The Friends of the Wildflower Garden

Then and Now at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Wetland bridges and dams - 100 years of changes.

Prior to the Fall of 1909 Eloise Butler had placed an earthen dam at a place where the water draining from the meadows and wetlands in the south part of the Garden could accumulate, forming a small open pool. Eloise describes her placement of the dam: “A tiny stream threaded the bog and emerged into a depressed area of slimy ooze flanked by low banks. A dam was constructed that converted the depression into a lovely pool …..” (The Wild Botanic Garden - Early History, 1926

An article about the Garden was published in The Bellman in 1913 which describes the water in the Garden and also that earthen dam: “The pool is formed by a grass and moss covered earthen dam, which has been thrown across a brook's course. The dam is almost, though not quite, such as beavers would have made, but it is now so covered with things growing at random, as they do in wild places, that it seems the work of nature itself. It is however, the only bit of artificial work in the entire garden.”

In 1917 Eloise had it replaced by a dam of concrete. We do not have any photos of the dam or whatever type of bridge she must have used to span the water channel leading into the pool. Three photos and a drawing are available of the pool and are in this article about the pool. The pool turned out to be too shady for the sun-loving aquatic plants that she wanted and that started the desire for another larger pool located in a sunny area, but she could not move the idea of a large pool to reality until 1932 when the pool was quickly constructed by an unemployed man she hired. When a mallard, a bird never before seen in the Garden, was soon seen in it, it became the “mallard pool.” Eloise had planned extensive plantings around the pool. The Mallard Pool was located in the northern meadow, now outside the Garden, and is detailed in the same article as the pool pictures.

That pool however had a rustic bridge of tamarack poles to span the far end of the pool and we have a photo of Eloise Butler on that bridge.

Eloise Butler at Mallard Pool

Above: Here we see Eloise crossing the rustic bridge at the north end of the Mallard Pool. The year is 1932. She has physically weakened due in part to neuritis and from burns received in 1929 when a heating pad caught fire while she was sleeping. Photo above courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

We now go forward to 1939 when Martha Crone made some changes to the layout of the Garden. In the dry years of the 1930s the water levels in the Garden dropped and the small pool created by Eloise Butler was drying up so Mrs. Crone had a spring tapped on the western edge of the pool to provide a constant flow of water. The springs in the area of the Garden were still active at that time and a good flow of water was provided. You can read the details of this in our 1939 history and in this article Garden Springs.

With the water supply now filling the small pool, it was time to expose more of the wetland to the public so in 1946 Martha had a new corduroy surface trail cut thru the wetland (or "swamp" as she referred to it). In 1946/1947 several side trails were also put in. In addition, she had three small pools dug out near the center of the wetland along the new trail. These would be sunny and close to the path so visitors could seed aquatic plants.

In 1952 Martha produced a brochure for visitors called "Self Conducted Tour" of the Wild Flower Garden. In that brochure she included a hand drawn map which we see below. It is not to scale, the north/south vertical distance is much fore-shortened to accommodate the brochure paper. The fence outline is much the same as today except for the renovation at the back gate and the 1993 addition to the Upland Garden. The paths are somewhat different. The original pool is shown with a bridge on the footpath. The three new small pools are shown on the “Swamp Trail.” Some of the side paths in the wetland and the loop in upper left no longer exist, otherwise the East and West path and the path through the wetland are fairly close to today's arrangement.

1952 map

We can see the location of her pools and the pool at the north end of the Garden that was created by Eloise Butler. She does not show the outflow of the pool over the dam which was located just inside the fence line at the north end of the pool. She does illustrate a foot bridge at the south end of Eloise's pool. We have no photo of that bridge but we do know that in 1990 an old wooden dock was there and replaced by a new bridge. An old deteriorating dock may have had a history going back at least as far as this 1952 map, maybe further.

Below: This aerial view from 1947 shows what appear to be the 3 pools Martha Crone had created along the new wetland path. Photo courtesy University of Minnesota. The white blotches in the photo are photo defects.

1947 aerial photo

When trails were cut into the wetland in 1946 and 1947 there may have been other crossings of the water channels but they may only have come into existence in Ken Avery's time as Gardener as he worked on creating water flow in the wetland (detail in this article). We know that at some time small bridges of concrete were placed over three of these crossings. In 1954 Martha complained to the Board of Park Commissioners that the old concrete dam was failing and causing damage to the path outside the Garden fence. Presumably it was fixed and perhaps if the water channels existed then that is when the small concrete bridges were installed or else certainly no later than Ken Avery's tenure.

Contemporary views

In 1990 new bridges of cedar replaced the old dock and the concrete small bridges. The main bridge at the top of Eloise Butler's small pool was illustrated in an article written by Martha Hellander for the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. In the photo below we see the main bridge when it had just been installed. Not as rustic as the bridge of Tamarack poles that Eloise had on the Mallard Pool, but it did the job. Photo by Martha Hellander.

Bridge when new

During the same time period, the north end of the Garden was being renovated. The back boundary formed a sort of "V" shape with a bird feeding station in the V, with the fence quite close to the dam. (see Crone map above). The renovation moved the fence and the tarvia path northward to form more of a straight line. The pool was dredged and the concrete dam replaced by a more natural looking rocky outcrop. The water flowing from the dam ran down a channel, under the back fence and under the tarvia path and into the north meadow. The Friends funded a reconstruction of the back gate area, which was completed in 1995 and then replaced the chain-link back fence with wrought iron in 2005. This arrangement is what you see today (2019).

wetland old cedar bridges
Two of the small cedar bridges, installed in 1989/90, bridging water channels in the wetland - as they looked in 2008.
Mallard pool dam
The rocky outcrop creating a dam at the pool edge - created in 1992 and seen here in 2008

Below: The 1990 bridge as it looked on April 16, 2008. By 2011 it was starting to fall apart and could not be shored up. This led to the next major change - the boardwalk.

Mallard Pool

Cary George Wetland Project

Cary George

As a tribute to Cary George, the Garden's fourth Gardener, the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden raised funds to restore those critical footpath structures in the Garden’s wetland habitat. This included the wooden 1990 bridge next to the current "Mallard Pool" and the three wooden walkways south on Lady’s Slipper Lane. The main bridge section was selected as a fitting honor for him as it was true for Cary, as it was for Eloise Butler, that the wetland is the heart of the Garden. The project in honor of the fourth Gardener was to be a testimonial to his service as well as to the Founder and her vision.

Fund raising started in 2011, the trail segments in the wetland were slightly redesigned to follow a more curving path and the boardwalk was installed in July 2015. The supports were aluminum and the treads were made of heat-treated ash wood that came from trees removed from Minneapolis Parks. The Friends funded half of the cost and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) the other half. The 2015 installation covered the area of the old cedar bridge and part of the central path in the wetland - as far south as the Showy Lady-slippers.

Details and Photos of the project

2015 boardwalk

Phase II of the boardwalk

Fundraising for the second phase of the boardwalk began in 2016. This would extend the boardwalk through the remaining moist sections of the wetland path. Several new design features were included, including a 3rd support rail for the treads and a large gathering area in the central part of the wetland. Fabrication of the heat treated ash wood took place in the Summer of 2018 and fabrication of the metal parts and assembly was completed by the end of November. During the Winter of 2018/2019 installation began. The photos below show workers from Trail Source, the installation contractor, putting some sections into place. Once again the funding was a joint effort of the MPRB and the Friends.

2018 boardwalk delivery
Deck sections awaiting installation. Photo MPRB.
2018 boardwalk delivery
Deck sections and framing being arranged for installation. Photo MPRB.

The main feature of Phase II is the enlarged gathering area in the middle of the wetland. Photo G D Bebeau.

boardwalk gathering area.