This photograph is so worthy of study because the small refreshment stands, dance halls, illegal saloons, and “fakir booths” in or near the “Minnehaha Midway” were nearly never photographed. Only a handful of images from the era have come to light so far.
We don’t know who ran these businesses. But there probably is a little more information about the left-hand, southern pavilion. We probably have another picture of it. Like nearly all of these Midway pictures, this is considered to be a unique, one-of-a-kind image:
Is this the “Lunches” pavilion? That’s the most likely guess. We see tables and curved back chairs in both the MNHS picture and the Cracker Jack picture. The aesthetic of displaying plenty of advertising is clear in both. And we know where this isn’t: It’s not the Park Board’s work in their two refreshment pavilions, not the burned down pavilion from 1903-1904, nor the second one from 1905. That second one is still standing, after all.
There’s a bit of question about the supports for the roof. In the Cracker Jack picture, the supports appear to have a slight curve which we only see in the “Lunches” picture when looking at the Depot, not the pavilion. But, since we are not looking at the exact same uprights in both pictures, there’s room to believe that these are both the same pavilion in these pictures.
Still looking at this intriguing image, it seems that the businesses beyond the railroad depot appear on a map from the Rascher Insurance Co. that fellow historian Stefan Songstad found at the MNHS library. The original map was printed in 1892, but it was revised multiple times.
When these old insurance company maps were revised, that meant pasting paper over buildings that were no longer there, and pasting in drawings of new buildings. Reading through the pasted-over papers is a crucial part of this research and it isn’t always easy or even possible. It’s like an archeological dig.
What the map tells us, as we peer through paper and through time, is that there were two refreshment pavilions just opposite the depot, and that each was a single story tall, and had shingled roof. These were next to the easy-to-spot ice house. According to the meta-data on this map at Minnesota Historical Society, these paste-over updates were possibly done between 1904 and 1906. Other buildings removed from the map are surmised to have existed only in 1903 and 1904.
So, our black and white photo, which looks through the depot at these places, was taken between 1892 and 1902. But we can narrow down the date of what we see here because, the creation of this refreshment district happened in 1895-1896. The city directories begin to list them as they appear. With a little more work, we might be able to figure out who is standing in that refreshment pavilion, peering down the tracks, looking for the train from Minneapolis and his customers to arrive. Probably the ladies on the bench are waiting for the train, too.
The central story of Minnehaha Falls is the conflicting narratives between the virtuous, morally pure civic body and the goofy, rowdy, maybe-a-little-criminal nonsense that people actually engaged in. Call it control versus chaos, or even liberal versus conservative, though the situation had fuzzier edges that make it hard to push into any strict categories we might have today. But it was a real conflict that played out over generations. It really was a fight for the soul of Minnehaha Falls.
After the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners took ownership of the Falls in 1889, many of the refreshment vendors and fun-providers who had been located at the Falls migrated to the land just outside the park itself and set up for themselves there. Dance halls, ice cream stands and photo vendors went up on the land west of the park that is today Highway 55. Back then, it was the long thin block between Minnehaha Avenue and Hiawatha Avenue. It was called the Minnehaha Midway.
Minnehaha Falls in all her pristine and picturesque loveliness was photographed thousands of times, but the Midway was not. Only a few pictures exist of the Midway, and interpreting them has been a long-term project here at urbancreek.com. Below, one of those pictures:
There are 2 main areas of interest in this picture: the depot, and what’s beyond it. In 1899, during one of the several lawsuits having to do with controlling Minnehaha, witness Fred Ecker was reported to have said that he frequently went to a particular dance hall on the Midway. “”You go there quite often?” “Yes, I do.” “Ever see any whisky?” “Not in the pavilion. They always go to the depot steps for that. It’s a handy place.”
Are we looking at the Depot steps in this picture?
Just below the railroad platform, it seems like we might see light, possibly sunshine on railroad ties. The tracks ran west of the Depot, and so are behind the depot building. The railroad’s right-of-way ended just to the west of the tracks, and that is where the Minnehaha Midway began.
The difficulty here is that today, the Minnehaha Depot platform is not six steps up from the ground around it, and the platform itself is not made of boards. Here’s a modern picture of the Depot:
This platform is clearly brick, and it is not six steps up from the ground on the east side. The urbancreek.com research team is fully capable of mistaking the Princess Depot in photographs but is certain that this is not one of those times.
Back in the early 20th century, there was a road-paving and improvement project on Minnehaha Avenue, and it’s possible that the grade around the Depot was brought up 4 feet or so. There’s no evidence to date of this sort of gigantic road-building project, but one supposes that could explain this early Depot photograph.
Storyteller or liar? William Herrick–the Hermit of Minnehaha Park–was some of each. And Herrick told such convincing, engaging tales that it’s hard to believe that his stories are not true, even 100 years after his death.
His artful storytelling included details that both impressed his audience and added verisimilitude. When he told the story of his Civil War career, he left out the part about never seeing combat. He was stationed in Kansas, there to build bridges and protect the mail trains. Instead he said (truthfully) that he was stationed “near the Blue Cut country where the famous Younger and James brothers held forth.” Except that he’d been mustered out and sent home before the first James gang robbery. Surely that detail is unimportant in the higher calling of telling a good story.
In taking the first images of Minnehaha Falls, Alexander Hesler and Joel E. Whitney made 25 or 30 daguerrotypes in a single session on August 15, 1852. It was an unusual beginning to the photographic record. Mostly, professional photographers took one-off tourist pictures or scenic shots of the Falls. And some of these were, in fact, reprinted endlessly. But it actually was quite rare, in those early years, for a photographer to go down to Minnehaha and take several pictures in a sequence.
Some pictures of Minnehaha Falls and the area around it add more mystery than they solve.
This picture shows the 1880s fence on the north side of the falls. It shows that the ground was trampled bare on the south side, which was a problem the Park Board worked to solve as soon as they took ownership.
There are nearly no other pictures of Minnehaha taken from this spot. This is a unique image.
The American papers Back East began twittering about it. The Governor-General of Canada, a landed aristocrat no less, was coming west from Ottawa to visit Her Majesty’s dominion. It would be the first time any Governor-General ever visited Manitoba. And in 1877, the easiest way to get to Manitoba was via America’s trains and steamboats.
The famous one was Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava. An English and Irish peer, he was a rising star in Queen Victoria’s diplomatic service. Notably, he achieved the ultimate honor and became the Viceroy of India. In 1877, he had been the Governor-General of Canada for five years.
The Park Board was slow to remove some of the people who lived in Minnehaha Park. Once the land was officially in their control, some people were evicted, but for unclear reasons, not everyone was forced to leave.
In fact, the Park Board had a house in the park for the caretaker (the park policeman) to live in. It was located close to the west end of today’s bridge to the Soldiers’ Home. In the early years, having a policeman live in the park made some sense, as the board had a particular concern about rowdy behavior at the dance halls and saloons in the area, and they had a zoo that needed daily management. But two “hermits” are known to have lived in the park. The St. Paul Globe newspaper claimed, at his death, that one of these men was named Samuel McNott. That’s probably incorrect.
This picture gets reprinted all the time in books, articles, and magazines. It’s the most popularly reprinted image of Minnehaha Falls in the 19th century. And it’s easy to understand why. The caption clearly states that it is from 1860, and invites the reader back into the past with its advice, “Note costumes.” Putting precise dates on photographs of Minnehaha Falls is a difficult project, as no one knows better than the researchers of urbancreek.com. The very specific date here seems like a gift from the past.
Unfortunately, it’s wrong. On some rare occasions when this image is reprinted, the people standing in the background on the traverse behind the Falls are pointed out. But no one ever mentions the graffiti.