Archive for the ‘Minneapolis parks’ Tag

Charles M. Loring, Father of Minneapolis Parks

“We must all work and work together, and it will be but a short time before we shall see what a united effort and good example can do toward forming a public sentiment so strong that the city government will give us the trees and parks we so much need for breathing spaces for the poor who cannot ride to the country for air.”

—  Charles M. Loring, April 14, 1882

Charles M. Loring, Father of Minneapolis Parks, about 1900 (Brush, Minnesota Historical Society)

If you’ve read City of Parks or the history of Loring Park at minneapolisparks.org you already know how much I admire Charles Loring, the first president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners (BPC). He was one of the most effective advocates for parks before the park board was created and during a couple stints on the park board. He was a man of national reputation and influence on park matters. In addition, he donated the recreation shelter at Loring Park in 1906, paid for an artificial water fall to be built beside Glenwood (Wirth) Lake in 1917, and paid for the original trees for Victory Memorial Drive and created a $50,000 fund for the perpetual care of those trees. He was one of the most remarkable men in Minneapolis history. So once in a while I will tell a story here about Charles Loring that I haven’t had space to tell anywhere else. I will likely do the same for William W. Folwell, but that comes later.

On April 14, 1882, nearly a year before the creation of the BPC by the Minnesota legislature, Loring was asked to address the first annual meeting of the Oak Lake Addition Improvement Association. The neighborhood, which once stood where the Farmer’s Market now stands beside I-94, was the first in the city to create a homeowners association to care for the streets and grounds and sanitary requirements of  a neighborhood. For their annual meeting, which was held at Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church, they asked Loring to speak about the care and culture of trees in the city.

According to newspaper coverage, Loring’s remarks focused on the experiences of W. R. Smith, the superintendent of parks in Washington, D.C. and the president of the Botanical Garden there. The park commission in D. C. had the power to plant and remove trees at will and they consulted with no one. (Loring obtained that same much-envied power for the BPC from the Minnesota legislature in 1887.) Loring commented that he thought Congress had done a very wise thing when it put the important matter of trees in the hands of arboriculturists “who go about their work without fear or favor,” Loring said.

Loring told that night of an unnamed U. S. Senator who sent a messenger to W. R. Smith asking if the superintendent could not remove a tree that the Senator believed obstructed his view from a window in his home. Loring said Smith responded by asking the Senator if he could not move his house.

The tree stayed and Loring had a story that entertained an influential Minneapolis audience and perhaps helped nudge public sentiment toward acceptance of a park commission that would also plant trees without fear or favor and convert a city that was largely open prairie into one of the greenest cities in the United States.

David C. Smith

First African-American golfers in Minneapolis

I don’t have plans to write more about the first private golf courses in the Minneapolis area, as noted in my last post, but I do have interesting information on the creation of the first public golf courses in Minneapolis parks. Someday.

I’ll also write about efforts to integrate the private golf clubs that operated out of Minneapolis park golf courses in the early 1950s. At the center of that story were representatives of the Twin City Golf Association, an organization of black golfers — Frederic Jones, Bert Davison, John Williams, L. Howard Bennett and others — and one of the more colorful park commissioners ever, Ed Haislett. Haislett was a boxing champion, a professor, and the author of a book on boxing that was plagiarized by martial artist movie star Bruce Lee. How’s that for a resume?
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The Mother of All Minneapolis Golf Courses: Bryn Mawr II

When the golf and social activities of the Bryn Mawr Club shifted to the newly opened Minikahda Club at Lake Calhoun in July 1899, the Bryn Mawr golf course and club house didn’t stand empty for long. Two weeks after the Minikahda Club opened—and promptly became the hub of Minneapolis social life—golfers were already at work to get back on the Bryn Mawr links.

The Minneapolis Tribune on August 9, 1899 attributed the interest in reviving a golf club at Bryn Mawr to “young businessmen who find the Minikahda links at too great a distance from the city.” The paper speculated that the organizers of the new club also expected that the links could be used “at comparatively little expense.” A meeting of those interested in organizing the new club was announced at the West Hotel.

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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

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 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

Was landscape architect Warren Manning the first to propose a public golf course in a Minneapolis park?

Under the headline “Fine Park Is Assured”, the Minneapolis Tribune ran a story on November 15, 1903 that contained details I had never seen on plans for a golf course and baseball field in a Minneapolis park. The basic facts of the article are well-known: Thomas Lowry, along with William Dunwoody and Seurity Bank, offered to donate land at the foot of Lowry Hill for what eventually became The Parade.

What was new (to me) in the story was that when Lowry submitted his proposal to donate land down the hill from his mansion he also submitted designs for the park. The plans were prepared by well-known landscape architect Warren Manning at Lowry’s request. Lowry also offered to foot the cost of implementing Manning’s plan. Lowry eventually did donate thousands of dollars to help the park board convert the land to a park, but Manning’s plans were never mentioned in park board records.

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