There’s a lot of groundwater just below the surface in the Minnehaha Falls area. This is hardly a surprise to anyone who takes winter walks in the park.
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.
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.
The behemoth platform built by the Park Board lasted for decades. Really a surprisingly long time.
Here’s a snapshot dated June 30, 1922 of the top of Minnehaha Falls:
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.
“Persons are not allowed…” It’s an advisory tone, not a mandate. That sign also mars the picturesqueness of the scene.
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.
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.
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.