Archive for the ‘Mississippi River’ Tag

A Railroad Town

To reinforce recent articles that addressed the dominance of railroads and mills along the Minneapolis riverfront, I found these photos from about 1920 to be fascinating. Both are from the photo collection of the Minnesota Historical Society, a fabulous resource for understanding how our city and state came to be. The collection includes other aerial photos by Paul W. Hamilton of Minneapolis and St. Paul from the same time. They’re worth a look.

The west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis looking downriver from above St. Anthony Falls. Nicollet Island is far left, the Stone Arch Bridge upper left in about 1921 (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

North Minneapolis at Plymouth and Washington looking east toward the Mississippi River and Plymouth Bridge in background. Railroads consumed a lot of land in about 1920 on the west bank. (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

When you look at these pictures it’s obvious why the Civic Commission and the park board were interested in reclaiming the riverfront 100 years ago.

David C. Smith

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Low River Redux

The dry weather this year is evident on the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. A couple weeks ago I posted an aerial photo of St. Anthony Falls when it was very dry in 1955. The water levels on the river appear to be similar now. Larry Dillehay sent this photo taken on the afternoon of October 2. The concrete apron at the Falls isn’t quite dry, but there’s not enough water flowing to make a ripple at the bottom. The horseshoe dam above the falls is now completely out of the water. What a gorgeous day—again.

St. Anthony Falls in a very dry year, as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge, October 2, 2012. (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

Horseshoe dam exposed, with Nicollet Island in background. From 3rd Avenue Bridge just upriver from St. Anthony Falls, October 2, 2012 (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

David C. Smith

Postscript: Both the horseshoe dam and Lock and Dam #1, or Ford Dam, were repaired while the water was at this level, suggesting that while the summer had been very dry, the water levels had been lowered intentionally by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to facilitate mainteneance.

1955 Was a Very Dry Year

It’s not a common sight. I’d never seen it myself until I saw this picture from Fairchild Aerial Surveys taken in 1955. St. Anthony Falls is completely dry.

The concrete apron at St. Anthony Falls is bone dry in 1955. The 3rd Avenue Bridge crosses the photo. Dry land — even a small structure — left (west) of the falls stand where the entrance to the lock is now. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Water levels were down everywhere at the time. Meteorological charts list 1955 as the 13th driest year on record in Minneapolis, but a look at longer-term data reveal that rainfall had been below normal for most of the previous 40 years. Downstream from St. Anthony Falls, the river was also very low, revealing the former structure of the locks at the Meeker Island Dam.

The old lock structure from the Meeker Island Dam protrudes from the low water in 1955. The old lock and dam between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street were destroyed when the new “high dam” or Ford dam was built near the mouth of Minnehaha Creek downriver. (Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

That dry spell had a significant impact on park property. Many park board facilities, from beach houses to boat houses and docks, were permanent structures that required proximity to the water’s edge. Parks were also landscaped and mowed to the water line and, since the depression, at least, many lakes had WPA-built shore walls that looked goofy a few feet up on dry land.

Park board annual reports provide time-lapse updates.

1948: Minnehaha Creek dry most of the year, lakes down 1.5 feet.

1949: Chain of Lakes 2 feet below normal, rainfall 2.5 inches below normal, water in Minnehaha for limited time during year

1950: Lake levels at record lows, lake channels dredged 4.5 feet deeper to allow continued use, water in Minnehaha Creek for only brief period in spring

1951: Record snowfall and heavy rains raised lake levels 0.44 feet above normal in April; flooding problems along Minnehaha Creek golf courses required dikes to make courses playable; attendance at Minnehaha Park high all year due to impressive water flow over falls.

1952: Wet early in year, dry late; lake levels stable except those that depend on groundwater runoff, such as Loring Pond and Powderhorn Lake, which were down considerably at end of year

1953: Lake levels fluctuated 1.5 feet from early summer to very dry fall; flow in Minnehaha Creek stopped in November; U.S. Geological Survey began testing water flow in Bassett’s Creek for possible diversion

1954: Again, water level fluctuations; near normal in early summer, low in fall; Minnehaha Creek again dry in November.

1955: Fall Chain of Lakes elevation lowest since 1932, but Lake Harriet near historical normal; Minnehaha dry most of year

1956: Lakes 4 feet below normal, weed control required, boat rentals incurred $10,000 loss

1957: City water — purchased at a discount! — pumped into lakes raised lake levels 1.5 feet; park board began construction of $210,000 pipeline from Bassett’s Creek, which, unlike Minnehaha Creek, had never been completely dry, to Brownie Lake.

1958: Second driest year on record; Minnehaha Creek dry second half of year; pumps activated on pipeline from Bassett’s Creek, raised water level in lakes 4.2 inches by pumping 84,000,000 gallons of water.

1959: Dry weather continued; Park board suggested reduction in water table may be result of development; Park board won a lawsuit against Minikahda Club for pumping water from Lake Calhoun to water golf course. When Minikahda donated lake shore to park board for West Calhoun Parkway in 1908 it retained water rights,  but a judge ruled the club couldn’t exercise those rights unless lake level was at a certain height — higher than the lake was at that time — except in emergencies when it could water the greens only. Lakes were treated with sodium arsenite to prevent weed growth in shallower water; low water permitted park crews to clean exposed shorelines of debris.

1960: Lake levels up 4 feet due to pumping and rain fall; channels between lakes opened for first time in two years; hydrologist Adolph Meyer hired to devise a permanent solution to low water levels.

To celebrate the rise in water levels sufficient to make the channels between the lakes navigable after being closed for a couple of years, park superintendent Howard Moore helped launch a canoe in the channel between Lake of the Isles (in background) and Lake Calhoun in 1960. He seems not to mind that one foot is in the drink. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

That’s more than a decade’s worth of weather reports. The recommendation of hydrologist Adolph Meyer was very creative: collect and recycle water from the air-conditioners in downtown office buildings and stores, and pump it to the lakes. That seemed like a good idea until the people who ran all those air-conditioners downtown thought about it and realized they could recycle all that water themselves through their own air-conditioners and save a lot of money on water bills. End of good idea. Instead the park board extended its Chain of Lakes pumping pipeline from Bassett’s Creek all the way to the Mississippi River.  But that’s a story for another time.

If you’ve followed the extensive shoreline construction at Lake of the Isles over the last many years, you know that water levels in city lakes remains an important, and costly, issue—and it probably always will be. It’s the price we pay for our city’s water-based beauty.

David C. Smith

Afterthought: The lowest I ever remember seeing the river was following the collapse of the I-35W bridge. The river was lowered above the Ford Dam to facilitate recovery of wreckage from that tragedy. Following a suggestion from Friends of the Mississippi River, my Dad and I took a few heavy-duty trash bags down to the river bank near the site of the Meeker Island Dam to pick up trash exposed by the lower water levels. Even then the water level wasn’t as low as in the Fairchild photos.

Minneapolis Park Crumbs I: Morsels Left Behind from Park Research

Outlawed: The possession or sale of heroin, other opium derivates, and cocaine without a prescription. Penalties established of $50-$100 fine or 30-90 days in the workhouse. Minneapolis City Council Proceedings, October 10, 1913.

Approved: Spanish language classes for Central and West high schools. Existing faculty at each school will teach the classes. Action of the Minneapolis School Board reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, January 13, 1915.

Suggested: A cement wall between Lake Calhoun and Lakewood Cemetery if the city would continue to permit ice to be cut from the lake.  From Minneapolis Journal article, June 8, 1901, about the visit to Minneapolis of Dr. Henry Marcy, “the eminent surgeon and philanthropist of Boston.” Dr. Marcy made the suggestion when he visited Lake Calhoun with Charles Loring. He said he had heard a great deal about Minneapolis’s parks and had a Minneapolis map on which he had sketched out their locations, but wanted to see them.

Found: Gold in Hennepin County, the best sample near Minnehaha Park. The specimen recovered by Prof. J. H. Breese, a former professor at Eastern universities, was confirmed as gold by state geologist Prof. N. H. Winchell. Prof. Breese believes the particles were carried from higher latitudes during the drift period, “but he is quite confident that all has not yet been found.” Reported by Minneapolis Tribune, July 17, 1889.

Built: A 100-foot steamboat named “Minneapolis” by Hobart, Hall and Company. Will begin running freight between Minneapolis and St. Cloud in late July. The company asked the Board of Trade for a free landing near Bassett’s Creek. Reported by Minneapolis Tribune July 8, 1873. The company planned to build another steamboat for the same route, more if “expedient.”

David C. Smith

Has the Park Board Neglected Northeast Minneapolis?

The argument is sometimes made, particularly by “Nordeasters,” that northeast Minneapolis is park poor and that the Minneapolis park board has neglected that part of the city.  “Underserved” seems to be the popular word. The idea even flowed as an undercurrent through the recent Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. The thinking goes that ever since Minneapolis and St. Anthony merged in 1872, and took the name Minneapolis, power, money and prestige—not to mention amenities such as parks—have accumulated west and south of the river. (Read Lucille M. Kane, The Waterfall That Built a City, for a fascinating examination of why that might have happened.)

While writing recently about Alice Dietz and the marvelous programs she ran at the Logan Park field house I thought again about the perceived neglect of Northeast and whether it might be true. I concluded that it is not; northeast Minneapolis has been a victim of industry, topography and opportunity, but not discrimination or even indifference. What’s more, all those elements have now realigned, putting northeast Minneapolis in the position to get a far bigger slice of the park pie in the foreseeable future than any other section of the city.

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The Case For Horace Cleveland’s Name on a River Gorge Park

“A continuous park…of such picturesque character as no art could create and no other city can possess.”

That is how Horace Cleveland described the park he imagined along the boulevard he recommended for the west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. He went on to write in his Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, which he presented to the first Minneapolis park board on June 2, 1883:

“The Mississippi River is not only the grand natural feature which gives character to your city and constitutes the main spring of prosperity, but it is the object of vital interest and center of attraction to intelligent visitors from every quarter of the globe, who associate such ideas of grandeur with its name as no human creation can excite. It is due therefore, to the sentiments of the civilized world, and equally in recognition of your own sense of the blessings it confers upon you, that it should be placed in a setting worthy of so priceless a jewel.”

Horace Cleveland had a special passion for the Mississippi River gorge. The banks of the river remain a beautiful and wild place thanks, in part, to his constant encouragement over nearly three decades for Minneapolis (St. Paul, too) to acquire the river banks downstream from St Anthony Falls to preserve them from ruin.

This photo of West River Parkway in about 1910 shows how wild the river banks were. The ruggged, wild banks of the river gorge, the only such place on the entire length of the Mississippi River, remain as beautiful today as during Horace Cleveland’s lifetime. (Hennepin County Public Library, Minneapolis Collection, M0129)

The park board finally acquired all the land along the west side of the gorge downriver from Riverside Park to Minnehaha Creek in 1902, more than a year after Cleveland’s death. Cleveland once said that he would feel that he “had not lived in vain” if the city would preserve the river bank in its natural state.

Cleveland wrote of the river banks:

“No artist who has any appreciation of natural beauty would presume to do more than touch with reverent hands the features whose charms suggest their own development. No plan for such work could be made.”

Cleveland not only appreciated the beauty of the river, but he foresaw that the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis would one day grow together. In his mind that probability made it even more important that the cities preserve some wild, natural places along the river that ran between them.

We should name a river gorge park for Cleveland just as a tribute to his descriptive powers, even if he hadn’t suggested, recommended, planned, cajoled, informed and educated a generation or two of the city’s leaders on land preservation and city building.

I believe the only name ever given to the land along the river was Mississippi Park. A bit plain. Winchell Trail and West River Parkway run through it, and those names can remain. It would cause no one any discomfort to officially name the rest of the west gorge for Cleveland. It’s not like renaming a street, which causes people to have to change their addresses and the city to put up new road signs. It’s just putting a name on a space that essentially has none now.

A marker or two along Winchell Trail and the parkway would suffice to let people know Horace Cleveland’s name. That couldn’t cost much. I’ll put up the first hundred bucks.

Horace Cleveland River Gorge Park. He’s why we have it, so let’s put his name on it. I think we owe him that.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith