The Minneapolis Park Board at Minnehaha: 1890s, part 1

Even without a mist-throwing torrent flinging itself over the edge of the Falls, the Falls had its charm.  But the Park Board was responsible for the public’s safety.

Probably from the dry mid-summer: a trickle of water over Minnehaha Falls.
Probably from the dry mid-summer: a trickle of water over Minnehaha Falls.

“Persons are not allowed…”  It’s an advisory tone, not a mandate. That sign also mars the picturesqueness of the scene.



The Park Board had yet to build its boulder wall on the north side of the Minnehaha gorge.

Viewing the Falls, 1900s part 4


The Park Board seems to have gotten the groundwater problem under control here, as the catchbasin is gone and the surface looks dry.  This rare look at the sides and edges shows just how gigantically inappropriate this viewing platform was.


This photo is undated but, because we see the back of a thin rectangular “warning” sign, it seems like this is from the 1900s, and of a similar age as this picture.

in the 1850s

Taken by Benjamin Franklin Upton, this image of the Falls was probably taken in the late 1850s.
Taken by Benjamin Franklin Upton, this image of the Falls was probably taken in the late 1850s.

It’s that fence that helps date this picture.  Most likely it was taken after the scandalous 1857 purchase of Fort Snelling by Franklin Steele and his shadowy partners from Back East.  That was the first time that Steele owned the Falls of Minnehaha.

Someone who owned the land put that fence up.
Someone who owned the land put that fence up.

A few years from now, John Carbutt will come to town to take a series of pictures that will include a shot similar to this, and we will see that the pickets are missing and the fence is falling into disrepair.

viewing the falls in the 1890s, part 3

William G. Stafford worked out of 206 1/2 Central Ave. between 1893 and 1899. The card here was printed for that studio address, but there’s no guarantee that the photograph affixed to it is from that same time span.
Is this woman standing on the bottom of a stair?  This looks like the same stonework of other early pictures.

Probably this picture is from 1890-1893.  There’s the same stone “seat” in this picture as is seen here.

The Park Board took ownership of the Falls in March of 1889, and all the lawsuits against this condemnation got settled within a year or two or three.  They built their stone platform in 1889, and it seems they continually had to rework and rebuild it over the years.


Though some other, later pictures taken from this approximate location show a solid surface, here’s is a rivulet of water across a dirt surface and a lot of muddy footprints.  Probably this is from recent rain (just look at the Falls, above), but it could be groundwater management issues.

viewing the falls, 1900s, part 3


“Danger, Do Not Go Beyond”

Here’s another nicely posed tourist at Minnehaha, on the Park Board’s large stone platform.  During the 1890’s, the Park Board also built the boulder wall that still exists today on the north side of the gorge.

Before the bridge across the creek, standing near the lip of the falls was a popular viewing place, too.


Meanwhile, in 1958

June 3, 1958
June 3, 1958

Some early stone retaining walls are shown in this picture of the second landing on the south side of the Minnehaha gorge.

This landing was rebuilt sometime after 1958.  The flooding shown may be from recent heavy rains, or it might be an unsolved groundwater engineering problem.

By 2011, the retaining walls had been covered over with something like stucco, and the railings had been changed out for new ones.  There’s a slump where the land has collapsed into the creek.

May 1, 2011

It’s a very different situation than 53 years before.  And from 100 years before.

viewing the falls, 1890s, part 2

The beginnings of Park Board improvements at Minnehaha Park.

In 1889, the Minneapolis Park Board finally took control of Minnehaha Falls.  After years and years of legal fighting over this land (but with more lawsuits to come) the Park Board ultimately prevailed.

Safety first.  They blocked off the path that allowed people to walk from one side to the other behind the waterfall, and they built the stone platform.  It wasn’t long before they put up iron railings to prevent people from falling off the edge.


The Minneapolis Park Board at Minnehaha: 1900s, part 1

A fine lace curtain of water.

Here’s a (likely) 1900’s image with the Falls of Minnehaha, just exactly framed.  Everyone likes to photograph the waterfall: They always have and they always will.  But look for the little details in the backgrounds and corners, those incidental features in these old pictures tell the interesting history.

An early bridge across the creek, probably built by the Park Board.
An early bridge across the creek, probably one built by the Park Board.

That’s not an especially sturdy construction, compared to the stone bridge that sits there today.  In fact, in September of 1903, the bridge across the stream as well as the dam upstream above the falls washed away in heavy rains.  The Park Board noted, “The bridge was a great convenience to the patrons of the park, and one to take its place of the proper kind and in the right location is one of the problems that we have to solve.

The Board instructed Superintendent William Berry to have a temporary bridge built across the creek above the falls in April of 1904.  Though construction was reportedly underway nearby for a permanent and sturdy bridge, the temporary bridge collapsed on May 29, 1904, dropping people into the water.  One woman nearly went over Minnehaha Falls.

And in 1906, Theodore Wirth was superintending the parks system and was out to make a big splash in his first year.  He declared that “the low wooden footbridge above the falls is a cheap crude structure and should be replaced with a cut stone bridge, or, better yet, a reinforced concrete structure with a boulder arch-ring and rubble stone parapet walls.”

It’s unknown if this picture shows the bridge that washed away in 1903, the temporary bridge that collapsed in 1904, or the sturdy replacement under discussion in 1906.  It could even be an earlier bridge yet, from the 1890s.

Part of the creek was blocked by barbed wire.

Between the bridge and the Falls, the Park Board installed a barbed wire fence, just barely visible here.  Perhaps then, as now, people threw pennies into the creek and this was to keep people from trying to reach them when the water was low.

Perhaps this stonework was meant to stabilize the top of the Minnehaha gorge.

A Park Board groundskeeper was busy raking the grass just above this now-long-gone stonework and iron railing.

Early crowd control?

Peeking into the depths of this picture, we see that more barbed wire fence was installed.  Who knows why, as it looks like this fence just wanders across the park.

John Carbutt at Minnehaha Falls, part 3


Mollie Carbutt is, again, quite prettily posed against the butternut tree, while the Wilsons gaze across the gorge.  Edward L. Wilson was a prominent publisher of the “Philadelphia Photographer” magazine, which seems to have had some national acclaim.  And John Carbutt was among the most inventive and studious of early photographers.  This image was printed as a photograph and pasted into the “Philadelphia Photographer.”

There’s reason to wonder who took the picture, though most likely it was Carbutt who pushed the button.   There is a second man in this picture, standing below the bluff to Mollie’s left.  He could be a random Minnehaha visitor, or he could be John Carbutt, or he could be Carbutt’s assistant.  If Carbutt appears here, then his assistant took the picture.

viewing the falls, 1890s, part 1

These solid citizens commemorated their pleasant dat at Minnehaha Park with a photograph.
These solid citizens commemorated their visit to Minnehaha Park with a photograph.

This undated photo from some time in the 1890s shows a place to sit built into the edge of the park board platform.  That seating seems not to have lasted into the 20th century (see images in older posts, below).

Stone construction is hard, heavy work.  Probably this was rebuilt because of the basic instability of the site.