Archive for the ‘St.Anthony Parkway’ Tag

Lofty Words, Lofty Ground: Portius C. Deming

One of the lesser-known park heroes in Minneapolis history left us with inspiring advice —for both citizens and park commissioners. His most memorable words come from his writing in park board annual reports when he was the president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners 1915-1917. His most enduring actions to create parks and preserve nature’s beauty, however, had nothing to do with Minneapolis. We would honor his service to the state and city if we maintained more thoughtfully the park named for him.

Julius Caesar enriched the common people of Rome by bequeathing to them all his parks and gardens. The people of Minneapolis do not need await the death of an Emperor to enjoy such treasures. They possess them in their own rights. Every man or woman that walks beneath the refreshing shade, or treads the green grass of our parks, or rides upon their sparkling waters, or listens to strains of enchanting music in an environment of nature’s beauty — every boy and girl that gains health of body and mind within our playgrounds — every one of these can proudly say, “These parks are mine; I am joint owner of all these splendors.”
— Portius C. Deming, President, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, 1915 Annual Report

Portius C. Deming 1916 (MPRB)

Portius C. Deming, 1916. Lofty hair, too. (MPRB)

Portius C. Deming was a realtor and insurance agent — the two professions went hand-in-hand in the years Minneapolis grew the fastest in the late 1800s. Deming lived on the corner of 23rd Ave. NE and Central Avenue and had his office a block away on the other side of the street. He was one of the men who helped put together the proposal for the park board to acquire what became Columbia Park in northeast Minneapolis in 1892. He was 38 at the time.

The creation  of a large park, which included part of Sandy Lake, was certainly in Deming’s long-term business interest, although he was not a large landowner in the vicinity of the park and residential development had not reached within several blocks of the new park at the time. Most of the land near the park had not yet been platted into residential lots — and the Shoreham railroad yard was already quite extensive to the south of the new park. While sprawling railroad yards have never been converted into attractive scenery, the yard did provide the jobs that would support the construction of new houses, new businesses, and a flourishing community north of what was commonly called “New Boston” in northeast Minneapolis.

Still, as a business leader and realtor, Deming certainly would have appreciated the benefit to the city of a large park beside the only significant body of water in that part of the city. And William Folwell had argued convincingly for such a park only a year earlier when he applied the term “Grand Rounds” to the linked system of parks he supported.

Deming was elected to the park board in the fall of 1894 after he won the Republican Party nomination for the seat over the incumbent president of the park board, J. A. Ridgway. Ridgway would later become the secretary to the Board, a full-time position, a job he held for more than 20 years. (Deming’s wife was the niece of Adin Austin, one of the original 12 park commissioners when the Minneapolis park board was created in 1883.) Deming did not complete his six-year term as park commissioner, because he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in November 1898. He had to relinquish his park board position when he took his seat in the House in January 1899.

It took very little time for Deming to make an impact in the House and leave a profound mark on the state.

Deming Lake

Driving north on Highway 71 about twenty miles beyond Park Rapids, you reach the southern entrance to Itasca State Park. You’ve already passed so many lakes since Park Rapids—Fishhook, Portage, Little Mantrap, Eagle, Island—not to mention “Christmas World”, and you are so eager to get to Lake Itasca and the slippery stones that create a path across the lake’s outlet stream, the modest beginning of the Mighty Mississippi, that you probably don’t notice the third lake on your left after you enter the park: Josephine, Arco, Deming. Yep, Deming as in Portius C. The lake once named “Danger”, was renamed to honor the legislator from Minneapolis who adroitly managed the passage of a law in 1899 that appropriated the first money for the state to buy private land within the 35 square miles that had been designated Itasca State Park in 1891.

The legislatures of Minnesota and the United States had already contributed the land they owned within the park boundary, and the railroads cut generous deals to convey their lands to the park, but about 8,000 acres still remained in private hands in a patchwork within the park boundaries, including several tracts bordering Lake Itasca itself. Deming and others believed that the additional land had to be acquired by the state before it was clear-cut of its majestic white pines. A “Stumpage State Park” had little appeal, particularly as a setting for the source of the continent’s mightiest river.Mary H. Gibbs, Acting Commissioner, Itasca State Park, 1903

The “Deming Law”, which appropriated $20,000 for land purchases, didn’t end battles between park proponents and the lumber companies over rights to cut pine, create lumber roads across public park land, and dam Lake Itasca to float the lumber down the Mississippi River to Minneapolis saw mills. But it did establish a precedent and legal justification for action.

One of the great stories in Minnesota park history is how Mary Gibbs, in 1903, confronted the lumbermen and opened the dam they had built on the Mississippi River that was flooding the shores of Lake Itasca. Gibbs was the acting commissioner of Itasca State Park at age 24 after the previous commissioner, her father, died. She was quickly stopped from upholding state law by a local judge and promptly replaced by Governor Van Sant with someone more malleable to lumbering interests. Still, the young woman who had the integrity and courage to take on powerful interests is an inspiration. The visitors center in the park at the headwaters of the Mississippi is named for her.

Lake Itasca as log reservoir, 1903. (Illustrated History of Itassca State Park)

Lake Itasca as log reservoir, 1903. (Illustrated History of Itasca State Park)

Despite the efforts of Deming, Gibbs and others like them, lumber companies opposed preservation efforts in the park effectively for many years. But Deming and Gibbs made a critical contribution to protecting natural resources, a forward-thinking effort that continues to provide  benefits today.

For the in-depth story of efforts to protect the park, and Deming’s role, read the Illustrated History of Itasca State park by Jacob V. Brower here. Note whose picture is on the cover of this edition of the Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. You can’t mistake the high hair of Portius C. Deming. That book is also the source of his signature.Deming signature


From Park to Parole

Deming’s influence as a legislator was also significant as an advocate for the University of Minnesota, but the other piece of legislation with which his name is linked is the bill passed in 1901 providing for the possibility of parole for convicts with life sentences. The “Deming Bill” is also referred to as the “Youngers’ Bill”, because its practical effect was to provide for the parole of two infamous residents of Stillwater Prison who had been model prisoners for 25 years: Cole and Jim Younger.

The Younger brothers had been captured after the notorious robbery of the Northfield Bank by the James-Younger Gang in 1876. Cole and Jim Younger entered a plea of  “guilty” in 1876 to the bank robbery and murder of a bank clerk to avoid the death penalty.  If they had pleaded “not guilty” and been convicted, they could have been executed — and I don’t believe anyone, including them, ever claimed they hadn’t committed the robbery, although accounts of the robbery suggest they did not shoot the clerk. Another brother, Bob, also plead guilty to the charges, but died in Stillwater prison of tuberculosis in 1889. Following the passage of Deming’s Parole Bill, written solely for humanitarian purposes, the Youngers were paroled. (The only other prisoner who met the strict conditions of the bill was an old man who refused parole because he had been in prison so long he no longer knew anyone outside of prison and had no means to support himself. Prison was his home.) Jim Younger committed suicide a year after his release. Cole Younger returned to his Missouri home and lived until 1916.

The results of a quick search revealed only one other especially interesting piece of legislation sponsored by Deming. In 1903, he sought a legislative appropriation of $5,000 for victims of a famine in Sweden, Norway and Finland — an unusual venture into international relations. The bill did not pass.

As president of the park board, Deming presided over the dedication of The Gateway in 1915. He also commanded the podium at the dedication of two other memorials that year, one to Thomas Lowry at Virgina Ttriangle; the other to Gustav Wennerburg at Minnehaha Park. (MPRB)

As president of the park board, Deming presided over the dedication of The Gateway in 1915. He also commanded the podium at the dedication of two other memorials that year, one to Thomas Lowry at Virginia Triangle; the other to Gunnar Wennerburg at Minnehaha Park. (MPRB)

President of the Park Board

After three sessions in the legislature, Deming stepped away from politics for a few years until he was tapped by the Minneapolis park board in November 1909 to complete the unexpired term of park commissioner Milton Nelson, who had resigned. The other candidate nominated to fill Nelson’s post was a young banker from north Minneapolis, Francis A. Gross. While Deming prevailed in that selection process, Gross was elected by park commissioners to fill another unexpired term a few months later in May 1910. With a few interruptions, Gross served on the park board into the 1940s.

Following the expiration of the partial term that he was selected to fill, Deming stood for popular election for another term and during that term was elected President of the park board by his fellow commissioners for 1915 and 1916.

Deming’s focus as a park commissioner is not associated with any particular park developments, although the decade of his second stint on the board was an extremely productive time in Minneapolis park history: the lakes were linked with canals, land for the northern half of the Grand Rounds was acquired and the parkways partially completed, the Lake Calhoun bathhouse was constructed, Glenwood (Wirth) Park was developed, the land around Lake Nokomis was acquired and development began, the John Deere Webber Baths at Camden (Webber) Park were built, and playgrounds and neighborhood parks became an important focus. During this period, parks also became accepted as the appropriate venue for active, athletic recreation and the park board began to provide extensive athletic facilities for the first time, including the Logan Park field house.

The plaque set in a boulder in Deming Heights Park.

The plaque set in a boulder in Deming Heights Park.

Portius Deming’s service to his city as a park commissioner ended in 1919 when he was 65. His place in park history was commemorated shortly after his death in 1930 when a ten-acre park commanding one of the highest points in Minneapolis, Grandview Park astride St. Anthony Parkway in northeast Minneapolis, was renamed Deming Heights.

Beyond a lake, a park and a plaque, we have Deming’s words to remember him by.  I find especially appealing the excerpt quoted to open this article and the last paragraph he wrote for the 1915 Annual Report:

The story of the Board’s work for these past thirty-three years is impressed upon our City as upon on open book. Representing the whole people, this Body has conscientiously striven to do equal justice to all, to develop the park system in an equitable relation to the whole city, ever remembering the diverse uses for which parks are demanded and created. It has aimed to carry the opportunity for outdoor rest and recreation to every locality; it has acknowledged the supreme duty of acquiring and reserving for all the people the God-given lakes and streams, which are the City’s grandest heritage. This open book now presents to us an unwritten page. May it be as worthily filled as those which have preceded it.
— Portius C. Deming, 1915 Annual Report

Deming Heights

Deming Heights is—or could be—one of the most charming places in the Minneapolis park system. From the top of the hill—surpassed in elevation in all of Minneapolis only by a point a few blocks northeast near Waite Park—one can see a great distance in three directions.  The only problem with the park is that it’s not nearly as spectacular as it should be.

The view from Deming Heights -- without leaves. The downtown Minneapolis skyline is out there -- somehwere.

The view from Deming Heights — without leaves. The downtown Minneapolis skyline is out there — somewhere.

If ever there were a place where some discretion should be used in cutting trees it is here. Why put parks on the highest ground with the most splendid views if we allow trees and brush to obscure the views we purchased? Especially when most of the trees obscuring that view are not the most desirable tree species and some are simply invaders. Can we not cut a tree of any kind? Much of the brush growing on the side of the hill should be cleared as well.

The stairway and path up Norwegian Hill.

The stairway and path up Norwegian Hill.

I don’t even mind the dilapidated railing along the best staircase in the city. It has its own charm. But clear the brush and trim a few trees. Part of the park was purchased specifically to remove buildings that blocked the view from the crest of the hill. Now we allow scraggly trees to do what we would not let houses do.

Fill in some leaves and there's no view at all. Might as call it Deming Flats.

Fill in some leaves and there’s no view at all. Might as well be Deming Flats.

The park board has wonderful gardeners and foresters. They could make this view spectacular. Let’s let them. Something worthy of Portius C. Deming. If they need a hand clearing brush, I’ll help. My tribute to Mr. Deming.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith 2013

Lost Minneapolis Parks: The Complete List, Part III

This is the third and final installment in a series on “Lost Parks” in Minneapolis. (If you missed them, here are Part I and Part II.) These are park properties that once existed, but did not survive as parks. There is a quiz question at the end of this article. It’s very hard.

St. Anthony Parkway (partial). In 1931, the park board swapped the recently completed portion of St. Anthony Parkway from the southern tip of Gross Golf Course to East Hennepin Avenue for the land on which Ridgway Parkway was built from the golf course to Stinson Parkway. The park board gained 19 acres of land in the deal and the entire cost of constructing Ridgway Parkway was also paid. This story of the parkway “diversion” will be told in greater detail some day. It was controversial. (Read the broad outlines of the diversion of St. Anthony Parkway.) Some people have claimed that the diversion of St. Anthony Parkway is one reason for the “Missing Link” in the Grand Rounds. But that link had gone missing long before the “diversion” and wouldn’t have been found with or without the diversion.

Sheridan Field. University Avenue NE and Twelfth Avenue NE,  1.25 acres. The park board purchased the half-block of land across the street from Sheridan School for $7,000 in 1912. At the park board’s request, Twelfth Avenue was vacated between the school and park. The new playground was provided with a backstop for a baseball field and a warming house for ice-skating, but few other improvements were made. In the early 1920s park superintendent Theodore Wirth urged the park board to either expand the playground or abandon it. He believed the site was too small. It was “inadequate,” he wrote, to provide for the “large attendance (it) constantly attracts.” In the 1924 annual report Wirth presented a plan for the enlargement and development of the park, but that was the last mention of the possibility of expanding the playground. A new, much larger Sheridan School was built on the site in 1932, and the following year the park board granted the school board permission to use the park as a playground for the school, provided that all maintenance and improvements would be the responsibility of the school board. It wasn’t until 1953 that the park board officially abandoned the site. In a land swap with the school board, the park board gave up the under-sized Sheridan Park for the site of the former Trudeau School at Ninth Avenue SE and Fourth Street SE. The park at the Trudeau site became Elwell Field II.

Small Triangle. Royalston Avenue in Oak Lake Addition, 0.01 acre. The triangle was never officially named; it was called “small” because it was. Very small. (See Oak Lake.)

John Pillsbury Snyder and Nelle Stevenson Snyder the day they reached New York after being rescued from the Titanic. (StarTribune and Phillip Weiss Auctions)

Snyder Triangle. Fifth Avenue South and Grant Street, 0.06 acre. Purchased by resolution January 15, 1916 for $4,578. The park board had considered and rejected buying the triangle in 1886. The park was named for Simon P. Snyder, a real estate agent who once owned much of the land in the area. As Patrick Dea pointed out in a comment several months ago, Simon Snyder’s grandson, John Pillsbury Snyder, was a 24-year-old first-class passenger on the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912. He and his bride, Nelle Stevenson, were returning from their honeymoon — and survived. The triangle named for his grandfather did not. It was lost to freeway construction for I-35W. A triangle park exists today very near the old location, but it’s not owned by the park board. In 1967 the park board offered to help the state highway department landscape the new triangle between I-35W entrance and exit ramps and 10th Street. The old Snyder Triangle appears to be partly under the Grant Park building on Grant Street. I have not found a record of the price the little triangle fetched.

Stevens Circle. Portland Avenue and 6th Avenue South, 0.06 acre. The small park was named for Col. John Stevens in 1893, but at that time it was named Stevens Place. The name was changed to Stevens Circle on August 1, 1928. From its acquisition in 1885 to 1893 the property was called Portland Avenue Triangle. It is not known if a change in the shape of the park prompted the name change from triangle to place to circle. The park was transferred to the park board from the city council in 1885 according to park inventory lists, although there is no record of the transfer in park board proceedings. The only indication of park board ownership of the triangle was an entry in the expenditures of the park board for 1885 for “Triangle, Portland Avenue and Grant Street” in the amount of $1.50. The triangle became the home of a statue of Col. Stevens in 1911. The circle was given back to the city for traffic purposes in 1935, at which time the statue of Col. Stevens was moved to Minnehaha Park and placed near the Stevens House.

Stinson Boulevard (partial). From East Hennepin to Highway 8. 24 acres. A section of the boulevard was given to the city in 1962 because functionally it was a business thoroughfare, not a parkway. The section given to the city included all of the original land donated for a boulevard by James Stinson et al in 1885. It’s good we still have some Stinson Parkway remaining, because as I explained in the history of Stinson Parkway on the park board’s website, I think Stinson Parkway helped keep alive the plans of Horace Cleveland for a parkway that encircled the city. Without Stinson’s generosity, we might not have the Grand Rounds today.

Svea Triangle. Riverside Avenue and South 8th Street, 0.09 acre. The first mention of the triangle is in the minutes of the park board’s meeting of May 3, 1890 when the board received a request that it improve the triangle. The problem was that the park board didn’t own it. So, on June 27, 1890 the city council voted to turn over the triangle to the park board. The land had been donated to the city in 1883 by Thomas Lowry and William McNair and their wives for park purposes. The triangle was reportedly named on December 27, 1893 to honor Swedish immigrants who had settled in the neighborhood. It had previously been known simply as Riverside Avenue Triangle. The triangle was traded to the city council in 2011 in exchange for a permanent easement between Xerxes Avenue North and the shore of Ryan Lake in the northwestern corner of Minneapolis. The city council requested the exchange when making improvements to Riverside Avenue. Svea Triangle is the most recent park lost.

Vineland Triangle. Vineland Place and Bryant Avenue South, 0.05 acre. Transferred to the park board from the city council, May 10, 1912. The triangle was paved over in a reconfiguration of the street past the Guthrie and Walker entrances in 1973, but remains on the park board’s inventory.

Virginia Triangle. Hennepin, Lyndale and Groveland avenues, 0.167 acre. The triangle was apparently named for the Virginia Apartments adjacent to the triangle. The triangle was traded to the park board by A. W. French and wife on January 1, 1900 in exchange for a piece of land they had originally donated for a parkway along Hennepin Avenue. The triangle was sold in 1966 to the Minnesota Highway Department to accommodate interchanges for I-94. The price tag was $24,300, plus the cost of relocating the Thomas Lowry Monument, which had stood on the triangle since 1915. Read much more about Virginia Triangle and the monument here.

Walton Triangle. No property by this name was ever listed in the park board inventory or Schedule of Parks, but was included in the 1915-1916 proceedings in a schedule of wages for park keepers. Walton Triangle was included with Virginia Triangle, Douglas Triangle and Lowry Triangle and other properties in that neighborhood as the responsibility of one parkkeeper. This mysterious property likely got its name from Edmund Walton, a well-known realtor and developer, who lived on Mount Curve Avenue near where this property must have been located.

This photo from the Brady-Handy Collection at the Library of Congress is almost certainly Eugene Wilson when he was a Congressman from Minnesota 1869-1871. The photo by Matthew Brady is identified only as Hon. [E or M] Wilson, but resembles very closely other images of Wilson.

Wilson Park. Hawthorne Avenue and 12th Street North, 1.13 acres. The property was named Hawthorne Park when it was turned over to the park board by the city council April 27, 1883. Hawthorne Park was purchased by the city in 1882 for $15,503, of which $6,737 was donated and the remainder assessed against property in the district by the city council. The name was changed in 1890 to honor Eugene Wilson shortly after his death. Wilson had been Mayor of Minneapolis, a congressman, a park commissioner and the park board’s first attorney. Wilson, one of the city’s leading Democrats, worked very closely with one of the city’s leading Republicans, Charles Loring, to secure the parkland we enjoy so much today. Good for them — and us. That’s the way government is supposed to work. Wilson Park was sold to the Minnesota Highway Department after a long fight in 1970.  The exit ramps from I-94/394 into downtown behind the Basilica now pass over the lost park. Too bad we lost Eugene Wilson’s name in Minneapolis along with the park. He was one of the good guys.

Other Losses to Freeways and Highways.

In addition to the parks listed above, the following Minneapolis parks were trimmed by construction of freeways:

  • I-94: Luxton, Riverside, Murphy Square, Franklin Steele Square, The Parade, Perkins Hill, and North Mississippi, as well as easements for bridges over East and West River Parkway.
  • I-35W: Dr. Martin Luther King, Ridgway Parkway, Francis Gross Golf Course. The highway department also acquired an easement from the park board to build a bridge over Minnehaha Creek.
  • I-394: Theodore Wirth Park, Bryn Mawr, The Parade
  • Hwy 55: Longfellow Gardens

I’ve only included properties that were officially acquired or improved, then later disposed of for some reason. The informal parks and playgrounds in empty lots that existed in many neighborhoods, but were never owned or improved by the park board, are not included. I’ve also left out small pieces of a few parks that were sold for various reasons over the years, other than those taken for highways.

If you can add to or correct this list, please let me know. Do you remember anything about any of these former parks? If you do, please send me a note so we can preserve something of them.

TRIVIA TEST. Here’s the Ph.D.-level park quiz question inspired by one of these entries.  Two people had two completely different stretches of parkway named for them. One of those people was St. Anthony. (You could argue the parkways were named for the town, not the man, but this is my quiz.) The first parkway named for St. Anthony is now officially East River Parkway. Later the name was given to the parkway across northeast Minneapolis. Name the other person who had two different parkways named for him. Only one of them still has his name.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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