Chain of Lakes

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Chain of Lakes

Lake Calhoun
Lake Calhoun
Location of Site: Southwest Minneapolis
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Historic Function: Park
Current Function: Park

Minneapolis Hennepin County

Chain of Lakes
(44.948763302982° N, 93.31169128418° WLatitude: 44°56′55.548″N
Longitude: 93°18′42.089″W

The Chain of Lakes is a public park system located in Southwest Minneapolis, Minnesota. Centered around five interconnected lakes, (Cedar Lake, Brownie Lake, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet), the Chain of Lakes is a popular site for recreation. Bands of green space encircle each lake, hosting various pedestrian and bicycle trails, public beaches, sporting fields, boat docks, and picnic areas. There is no building development within the park system, save for a public boathouse and restaurant on the northeast shore of Lake Calhoun, and a public band shell and concession facility, located on the northwest shore of Lake Harriet. Privately-owned residential structures of architectural merit line the grand boulevards that border the park system.

The lakes host assorted water sports, including sailing, canoeing, fishing and swimming. Several of the lakes are connected via channels, making it possible to aquatically navigate from north shore of Cedar Lake to the south shore of Lake Calhoun. The Chain of Lakes is one of seven districts that make up the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, a collection of urban parks designed to encircle the city of Minneapolis. According to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which governs the park system, the Chain of Lakes draws approximately 5.5 million visitors each year.


Site History

Prior to the 1800’s the Chain of Lakes district was part of the hunting and fishing territory controlled by the Medawakantanwan, a division of the Dakota-speaking people. The area later became part of the Fort Snelling Military Reserve. In 1828, the Indian Agent at Fort Snelling, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, worked with local Dakota tribes to establish an Indian agricultural village on the southeast shore of Lake Calhoun. Despite early successes, the village was short-lived and the area was opened to white settlement in 1853 under the terms of the Traverse des Sioux Treaty. The area around the Chain of Lakes was largely devoted to agricultural interests in the 1850’s. By the 1870’s the area attracted “all sorts of people seeking relief from the congestion and dirt of the central city,” and enjoyed a brief tenure as a resort district. In 1883, noted landscape architect, H.W.S Cleveland, was commissioned to design a park system for the City of Minneapolis, which included plans for the Lake District. Cleveland’s design, which called for an extended park and parkway system, combined both naturally landscaped, open spaces and grand boulevards that would surround the city. The designer’s philosophy drew from an aversion to extensive ornamentation in the landscape, finding it to be both garish and of unnecessary expense. It was Cleveland’s prediction, (which later proved accurate), that the grand parkways interlaced within the park system, would become “eagerly sought” pieces of real estate, and the resultant “costly mansions and public buildings” built upon them, would serve as fine street ornamentation. Cleveland’s original plan drew its largest inspiration from the natural beauty of the Mississippi River and Minnehaha falls. He also called for the widening of Lake Street, turning it into a grand boulevard running from the River to the Lakes. Although Cleveland’s plans were not adopted in their entirety, they continue to serve as the backbone for the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway that currently distinguishes the City of Minneapolis.

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