The WPA workers in Minnehaha Park accomplished lots of small tasks. They repaired playground equipment, trimmed trees and painted and repaired “stationary settees,” traffic signs, and fences. One of their efforts was to erect a ten-foot fence across the faces of the sand caves in the glen as a safety measure.
The existence of caves in the park might come as a surprise to today’s urban explorers. Stories exist of actually room-like caves, but no photographs have been found. This picture of a “cave” is no more than a shallow indent in the sandstone cliff.
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.
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.
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.
A Park Board groundskeeper was busy raking the grass just above this now-long-gone stonework and iron railing.
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.
This photo is was taken on June 11, 1904, and shows that the Park Board’s viewing platform wasn’t holding up as well as one might hope. This looks like a combination of vandalism and deterioration, with groundwater probably playing a part in the crumbling edge. The land where this platform was looks like this today: