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.

The caption originally printed below this picture reads: “Retaining wall at Minnehaha Falls, reconstructed by W.P.A.”

And the accompanying text was:

The retaining wall which extends from the ledge of the falls along the right of the gorge was rebuilt. A remarkable job was done on this wall. Were it not for the fact that the old portion of the wall is weathered it would be impossible to tell where the old section ends off and the new section begins. Another retaining wall was constructed at picnic ground number four.

This is a fascinating picture, the moreso since relatively few photographs exist of the park in this time frame. And what is this weird, inaccessible goat pen of a construction?

If only someone had cut that tree down.
If only someone had cut that tree down.

Whatever the intent was–to stablize the gorge or remove the viewing platform–these stone walls across what had been the middle terrace did not last.

DSCN1559
March 31, 2004

By March of 2004, there had been a catastrophic failure of this WPA stonework. This is simply not stable ground.

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The black and white pictures in this post are in the public domain, and are 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,” published by the Park Board.

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