When one of America’s leading landscape architects teams up with one of its greatest sculptors to celebrate one of its most popular authors in an iconic landscape, you’d expect great things. Horace William Shaler Cleveland did.
On April 10, 1891, Cleveland, the landscape architect who had created the blueprint for Minneapolis’s already highly regarded park system and designed many of its first parks, wrote to his friend William Folwell of a memorial he had in mind,
“I can hardly find words to tell you how my heart stands still at the thought of the possibility of my living to see its realization in the place I had designed for it.” He went on to write that it would be the “joy of the rest of my life” to prepare a site for the memorial. (Folwell Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota)
The sculptor was Daniel Chester French. The subject was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The site was Minnehaha Falls.
Cleveland was 76 — and what was to be the joy of the rest of his life was never made possible The memorial was never created. We have only a photo — and some letters — that tell of a memorial planned for installation in the limestone cliff beside the Falls that Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha had made famous.
Cleveland’s copy of the photo he raved about is gone. He left no known papers of his own, although his letters to others survive scattered in libraries and museums. Following a trail from letters to William Folwell, however, I found a reference to what seemed like a promising photo in Chapin Library at Williams College, which is the repository of archival photographs and documents from Chesterwood, French’s summer home and studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, now a National Trust Historic Site. The photo was labelled only as being from an “unrealized” Longfellow project in 1891.That description and the date matched the Minnehaha Falls project, so I requested a copy of the photo. When it arrived, I was astonished; it was the photo above — which matches enough other clues in the correspondence that I have no doubt it is the same image that Horace Cleveland held as he wrote to Folwell during an April snowstorm in Minneapolis in 1891.
“I long to have you see it,” Cleveland wrote to Folwell who lived across town, “but I want to be very chary of showing it and think we cannot be too careful to avoid its being talked of or brought forward till the right moment arrives.” The right moment hasn’t yet arrived — and we’re getting on to 125 years, so I will cast caution aside and talk of it myself.
The Little Brother
William Folwell knew French, too. When Dan French made his first a trip to Minneapolis in June 1890 to discuss the Minnehaha project, he stayed at Folwell’s home near the University of Minnesota campus created by Folwell when he had been the first president of the university. In a thank-you note sent to Folwell following that visit, French wrote, “I am glad to feel that I am so much better acquainted with Will’s valued friends.” He was referring to his older brother, William Merchant Richardson French, then the director of the Art Institute of Chicago. Will had stayed with the Folwells in Minneapolis many times when visiting from Chicago as Horace Cleveland’s business partner in the 1870s and early 1880s.
(Cleveland did not move from Chicago to Minneapolis until 1886. For more on the relationships among Cleveland, Folwell, and the French brothers, read “And the answer is…French!”. It is also likely that H.W.S. Cleveland knew Henry Flagg French, father of William and Daniel, as early as the mid-1850s. They were both active in the nascent American Pomological Congress — Cleveland was an officer — and attended some of the same early horticultural conferences and they both wrote on the subject of using drainage tiles to improve productivity on farms. That was probably not a club with a large membership.)
Cleveland first mentioned Dan French to Folwell in a letter in 1875 on the occasion of the dedication of Dan’s first prominent commission, the “Minute Man” in Concord, Massachusetts. Cleveland noted that his young partner William French had left Chicago to attend the dedication of the statue.
French went reluctantly. “French did not mean to go home,” Cleveland wrote, “but I told him he would regret it all his life if he failed to do so, and urged him till I made him do it, which of course he wanted to do, but his conscience stood in the way growling like a great bulldog, as you know consciences are apt to do if you point your finger at ’em, but just march boldly by without notice and they’ll keep quiet enough. I am sure he will enjoy it with all his heart and it will add greatly to his father’s pleasure to have him there and the occasion will be a delightful reminiscence to him as long as he lives.”
Cleveland likely recalled his own professional debut as he urged William French to attend the unveiling of his brother’s sculpture in Concord. Cleveland’s professional breakthrough as a landscape architect had taken place just a half-mile down the road from Dan’s Minute Man at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Cleveland and Robert Copeland, his first partner, had essentially launched their careers.
William’s attendance at the dedication of the sculpture is particularly noteworthy because his brother did not attend. Dan was studying and working in Italy at the time.
No one could have guessed that the “Minute Man” would stand, despite a brilliant career, as one of Daniel French’s best-known sculptures, surpassed only by the massive, brooding Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Newest Minneapolis Park
The impetus for Dan French’s trip to Minneapolis in 1890 was the recent acquisition by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners of the beautiful waterfall made famous by Longfellow’s epic poem in 1855. Minnehaha Falls and 120 surrounding acres were added to the Minneapolis park system in 1889 when the state of Minnesota couldn’t come up with the money to purchase the land for the nation’s second state park, so Minneapolis stepped in and bought the secluded falls in the state’s place.
Cleveland had eagerly awaited the opportunity to design a park at Minnehaha Falls. He had helped sell the prospect of a park at the Falls to Minneapolis Park Commissioners and citizens for years, laying the groundwork for the decision by Minneapolis leaders to spend the $92,000 needed to purchase the land when the legislature couldn’t afford it. Minnehaha Falls had not been part of Cleveland’s original blueprint for the city’s park system in 1883 only because the falls was then outside city limits. He later wrote that he thought it would be “exceedingly desirable” to create a park there someday.
While Cleveland was waiting for the purchase of the Falls as a park to be completed, he was hired in 1888 to landscape the grounds of a Soldiers’ Home being built for Civil War veterans on the bluff at the confluence of Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. The fifty acres for the Soldiers’ Home were about a half-mile down the creek from Minnehaha Falls and surrounded by the park, so Cleveland knew very well the parkland acquired. He had also served as an advisor to the five-person committee appointed by Minnesota’s Governor to select land for the park — before the state realized it couldn’t afford it.
Cleveland’s sense of personal accomplishment and his anticipation of the coming work was evident in his letter to Frederick Law Olmsted of June 13, 1889. “We have secured Minnehaha,” he wrote, “but have got to have a fight in the courts over it before we can begin improvements.” Two days later, however, the Minneapolis park board appropriated $5,000 for the immediate improvement of the park.
Cleveland’s subsequent participation in the design of the park is not clear, despite widespread belief that he was principally responsible for the layout of the park. There is no record in annual reports or the proceedings of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners that Cleveland was ever asked to produce a design for the park or that he was ever paid to do so. Cleveland’s work in many other parks in Minneapolis was specifically authorized by board action as recorded in park board proceedings, and payments to him for that work were recorded in the proceedings and, in many cases, annual reports. No such records exist for any work he might have done at Minnehaha. Cleveland’s handwritten instructions for the implementation of his plans have survived in park board records for other parks, but none exist for Minnehaha Falls. The only record of his involvement with the layout of Minnehaha Park comes from his letters to Folwell, who in 1888 had been elected to the park board himself and became the leading advocate for Cleveland’s original vision for a Minneapolis park system.
On September 5, 1889 Cleveland wrote to Folwell, “I have had no official orders in regard to Minnehaha, but as (park superintendent) Mr. Berry and two or three park commissioners have talked with me as if they took it for granted that I was to design the arrangement I have been studying and working upon it with an interest I never before felt in any similar work.” Yet, two weeks later he again wrote to Folwell, “Can’t we arrange to go together some day to Minnehaha? I should like you to see the beginning we have made and get a general idea of what I hope to accomplish.” The implication is clear that he was at least advising Berry in spending the $5,000 appropriated by the board for immediate improvements.
Still it appears that his involvement with any work at Minnehaha was the result of his own close relationship with Berry and it was done informally. After another two weeks passed, Cleveland weighed in with Folwell again, “It would be well for the Commission to order the engineer to survey and cross-section the grounds at Minnehaha or at least the low grounds so that I can make my notes this Fall and work up the plan during the Winter.”
But Cleveland by this time was apparently beginning to have doubts about the speed of improvements to be made at the park. “If no other work is done next year,” he cautioned, “than thinning and opening the wood, the lines of roads must be determined beforehand and in fact the plan of the arrangement should be fixed in all its essential features before any work is begun on the low ground or the heights beyond.”
Folwell dutifully proposed at the first park board meeting in October that the engineer be authorized to conduct that survey and it was approved. But there was still no commitment to hire Cleveland to design the park. The park board, meanwhile, had spent more than the $5,000 appropriated for the park — and none of it had been paid to Cleveland. We have no record of what work was done or who was responsible for determining what should be done.
Cleveland’s impatience began to show in another letter to Folwell on October 21 in which he wrote that he had just sent a letter to the Minneapolis Tribune, “which I hope may have some effect in awakening popular interest in the development of Minnehaha Park by reminding our people that the whole world will be interested in what we do there, so that it assumes a degree of importance far beyond that of a mere city ornament & place of recreation.”
In that letter, published in the Tribune two days later, Cleveland wrote of the new park at Minnehaha Falls,
“A moment’s reflection will serve to show the essential importance of preserving the natural features which constitute the attractive charm of the place, and any attempt to increase them by artificial decoration would be simply an act of desecration.”
This was Cleveland at his finest. For more than two decades already he had evangelized for preserving natural landscapes, for touching with “reverent hands” what was already there.
In his “Suggestions” to the park board in 1883 he made the point quite clearly.
“All expenditure for ornamental gardening, and especially for artificial structures in the form of rustic buildings, bridges, grottoes, fountains, statues, vases, etc. is not only needless as being out of keeping with the rude condition of the surroundings, but while so many urgent demands exist for works of actual necessity, would indicate such incongruity and deficiency of taste as that of the individual who adorns his person with jewelry before he is provided with comfortable clothing.”
His often eloquent and impassioned language against “ornamentation” or “embellishment” of nature, and the influences on his thinking, are presented very well by Daniel Nadenicek and Lance Neckar individually (see end notes), as well as together in the introduction to the 2002 reissue of Landscape Architecture as Applied to the Wants of the West. Cleveland’s well-established belief in “natural” landscapes, makes the conclusion of his letter to Folwell that October day in 1889 — and what ensued — difficult to fathom. In that letter, Cleveland mentioned for the first time Dan French’s possible participation in a Minnehaha project. “I have written Dan French & sent him a photo of the cliff at Minnehaha,” he wrote, “and told him we should probably notify him ‘ere long that we should want him to come out here.”
Could Cleveland have been planning the “desecration” of Minnehaha Falls? To which “cliff” at Minnehaha was he referring? Would he have attempted to engage Daniel French if the memorial he envisaged was not to have a prominent place — perhaps in the same field of vision as the famous falls?
An Incongruous Plan for Ornamentation
Cleveland’s recruitment of French for the project is not supported by any recorded discussions in park board meetings of hiring French or of any plans for a memorial of any kind at Minnehaha Falls. The only allusion to a memorial I can find was an article in the Minneapolis Tribune of March 16, 1890, which commented on a Longfellow Memorial that “was talked of sometime ago.” The Tribune writer suggested that the “most appropriate and conspicuous” memorial would be a “magnificent arch” at the entrance to the park. Later that month, Cleveland demonstrated that he had not abandoned his plan. “The proposition to get Dan French here was so cordially met last fall that I hoped it would not be suffered to fall through,” Cleveland wrote to Folwell, “and as he is to be in Chicago on the 27th at Wm’s wedding it seems as if the opportunity ought not to be lost of having him here.”
That opportunity apparently was lost because Cleveland wrote to Folwell again on June 6, 1890 with good news. Dan French was once again in Chicago and Samuel Gale, a greatly underappreciated contributor to the development of Minneapolis, including its parks, had agreed — at Cleveland’s request, I presume — to pay French’s expenses to come to Minneapolis.
French stayed with Folwell and his daughter — the Clevelands were repainting and papering their house and were sleeping on sofas — on a Friday night and visited Minnehaha the next day, planning to catch an evening train back to Chicago. He tells the rest of the story in his letter to Folwell dated June 24, 1890.
“Mr. Cleveland has probably told you that I relented and stayed over till Sunday afternoon to see the wonderful parks that he has been making…(he) seemed so very flatteringly disappointed at my going away without seeing his great work that I decided to reconsider. I had supposed before he explained the scheme to me that I had seen the principal part of the work at the Falls of Minnehaha. After walking in the forenoon and driving in the afternoon, I have a realizing sense of the extent of the undertaking and I am very glad I did not come away without becoming acquainted with this remarkable feature of your beautiful city.”
We have to assume that French grabbed a spare sofa on Saturday night at the Clevelands’.
French must have departed Minneapolis with expectations of receiving a commission. Evidence that specific plans were being developed for a memorial to Longfellow at Minnehaha Falls was provided by Cleveland’s letter to Folwell on November 1, 1890. Explaining that he had been called away to a meeting in St. Paul, he left instructions for how Folwell could see “French’s letter and model” in Cleveland’s office while he was out.
“Please read the letter and look at the model and drawing,” he urged Folwell, then added, “Since seeing it I have thought that instead of a grotto or a cave, a mere niche might be made in the face of the rock somewhat like this model with a statue of Longfellow as the central figure & Indians at the side.”
The description predicts precisely the photograph in French’s Chesterwood papers.
The notion of scaling back from a “grotto” to a “mere niche” in the rock is staggering given that no plans for such an undertaking are known to exist. It’s hard to imagine Cleveland going this far without suggesting possible layouts or designs and showing them to some of his confidants or supporters on the park board — at least Folwell. I am also surprised that Cleveland would proceed this far without authorization or funding, whether from the park board or private supporters, such as Samuel Gale. It is surprising as well that French would put so much work into a project if he hadn’t been assured of some compensation.
The greatest challenge though, especially for admirers of Cleveland’s vision of nature, landscape and art, is to conceive a rationale for Cleveland justifying such extreme embellishment as sculpture and grotto in any setting so idyllic and symbolic. Perhaps the key is to appreciate Cleveland’s own past and his personal attachment to what Longfellow represented.
In the Tribune letter quoted from above, Cleveland also wrote of the “halo of poetic association” worn by Minnehaha Falls due to Longfellow’s poem. To Cleveland, that “halo” encompassed far more than a poem, far more even than literature. It was personal. That halo encircled his aunts and uncles, his mother and father, his brother, his friends, his childhood, his memories, him. But that is a subject for another time.
Daniel Nadenicek explored Cleveland’s attachment to Minnehaha in his excellent article that takes its title from the same Cleveland letter to the Tribune cited above, “Commemoration in the Landscape of Minnehaha: “A Halo of Poetic Association.” I believe that it would take more than “personal acquaintance” or an intellectual bond between men of “like mind,” as Nadenicek suggests, to explain Cleveland’s radical departure from his articles of professional faith in advocating blasting a hole in the limestone beside a mythical waterfall to insert a sculpture of anyone.
As near as Minnehaha Falls is to the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek, it was also near the confluence of many streams in Cleveland’s long life. Perhaps he simply couldn’t resist the possibility of creating a memorial to his own past, in a sense to himself, along with his friends. He was, after all, 76, an age when legacies are contemplated.
Back to the Studio
While the Minneapolis park board took no action at Minnehaha in 1890, French continued work on the memorial in his studio because on November 29, Cleveland wrote to Folwell that he wanted to show him a new photo from Dan French.
By early 1891, French had developed a model for the sculpture. Cleveland wrote to Folwell on March 9 that he had just received more letters from French. “As no action has yet been taken in reference to the development of the Minnehaha Park, is it not better,” Cleveland wonders, “for me to ask French to keep the model for the present & send me only a photo of it, or perhaps two or three to give away?”
Folwell must have concurred because it was only a month later that Cleveland wrote that he had received a photo from French that evoked his emotional response.
“I tremble to think that it may prove only a vision & I implore your aid in its consummation, which would do more to make the name of Minneapolis sacred in the mind of the best element of humanity everywhere, than all the ostentatious display of wealth she can offer.”
That letter is the last word I can find on the subject of a Longfellow Memorial at Minnehaha Falls. Sixteen years later “Fish” Jones opened his private park, Longfellow Gardens, complete with zoo, across the street from the Falls. There he installed a sculpture of Longfellow that he commissioned and he built for himself a two-thirds scale replica of Longfellow’s house in Cambridge. The statue still stands worn and forlorn, unrecognizable, in a meadow. The house, after a long journey that included thirty years as a branch library, has been moved closer to Minnehaha Falls and now holds the offices of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. Several verses of The Song of Hiawatha have been inscribed into a circle of cut stone that serves as a garden memorial to Longfellow near the falls. But the marvelous image of Longfellow created by French never found a home there.
We have no official record of why the memorial was never created just as we have none that it was ever contemplated. But the reasons it was never made are not hard to imagine. To begin with, the memorial was a terrible idea depending on where Cleveland and French hoped to install it. If anywhere in the bowl created by the falls, it would have been awful. If a bit downstream — a destination in Longfellow Glen — it might have worked, but it certainly would have changed the nature of that wild glen. To its detriment, I think. I would vote No.
The second good reason the memorial was never built is that the park board couldn’t afford to pay for either its creation, installation, or maintenance. A memorial couldn’t have lasted long if set into the very soft sandstone layer near the falls so the “mere niche” would have had to be cut into the limestone. It would have been a big undertaking at a time that the park board was stretched for money. Heeding Folwell’s advice in 1890 to extend the parkway system into northeast and north Minneapolis as Cleveland had suggested originally, the park board purchased the first parts of Glenwood (Wirth) Park in north Minneapolis and Columbia Park in northeast, in addition to the east bank of the Mississippi River downstream from the University of Minnesota all the way to the St. Paul city line. Powderhorn, Van Cleve and Moulton (Windom) parks were added as neighborhood parks and more new parks were routinely proposed. Shortly after those acquisitions, the Panic of 1893 severely damaged the economy of Minneapolis as well as that of the rest of the nation. The park board had so little revenue that it stopped mowing the lawns in parks and laid off all park employees except the park police in the mid-1890s.
Minneapolis park commissioners may have also listened too well to Cleveland’s sermons on acquiring land instead of ornaments. One of the remarkable characteristics of early park management in Minneapolis was that there were so few superfluous expenditures. Owing to Cleveland, William Berry and Charles Loring, the first president of the park board, Minneapolis had created an impressive array of parks in less than a decade. By 1890, Minneapolis parks were attracting praise from around the country and the park board had not paid for a single sculpture or park decoration. Even a few years later when John Scott Bradstreet proposed to build, at his own expense, a Japanese Temple on an island in Lake of the Isles, the park board allowed the proposal to die quietly. Cleveland had taught the city well.
A final reason that Cleveland’s plan may not have caught on is that Cleveland’s influence seemed to be waning. Several times in the early 1890s, various commissioners proposed that Cleveland be engaged for design work at this park or that only to have those motions tabled until the board could get an estimate of what his services would cost, never to be pulled off the parliamentary table again. Gone from the park commission were many of the original park commissioners who had fought long and hard, with Cleveland at their side, to create a park system. Even Charles Loring, known already then as the Father of Minneapolis Parks, left the park board at the end of 1890. While Folwell remained on the board throughout the 1890s, Cleveland didn’t have the relationships with park commissioners he had enjoyed the decade before.
The Future of French
Fortunately, Daniel French seemed to suffer no hardship for the time he had invested in designing and making models of a Longfellow Memorial at Minnehaha Park. He would return to both Minnesota and Longfellow.
French very soon moved on to the creation of the enormous statue, “Republic”, for the Columbia Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, which would further establish his name. But he would return to Minnesota in less than a decade to create a sculpture of one of founders of the University of Minnesota, John S. Pillsbury. Pillsbury was one of the Regents responsible for hiring William Folwell as the first president of the university and he was also one of the original twelve Minneapolis park commissioners in 1883. It was John Pillsbury who, at the inaugural meeting of that park board, made the motion to hire Horace Cleveland for his advice on creating parks. Dan French attended the dedication of the Pillsbury statue in 1900. Horace Cleveland had moved to Chicago to live with his son by then and would die later that year at the age of 86. Folwell was still actively teaching at age 67, and had not yet begun to write his four-volume history of Minnesota, which he wouldn’t finish until he was 95.
French would return to Minneapolis for two more projects, both at the State Capitol in St. Paul. He created six figures for the interior of the Capitol, depicting Bounty, Wisdom, Prudence, Courage, Truth, and Integrity in 1900. He also created the human figures for the gold Quadriga in front of the Capitol dome in 1907.
French also returned to Longfellow as a subject when he was hired to create a memorial to Longfellow across Brattle Street from Longfellow’s former house in Cambridge, Mass. in 1914. The memorial stands today in what was once Longfellow’s front yard. I have not studied the story of the creation of that piece of public art, but French clearly drew on his 25-year-old design for Minnehaha Park.
French’s design for Cambridge is a weak imitation of his original concept with only a bust of Longfellow instead of the eager, dynamic, seated Longfellow about to burst from his chair that French had modeled for Minnehaha Park. French did expand the range of characters in relief behind Longfellow’s bust to include his most famous characters — from Miles Standish, at far left, to Evangeline standing next to Hiawatha at far right — rather than only characters from The Song of Hiawatha.
From the vantage point of 125 years, I’m glad that Cleveland and French’s design was not realized at Minnehaha Park. What would have become of the sculpture over the decades in the humid bowl of the falls? What would it have cost to maintain? Would it have changed the naturalistic setting of the glen below the falls and the wilderness walk down the creek to the Mississippi? Or would it have been neglected and sunk into the desolation unique to public art that is not maintained?
I prefer the falls the way it is. Altered by time, but unadorned. And I prefer H. W. S. Cleveland — one of the men I admire most — as a defender of nature, as a preacher of preservation, as an artist of rocks and trees and topography, in other words as he was, with all his flaws, before I found the photo of the memorial he and Daniel Chester French imagined for the limestone face beside Minnehaha Falls.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© 2015 David C. Smith
This article was originally posted on minneapolisparkhistory.com on Ocober 8, 2015
All letters from Horace William Shaler Cleveland and Daniel Chester French to William Watts Folwell are in Folwell Family Papers, Correspondence, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota
Letter from Cleveland to Frederick Law Olmsted in Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Cleveland, Horace William Shaler, Suggestions for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1883. These “Suggestions” were published as a pamphlet, but also were appended to the First Annual Report of the Board of Park Commissioners for the City of Minneapolis.
— The Aesthetic Development of the United Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, An address delivered in Dyer’s Hall, April 20, 1888, to the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, (Minneapolis, Minnesota, A.C. Bausman,1888)
— “The Park System”, Minneapolis Tribune, October 23, 1889
Nadenicek, Daniel Joseph, Emerson’s Aesthetic and Natural Design; A Theoretical Foundation for the Work of Horace William Shaler Cleveland, Nature and Ideology, ed. Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1997)
— Commemoration in the Landscape of Minnehaha: “A Halo of Poetic Association”, Places of Commemoration: Search for Identity and Landscape Design, Volume 19, Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, (Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, 2001)
Neckar, Lance M., Fast Tracking Culture and Landscape: Horace William Shaler Cleveland and the Garden in the Midwest, Regional Garden Designs in the Untied States, ed. Therese O’Malley and Marc Treib, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1995)