Archive for the ‘Minnehaha Falls’ Tag

Friday Photos: Thousands of Historical Aerial Views

The closest thing to time travel. That’s what today’s photo recommendation gives you through more than 100,000 photos that allow you to track the growth of Minneapolis — and the rest of the state — from the sky.

I’m not aware of any larger local source of aerial photography than Minnesota Historical Aerial Photos Online (MHAPO). The collection is part of the John Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota. It was created by Joseph Koeller in consultation with the Borchert Library staff.

I’ve written before of the Borchert Map Library because I use their maps often, especially their plat maps of Minneapolis from 1892 and 1903, which I have on my “favorites” bar on my computer.

While researching the history of the auto tourist camp, which the park board operated at Minnehaha Falls from 1920s into the mid-1950s, I wanted to get some sense of the layout of the 35 cabins that were offered for rent on a nightly basis. I had never found any depiction of the layout of the camp until I found this photo from 1953 at the MHAPO site. See the U-shape of dark dots on the bluff to the left of the Ford Dam? Gotta be those cabins. I'll be writing more about the tourist camp soon.

While researching the history of the auto tourist camp, which the park board operated at Minnehaha Falls from 1920s into the mid-1950s, I wanted to get some sense of the layout of the 35 cabins that were offered for rent on a nightly basis. I had never found any depiction of the layout of the camp until I found this photo from October 1953 at the MHAPO site. See the U-shape of dark dots on the bluff to the left of the Ford Dam? Gotta be those cabins. It’s the Wabun picnic area now. I’ll be writing more about the tourist camp soon.

For more recent aerial photos of many parts of Minneapolis and the metropolitan area, I  go to the University of Minnesota’s Digital Content Library. Below are two photos from that collection using the search term “Minnehaha Park.” They provide a marvelous way to track changes in the landscape. The only shortcoming of this superb collection of images is that they are not dated.

Long ago you could drive up to the edge of Minnehaha Falls gorge. You could watch the falls from your car.

Long ago you could drive up to the edge of Minnehaha Falls. You could watch the falls from your car. A park drive passed between the falls and the pavilion with the red roof.

After the 1992 renovation of the park, the parking lot was moved away from the falls and cars could no longer drive right to the edge of the gorge.

After the 1992 renovation of the park, the parking lot was moved away from Minnehaha Falls and cars could no longer drive right to the edge of the gorge. The former parking lot was replaced by the garden in this picture, which features some verses from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha”, to which the Falls owed its world-wide renown.

Note that both photos were taken before Hiawatha Avenue was expanded and put under a land bridge at Minnehaha Parkway (upper right corner of the photos) in the 1990s. Had the Minnesota highway department had its way, the horizontal stretch of green near the top of the picture would have become an elevated freeway in the 1960s. The Minneapolis park board went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court in a successful effort to block that freeway. That is an important story of true park heroes, such as Robert Ruhe, Walter Carpenter, Ed Gearty and others, which I hope to tell in greater detail soon.

Some of the photos and maps in the Digital Content Library collection require login to see more than a thumbnail, but many permit viewing in greater detail by the general public.

It’s worth noting that both the Borchert and Digital Content Library collections are the product of our state university—a demonstration that all of us can benefit from the presence of a major university in our community. Our taxes at work! Yeah, I complain about taxes too, but things like parks and libraries and universities and historical societies contribute enormously to the richness of our lives. My life anyway. Nearly all the resources I draw on to produce these articles are public resources. They are available to all without charge. They are an important part of our heritage—and, I hope, our legacy.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith 2013

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The Worst Idea Ever #8: Power Boat Canal from Minnetonka to Harriet

Ok, it wasn’t really a Minneapolis park project, but it still deserves a laugh: Minnehaha Creek converted into a 30-foot-wide power boat canal from Lake Minnetonka to Lake Harriet!

Lake Harriet could have been more like Lake Minnetonka

Lake Harriet could have been more like Lake Minnetonka.

Minneapolis was obsessed in the spring of 1911 with the upcoming Civic Celebration during which the channel between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles would be opened. That was a very good thing. Huzzah, huzzah. But the attention it was drawing to the city also focused a lot of eyes on a very bad thing: Minnehaha Creek was nearly dry — in the spring! — which meant almost no water over Minnehaha Falls. Minneapolis could hardly celebrate the opening of the lake connection at the same time it suffered the ignominy of a dry Minnehaha Falls. The many out-of-town visitors anticipated for the celebration would surely want to see both. And let’s face it, a fifty-foot waterfall written about by a Harvard poet, which attracted visitors from around the world was a bit more impressive to most people than a short canal under a busy road and railroad tracks. The Minneapolis PR machine could call the city the “Venice of North America” all it wanted with its new canal, but visitors’ imaginations were still probably fueled more by the images of the famous poet’s noble heathen, beautiful maiden, and “laughing waters.”

The generally accepted solution to the lack of water over Minnehaha Falls was to divert Minnehaha Creek into Lake Amelia (Nokomis), drain Rice Lake (Hiawatha), dam the outlet of the creek from Amelia to create a reservoir, and release the impounded water as needed — perhaps 8 hours a day — to keep a pleasing flow over the falls. Unfortunately, with all the last-minute dredging and bridge-building for the Isles-Calhoun channel, that couldn’t be done in 1911 between April and July 4, when the Civic Celebration would launch.

Into this superheated environment of waterways and self-promotion stepped Albert Graber, according to the Saturday Evening Tribune, May 28, 1911. With the backing of “members of the board of county commissioners, capitalists, attorneys and real estate dealers”, Graber proposed to dredge Minnehaha Creek into a canal 30-feet wide from Lake Minnetonka to Lake Harriet. This would provide not only a water superhighway from Minnetonka to Minneapolis, and boost real estate prices along the creek, but it would also create a much larger water flow in Minnehaha Creek, solving the embarrassment of no laughing water.

“The plan, say the promoters, would enable residents of summer houses on the big lake to have their launches waiting at the town lake.”
Saturday Evening Tribune, May 28, 1911

Sure, there were problems. Not every plan could be perfect. The plan would require dismantling the dam at Gray’s Bay at the head of Minnehaha Creek, which might lower the level of Lake Minnetonka. But Graber and his backers had thought of that. The Minnesota River watershed in the area of St. Bonifacius and Waconia would be diverted into Lake Minnetonka — no problem! — which also solved another bother: it would reduce flooding on the Minnesota River.

The dam at Gray’s Bay had been operated by Hennepin Country since 1897. Many people then and now consider the dam the cause of low water flow in Minnehaha Creek, but the earliest reference I can find to low water in the creek was in 1820, when the soldiers of Fort Snelling wanted to open a mill on Minnehaha Creek, but were forced to move to St. Anthony Falls due to low water. That was even before two intrepid teenagers from the fort discovered that the creek flowed out of a pretty big lake to the west.

Graber estimated that dredging Minnehaha Creek would cost about $4,000 a mile for the nine miles between the two lakes. He and his backers, which included an officer of the Savings Bank of Minneapolis (who presumably had a summer house on the big lake and could put a launch on the town lake), provided assurances that the money to finance the project could be “readily found.”

The Evening Tribune article concluded with an announcement that meetings of those interested in the project would be held in the near future with an eye to beginning work before the end of the summer. Graber noted that his inspection of the project had been, no surprise, “superficial”, but that he would make a thorough report soon to his backers. I can find no evidence that the idea progressed any further.

The Board of Park Commissioners would have had no role in the plan, except, perhaps, allowing power boats to enter and be anchored on Lake Harriet. (I think they would have said no.) Park board ownership of Minnehaha Creek west of Lake Harriet to Edina wasn’t proposed until 1919 and the deal wasn’t done until 1930.

David C. Smith

© 2013 David C. Smith

Large Stone Fireplace in Minnehaha Dog Park?

Mary MacDonald recently wrote to ask for info on the large stone fireplace near the long path to the Mississippi River in the Minnehaha Dog Park off 54th and Hiawatha. She said she’s been unable to find any info on who built it and how old it is. Does anyone know? I don’t know anything about it. Leave a comment or e-mail me at the address below.

David C. Smith

Maybe it’s time for Puck to have a sniff.

Puck

Minneapolis Park Memory: Sparks, shetlands and a muskrat

I lived at 3040 Longfellow Avenue South until I was nine years old, and I have fond memories of Minneapolis parks and lakes. We were a walking, rail-riding family, often hurrying to Cedar Avenue to catch the streetcar. Do you remember the overhead sparks?

My dad and his younger brother Bobby, who often stayed with us, would pull me on the toboggan all the way to Powderhorn Park to slide down the “big” hill. Family legend has it that I didn’t trudge up the hill hand-in-hand like most kids: I had to be carried. My mom took me by streetcar for ice skating lessons at the Minneapolis Arena, and Dad and I would carry our skates to Powderhorn Park to practice on the lake. Do you remember when it was so cold you could hear the ice all the way across the lake?

Of course, Minnehaha Falls was a fascination for the young me. Remember the pony rides? I’m sure I thought I was Dale Evans as those Shetlands made endless circles. A family outing at the Falls always included a long walk down (and up) the stairs built by the federal work-relief crews. I have pictures of me and Dad posed at those beautiful stonework rest stops.

Other bits and pieces of my Minneapolis park and lake memories include the swans of Loring Park, the Aqua Follies at Theodore Wirth, and canoeing in a borrowed canoe on Lake of the Isles, with my fellow paddlers trying to hit a muskrat with their paddles.

Pam Schultz

Minneapolis Park Memory: My Park

When I was a child, my family lived at 42nd Street and 33rd Avenue. My parents and brother often walked to Minnehaha Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We usually made one stop, at 46th Street, so my brother and I could ride the ponies. They had three pairs of ponies that went around and around and around. Mother packed a small lunch; we never took liquids because there were several water fountains in the park. The lower part of the park was fenced in for deer; it was called the “deer pen.” I have a picture of me standing on thh bridge in front of the falls dressed in my Sunday best. Mother had curled my hair to look my best for a trip to the park.

In teen years we ice skated on the lagoon above the falls. We had a warming house, as well as an iced toboggan run. A park employee monitored the run. In the summertime, my family would walk the trails on either side of the creek all the way down to the river, where we would wave to the people across the water. Every year we had our fall church picnic at the park. We used the wonderful pavilion with its restrooms, stoves and lots of picnic tables. This is most of my life. What would I have done without my park?

Gladys Wangstad

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: Best Days of My Life

I grew up in South Minneapolis and enjoyed all the parks especially Minnehaha and the Falls. I have a picture of my Girl Scout Brownie Troop taken there (that would be along time ago). My family has had many wiener roasts at the “deer pen” and several family reunions attended by 80+ people from many different states. We just had one this past August at Wabun Park at the east end of Minnehaha Park. It has recently been remodeled and is a wonderful park.

My best memories have to do with our local neighborhood parks that aren’t necessarily on a tourist’s list, such as Keewaydin, Brackett, Longfellow, Hiawatha and many others. My favorite park was Longfellow, where my husband spent his childhood years skating and playing hockey, football and baseball. He was president of the Longfellow Activities Council for seven years and was a baseball coach. Those were the “good old days” when you could send your kids to the park without worrying about kidnapping and the like.

Activities at the park brought kids and parents together; we were one large family that would be known as a “village” today. Those were the best days of my life.

Shirley Adler

Minneapolis Park Memory: North to South

Minneapolis truly is a “City of Parks” for everyone — north, south, east , and west. As a ten-year-old tomboy in north Minneapolis, the neighbor kids and I would hike three miles to Glenwood Park, where we hunted for golf balls at the golf course, climbed the ski jump, and went wading in the creek until the golf workers would yell at us, “Hey, you little brats, get the heck out of that ‘crick’ NOW!” We would find a shady spot and dry off, giggling while eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or we would hike along Victory Memorial Drive to the Camden Pool, where every kid in north Minneapolis came to swim or get a bath. It was jam-packed with grubby young bodies all day long! When I was twelve, we moved to south Minneapolis, the Nokomis Lake and Lake Hiawatha area, another neat area for having fun in the parks.

After marriage and four kids, it was my kids who kept up the “fun in the parks” tradition, especially at Minnehaha Park. They investigated every nook and cranny, often ending up at the Falls, where they would crawl down the steep banks to the bottom of the Falls and work their way behind the water falls so nobody could see them and then make scary sounds and howls when little kids came to look at the water falling. Down the path from the Falls to the river was a large tree on a high bank. My son found a sturdy branch to which he tied a long, 2″-wide rope. Then he crawled to the top of the bank, holding the rope firmly an gave a bloodcurdling “Tarzan” yell, swinging form the top of the bank to a small island in the river where he landed. All the kids had a good time with the “Tarzan tree.” There weren’t so many park police or restrictions to keep kids from getting into mischief in the 30s to 60s, but I don’t recall any accidents occurring.

Thanks to Theodore Wirth and the Minneapolis Park Board for their foresight and wonderful planning of our great park system. There is so much for our enjoyment, and it’s free.

Judy Knutson

Webber Pool, year unknown. From the time it was built in 1910 until 1927, water was diverted form Shingle Creek to fill the pool. Beginning in 1927 the pool used filtered and chlorinated city water. In the early years, boys and girls used the pool at different times. One reason for the high wall around the pool was to prevent boys and girls from watching each other swim. In the 1930s, more than 1,500 children under the age of 14 used the pool every summer day. (City of Parks, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Did the Princess Depot burn down?

Most visitors to Minnehaha Falls have seen the little railroad depot, the “Princess” depot, that sits along the railroad tracks southwest of the falls. It was once owned by the Milwaukee Road but is now owned by the Minnesota Historical Society and operated by the Minnesota Transportation Museum. The little information available about the depot says that it was built in 1875. However last year while helping my daughter research a school paper we came across an article in the Minneapolis Tribune of March 7, 1891 that read in its entirety:

The Minnehaha Depot Burned
Shortly after 10 o’clock last night the Milwaukee depot at Minnehaha Falls took fire. Before the apparatus of the fire department could reach the place the flames had obtained too much of a start to be put out and the building, which was built of wood, was totally destroyed. It was a small structure, probably worth less than $1,000.

Subsequent searches of the newspaper revealed no more information on the fire or when the depot was rebuilt. Was the Princess Depot the one that burned or was there another Milwaukee depot at Minnehaha?

Not exactly a Minneapolis parks issue, but many visitors to the falls likely passed through that station.

David C. Smith