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.

And so when the WPA came to rehabilitate Minnehaha Park, one of the first things they did was grow the grass, and a fine job they did.

The original caption for this picture read: "Picnic grove at Minnehaha Falls - resurfaced and sodded by W.P.A.
The original caption for this picture read: “Picnic grove at Minnehaha Falls – resurfaced and sodded by W.P.A.”  It was originally published in “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.

The WPA also trimmed and planted trees in the park. Probably, the saplings here were planted by WPA crews.

The original accompanying text read:

Minnehaha, being one of the largest and oldest of our parks and containing as it does so many natural attractions and recreational features, has always been highly patronized by city dwellers and visitors alike. Because of this popularity, it has always been difficult to maintain a good turf on the picnic grounds and lawns in the park. Last spring, W.P.A. workers resurfaced a large portion of the park with clay loam and then seeded and sodded the area. As a result of this work, a lush, thick, and even turf carpeted the park during the past summer – giving the park the finest appearance it has had in many years.

In the details of this photo–always the most interesting part–by peering through the trees, one can see a couple of buildings. Barely visible on the left is the Refectory, built by the Park Board in 1905 and housing Sea Salt restaurant today. But on the right is this:  the Picnic Shelter.

The poorly-documented Picnic Shelter.
The poorly-documented Picnic Shelter.

The Picnic Shelter is an interesting enough place to merit its own post.


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