Archive for the ‘Lyndale Farmstead’ Tag

Defining Wirth

The Minneapolis Park Board and Hennepin County Library report that we are probably only weeks away from the transfer of the park board’s historical archives to the downtown Minneapolis library. A valuable trove of historical information will be preserved, protected and made available to the public as never before.

1927-christmas-card

Theodore Wirth outside the house built by the park board at Lyndale Farmstead in 1910. This 1927 Christmas card was found in the park board files moved from the City Hall clock tower to park board headquarters to prepare them for their imminent transfer to the Hennepin County Library. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.)

Among the more intriguing documents discovered in preparing those archives for transfer to a better place was a letter from Theodore Wirth to Charles Loring, July 4, 1905, after Wirth visited Minneapolis to consider taking the position of Superintendent of Parks. Upon returning to his home in Hartford, Connecticut, where he held a similar position, Wirth wrote to thank Loring for his hospitality and, more importantly, to outline his terms for accepting the position in Minneapolis.

The letter was an exciting discovery because for many years I and others have looked for evidence that Loring and the park board had agreed in 1905 to build a house for Wirth. That house was eventually built in 1910, four years after Wirth came to Minneapolis, at Lyndale Farmstead on Bryant Avenue near Lake Harriet. Theodore Wirth lived in the house until 1945, ten years after he retired as park superintendent. It was occupied by succeeding superintendents from then until David Fisher moved out of the house to one of his own choosing in the mid-1990s. The house became the residence of the superintendent once again in 2010, however, when Jayne Miller chose to live there when she moved to Minneapolis.

The construction of a house on park property for Wirth was very controversial in 1910. The park board’s authority to build it was challenged in court. The park board justified its decision in part by claiming that the structure was not just a residence, but an administration building — and also claimed that the house fulfilled a condition of Wirth’s employment years earlier.

Although park board plans to build the house as a residence for Wirth survived a court challenge — by a split vote in the Minnesota Supreme Court — historians, including me, had found no proof that the park board had agreed to provide housing for Wirth. I had seen a copy of Wirth’s five-page letter from 1905 proposing the terms of his employment, but the pertinent portions of that copy were utterly illegible. Now, we can read them in Wirth’s original ink.

1905-07-04-letter-to-cml-p4-rev-excerpt

In his July 4, 1905 letter Wirth wrote that among his conditions for accepting the park superintendent’s job in Minneapolis, “I would expect that as soon as circumstances permit I be furnished a house and privileges similar to what I am having now.” As superintendent of parks in Hartford, Connecticut, Wirth and his family lived on the second floor of a large house that stood on land donated as a park to Hartford. The ground floor of that house served as a concession stand and visitors center.  (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

In a subsequent letter to Loring, Wirth wrote that while he was torn between staying in Hartford or moving to Minneapolis, he had stated his terms for accepting the Minneapolis job and the park board had agreed to them, so he felt honor-bound to accept the new job. That is as close as we can get, without seeing Loring’s actual response to Wirth, to knowing that Loring and the park board had agreed to meet Wirth’s expectation of a house.

Why had the original letter been missing for so long? We found it in a file of park board correspondence not from 1905, but 1911! No one ever would have looked for it there. I suspect it was filed there after the court case had been decided and the supporting documents were no longer needed and were thrown into a current file. It probably hadn’t been looked at between 1911 and last summer.

Proper Attribution: A Park within a Half-mile of Every Residence?

Another discovery of interest to me in the documents soon to take up permanent residence at the library was a memorandum from Wirth that sheds light on the often-repeated claim that he championed a playground within a half-mile of every residence in the city.

The attribution of that claim to Wirth often presumes that he not only supported it but that it originated with him. I have scoured Wirth’s writing and the park board’s published records for the source of that particular measure for playground location. No luck. I couldn’t find that standard proposed by Wirth even in the hundreds of pages he wrote for his annual reports.

The only similar claim I was able to find was in the autobiography of Wirth’s son Conrad, who was the director of the National Park Service 1951-1964. In Parks, Politics and the People, published in 1980, more than 30 years after his father’s death, Conrad associated the “park within a half mile” concept with his father.

Then came the deep dive into once dusty archive boxes. A 1916 committee file contained many petitions signed by residents of south Minneapolis asking for a park at 39th and Chicago — what eventually became Phelps Field. Theodore Wirth submitted his opinion to a joint committee considering the issue. He opposed the playground because it was within the district already served by Nicollet (Martin Luther King) Field and Powderhorn Park. He explained,

“It is conceded by playground authorities from all parts of the country that one good-sized playground per square mile of city area is sufficient for even densely populated districts.”

That hardly seems the statement of a man who had created the standard. While I have not researched the subject on a national scale to see where the standard did originate, it appears that the park per square mile standard was already widely used. Keep in mind that Minneapolis was fairly late to the practice of establishing playgrounds under the auspices of a park board, so it was an unlikely pioneer in developing standards for playground locations. To the credit of Minneapolis and Theodore Wirth, however, Minneapolis probably came closer to meeting that standard eventually than almost all other cities.

By the way, the park board did not take Wirth’s advice in this instance and approved the acquisition of Phelps Field despite its proximity to other playgrounds and the large amount of grading that Wirth asserted would be required to make the land into usable playground space.

Hundreds more documents, like these, that provide information and insights into the creation and evolution of Minneapolis’s parks will soon be available to everyone at the library.

Congratulations!

The transfer of the park board archives culminates the work of several years. Park commissioners, led by Scott Vreeland, superintendent Jayne Miller, and park board staff, especially Dawn Sommers and former real estate attorney Renay Leone, deserve thanks for their commitment to preserving park historical records. The project also owes a great deal to the cooperation of Josh Schaffer in the City Clerk’s office, and Ted Hathaway, director of Special Collections at Hennepin County Library.

I would encourage local historians, especially those with an interest in the first half of the 20th Century, as well as park enthusiasts, to take a look at the archives once Ted and his staff at the library can make them available. They provide a fascinating historical view of not just a park system, but a city.

David C. Smith

Memories of Lake Harriet

The following letter, dated July 9, 2014, was addressed to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board:

On July 4, 2014 my daughter sent me pictures of two of my great grandsons enjoying the holiday at Lake Harriet. I recently celebrated my 95th birthday and those pictures brought a deluge of memories to me. My two sisters and I grew up on Bryant Ave. So. in the 4100 block, just a few blocks from Lake Harriet, Lyndale Park and Lyndale Farmstead.

One of my early memories is from the early 1920s when dinners were served in the old pavilion where the modern band shell now stands. It was July 8, 1925 and my father decided it looked too stormy to go to dinner at the pavilion. That evening a tornado struck the area and the pavilion was devastated. Several lives were lost when the pavilion collapsed. I was 6 years old but I remember walking around the lake several days later and seeing the damage to the trees and the lake shore.

A storm destroyed the Lake Harriet Pavilion  in 1925, resulting in two deaths. (Minnesota Historical Society)

A storm destroyed the Lake Harriet Pavilion in 1925, resulting in two deaths. (Minnesota Historical Society)

There is no continuity to these memories as I write them down. Walking to the lake in the early spring and the scent and beauty of the lilacs along King’s Highway. The rose garden in summer which still looked the same in the pictures with the boys. The walk through the woods on the bridle path with the sounds and sights of the birds in the bird sanctuary.

The many picnics we had as a family by the lake and the band concerts that climaxed the day. The salt-water taffy, popcorn and balloons, the walk home along the lake shore through the park where it seemed there were always fire flies lighting our way. Often we left before the end of the concert and if the wind was right, we could hear the band playing the Star Spangled Banner and we knew the concert was over. All summer we swam at the 48th Street beach

I also recall when the launch on Lake Harriet was part of the Minneapolis Street Car Company and made stops at the docks at Penn. Ave., Morgan Ave., 48th Street and 43rd Street. We enjoyed coming from downtown on the Oak Harriet line and transferring to the launch at the pavilion for a cool ride home on a hot summer day, and a short walk home from the 43rd Street dock.

In the winter our sleds were on the easy slopes in the park adjacent to the rose garden. When we grew older, we advanced to Lyndale Farmstead and dared to slide on King’s Hill. At that park we skated all winter, played tennis in the summer and enjoyed the chrysanthemum gardens in the fall.

Another memory of Lyndale Park was the annual pageant with acts from every park in the city. The pageant was magic in the eyes of children.

Over the years I have made many trips back to the Bryant Ave. home. My mother and I would walk around the lake and my children and grandchildren would enjoy the same things I did as a child.

Theodore Wirth’s dream of a park within 6 blocks of every home in Minneapolis has been perpetuated and I, at 95, can from my home in Alaska live these memories.

Margaret J. Hall, Kodiak, Alaska

Note: I was given this letter recently at a meeting at the park board, so I wrote to Ms. Hall to ask her permission to reprint it here. Because the letter was nearly a year old and Ms. Hall was 95 when she wrote it, I wasn’t sure if I would get a response. I was delighted to receive a letter from her this morning granting permission to publish her letter.

She added:

When I got your letter I went to my computer and looked at your blog. (Yes, I do have a computer, but I still prefer letter writing.) More memories immediately came. My letter only included the parks within walking distance of our home and didn’t include the street car rides to Minnehaha Park and all its magic, Sunday rides to Loring Park, and to Powderhorn Park for the fireworks.

As I approach my 96th birthday on June 15th, I think of an ideal celebration: a picnic at Lake Harriet, a ride on the launch, and a band concert in the evening.

Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Margaret. So much has changed in the last  century, yet some things endure.

David C. Smith

Horace Bushnell’s Ghost

Horace Bushnell, one of America’s most influential theologians in the 19th Century, was among the first people to promote parks in Minneapolis. His ghost may still haunt us.

I don’t know if this is really a six-degrees-of-separation story — Bushnell and Kevin Bacon couldn’t have met — but there are quite a number of coincidences involved. They center on the famous Congregational minister from Hartford, Conn. who was also known for his early advocacy of city planning. And I mean really early. 1860s.

I’ll let you do your own research on Horace Bushnell’s sermons and books on theology, but here’s a sample of what he had to say on cities in his book Work and Play; or Literary Varieties in 1864:

The peoples of the old world have their cities built for times gone by, when railroads and gunpowder were unknown. We can have cities for the new age that has come, adapted to its better conditions of use and ornament. So great an advantage ought not to be thrown away. We want therefore a city-planning profession, as truly as an architectural, house-planning profession. Every new village, town, city, ought to be contrived as a work of art, and prepared for the new age of ornament to come.

Horace Bushnell

Horace Bushnell, famous preacher and theologian, encouraged Minneapolis to acquire parkland in 1859-60.

Bushnell expressed an idea well ahead of his time and also coined a phrase: this was one of the first uses of the term “city-planning.”

Of more parochial interest here is Bushnell’s advocacy for creating a park in Minneapolis. More specifically, he was the first to recommend that the towns of St. Anthony and Minneapolis acquire Nicollet Island to be a park. Only Edward Murphy, with his donation to Minneapolis of Murphy Square in 1857, can claim an earlier promotion of parks for the young city.

I only came across the story of Bushnell in Minnesota recently while investigating another subject. Sifting through old newspaper files, I found this comment from “Mr. Chute” (likely Richard, instead of Samuel) at a Minneapolis Board of Trade meeting as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, February 3, 1874:

“Many of you remember Dr. Horace Bushnell, of Hartford, Conn., who spent a year with us in 1858-59 (sic). He was a gentleman of large heart, if not large means, who, seeing the necessity for a park in Hartford to accommodate the laboring man, whose firm friend he always was, procured and donated the ground to the city for a park, which is now the pride of that wealthy place. When Dr. Bushnell was here his constant burden was, you must secure Nicollet Island; it is a shame and a disgrace to neglect your opportunities; buy it at any price.”

I sought corroboration of Chute’s claim and found it in Isaac Atwater’s History of Minneapolis, Vol. 2. In a profile of Andrew Talcott Hale, the author was explaining that Hale came to Minneapolis from Hartford, Connecticut for his pulmonary health, inspired by the experience of Dr. Bushnell, when he provided this digression:

“While yet Minneapolis was a rural settlement, Dr. Horace Bushnell, of Hartford, Conn., visited it for the benefit of his health, impaired by serious inroads of pulmonary disease. After summering and wintering here, with excursions through out the unsettled prairies of the Dakota, during which he freely contributed by his pulpit ministrations, as well as enthusiastic advocacy of park improvements to the improvement of the morals and culture of the community, he returned to his work in Hartford apparently restored to health and vigor.” (Emphasis added.)

In the mid-1800s, Minneapolis was a destination for many people with pulmonary problems. It was thought that the dry air was a tonic for the lungs. Bushnell’s experience seems to substantiate that belief. He wrote of the Minneapolis climate,

“One who is properly dressed finds the climate much more enjoyable than the amphibious, half-fluid, half-solid, sloppy, grave-like chill of the East.”

Bushnell’s letters to his family, published in The Life and Letters of Horace Bushnell, provide some further descriptions of his life in Minnesota from July 1859 to May 1860. Among my favorite passages is this one on Lake Minnetonka:

“Well, I have talked a long yarn, telling you nothing about the Lake, the strangest compound of bays, promontories, islands and straits ever put together—a perfect maze, in which a stranger would be utterly lost.”

The advantages of Minnesota weather aside, two prominent Minneapolitans — Chute and Atwater — remembered Bushnell’s sojourn in Minnesota and they both recalled his commitment to the idea of parks in cities, Minneapolis included. He had already helped Hartford get one.

Hell without the Fire

The Hartford park referred to by Mr. Chute above was created in 1854 when Bushnell helped convince the residents of that city to approve spending more than $100,000 to purchase forty acres in the center of the city for a public park. That must have taken some doing because it was an abused, polluted tract — “tenements, tanneries and garbage dumps,” according to the Bushnell Park Foundation  — that Bushnell himself called, “Hell without the fire.” It is considered the first publicly funded park in the United States.

When Bushnell returned to Hartford from Minneapolis after regaining his health in 1860, little had been done to convert the land into a useful park. So he turned to a friend and former parishioner, who at that time was considered to know something about parks. But Frederick Law Olmsted was occupied with his own park project; he was still working on his most famous creation, Central Park in New York. Pressed for a recommendation, Olmsted suggested landscape architect Jacob Weidenmann for the job.

Weidenmann was an immigrant from Winterthur, Switzerland. (Remember that.) Olmsted later wrote that the only two landscape architects in the U.S. he knew of who were qualified to advise park commissions, other than himself and his partner Calvert Vaux, were Weidenmann and H. W. S. Cleveland. Weidenmann was hired and spent eight years as superintendent of Hartford’s City Park, creating a much less formal park there than was typical in Europe. After Weidenmann’s work was done, Connecticut began building its state capitol adjacent to the park in 1872. It wasn’t until Horace Bushnell was dying in 1876 that Hartford renamed the park in his honor: Bushnell Park. He died two days later.

Meanwhile Samuel Clemens had taken up residence in Hartford in 1871 and had turned to writing fiction. His first novel, The Gilded Age, was co-written with Charles Dudley Warner, who was a Hartford park commissioner.

The Minneapolis Connection

Theodore Wirth in about 1900 (Picturesque Parks of Hartford)

Theodore Wirth in about 1900 (Picturesque Parks of Hartford, 1900)

How does this all tie back to Minneapolis? Through Theodore Wirth. As many other cities, including Minneapolis, had caught up to and passed Hartford on the park-o-meter in the 1890s, several of Hartford’s winners in the Gilded Age sweepstakes gave land to the city for parks. Albert Pope left 73 acres to the city for a park in 1894. The same year, Charles Pond left 90 acres of his estate for Elizabeth Park — his wife’s name — and threw in his house and half his fortune to maintain them. Henry Keney went Pope and Pond several hundred acres better that year and donated 533 acres for Keney Park. In 1895 the city purchased another 70 acres for Riverside Park and another 200 acres in the southern part of the city for what became Goodwin Park.

That was a lot of new real estate to whip into park shape. Hartford needed a park superintendent to manage its sudden riches. Hartford’s leaders must have had fond recollections of working with Weidenmann thirty years earlier because when they looked through applicants for the job, they picked someone from the same small town in Switzerland — Winterthur — that Weidenmann had called home. That man was Theodore Wirth.

When Wirth began the job in Hartford, his experience was mostly in horticulture, so Hartford hired Olmsted’s sons — Olmsted Sr. had already retired — as landscape architects for some of the first projects. But after a few years on the job working with the Olmsted firm, Wirth himself designed new park layouts for Elizabeth Park and Colt Park, another 100-plus acre park gift, this from the family famous for revolvers. With those park plans, Wirth established himself as a landscape architect as well as a gardener.

The only Hartford park Wirth did not manage was the enormous Keney Park, which was administered by its own Board of Trustees, separate from the Hartford park commission, and had its own park superintendent, George A. Parker. Wirth and Parker knew each other well. I believe that George Parker was likely responsible for Charles Loring meeting Theodore Wirth in 1905 when he was a committee of one of the Minneapolis park board looking for a replacement for retiring Minneapolis park superintendent William Berry. Parker was the likeliest link between Wirth and Loring because Parker was very active in the new national park organization, American Park and Outdoor Art Association, of which Loring was president 1898-1900. When Loring hired Wirth to become park superintendent in Minneapolis, Parker became the superintendent of all Hartford parks.

Theodore Wirth lived in the upper level of the residence in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Conn. The ground floor was open to the public.(Picturesque Parks of Hartford, 1900)

Theodore Wirth lived in the upper level of the former Pond house in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Conn. The ground floor was open to the public. (Picturesque Parks of Hartford, 1900)

The home, at right, in Hartford’s Elizabeth Park also features prominently in an important decision in Minneapolis park history. The reason the Minneapolis park board built a residence for Theodore Wirth at Lyndale Farmstead in 1910 was to fulfill a promise made to Wirth by Charles Loring, when Loring was negotiating terms for Wirth to take the superintendent’s job in Minneapolis. Wirth had been provided housing in Elizabeth Park in Hartford and wanted a similar deal in Minneapolis. Wirth and family had lived in the upper level of the former home of Charles Pond on the estate Pond had bequeathed to the city. The ground floor and verandas of the Pond home were open to the public as shelters in the summer. The Hartford Public Library operated a small library in the building as well.

Elizabeth Park was also the site of Wirth’s earliest claim to fame: the first public rose garden in the United States, a feature he replicated at Lyndale Park near Lake Harriet in 1907.

The extensive greenhouses of A. N. Pierson, the "Rose King" in Cromwell, Conn. near Hartford. (connecticuthistory.com)

This turn-of-the-century postcard features one portion of the extensive greenhouses of A. N. Pierson, the “Rose King,” of Cromwell, Conn. about ten miles from Hartford. In 1895 Pierson won the gold medal at the New York Flower Show for a new rose, Killarney, that was beautiful and hardy. He also won 17 firsts and two seconds. “Roses became a profit-making flower, Pierson became the Rose King and Cromwell became Rosetown,” wrote Robert Owen Decker in Cromwell, Connecticut, 1650-1990. A profile of Pierson in American Florist in 1903 speculated, “There are so many rose houses in this establishment that it is doubtful the proprietor knows the exact number.” Pierson started a dairy with 65 cows just to supply sufficient manure for his growing houses. Pierson and Wirth were both vice-presidents of the Connecticut Horticultural Society 1899-1904. I would think it quite likely that Wirth’s very successful public rose garden, established in Elizabeth Park in 1903-4, drew on the cultivating research and expertise of Pierson, too. (Postcard photo: connecticuthistory.com)

Another peculiar connection between Horace Bushnell and Minneapolis parks might be appreciated only by people who have searched for information on the “Father of Minneapolis Parks,” Charles Loring. To begin with, Loring came to Minneapolis the same winter Bushnell was here and for the same reason. Loring had an unspecified health condition — likely a pulmonary malady — that caused him to come west from his Maine home. He tried Chicago first, then Milwaukee, and finally arrived in Minneapolis in the winter of 1860. Although he often spent winters in Riverside, California, he remained a resident of Minneapolis until he died here in 1922.

But an odd link to Bushnell goes further. A young Congregational minister from Hartford, a protege of Bushnell’s, became the founder of the Children’s Aid Society of New York. He publicized widely the plight of children in New York’s slums and, finally, in an attempt to improve the lives of those children he organized what came to be known as “Orphan Trains” that sent New York orphans to better lives, supposedly, with settlers in the west. His name was Charles Loring Brace. Perhaps it is only coincidence that Loring’s rationale for creating parks and playgrounds in Minneapolis was often that children needed places to play and grow.

A final link between Minneapolis and Horace Bushnell’s long visit here. For many years, local historians have turned to a number of late 1800s-early 1900s profiles of Minneapolis that included “vanity” or “subscription” biographies of prominent citizens. One of those, A Half-Century of Minneapolis, was compiled by influential Minneapolis journalist Horace B. Hudson. You’ve probably already guessed the middle name of Mr. Hudson, who was born in 1861, shortly after Dr. Bushnell’s visit here. Yes, his full name is Horace Bushnell Hudson.

More than 150 years have passed since Horace Bushnell implored the people of the little towns on either side of St. Anthony Falls to acquire Nicollet Island as a park. Many attempts have been made, several surveys completed, many speeches delivered in favor and opposed, and part of it acquired, but it’s never become the park Bushnell imagined. Horace Bushnell’s ghost might haunt us until we get it right.

David C Smith

© David C. Smith

Lost Minneapolis Parks: The Complete List, Part II

This is Part II — H-R — of an alphabetical list of “lost” Minneapolis parks. These are park properties that were officially acquired or improved by the park board, but then were sold or given away. (If you missed  Part I — A-G — click here.)

Hennepin Avenue South. 17.5 acres. The main parkway link from the city — Loring Park — to Lake Harriet was supposed to be Hennepin Avenue.  The park board spent considerable effort and money to establish Hennepin Avenue as a parkway, beginning in 1884, but it was too heavily used as a commercial route and thoroughfare to be the beautiful and tranquil parkway the park board desired. Instead, Charles Loring created a route to Lake Harriet out Kenwood Parkway, then around Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, an integral part of what would become the Grand Rounds. The park board returned ownership of Hennepin Avenue South, from Lyndale to Lake Street, to the city in 1905. I’ll write more of the Hennepin Parkway story eventually.

Hiawatha Triangle. Minnehaha Avenue and East 32nd Street, 0.5 acre. Purchased September 6, 1910 for $2,975. In 1960, the City Planning Commission informed the park board that the triangle was to be rezoned, probably as residential. I don’t know if that played a role in the subsequent sale of the property. On September 7, 1960 the park board accepted bids on several parcels of land, including an oral bid by Lawrence Hauge of $35,500 for  Hiawatha Triangle, or Lots 1-4 of Block 7, Rollins Addition. Hauge’s bid was accepted. He purchased the land for what became McDivitt-Hauge Funeral Home.

Highland Oval. Highland Avenue in Oak Lake Addition, 0.058 acre. (See Oak Lake.)

Hillside Triangle. Hillside Avenue and Logan Avenue North, 0.6 acre. Transferred from the city council September 20, 1892. The park board granted a request from the school board to use the triangle as a playground for Lowell School in 1921. Title for the land was transferred to the school board in 1953. Lowell School closed in 1974. Houses were built on the former triangle and school site.

Iagoo Triangle. Hiawatha Avenue and East 45th Street, 0.05 acres. Donated to the park board by William Adams and wife, March 17, 1886, along with Osseo Triangle. The triangle was named for the story-teller in Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. Sold to the Minnesota highway department in 1966 for the proposed Highway 55 freeway. The purchase price is not contained in park board records.

Kenwood Triangle. Penn Avenue South, Oliver Avenue South and West Franklin Avenue, 0.02 acre. Transferred from the city council to the park board June 3, 1907 when Kenwood Park was acquired. This is another triangle still on park board books, but listed as “paved.” The traffic intersection was altered in 1981, when the park board and school board collaborated on the construction of the recreation center attached to Kenwood School.

Lakeside Oval. Lakeside Avenue in Oak Lake Addition, 0.32 acre. (See Oak Lake.)

LaSalle Triangle. LaSalle Avenue and 13th Street South, 0.05 acre. Transferred to the park board from the city council June 7, 1922. The triangle was returned to the city in 1976 as a part of street reconfiguration.

Longfellow Field I. Minnehaha Avenue and East 26th Street, 4 acres. Purchased in 1911 for about $7,000. Sold in 1917 for $35,000. That’s only the beginning of the story. Read the rest and see more photos here.

The playground at the first, “lost” Longfellow Field in 1912. (Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Library)

Lowry Triangle. Hennepin, Lyndale and Vineland Place, 0.16 acre. Transferred from the city council November 28, 1891. Lost to I-94 in 1964. See much more detail here. The highway department’s initial offer of $1,500 for the triangle was rejected by the park board and the board instructed its attorney to oppose that valuation in court. By September 1967 the offer for the triangle had increased to $5,000 and the park board still wasn’t biting. Park board proceedings and annual reports never reported the final sale price of the property. Someday I’ll look through Hennepin County records to see what I can find.

Lyndale Avenue North. 16.65 acres. Lyndale Avenue North was intended to be the primary parkway into North Minneapolis in what later became known as the Grand Rounds. It was too much a commercial avenue ever to serve the purpose of a parkway connecting Loring Park to Farview Park, however. After twenty years of trying to make it a parkway between Western (Glenwood) Avenue and 29th Avenue North, the park board gave up and turned it over to the city to maintain as an ordinary street in 1905. The park board abandoned Hennepin Avenue South at the same time.

Lyndale Farmstead (partial). The half-block south of West 40th Street between King’s Highway and Colfax Avenue, 1.78 acres. Acquired from James J. Hill and Thomas Lowry in 1909 as part of the land donated for a superintendent’s house. Theodore Wirth  recommended selling the land in the 1912 Annual Report and using the proceeds to build a laundry at the Lyndale Farmstead shops for washing the napkins and table cloths from park refectories, and towels and swimming suits from the bath houses. Other uses were later proposed for revenue from the sale of the 14 lots platted there. In 1922 the board decided to sell the lots, asserting that no park use was ever intended for that land. All of the lots were sold by 1925. Annual report figures for those years only show revenue of $17,155 from land sales, but that likely understates total revenue as the lowest listed sale price I can find for any single lot was $1,750. All revenues from sales went into a fund for the operation and improvement of Lyndale Farmstead. Curiously, in the midst of the sale of those lots, Wirth published a plan for the improvement of Lyndale Farmstead in the 1924 Annual Report that included building four tennis courts at the corner of King’s Highway and West 40th St.

Market Square. Main Street and today’s Central Avenue. Transferred to the park board April 27, 1883. The city council had acquired the land in exchange for the assistance it had provided in constructing a dam to protect St. Anthony Falls. On January 22, 1886 the city council voted to cede the land to the Minnesota Industrial Exposition as part of the ground to be used for an Industrial Exposition Building.

Midway Triangle. University Avenue and Bedford Street SE, 0.03 acre. Acquired from the city council, October 1, 1919. The park board noted at its meeting November 1, 1944 that the triangle had already been paved over as part of the widening of University Avenue and, therefore, transferred title back to the city council. See more detail on this and other Prospect Park triangles here.

Mississippi Park. Land was lost on both sides of the Mississippi River when the Meeker Island Dam and later the Ford Dam were built. The park board also lost several islands in the river, including Meeker Island, which were submerged in the reservoirs behind the dams. The story of the construction of the dams and their impact on Minneapolis parks deserves more detail than I can give it here. The west side of the river gorge from Franklin Avenue to Minnehaha Park should be named for Horace William Shaler Cleveland, the man who did so much to ensure that the river banks became a park.

Oak Lake. Lakeside and Border avenues in Oak Lake Addition, 1.33 acres. Oak Lake and other parks in the Oak Lake Addition — Highland Oval, Lakeside Oval, Royalston Triangle and Small Triangle — were donated as parks in the original plat of Oak Lake Addition by Samuel C. Gale et al., October 22, 1873. The Farmers’ Market on Lyndale sits on what was once the first Minneapolis lake to become a park. The story of the little lake and Oak Lake Addition is fascinating.

Oak Street Triangle. Officially part of East River Parkway at Oak Street, but known as Oak Street Triangle. Sold to U of M in 1961 for a price that is not recorded in park board records.

Osseo Triangle. Hiawatha Avenue and East 46th Street, 0.03 acres. Donated by William Adams and wife, March 17, 1886 along with Iagoo Triangle. In keeping with the Longfellow theme in the neighborhood named for him, the triangle was named for another character in The Song of Hiawatha; Osseo was the Son of the Evening Star. Sold to Minnesota Highway Department for Highway 55 freeway in 1966 for an unknown price.

The dedication of Pioneers Square in front of the post office was held November 13, 1936 to honor, Charles M. Loring, the “Father of Minneapolis Parks.” It would have been his 103rd birthday.(Minnesota Historical Society)

Pioneers Square. Marquette Avenue and Second Street South, across from the post office, 2.5 acres. The land was purchased and developed by the park board at the request of the city council. The U. S. Postal Service wanted to construct a new post office in downtown Minneapolis, but insisted that it be set in attractive environs, a park. The park board rejected the plan of the city council to assess the nearly half-million dollar cost of acquisition, demolition and improvement mostly on the surrounding property owners at the onset of the Great Depression in 1930. The park board finally agreed to the deal in 1932 when the city council authorized $320,000 in bonds to cover about 80 percent of the cost of the land. The remaining costs were assessed on property owners.

The Pioneers Statue being assembled in front of the new post office.

The new post office and Pioneers Square — and The Gateway, a couple blocks west — did not lead to urban renewal in the area. (With the snow melt at the end of the winter of 1953, maintenance crews picked up 70 bushel baskets of empty wine and whiskey bottles from The Gateway. One Monday morning in the summer of 1953, crews picked up 62 empty wine and whiskey bottles from the grass at Pioneers Square. [Charles E. Doell Papers, Hennepin History Library]) The city condemned Pioneers Square and The Gateway in 1960 in a new round of urban renewal. The Pioneers Monument was moved to a small triangle in northeast Minneapolis in 1967, which the city sold to the park board for a dollar. The statue was moved across Marshall Avenue to the B. F. Nelson park site in 2011.

Rauen Triangle. Eleventh Avenue North and Fifth Street, 0.027 acre. Purchased in 1890. Turned over to the city in 1939. (See more of the story and photos here.)

Royalston Triangle. Royalston Avenue and 6th Avenue North in Oak Lake Addition, 0.20 acre. (See Oak Lake.)

I’ll post Lost Minneapolis Parks: The Complete List, Part III soon.

Do you remember anything about any of these former parks? If you do, send me a note so we can preserve some recollection of them.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

Theodore Wirth Gets a New Home…and Office

I think I’ve finally got it: the last chapter in the saga of building a house for celebrated Minneapolis parks superintendent Theodore Wirth at Lyndale Farmstead. The ending is much more intriguing  than I had previously known. I discovered it just a little more than 100 years after the construction of the house! The story told in the Lyndale Farmstead pages at minneapolisparks.org is true—as far as it goes.

The comptroller of Minneapolis, Dan Brown, did indeed refuse to countersign the contract between the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners and C. P. Johnson and Son to build a house for Theodore Wirth at Lyndale Farmstead, a Minneapolis park. I had previously assumed that because the house was built in 1910 anyway, that the park board had found a way around getting Mr. Brown’s John Hancock on a contract. That was my mistake. The park board finally did get Dan Brown to countersign the contract, but it took a bit of legal work—and a divided opinion by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Continue reading