For many reasons, quite a few neighbors around Minnehaha Park absolutely hated the commerce that sprang up outside the park from the 1890s onwards. All the commercial businesses were not equally hated. Everyone needed grocery stores near by, and James R. Hartzell was one who ran a grocery at 50th and Hiawatha. He was popular and respected. In many years he also ran the pony ride concession at the park.
But others running businesses near but outside the park had a harder time of it, with prominent citizens doing everything they could to run them out. This worked less well that one might think, though the ultimate result was that places designed to draw crowds and provide entertainments were closed down but neighborhood conveniences stayed.
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.
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: