Histry of Minnehaha Park:
Name: The park was officially named Minnehaha State Park when it was purchased by Minneapolis for the state of Minnesota in 1889. In 1906 it was officially designated as a part of Mississippi Park, which included the parkways on both sides of the river and Riverside Park. The name Minnehaha comes from words in the Dakota language that mean waterfall. The popular translation of "laughing waters" comes from a felicitous, but too literal Anglophone translation of "ha ha".
At that time the park board was more accommodating to relinquishing land for freeways. As the demand for park land for highways increased, however, the park board eventually fought those actions with bitter determination. The conflict between highways and parks came to a head over highway plans for Hiawatha Avenue (Highway 55) in the mid-1960s. The highway department planned a freeway from down town to the airport via that route. The plan was to build an elevated freeway between Minnehaha Park and Longfellow Gardens over Minnehaha Creek. The park board hired its own consultants who proposed a plan that would divert the freeway around the western edge of Longfellow Garden. That plan would have maintained the integrity of the parks better, but would have required the dislocation of more homes and businesses, which the state and the neighborhood fought strenuously.
The park board challenged the highway plan all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before the case could be heard by that court, however, it ruled in a similar case from Nashville, Tennessee in favor of the preservation of park land. That decision set a precedent that doomed the highway department's plan. Before a compromise could be reached federal money for building the highway was no longer available. The highway was eventually built in the late-1990s to a plan that put the highway through a tunnel over Minnehaha Creek covered by a "land bridge" between Minnehaha Park and Longfellow Garden. A new garden, named Longfellow Garden, was created on top of the land bridge.
With the plans for the highway moving forward, the park board also developed a master plan to renovate the park. In 1995, a new garden, the Pergola Garden, featuring native wildflowers and grasses, was created overlooking the falls from the south.
Over the next two years, the parking lot that once overlooked the falls from the east was removed to the edge of the park and traffic was no longer permitted up to the falls. The parking lot was replaced by a garden and the fountain with Longfellow's words inscribed. The durable old refectory was given a veranda and a band shell was built east of the refectory.
In 2007 a new river overlook was built in the Wabun picnic area and a children's playground was added to the picnic area. Restoration of the creek in the lower glen began in 2008: the creek banks were stabilized and retaining walls and footings installed by WPA crews during the Great Depression were replaced. Work in the lower glen was completed in 2010 with the restoration of native vegetation.
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