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.
Minneapolis and her Park Board, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had a complicated relationship with the word “pavilion.” The word means “an ornamental building, usually of light construction and designed for temporary shelter, refreshment, etc., esp. in a park […] used as a place of entertainment or recreation.”
WPA work in Minneapolis parks included engaging fun like puppet shows for children. But their enduring efforts were the mundane and necessary improvements in infrastructure. Here, the driveway leading into Minnehaha Park from Minnehaha Avenue has been given curbs and a sidewalk:
Minnehaha Park cannot be said to have an entrance today. Years ago, when the streetcars and the trains dropped people off at the Minnehaha Depot, or nearby it, the crowds moved towards the Falls from the west. Or, they drove their carriages or automobiles down this driveway to pause in between the Refectory and the Falls and see the waterfall.
From the earliest years of Park Board ownership of Minnehaha Falls, they worked to grow the grass. For most people, a park implies green grass lawn under mature trees. Certainly this was the accepted ideal in the infancy of landscape architecture, around the time the Minneapolis Parks system was created. Picturesque contemplation of the natural (though created) terrain was more important than playing ball, flying kites, or flower-picking.
The Park Board gained control of the Falls in 1889, the same year it created ordinances outlawing all these activities in the parks. They had a point, because back then, the falls were surrounded by barren dirt, and neither the landowners nor the businesses who rented from them cared much about growing grass.
Minnehaha had for decades been the most famous spot in Minnesota, always attracting large crowds. All those feet made growing grass unpredictably difficult for the Park Board, even with great expenses for seed and with placing “Keep Off The Grass” signs. This was a struggle every year.