In the early 1930s, but prior to 1933, a bird feeding station was established near the grove of hemlocks at the Wild Flower Garden. (1) It was just on the northern side of the tarvia path that ran east/west which bisected the Garden at that time. On the south side of the path was the southern enclosure - containing the Woodland Garden space that we know today and on the north side of the path was the northern or "lower" enclosure that was a more open meadow of lady-slippers, birches and beginning in 1932 - Eloise Butler's Mallard Pool.
Both sides of the tarvia path as it crossed the Garden's space had a fence, first erected by Eloise Butler in 1924. For details of this fencing arrangement see this article.
The photo below shows the bisecting tarvia path with fences and the bird feeding station on the northern side. The structure in the background is a storage shed. There is an access gate between the two. Photo Martha Crone Papers, MHS. Click on image for larger version.
The station was set up by a local birding enthusiast - Lulu May Aler. She would visit several times a week to maintain it. When Martha Crone, another avid birder, became Curator in 1933, Miss Aler would visit frequently and sometimes they would have lunch together. (2) Friends member Mr. J. S. Futcher knew Miss Aler and wrote this:
Outside the back gate, fenced separately, was a large, open, old bird-feeding table. I became acquainted with the lady who for many years maintained that feeder, a Ms. Lulu May Aler. During the 1950-51 feeding season Ms. Aler told me she was getting too old to continue this volunteer task next season. Would I happen to know of anyone who could take over for her? Well, it just so happened that I did. There were four boys in the Minneapolis Bird Club who lived in the Homewood district not too far from the Garden. Yes, they eagerly took on that job. Eventually the Minneapolis Bird Club, now called the Audubon Society of Minneapolis, took over from the boys. (3)
By 1941 something was wrong with the station and repairs were needed. Martha Crone wrote in her diary on September 23 “Ben Johnson early and he came in to get orders for replacing Miss Aler’s bird feeding station and chest for storing food. Had a nice visit”.[ Ben Johnson was a Park Board Employee who later became Supervisor of Maintenance for the Park Board.] We do not know if the station was modified from the what the 1936 photo shows or if it was just repaired.
After the northern enclosure was abandoned in 1944, a good portion of the fencing was removed. Mr. Futcher, wrote that in the 1950s the bird feeding station was fenced separately and that there was also a a large birch swale in that area that was fenced.(3) Later, he writes, the birch swale fencing was removed, he believes in the 1950s, leading to the deterioration of the area. We have photos by Martha Crone from 1948 and 1951 showing an extensive grove of birches but we do know if it is the same swale Mr. Futcher writes of or if they were in the current part of the Garden wetland.
A depiction of the separate fencing in the 1950s for the bird feeding station is shown on two maps. First is Martha Crone's hand-drawn (not to scale) map used in her 1952 Self Conducted Tour Brochure. It shows the feeding station, still on the northern side of the tarvia path but now surrounded by its own fence and the fence formerly on the paths north side mostly removed. Map courtesy of J. S. Futcher.
Martha Crone wrote in 1958 “The mess-tables are in full operation in the Wild Flower Garden. The feeders are filled with sunflower seeds every day. Beef suet is hung nearby and peanut butter placed in convenient places. Millet seeds and crushed grain are placed on the ground in sheltered places for the Juncos. Save the seeds of Zinnias left over in the garden, the Goldfinches are very fond of them.”(6)
Care of the bird feeding station changed again when Ken Avery took over from Martha Crone in 1959. There was a bird feeder on a pole at the front of the Garden (south end) and Ken tended both. He occasionally made written comments about tending the feeders. In 1974 he wrote this and expresses his concern for the increased activity in the area of the Garden - and what may be the affect on the Winter birds?
“Today, January l, 1974, as I write this it is -30°. We have broken the record for low readings three days in a row and it is supposed to be cold again tomorrow. Last Sunday when it was about 0, my wife and I went to the Garden to fill the bird feeders. Since it was so cold we parked at the south end, rather than at the Spring, to make a quick trip of it. One car was parked at the gate when we arrived there. As we left our car another car pulled up with two young men with skis. When we left, just thirty minutes later, there were four other cars in the parking spot. At the top of the hill there was a family skiing; while I was filling the feeder some skiers went by; we met two skiers at the back of the Garden, two skiers coming down the hill from the hayfield, and two more skiers as we left the hayfield. (Skiers seem to run in packs of two.) [Ed note: The 'hayfield' would appear to be the open grassy area to the north-east side of the Garden which descends quickly to the level of the marsh behind the Garden]. I can't help but compare this with the first few years that I had the Garden. In those days you could spend hours in the park during the winter and never meet anyone. Starting about 1965 a few people started discovering how beautiful the Park was in the winter and with the rise in popularity of Cross-Country Skiing in the last few years, the winter seclusion of the area has almost vanished." (4)
Next is the 1987 map section, of the north end of the Garden, that was used in the Garden Guidebook. This map is to scale and shows the same bird feeding placement as Crone's 1952 map. Maps below courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
A realignment of the Garden's back fence was completed in 1992 when a new back gate design was conceived. The color 2001 map shown above shows the fence realignment with the fence moved northward, creating an open area between the pool dam and the fence. The old path outside the Garden space was moved to follow the new fence line.
With the 1992 realignment, the bird feeding station now under goes its third iteration - it was removed from the north side of the tarvia path and a new elevated bird feeder was placed inside the Garden fence. Park Board carpenters built a new rough-cedar bird feeder for both the front and back gates, and Audubon had agreed to continue winter feeding as they had done in earlier years.
In the early 2000's those 1992 feeders were replaced with a larger model shown below which had a filler tube on the top of the roof, looking like a little chimney. But Bird feeding at both the front and back gate feeders was soon discontinued. Cary George stopped using the back gate feeder prior to 2003. Susan Wilkins, succeeding Cary in 2004, continued to use the front feeder for a few years but stopped after a few years. It was on a tall pole and access was awkward.(5) However with the wild turkey population expanding rapidly in Wirth Park, feeding would have stopped anyway as the feeders attracted them into the Garden where they created much damage. A few small feeders were still in use near the visitors shelter but those are periodically removed when turkeys come into the Garden.
(1) Letter of Eloise Butler to Lulu May Aler, Friends archives.
(2) Martha Crone's Diaries- 1933 - 1943.
(3) J. S. Futcher, "A Birdwatcher's Eloise Butler," 1994 in "50 Years of Friends," published by the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden.
(4) The Fringed Gentian™, (Vol. 22 No.1 Jan 1974)
(5) Notes from Curator Susan Wilkins - 2019.
(6) The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 6 No. 1, January 1958