1615 N Dowling Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55412
Recreation Center: Folwell Recreation Center
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Well is located at the North Dowling Avenue parking lot.
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Name: The park was named for William Watts Folwell, park commissioner 1889-1907 and president of the park board 1895-1903. The name was officially adopted November 21, 1917. Before that the site was known as Highland Park. This was the second park that the park board considered naming after Folwell. The board had once considered naming what is now Marshall Terrace Park, Folwell Terrace, but chose instead to name it for the street that passed by that park.
William Watts Folwell
Folwell was an influential man in Minneapolis history from the time he came to Minneapolis in 1869 to be the first president of the University of Minnesota. As president of the park board during a time of economic depression in the 1890s, Folwell kept alive Horace Cleveland’s vision of the park system as a series of interconnected parks of natural beauty. He also championed neighborhood parks interspersed throughout the city. In 1891, he proposed the name “Grand Rounds” for Minneapolis’s parkways and the name stuck. He was also a proponent of playgrounds for children and playing fields in parks before those activities were widely considered appropriate in parks.
The annual reports he wrote for the park board while he was president are filled with inspiring exhortations for the park board and the public to retain a vision of what parks could become in the city. One example was from the annual report for 1900 when he wrote, “We owe it to our children and all future dwellers in Minneapolis to plan on a great and generous scale. If we fail to accomplish, let them know it was not for lack of ideas or ideals.” Folwell was 92 when he attended the dedication of Folwell Park in 1925.
Acquisition and Development
The land for the park was designated for acquisition by the park board in December 1916. The park board purchased the land through condemnation proceedings and the awards to property owners were confirmed in August 1917. The total cost of the land was $35,160, which was assessed to property owners in the vicinity of the park.
The first plans for the park were published in the 1917 annual report. The plan showed the northern half of the park devoted to playgrounds, a wading pool and playing fields, with the southern half reserved for, in park superintendent Theodore Wirth’s words, “general park effects,” meaning woods and walking paths and lawns. In the center of the park, facing a park drive created from 37th Avenue North, was a fieldhouse. Along the west edge of the playing fields in the northern half, Wirth proposed a grandstand for spectators. Near the center of the southern half, Wirth proposed a bandstand. Wirth noted that the plan would provide one of the “most complete and attractive neighborhood parks in the country.”
Wirth didn’t create a detailed plan for the fieldhouse or estimates for any of the improvements. At the time, the cost of all improvements in neighborhood parks was assessed against property in the neighborhoods. If neighborhood property owners were not willing to pay, no improvements were made. (Property owners were already paying for the land through assessments.) Wirth wrote that he would provide detailed plans after the people of the neighborhood “voiced their wishes,” which meant that he and the park board awaited feedback from property owners as to how much they were willing to pay for the facilities.
Apparently they were not willing to pay anything at all, because three years later Wirth complained in the annual report that the park needed development because, as it was, it had been of “no service to the people.” He repeated again in 1921 that the investment in the land four years earlier “brings little return if not improved.” A temporary ball field was created at the park in 1921.
It wasn’t until November 1922 that residents of the area asked the board to improve the park. At that time the board instructed Wirth to revise his original plans to include a shelter and toilet building of “moderate cost.” His new plan, submitted in January 1923, and included in the 1922 annual report, no longer included a grandstand, field house or a drive through the park, but was otherwise similar to his first plan in dividing the park into halves for active and passive recreation. The estimated cost of the improvements was $147,000.
Work on the field began with grading and filling in 1923 in time for a skating rink to be established that winter. The first playground equipment was also installed, a merry-go-round, which cost $328. Work was nearly completed in 1924, including the construction of a shelter building that also served as a warming house. The one-story building was built into the bank separating the higher southern half from the northern half of the park. The roof of the building formed a terrace from which the activities and games could be watched. The new park included ball fields, playgrounds, a wading pool, tennis courts and horseshoe courts. The finishing touches were put on the park in early 1925 and on July 4, 1925 the park was dedicated. William Folwell, then 92 years old, attended the ceremony.
Improvements to the park were completed in 1927 when a pergola and permanent bandstand were added to the southern half of the park. It was the first permanent bandstand built in a park other than the pavilions at Lake Harriet and Minnehaha Park. Liebert Weir, field secretary of the National Recreation Association, who conducted a survey of Minneapolis parks for the board in 1944, was not a fan of the park board’s one effort to build a bandstand in a neighborhood park. The bandstand, he wrote, “violates almost every principle for sound projection and seating arrangements for performers.” Weir continued wryly that it could not be “recommended as a model to other communities.”
Regardless of Weir’s opinion of the bandstand, the Folwell neighborhood embraced performances at the bandstand and was usually among the top-performing parks in the community sings that were popular in parks from 1919 into the 1950s.
Following World War II, Folwell Park was one of the first five parks (the others were Loring, Logan, Nicollet and Sibley) that offered year-round playground programming and were equipped with lights for outdoor games at night. Folwell also began an experimental program to provide recreation services to Jordan Junior High School. In the mid-1950s the skating rink at Folwell Park was by far the most heavily used in the park system. One of the few improvements to the park from the time the bandstand was finished until 1970, was the remodeling of the wading pool in 1963.
The Folwell shelter stood until 1970 when it was replaced by a community center and gymnasium, and the park was completely rehabilitated. A new community center at Folwell was one of the park board’s top priorities at the beginning of the park building boom in the 1970s. By then, the practice of assessing property owners for improvements to neighborhood parks had ended; the new center was paid for by city bonds.
From 1994 to 1998, a new playground was built, walkways and basketball courts were repaved, fields were re-graded and the community center was remodeled.
The basketball court in the park was relocated in 2008 and security cameras were installed. The parking lot was resurfaced in 2010. In late spring 2011, a tornado caused extensive damage to trees in the park. With funds donated by businesses and civic groups, 270 new trees were purchased and planted that fall.
Park history compiled and written by David C. Smith.