Minnehaha Falls WPA Medallion Hunt

You may be able to help secure $1 million for restoration work at Minnehaha Falls. But you may have to go outside to do it.

According to an article by Ron Way on MinnPost, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is willing to contribute around $1 million toward the renovation of the crumbling walls surrounding Minnehaha Falls . . . but only if they can verify that they’re historic in nature:

Corps doesn’t actually know whether falls’ walls are historic

The Minnesota State Office of Historic Preservation agrees that if the walls were built when the Corps said they were, they’d be historic. For something to be designated historic, the state office would formally concur with a letter from the Corps stating the basis for historic designation. But the Corps hasn’t sent a letter because it now says it doesn’t have the evidence it needs to write one.

“If we cannot confirm that these walls are historic, we cannot recommend the project,” said Tom Crump, project chief in the Corps’ St. Paul office. That’s because the project would have to compete nationally for funds, and without a historic designation it’s unlikely the project would be approved.

Interesting challenge.

The Minneapolis Park Board seems to believe they were built in the 1930’s by the WPA:

Retaining walls built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), above and below Minnehaha Falls, have been eroding.

According to a U.P. article from October 27, 1937, there was WPA work being done at the falls, including, “throwing up a retaining wall at the edge of the stream bed.”

"Wide Waters" of Minnehaha Rush No More
(click for larger versions)

And here is a photo of a Minnehaha Creek bridge building project in 1935 at Hiawatha Ave, so just up from the falls:

WPA Bridge Construction at Hiawatha

There may be photos of WPA projects at the falls, but I couldn’t find any online.

And a book called, “Legacy of Minneapolis: Preservation Amid Change” includes the following nugget about the WPA’s work at Minnehaha Falls:

The WPA also left a mark on the parks and parkways of the city during the Depression, most notably in the massive effort to shape the Minnehaha Falls area and in the River Road parkway.

According to a December 6, 2006 report put out by U of MN students from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences called, “Sustainable Use, Management, and Preservation of Ecological Heritage Within the Minneapolis Park Board and Recreation Park System” (PDF) there was work related to stone walls and stairs at Minnehaha Falls in 1934:

In addition, in 1934 the Works Progress Administration constructed a walkway and stone stairs near the Falls. Stone walls and stairs were erected at the Falls and along West River Parkway from rock quarried near the Falls. The idea that this parkland was to be used for recreation and entertainment was now firmly placed in the minds of current inhabitants of the region.

It might be worth talking to the people to wrote that report.

Or, one could look through the microfilm of WPA projects conducted in Minnesota to see what was conducted at the Falls.

Or, maybe someone could swing down to the falls and see if there is a date stamp on any of the walls. It’s pretty darn common to see one on WPA projects. A millions dollars is at stake. Someone get off their butt and check it out. Snap a picture if you find one. Here is an example. Sometimes they’re just dates in concrete:

WPA Marker 1937

It’s like a medallion hunt with a shared million dollar prize for the community and future visitors to Minnehaha Park.

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