The WPA works in Minnehaha Park, 1936. Part 2: Groundskeeping.

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.

Continue reading “The WPA works in Minnehaha Park, 1936. Part 2: Groundskeeping.”

The WPA works in Minnehaha Park. 1936. Part 1: Retaining Wall.

The WPA (Works Progress Administration, which became the Works Projects Administration in 1939) provided the dignity of a job to the unemployed of America’s Great Depression, while supplying rural communities needed public infrastructure and giving art and amenities to the cities.

The WPA improvements in Minnehaha Park were invaluable, and many of those–staircases and such–still serve 80 years later.

At some point between the late 1920s and 1936, the Park Board's giant viewing platform was finally removed. It was replaced by... whatever this is.
At some point between the late 1920s and 1936, the Park Board’s giant viewing platform was finally removed. It was replaced by… whatever this is. The original photo comes from “The Story of W.P.A. and Other Federal Aid Projects in the Minneapolis Parks, Parkways and Playgrounds, for the Year 1936, Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Courtesy Minneapolis Park Board.

Continue reading “The WPA works in Minnehaha Park. 1936. Part 1: Retaining Wall.”

The Minneapolis Park Board at Minnehaha: 1890’s, 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.

Continue reading “The Minneapolis Park Board at Minnehaha: 1890’s, part 1”

Viewing the Falls, 1900’s 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.

Continue reading “Viewing the Falls, 1900’s part 4”

viewing the falls in the 1890’s, 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.

Continue reading “viewing the falls in the 1890’s, part 3”

viewing the falls, 1900’s, 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.

Continue reading “viewing the falls, 1900’s, part 3”

Meanwhile, in 1958

June 3, 1958
June 3, 1958

Some early stone retaining walls are shown in this picture of the first 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.

Continue reading “Meanwhile, in 1958”

The Minneapolis Park Board at Minnehaha: 1900’s, 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.

viewing the falls, 1890’s, 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.