Spring Woodland Scene 1951

1941
History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1940/1941

Stranded Streetcar
Twin Cities streetcar stranded in deep snow - Nov. 11, 1940. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The winter of 1940/1941 is remembered by how it began on November 11, 1940 - Armistice Day. The deadly unexpected storm came on a day that had temperatures above 50 degrees in the early afternoon. Martha Crones daughter Janet was in residency training in Mankato, but up in the cities on Nov. 11th and was to return to Mankato that evening. After having dinner together Janet went to the hospital where she had received her local training - Martha records in her diary:

Nov. 11 “A little later Janet could not get home, no cars running [streetcars] or cabs. Jan had dreadful time to finally get to depot, nearly frozen, train left at 8:30, arrived at 2 AM, walked to office, slept there, Crowds everywhere.”

Nov. 12 “Turned bitter cold. A dreadful night to live thru yesterday, worry about Janet, could not get long distance call through. Worst storm of history, 50 people killed in Minn., most frozen, we slowly digging out heavy drifts in yard. People stayed downtown & slept everywhere in depots, stores, factories, etc, drifts 20 feet in some places, slow in getting dug out. Janet weathered storm alright without getting cold.”

The storm left almost 17 inches of snow and brought below zero temperatures that matched mid-January earlier in the year. Contrary wise Christmas was the warmest in 18 years - 35 to 41 degrees. There were several more significant snowfalls before the end of 1940, but then that was it. It was warm and raining on New Years Day (1). Mild temperatures until mid-February when it became significantly colder than average. Martha noted that on Feb. 12 “weather like Spring, raining hard.” Then on Feb. 18 - “19 below in the evening, 24 below in AM on Feb. 19.” But by March 1 - “Mild weather lamb like, warm and slushy everywhere. On March 16 she noted that there had been a powerful storm with 85 mile per hour winds at Duluth and 81 died.

The Crones made occasional visits to the “woods” during the winter months. This term referred to their newly constructed cabin in the area of Cedar Creek Bog east of Bethel MN.

On March 15 the Crones purchased a 1937 Plymouth for $345. They kept their old Whippet for several more months (see notes in Summer). During the Winter Months Martha was actively involved at the the Minneapolis Public Library Science Museum and, with husband William, in the Minnesota Mycological Society. Martha was secretary of the Society from 1926 to 1943.

(1) Martha Crone’s Diary - 1941.

Spring 1941

On March 30 it was time for Garden Curator Martha Crone to prepare for opening the Garden. She notes in her diary:

“We (with husband Bill) drove to Garden with stove, much snow and ice everywhere. Mr Erickson chipped out gates.” (1)

On April 1, Martha opened the Garden for the season. She wrote:

“First day in Garden, beautiful sunshine, had stove going but door open in afternoon. Miss Aler (2) in, also Mr. Erickson. (1) Fixed gates. Snow has gone in last few days, altho 18 inch drift north of office and patches in sheltered areas.”(3)

Hepatica Hill in April
Hepaticas in bloom on Hepatica Hill on April 16, 1955, from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone; courtesy Minnesota Historical Society, Martha Crone Collection.

She also noted in her Garden Log that the ground was not frozen and moisture soaks into the ground and the paths were in firm condition. (4) Nice weather did not last long. On the 4th she would write:

“Cold and raining all say. Stove working poorly so very cold. 2 ladies in to make appointment for scouts” [there was not a telephone in the Garden until 1957]. On the 8th - “Miss Aler in, warm but cloudy, snow in garden melted quickly and soaked in so no run-off and no mud, frost out of ground. Skunk Cabbage in bloom, earliest yet due to no frost in meadow. Snow Trillium in full bloom - 1 week ago nothing showing.”

By the 11th the Hepaticas were in full bloom and the weather again became unseasonable warm with flowers quickly developing only to have in snow on Sunday morning April 20 followed by rain, then heavy frost on the night of the 24th, then back to warm weather on the 28th when she noticed warblers were starting to come through. On the 17th she “Discovered nest of the Hairy Woodpecker freshly made in white oak tree south of upper gate. A shelf mushroom forms a lovely canope [sic - canopy] over the entrance. Very cleverly chosen.” (4)

On April 14 she planted 55 Snow Trilliums (Trillium nivale) that came from Mankato the day before via Dr. Britjius (a frequent visitor).

She had several visits from her friends, Miss Aler and Mrs. Cram (Gertrude); Ben Johnson from the Park Board would bring out her pay check; and also Theodore Wirth was in with his 3 year old Grandson on the 17th. (5)

May began with beautiful weather as she noted on May 1:

“Beautiful weather, ideal May Day. Dassett [Robert] in first time this year. He again working for his grandfather and continuing on at N. [High school] to prepare for teaching. Baby girl was born last July, expect another in Sept.” (6)

Like the month of April, May weather fluctuated from “Still very warm (81 hi 59 lo) and flowers coming out everywhere, everything at least 2 weeks in advance, like midsummer, many insects and flies out. Violets never so beautiful as well as Trillium and other flowers” on the 3rd of May to “bitter cold all day [49-41] stove going continuously. Miss Aler in, also class but no mosquitoes,” on the 8th, followed by “Heat unbearable [88-60] hottest so far” on the 19th.

Anise Goldenrod
Anise Goldenrod, Solidago odora. Photo ©Larry Allain, USDA-NRCS Plants Database.

University professors frequently brought their classes to the Garden for Field Study - on the 19th - that hot day, she noted that “Drs. Roberts, Kilgore, Breckenridge, Prosser and class in.” (7).

This group was followed on the the 25 by “Mr. Eastman of Archer Daniels in, also Dassett & others.” [Whitney H. Eastman was an executive of Archer Daniels and later a board member of The Friends.]

Pickerel Weed
Pickerel-weed, Pontederia cordata . Photo ©David G. Smith, Delaware Wildflowers.

During May Martha planted some Large Flowered Trilliums and noted on May 6: “Noted west of office a Trillium with 4 petals, 4 sepals, 4 leaves 8 stamens and 4 parted stigma.” Rattlesnake Plantain went in on the 9th and on the 13th Mrs. Cram sent her from her garden 6 Solidago odora, Anise-scented Goldenrod. 3 Aster ericoides [now - Symphyotrichum ericoides]. That was the first time Martha planted those. Mrs Cram also provided 6 Pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata L).

At the cabin at Cedar Creek the Crones finishing installing 30 feet of cedar logs for bridges to bridge water channels on their property so they could access their cabin which was on an elevated knoll above surrounding marshland. They could only do this on Wednedays - Martha’s only day off from the Garden.

The Showy Lady’s-slippers bloomed on June 8 and reached their peak on the 14th.

The weather still fluctuated a lot - the stove in the office would be going for many days in mid-June. Then June turned hot and she made notes on many days like the one on June 25: “Very hot - no one in garden”. (3)

Martha made many birding notes in her log but this one about the chickadees is particularly interesting:

ChickadeeJune 3: “Chickadee pair inspecting the unpainted cheese box house east of office.”

June 5: “At noon the Chickadees started to build in the house. Both very busy.”

June 8: “Chickadees still come to the bird house every day.”

June 14: “No sign of the Chickadees since a week ago yesterday, so proceeded to open the box to check against Cowbird intrusion, when out flew the female Chickadee, no doubt she is incubating. Later both were noted, he feeding her, a rare performance.”

July 8: “Chickadees still feeding, the young clamoring loudly. Young Chickadees come begging for food, but receive none. Apparently they are of the first brood.”

July 16: “Chickadees left the house this morning before I arrived, The adults came back several times as tho making sure that all were out.”


(1) Carl Erickson, - Park Board Employee
(2) Lulu May Aler - Miss Aler and Martha maintained a large bird feeding station at the back side of the Garden, outside the gate, so she would visit several time a week to care for it.
(3) Martha Crone’s Diary - 1941
(4) Garden Log - 1941
(5) Parks Superintendent Emeritus Theodore Wirth, who retired in 1935 and for whom Theodore Wirth Park is now named.
(6) Robert Dassett would become a member of the Friends and be Friends President 1971-1975.
(7) Dr. Roberts was Thomas S. Roberts, author of Birds of Minnesota and for whom the Roberts Bird Sanctuary is named.

Summer 1941

Martha Crone made many notes in her Garden Log and in her diary that provide an interesting picture of the summer of 1941. Here are some highlights.

At the end of June two baby owls were seen in a tree near where the old oak, Monarch, had stood.(1)

Whippet
The Whippet Automobile, similar to the one the Crone's owned for 10 years. It was only produced for a few years, had side curtains instead of glass but came with winter storm inserts to keep the snow out.

On June 26 the Crones finally retired their old car. Martha notes: “Men got Whippet this morning. Has gone 143,008 miles, remarkable. It was 27,000 miles when we got it. Had it 10 years 3 months” (1).

On July 19, she writes “warmer weather lovely [81-52] Heard music from the “follies” at Glenwood Lake. Wind in right direction. [the Aquatennial Aqua Follies, a popular Minneapolis Aquatennial event, were held at Glenwood Lake from 1941 to 1964 - later renamed Wirth Lake. An Olympic swimming pool, complete with diving towers, was installed to showcase the water spectacle at the northeast end of the lake.] The Crones tried to get tickets but were not successful.

Mosquitoes and deer flies were bad most days during those years - until the development of effective insecticides - plus there was always poison ivy which she contacted noting “poison ivy so severe, can’t write, in greatest misery” (1)

July became very hot. Here are some of her notes:

July 22 “Heat dreadful [98-70] (hi and lo temp) Miss Aler brought her sister and husband from Indianapolis to call. They walked around and were fairly cooked.”

July 23 [100-74]

July 24 [104-76] “Heat unbearable. Had to get out of cabin at noon and remained out till 5, fortunately bugs weren’t bad after spraying. Our car stalled on top of hill due to heat causing a vapor lock in gas line. Remedied by blowing into gas tank. We were the hop spot of the nation with 104” (1)

Selkirks Violet
Selkirk's Violet, Viola selkirkii. Photo ©Emmett J. Judziewicz, University of Wisconsin.

In August she received permission to make a plant collecting trip to Northern Minnesota, receiving permission to be absent from the Garden by Mr. C. A. Bossen, Parks Superintendent. (6) She writes:

Aug 7, Thurs “Mr Bossen in, said I could go on trip and they would allow my expenses, also will place a man here, so Bill can go on trip with us [otherwise husband Bill would babysit the garden]

Aug. 8, Fri “Mr. Lucking (2) came in with Mr. Jacobson who will stay in my place while I am gone. Mr. Jacobson brought my check.

Aug. 11, Mon Left at 4 am for a trip to the North Shore. Back at home on Sat. Aug 16th to work next day. (1)

Of the plants she returned with she notes two that she had not planted in the Garden before:

Narrow leaf Gentian
Narrowleaf Gentian, Gentiana linearis. Photo ©Emmett J. Judziewicz, University of Wisconsin.

5 Viola selkirkii Pursh ex Goldie, Selkirk’s violet;

10 Gentiana linearis - Narrowleaf Gentian [Eloise Butler had planted this in her day, having obtained the plants from the East Coast and that species is not found in Minnesota. What Martha probably brought back was the species (same common name) that does grow on the north shore - now known as Gentiana rubricaulis.] (3)

At the cabin at Cedar Creek, the log bridges now extended to 72 feet. (1)

Someone broke into the Garden during August and damaged the lower gate. Men fixed it on August 19 and Mr. Erickson brought in a new lock on the 25th, while she and husband Bill removed two white rabbits from the lower section of the Garden. (1)

Fortunately, while the temperatures in summer were quite warm, there was adequate rainfall.


(1) Martha Crone’s Diary - 1941

(2) Mr. Lucking is Greg Lucking, Parks horticulturist from 1940 to 1966

(3) Garden Log - 1941

Autumn 1941

September began with this note:

“Labor Day and 26th anniversary of wedding. Beautiful mild gentle weather, like spring”[85-56](1)

But on Sept. 5 there was a tornado that just missed the Garden (2). It was to be a beautiful fall - she could note in her log on Oct 6:

“The foliage is most beautiful. The oaks have turned brilliant hues. Purple Finches are still here, Heaviest electric storm of the year with 1.82 inches of rain last night.” (2) and on Oct. 12 : “Most beautiful day yet, foliage gorgeous and mosquitoes vicious, 1st time in Oct. ever.”(1)

On Wednesdays in September the Crones worked on the log bridges at Cedar Creek with the total length reaching 145 1-/2 feet on Sept. 24. (A) [Wednesday was Martha's only day off from the Garden.] The Bird feeding station at the Garden needed replacement and Martha noted on Sept. 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” (3, 4) She also noted that she updated a pheasant feeding place in the Garden, noting it “real firm and substantial this year” (1)

Her last note about the Garden in her log was Oct. 13 when she planted 8 Foam Flower and noted “All windows in office open and too warm to wear a coat.” (2) The Garden would close up on the 15th. This was a closing date change Martha had secured in 1939. Since its founding Sept. 30th had always been closing day.

There were some good rainy days in the Autumn and the first heavy frost held off until October 27.

fall foliage

The Garden Office surrounded by fall foliage on Oct. 15, 1950. Photo from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society, Martha Crone Collection.

In her annual report (5) she noted the seasons weather and the pleasant Autumn:

“Altho the past several years have been gradually returning to normal conditions, this past season far surpassed them. Heavy rains followed by long hours of warm sunshine served to stimulate the season greatly.”

“The belated frost caused the foliage to ripen naturally and burst forth in colorful beauty, such as is seldom seen. With the absence of insects at this time, many visitors availed themselves of an interesting tour thru the Reserve.” [Note: Both Martha and later Ken Avery always referred to the Garden as the 'Reserve' taking the name from one of Eloise Butler's names for the Garden - "Native Plant Reserve". I find no writing where either of them ever referred to it by its official name "The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden" which it was designed by the Park Board in 1929]

She also added: “I deeply appreciate the opportunity that was extended to me, to personally make a collection of precious and very desirable plants in various parts of northern Minnesota. Including these, 600 plants were set out in congenial locations, where with some protection they quickly made good growth.” [this was the second time that she had such time off, the first being in 1933, July 26-30, when she collected 285 plants, 30 varieties including 5 ferns.]

Martha and Bill were still active in the Minnesota Mycological Society, Martha being Secretary, and on October 20 the Society met at the Curtis Hotel in Minneapolis for a show that had many tables and more than 1000 persons viewing. Martha took over 4 bushels to the show. (1)

There would be little snowfall going into the end of the year and total precipitation would be just below average for the year.

Thanksgiving was on Nov. 30th (In Minnesota) and the Crones had dinner with friends - no one suspecting what would happen on Dec. 7th.


(1) Martha Crone’s Diary - 1941

(2) Garden Log - 1941

(3) Ben Johnson was a Park Board Employee

(4) Lulu May Aler - Miss Aler and Martha maintained a large bird feeding station at the back side of the Garden, outside the gate, so she would visit several time a week to maintain it.

(5) Annual report to Mr. C. A Bossen, Superintendent of Parks - Dec. 10, 1941.

(6) Letter from Mr. C. A Bossen, Superintendent of Parks to Martha Crone - Aug. 4, 1941.

Photo top of page: The Woodland Garden in spring - May 29, 1951, from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society - Martha Crone Collection.

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Links to related pages:
- Abbreviated Life of Eloise Butler
- Martha Crone - 2nd Garden Curator
- Ken Avery - 3rd Curator and Gardener
- Cary George - 4th Gardener
- Our Native Plant Reserve - Short document on the origins of the Garden.
- Eloise Butler's writings, a selection of essays written by Eloise Butler on the early Garden years.
- Geography of the Garden- an illustrated tour

References:

Martha Crone's Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated Dec. 10, 1941.

Martha Crone's Diary - 1941

Martha Crone's Garden Log and her 1951 Census of plants in the Garden.

Various papers and correspondence of Eloise Butler and Martha Crone in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Historical Climatology of Minneapolis-St. Paul Area by Charles Fisk.

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©2016 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. All photos are the property of The Friends unless otherwise credited. Photos credited to others are used with permission for educational purposes, for which The Friends thank them and the organization providing the photos. Text and research by Gary Bebeau. "http://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org" - 010216