Archive for the ‘Lyndale Park’ Tag

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   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

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

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

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelf

Two recent additions to my Minnesota history book shelves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

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

© 2014 David C. Smith

 

Lake Harriet: The Heart of the Minneapolis Park System

NOTE: The following outline and photos introduce the important role of Lake Harriet in the creation and growth of the Minneapolis park system. While much of this information is familiar to Minneapolis residents, I prepared this presentation for students visiting Minneapolis today from University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. I thought other readers of minneapolisparkhistory.com might enjoy the images and information as well. For more in-depth info visit the history pages of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. For a more complete picture of the parks surrounding Lake Harriet see the history of Lake Harriet, but also of William Berry Park and Lyndale Park.

 

If the prized Minneapolis park system were a living thing, Lake Harriet would be its heart. The Grand Rounds — 60 miles of parkways threaded through the city — would be the rest of the circulatory system of veins and arteries. The analogy holds more for the creation of the park system, with parkways radiating out from Lake Harriet and back, than for the current function of Lake Harriet in the system.

Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun had always been primary targets of people in Minneapolis and St. Anthony who believed the growing towns needed parks. For decades, residents of the small towns beside St. Anthony Falls had taken Sunday excursions to the shores of the lakes for picnics and relaxation. As early as 1869, the Board of Trade, a chamber-of-commerce type organization, had voted to acquire the shores of Lake Calhoun for a “pleasure drive” and had secured commitments from all landowners around the lake except one to donate their shoreline for that purpose. That one unnamed holdout must have torpedoed the entire plan.

When the Minneapolis park board was created by an act of the Minnesota Legislature and ratified by Minneapolis voters in 1883, it was well-understood that the lakes would become part of a new park system. Proof was easy: the legislature expanded the city limits of Minneapolis to include Lake Harriet at the same time it created the park board. One went with the other.

One of the park board’s first acts was to hire landscape architect and park advocate H. W. S. Cleveland to advise the board on the creation of parks. About a month later Cleveland presented his “Suggestions” to the broad for a new park system featuring interconnected parkways rather than just a couple large parks. The map that accompanied his suggestions, below, shows in red the parkways he recommended. Note that only Lake Harriet is fully encircled by parkway, the “heart” of this circulatory system.

Horace Cleveland proposed this system of parks and parkways in 1883. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Horace Cleveland proposed this system of parks and parkways in 1883. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The map provided a blueprint for a park system that the park board tried to implement. Although the board failed to acquire many of the specific routes proposed by Cleveland — and added others — the concept of a system of parkways encircling the city eventually became the Grand Rounds parkway system of today.

Cleveland used another anatomical metaphor in the park system he proposed that focused on what was most important to him. He called the Mississippi River gorge and parkways on both sides the “lungs” of the city. He meant that a corridor of green on both sides of the river — the “jewel” of the city — would provide a flow of fresh air through the city north to south, which would help prevent pollution and disease.  It was not a coinage that originated with Cleveland, but had been used to advocate city parks in the dense and squalid urban cores of Paris and London since early in the century.

In fact, however, the Grand Rounds parkway system had its start at Lake Harriet and the rest of the parkways followed. It was the first parkway the park board attempted to acquire. A first appraisal of the shores of the lake put the cost at $300,000, much more than the park board could legally spend. Then landowners Henry Beard, Charles Reeve and James Merritt approached park board president Charles Loring with an offer: they would donate to the park board a strip of land 125 feet wide that nearly encircled the lake. The park board gratefully accepted that offer 1985. (Ownership of a portion of that land was being contested at the time in court and a court ruling returned much of the land to William S. King, then a park commissioner. He honored the deal already struck with the other landowners and the park board owned a strip of land for a parkway around most of the lake.)

The park board’s other parkway projects revolved primarily around creating routes from other parts of Minneapolis to Lake Harriet. Hennepin Avenue was acquired to be a parkway connection from Central (Loring) Park to Lake Harriet. But when heavy traffic on that road dimmed its prospects for ever being a parkway, an alternative route to Harriet was found. Land was donated for Kenwood Parkway from Central Park to Lake of the Isles, then around Lake of the Isles, which hadn’t figured at all in Cleveland’s plan, to Lake Calhoun. The park board purchased the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun, at what Loring considered an exorbitant but necessary price, to reach the southern tip of Lake Calhoun. From there, Linden Hills Boulevard, also acquired from Henry Beard, would carry traffic to Lake Harriet.

Cleveland conceived of another major circulatory connection to Lake Harriet as a parkway east from Lake Harriet to the Mississippi River. He envisioned that to be Lake Street, but that thoroughfare already was home to a concentration of businesses that made it too expensive to acquire. The route east from Harriet that later emerged, largely due to free land, was Minnehaha Creek. Although much farther south and far from the central city neighborhoods that Cleveland thought would need a parkway, Minnehaha Parkway became the park connection to Minnehaha Falls and the river parkways.

Even the parkways from the Lake District into north Minneapolis were really arteries directly from the north side to Lake Harriet. When it became evident that Lyndale Avenue could not be converted into a parkway from Central Park north, the park board looked to the west to connect Lake Harriet via Cedar Lake and what eventually became Theodore Wirth Park and Parkway to north Minneapolis. Once again the appeal, at first, was the prospect of free land along that route from William McNair, a friend of the parks and several park commissioners.

Further supporting the Lake Harriet-as-heart metaphor is that the northern half of the Grand Rounds was inspired by what had already occurred in the southern half of the city connecting lakes, river, and creek to Lake Harriet. William Folwell, former University of Minnesota president, park commissioner and Cleveland’s close friend, urged the park board in a special report at the end of 1890 to return to the vision of Cleveland. In his report, he urged the board to resurrect and finish the system of parkways throughout the city that Cleveland had suggested. Folwell even gave that system of parkways, which began and ended at Lake Harriet, a name for the first time: Grand Rounds.

To the Water’s Edge

The parkway at Lake Harriet also established another critical precedent in the history of Minneapolis parks. In keeping with Cleveland’s plan for an interconnected system of parkways, the park board wanted a parkway around the lake instead of just a large park beside it. The parkway acquired encircled the lake on its shoreline. That meant the park board owned the entire lake and it established that precedent for later acquisitions at Lake of Isles, Lake Calhoun, Minnehaha Creek, even the Mississippi River gorge. Nearly everywhere in Minneapolis, the park board owns the water front. The only places that is not true today is the banks of the Mississippi River above the falls, and that is in the process of being acquired piece by piece, and those parts of Bassett’s Creek that had been tunneled below ground even before the park board was created.

The unique and defining feature of Minneapolis today is not only that the city has lakes and creeks and a river running through it, but that almost all land abutting those bodies of water is publicly owned and preserved as parkland.  We aren’t restricted to a glimpse of water between mansions built on lakeshores, the people own the lake shores. The effect on the prosperity of the city has always been significant. As Minneapolis park board studies have shown, property values are increased not only adjacent to the lakes, creeks and river but up to several blocks away from those amenities because they are publicly owned.

Donation of Land

Another reason for the centrality of Lake Harriet to the development of the Minneapolis park system was the means by which the park board acquired the Lake Harriet shoreline: it was donated. That also established a precedent that Charles Loring, in particular, was very successful in replicating. Loring secured other land donations in the few years after the donations by Beard, Reeve, Merritt and King. Kenwood Parkway, most of Lake of the Isles, half of Lake Calhoun, part of Cedar Lake, much of Minnehaha Creek, Stinson Parkway, Lyndale Park and The Parade. Even much of the river gorge was sold to the park board well below market value.

Let Us Entertain You

Lake Harriet was also the heart of park board expansion into new areas, especially providing entertainment and recreation. Entertainment at the lake began at a pavilion built by the street railway company on private land beside  the lake, but became one of the most popular destinations in the city after the park board allowed the street railway company to build a pavilion on the shores of the lake in 1892. The park board didn’t provide the entertainment directly, but did exercise considerable control over the types of entertainment the railway company was allowed to present. That entertainment did not always meet the approval of all park commissioners, but it continued because people liked it and turned out by the thousands. It is one of the first examples of the nature of parks being adapted to what people wanted.

First pavilion built on the Lake Harriet shoreline in 1892. The pavilion ws designed by Harry Wild Jones. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The first pavilion built on the Lake Harriet shoreline in 1892. The pavilion was designed by Harry Wild Jones. This view is from the streetcar station in about 1895. (Minnesota Historical Society.)

Another important attraction at the Lake Harriet Pavilion were row boats. One of the donors of land around the lake Charles Reeve offered in 1887 to pay the park board $1,000 for the right to rent boats and sell refreshments at the lake. Competitive bidding pushed the price up to $1,250, a large sum in the day, before Reeve gained concession rights. But by 1889 the park board realized it could make a nice profit running the boat and refreshment concessions itself and purchase Reeve’s boats.

The park board's boats for rent next to the Lake Harriet pavilion in 1895. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The park board’s boats for rent next to the Lake Harriet pavilion in 1895. (Minnesota Historical Society)

 

Lake Harriet pavilion and boat dock, 1905

When the first lakeside pavilion burned down, it was replaced by another Harry Wild Jones-designed structure that extended into the lake in 1904. At the new pavilion, musical performances took place on the roof. The bandshell pictured had terrible acoustics and was replaced after one year. The bandstand was moved to the east side of the lake at 46th Street as a lookout. The boat rental business continued to thrive. (Minnesota Historical Society)

View from the bandstand on top of the Lake Harriet Pavlion in 1905. (Minnesota Historical Society)

View from the bandstand on top of the Lake Harriet Pavilion in 1905. Notice how far down the shore the boat dock stretches. A seat on the roof for a concert cost 25 cents. (Minnesota Historical Society)

The crowd attanding a concert on the pavilion roof in 1912. Photographed from the stage. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The crowd at a concert on the pavilion roof in 1912, photographed from the stage. (Charles J. Hibbard, Minnesota Historical Society)

The Bicycle Craze

Active recreation, physical exercise, began at Lake Harriet with boating and canoeing, but then along came the bicycle craze of the 1890s and the park board continued what has become a long tradition of accommodating what people wanted from their parks.

Bicycling was so popular that the park board built a bicycle path around the lake in 1896. So many people rode bicycles to the lake that the park board built an enclosure where people could check their bicycles while they were at the pavilion or renting a boat. It was built to hold 800 bicycles. Soon after, the park board built bicycle trails along Minnehaha Creek as well.

This is one of my favorite park photos. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet in 1896. Notice that the layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

One of my favorite Minneapolis park photos shows the bicycle path around Lake Harriet in 1896. This was the first bicycle path in Minneapolis. The layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage road is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

These are just the beginning of the accommodation of public desires at Lake Harriet and then other park properties. What began at Lake Harriet, like the parkways radiating out from it, quickly extended to other parts of the park system even as new amenities were added at Lake Harriet. From the picnic shelter at Beard Plaisance on the west side of the lake in 1904 to the Rose Garden created on the east side of the lake in 1907, the throngs drawn to the lake were regularly provided new attractions.

David C. Smith   minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com

© 2014 David C. Smith

 

Theodore Wirth, Francis Gross and Me: A Friday Photo and a Re-assessment

The dedication of the Heffelfinger Fountain in Lyndale Park, 1947. This is the only photo I've seen of Theodore Wirth and Francis Gross together, along with another well-known Minneapolitan. From left: Park Superintendent Emeritus Theodore Wirth, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey, Park Board Presdient Francis Gross, Park Superintendent Charles  Doell. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The dedication of Heffelfinger Fountain in Lyndale Park, 1947. This is the only photo I’ve seen of Theodore Wirth and Francis Gross together. They are joined by an even better-known Minneapolitan. From left: Park Superintendent Emeritus Theodore Wirth, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey, Park Board President Francis A. Gross, Park Superintendent Charles E. Doell. Wirth was then 84 and Gross 77. The fountain had been discovered and purchased in Italy by Frank Heffelfinger, shipped to Minneapolis, and given to the park board. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

As I began my initial, intensive assault on Minneapolis park history in 2007 to write City of Parks, I was inclined to attribute the great success of our park system to Theodore Wirth — as so many people do. I had heard his name — attached as it was to a park, lake and parkway — for many years, and I promptly read his book on the park system — part history, part memoir.

Theodore Wirth served as superintendent of Minneapolis parks for 30 years, 1906-1935. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Theodore Wirth was superintendent of Minneapolis parks for 30 years, 1906-1935. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

It was the beginning of an up-and-down ride for me with Mr. Wirth and his legacy, one that I am reexamining in light of comments by Francis Gross in the autobiography he wrote in 1938.

I knew little about Wirth in 2007, but I did recall vividly being introduced to a Swedish gentleman at a party in Stockholm, Sweden in 1986 who, when he learned where I was from, gushed about what a great park planner Theodore Wirth had been. He knew much more about Wirth than I did and …Read more about how Francis Gross convinced me that Theodore Wirth was a good guy