of July in 1890 the police chief noted that it was impossible to “rigidly” enforce the anti-fireworks ordinance, but urged his forces to prohibit the shooting of fireworks in “alleys, backyards or other restricted spaces.” At a time when most structures were made of wood, and so were sidewalks, that was probably prudent.

The first newspaper reference I can find to fireworks at Lake Harriet was in the Minneapolis Tribune, August 10, 1887. An article on the Knights of Labor picnic the day before, which was attended by an estimated crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 despite light rain, noted a “brilliant display of fireworks” from 9 to 9:30 p.m. This was the second annual picnic by the largest labor organization of its time, but the first at Lake Harriet. The inaugural K of L picnic had been held at Lake Calhoun — but had also featured fireworks.

Even in the late 1800s, fireworks were associated primarily with the Fourth of July. The first newspaper reference I found to Fourth of July fireworks at Lake Harriet was in a July 5, 1890 Minneapolis Tribune article on festivities around the city, which concluded with a tragic note. A. L. Wellington of 629 Sixth Street South died of injuries he suffered while superintending the fireworks display at Lake Harriet the night before. Fireworks had exploded prematurely on the raft from which Wellington worked about 500 feet from shore.

Do you have a fireworks story from a Minneapolis park? Were you in the car the M-80 was rolled under? Any other story of Minneapolis parks? Help us write the popular history of our parks. Tell us your story (see post from September 30.)

David C. Smith

Connecting Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun

Imagine a canal between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun. It nearly happened long before Minneapolis had a park board. If that canal had been built when it was first authorized, in 1879, Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun may never have become parks. All we would know of those lakes today might be from a public access landing for boats. Imagine Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun like Lake Minnetonka with mansions, Mc and real, within a spit of the water, a private lake instead of a public one. But let’s back up.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: