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Minneapolis, MN 55409
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Name: The name was taken from the name of William King’s farm, Lyndale Farm, which once surrounded Lake Harriet. King donated much of the land for Lyndale Park, as well as most of the land around Lake Harriet, to the park board. King named his farm after his father, Lyndon King, a preacher from upstate New York, where William King was raised. The name of the park was stipulated when the land was donated.
William S. King
William King and his wife, Caroline, donated considerable land for parks in Minneapolis. They donated the much of shores of Lake Harriet, Lyndale Park and King’s Highway. (The park board also eventually purchased the site of King’s farmhouse and barns, which became Lyndale Farmstead Park.) King was a powerful and eloquent proponent of creating parks in the city before the park board was created and he served as a park commissioner on the first park board in 1883. Most important, he was the driving force behind the legislation that created the park board.
Long before the park board was established King worked to create parks in the city, including as founder and editor of one of Minneapolis’s first newspapers. In 1869, when the city council refused to purchase as a park forty acres of land near what is today the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, King joined three others, including George Brackett and Dorilus Morrison, to purchase the land themselves and improve it as a park. They hoped that the city council would someday change its mind and designate the land for a park, which didn’t happen. (For more on what happened to that land, see Dorilus Morrison Park and Washburn Fair Oaks Park.).
Two years later, King was one of the principal founders of Lakewood Cemetery near his farm. Soon after, he proposed to sell 250 acres of his 1,400-acre farm to the city as a park for $50,000. The land he offered would have surrounded Lake Harriet. The offer was reportedly met with derision by some, who told King to stop trying to unload his farm on the city for such an exorbitant sum and go back to Washington, D.C., where he lived part of the time while serving as postmaster of the United States Congress. He later represented Minnesota in the U. S. Congress from 1875 to 1877.
In 1883 King resurrected a dormant Board of Trade, which functioned as a chamber of commerce for Minneapolis. One of the first actions of the revitalized board, with King as its secretary, was to draft a bill—and convince the legislature to pass it—that created the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. The legislation was approved by voters in a referendum on April 3, 1883. Charles Loring, the first president of the new park board, credited King with getting the bill through the legislature. At one point in the campaign to pass the “Park Act” referendum, Loring offered to step down from the list of the first twelve appointed commissioners if naming William King in his place would ensure the referendum’s success.
After Minneapolis voters had approved the Park Act by referendum in April 1883, King told the Board of Trade, “The intelligence, the pride, the public spirit and the humanity of our people have at last been vindicated. That mean, wicked and cruel spirit of selfishness and greed which for so many years has obstructed and defeated every effort to endow our city with public parks, has, at length, been overcome by the uprising and better sentiment and nobler spirit of our citizens.”
William King did serve as a park commissioner 1883-1887, however, even though he was not among the first twelve commissioners appointed by the legislation that created the park board. He was elected by other park commissioners to fill a vacancy when two of the appointed commissioners declined to serve. It was a fitting recognition of King’s efforts to create parks in the city and demonstrated the high regard of other park commissioners for what Charles Loring called King’s “magnetism.”
Before his donation of land for Lyndale Park, King was the actual donor to the park board of most of Lake Harriet. The park board was stymied in its first efforts to acquire Lake Harriet by an appraisal of the land at almost $300,000, a daunting sum. But Henry Beard, James Merritt and Charles Reeve came forward with an offer to donate a strip of land around the lake for a parkway. Ownership of the land at that time was in dispute, however, and the courts determined that King was the rightful owner of most of Lake Harriet. When the courts decided the dispute in King’s favor, in an act of what Loring called “characteristic generosity,” King honored the offer of the other men to donate the land for a park.
The house and barns of King’s Lyndale Farm were also eventually acquired by the park board and became Lyndale Farmstead Park. As part of his donation of land for Lyndale Park, King also donated the land for what became King’s Highway, which ran past his farm. King’s Highway today extends from Dupont and 36th to Dupont and 46th streets and from there west to Lake Harriet. The original land donated by the Kings for the highway, however began at Dupont and 38th Street. The extension of the highway north to 36th was made possible by a purchase of a strip of land from Lakewood Cemetery.
In addition to Lyndale Farm, King had a home in the city on Nicollet Island, on the site of the present DeLaSalle High School.
The acquisition of Lyndale Park and King’s Highway was a tangled affair. In May of 1890 Minneapolis newspapers trumpeted the generous donation by William and Caroline King of land that one paper said would become the ”picnic ground par excellence” of the park system. The donation was of land to the north and northeast of Lake Harriet. It would take the park board more than a year, however, to accept the donation, because King’s donation had strings attached.
King attached a few conditions to the donation that the park board was reluctant to accept. One condition was easily met. King stipulated that he would donate forty acres of land if Lakewood Cemetery would also donate thirty-five acres of its land just north of the lake. That was no problem. King had been one of the cemetery’s founders in 1871 and the cemetery’s board of trustees was still controlled by King’s friends, such as Charles Loring and George Brackett, who had been so instrumental in the creation of Minneapolis parks. In a short time, the cemetery association delivered a deed for its contribution to the park board. The only condition of that deed was that the land be dedicated to park purposes and be known as Lyndale Park.
The other conditions proved more complicated. First King asked for improvement of the park, including construction of a road through it, within one year of his donation. The park board, strapped for cash after its initial park acquisitions and improvements, couldn’t promise that. King eventually relented on that condition and extended the time for improvements to five years, which removed one major hurdle to the acquisition.
The second condition was trickier. King asked that his remaining land in the area be exempted from assessments for park improvements until those assessments reached $100,000, the value King placed on the land he was donating.
Neither of the two conditions was unusual at the time, but the sum of money was. Many donations of land to the park board at the time had similar conditions attached. The donation of land for parks was motivated at times in those days by the likely appreciation of adjoining land when a park was created. Park-front property was highly desirable. In fact, that had always been one of the arguments for the creation of a park board: parks would pay for themselves in the increased valuation of other land nearby and therefore higher real estate tax collections. This proved true in the case of Lyndale Park even before King’s donation was accepted. Newspapers reported that lots near the proposed park nearly tripled in value when the donation was first announced, and many lots that had been for sale in the vicinity were taken off the market in anticipation of further appreciation.
The other problem was that King didn’t own outright all of the land he proposed to donate. Much of it was mortgaged. The primary mortgage holders were Charles Loring and his partner in real estate investments, Henry Brown. (For more on Henry Brown’s contribution to Minneapolis parks, see Minnehaha Park.) They held about $50,000 in mortgages on the land.
Nearly a year after the original proposal by King to donate land had grabbed newspaper headlines, the board voted to accept the donation on King’s terms. But that was not the end of the story. The final chapter would not be written for another ten years.
The issue of the mortgages held on the land by Loring and Brown was apparently not completely resolved at the time, because in 1893 park commissioner Patrick Ryan, who had defeated Charles Loring for a seat on the board in 1890, inquired into the status of that mortgage. The inquiry was referred to the park board’s attorney. Loring had been elected to the park board once again in 1893 and was again the president of the board at that time. However at the end of 1893 Loring resigned his position on the park board, he said, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in a matter then before the board.
While that conflict of interest was never defined, action by the park board in early 1894 may explain it. While the issue of a release of Loring and Brown’s mortgage on the King property was never mentioned again in park board proceedings, on May 7, 1894 the park board, without explanation, issued a quit claim deed to Loring and Brown for four lots the park board owned south of Lake Harriet. Reading between the lines, one could surmise that the four lots were deeded to Loring and Brown in exchange for a release of their mortgage on the land at Lyndale Park. It is highly unlikely that the property deeded to Loring and Brown had a value near the $50,000 mortgage they had held on King’s property.
Twenty-four years later, William Folwell wrote a letter to the park board claiming that he had it on good authority, perhaps from his friend Charles Loring, that Loring had been the true donor of Lyndale Park to the city. A small clipping from park board proceedings that year, referencing Folwell’s letter and its claim, was pasted by Loring in his scrapbook. That Loring considered the note of enough importance to save, one of the only clippings from park board proceedings in his scrapbooks, lends credence to Folwell’s claim.
But even with the mysterious deeding of land to Loring and Brown in 1894, the final chapter of King’s donation of Lyndale Park was not yet written.
In 1901, King’s widow, Caroline, and his son, Preston, filed a claim against the park board for not complying with the condition that Lyndale Park be improved within five years of the donation. By that time the park board had acquired, in part through a foreclosure sale, most of the former Lyndale Farmstead, including the barns and other buildings. The park board settled the King’s claim by paying them $5,325 and swapping title to some property at the farmstead. Caroline King reclaimed title to the land which the old farmhouse occupied, and gave the park board title to the three remaining lots it did not own from 37th to 39th between Bryant Avenue and King’s Highway.
The claim and the settlement prompted William Folwell to write in the annual report of 1901, “The transaction is another testimony to the unwisdom of accepting titles with conditions, unless under exceptional circumstances.” Not to challenge the counsel of William Folwell, who had a vision for Minneapolis parks that was matched by no one, but with the benefit of one hundred years of hindsight, the acquisition of Lyndale Park from the Kings and Lakewood Cemetery for such a small sum, would today qualify as exceptional circumstances that justified the aggravation at the time.
From the time William King first proposed to donate the land for Lyndale Park and King’s Highway, the property received intense interest. Park board proceedings of August 5, 1890 recorded that landscape architect Horace Cleveland had submitted a letter on the use of the land. The contents of that letter are not known.
Charles Loring also weighed in with a forward-thinking opinion on the land in the annual report he wrote for 1893. “In no park,” he wrote, “have we a more suitable place for athletic sports and children’s playgrounds and none that will be more accessible.” He went on to recommend that a small area in the park be laid out for “the exclusive use of little children, where piles of sand, swings, seesaws and other proper appliances of amusement and exercise shall be furnished by the Board.”
Also in 1893 the board reserved a tract of land at Lyndale Park for a nursery and directed Superintendent William Berry to consult with nurserymen across the country about stocking it with trees and shrubs that could be used throughout the park system.
The actual development of the property took some time however, as the entire nation plunged into recession in 1893. The impact on the park board was dramatic. For years, the board had no money to spend for acquisitions or improvements. The park board had to borrow money just to maintain a few of the city’s parks and the maintenance of most parks was neglected completely.
The first improvements to Lyndale Park occurred in 1904 when the park board built a road over the lowlands between Lyndale Park and the pavilion at Lake Harriet, created a concourse at the top of the hill near King’s Highway overlooking the lake, and planted trees in the park. The work was done to a plan by landscape architect Warren Manning, with some changes suggested by Charles Loring.
Several prominent landscape architects, in addition to Horace Cleveland, were associated with Lyndale Park. In 1894 the sons and successors to the landscape architecture business of Frederick Law Olmsted were consulted about designing the new park. Olmsted was the famous designer of many parks in the United States, most notably Central Park in New York City. (By that time age and illness had incapacitated Horace Cleveland, who had designed most of the city’s first parks and still lived in Minneapolis at the time.) The park board had little money, however, and the Olmsteds never actually developed designs for the park. Five years later, the park board hired another well-known landscape architect, Warren Manning, to develop plans for the park, but those plans were not implemented. Manning also submitted a review of the entire park system, which was appended to the park board’s 1899 annual report. In 1904, with Minneapolis’s economy booming again, Manning was hired to revise his plans for Lyndale Park and the first improvements were made to the park.
The transformation of Lyndale Park, however, awaited the arrival of Theodore Wirth as park superintendent in 1906. At the end of his first year in Minneapolis, Wirth submitted in the 1906 annual report extensive recommendations for the improvement of Lake Harriet and Lyndale Park. (Wirth noted that Lyndale Park was really a part of Lake Harriet Park and one name should embrace the “entire territory.”) He made dramatic suggestions for changing the lakeshore of the lake, including adding a peninsula on the west side of the lake. As for Lyndale Park on the east shore, he said “not one single acre can at present be classed as being in serviceable condition.” Wirth had two ideas. First, the area from the pavilion east would be filled with material dredged from the lake to create playing fields surrounded by groves of trees. Second, the eastern and southern sections of the park would be devoted to “educational purposes on plant life.”
His first suggestion for Lyndale Park was never followed; his second was—with spectacular results. Wirth proposed two types of gardens for the area. First, a rose garden, which would, in addition to providing “beauty and pleasure,” provide “an instructive lesson on what roses to grow and how.” Above the rose garden, he proposed “a garden of trees, shrubs, and wild and cultivated flowers of every description.” The garden would be planted so that in every season something would be blooming and each plant would be properly labeled. Wirth wrote that “the educational service of the grounds towards home beautifying is inestimable.”
It was the beginning of gardens that have been loved by generations of Minneapolis citizens. The first project to be initiated in 1907 was the rose garden. Wirth had created the first municipal rose garden in the United States in his previous position as superintendent of parks in Hartford, Connecticut. Under the direction of newly hired park florist Louis Boeglin, Wirth set out to replicate that success. (Boeglin eventually became the head of all horticulture in Minneapolis parks and remained in that position until 1940.) The rose garden was completed in 1908 and the next year Wirth called it a “great success.”
A perennial flower garden was begun on land that had once been the nursery after Wirth moved most of the nursery stock to Glenwood Park in 1909. The road from King’s Highway to Lake Harriet was built in 1910.
Over the next few years, the gardens were gradually developed, but had not yet caught on with the public. In 1914 Wirth called the rose garden an inspiring scene, but lamented that it was “remarkable that only a small proportion of our population visits this ground, or even knows about it.”
The public visibility of the gardens got a boost beginning in 1917 when the first playground pageant was performed on the hill above the rose garden overlooking the lake. The playground pageants included performances written specifically for the occasion and featured children in costumes from every park in the city. The first year the pageant drew a crowd of 15,000 and in later years the performance was extended to two evenings and played to crowds of 40,000. The pageant remained a popular annual event, with a hiatus during the Depression, until 1941. The pageants drew such large crowds that in 1930 the park board considered building an 18,000-seat amphitheater on the hillside at Lyndale Park to accommodate pageant crowds and host other outdoor concerts. With the onset of the Great Depression, however, funds for such a project never materialized.
In 1924, Louis Boeglin, the park board horticulturist, planted a large new garden of perennial and annual flowers on the northern edge of the park west from King’s Highway. The garden was 1,000-feet long and from four- to twenty-feet wide and contained 10,000 plants. Wirth noted that the new planting attracted an unusual amount of attention and thousands of visitors. That year Louis Boeglin also proposed a rock garden planted with Alpine plants to the west of the new garden stretching toward the lake. With the creation of the perennial garden Lyndale Park replaced the Armory Garden at The Parade as the premier garden in the city. In fact Wirth proposed that with the decline in the Armory Garden and the need to replenish the soil there it would make sense to concentrate floriculture and plant collections at Lyndale, instead of renovating the Armory Garden. He went so far as to suggest that the Armory Garden might be better devoted to tennis courts.
Boeglin’s idea for a rock garden at Lyndale Park took a few years to develop, but he finally implemented his plan in 1929. He brought in Oneonta dolomite rocks collected from the Mississippi River bluffs in Wisconsin for the garden and planted alpine plants around them. Unfortunately, the rock garden fell into disrepair in the 1940s after Boeglin retired from the park board and was eventually overgrown with trees. It was not rediscovered and resurrected as a Rock Garden until the 1980s and was later transformed into the Peace Garden.
The next important development at the park was its official designation as a bird sanctuary in 1936. The designation had been requested by the Minnesota Audubon Society. One of Christian Bossen’s first acts as the new park superintendent in 1936, after Wirth retired, was to request the park board to designate the park as a bird sanctuary. The park board went him one better and designated all city parks as bird refuges. One of Bossen’s favorite places in Minneapolis parks was the trail through the wetlands north of Lake Harriet. Upon his death in 1956 his ashes were scattered along the path that is now named Bossen Lane. The bird sanctuary was named in 1947 for Thomas Sadler Roberts, a retired doctor who had become a professor of ornithology at the University of Minnesota and director of the university’s museum of natural history.
A fountain was installed in Lyndale Park in 1947 thanks to Frank Heffelfinger. Heffelfinger had seen the bronze and marble fountain in Florence, Italy, bought it and had it dismantled and shipped home to Minneapolis. He donated it to the park board and it was dedicated in Lyndale Park in 1947. Heffelfinger’s donation came shortly after the addition of an official test rose garden for the All America Rose Selections in 1946. The patio around the fountain was installed in 1988.
A second fountain was installed in the park in 1963. The Phelps Fountain or “Turtle Fountain,” had originally been a gift from long-time park commissioner Edmund Phelps in 1915 for The Gateway in downtown Minneapolis. When the Gateway neighborhood became the focus of urban renewal in the early 1960s and the city bought the original Gateway Park from the park board, the fountain was moved to Lyndale Park. A perennial garden was built around the newly installed fountain as part of a five-year expansion of the gardens in the park, and the old perennial border garden along the park’s northern border was abandoned. The former perennial border garden was later converted to a perennial test garden maintained by the Men’s Garden Club of Minneapolis.
The transformation of the Rock Garden into the Peace Garden had its roots in 1963, when the Japanese American Society donated cherry trees to be planted in Lyndale Park. At the time the Rock Garden itself was overgrown with trees. That changed in 1981 when a tornado blew through the park and knocked down many trees. In the process of clearing the toppled trees, the Rock Garden was rediscovered by park horticulturist Mary Lerman.
Lerman launched an effort that over the next 17 years re-established the rock garden and led to the creation of the Peace Garden. The transformation relied largely on donations from the public and a great deal of volunteer labor as well to implement a new design for the garden created by Betty Ann Addison. A wooden “peace bridge” was installed in the lower garden in 1985 flanked by stones donated from the post-atomic bomb wreckage of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. In 1988 a peace pole, a gift from Japan to Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser, was installed nearby. The pole is inscribed in four languages with the phrase “May peace prevail on earth.”
In 2005 the “Spirit of Peace” sculpture by Caprice Glaser was added to the garden. The twelve-foot-tall bronze sculpture depicts the folding of an origami paper crane. In addition, the original peace bridge was replaced in 2009 by one designed by Kinji Akagawa and Jerry Allan. Both improvements were accomplished primarily with donations.
Letter from Charles Loring to George Brackett in George A. Brackett Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Interview with Mary Maguire Lerman, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, 2007
Park history compiled and written by David C. Smith.