east path in garden

1938 History
of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1937/1938

Fruen Mill
The Fruen Mill on Bassett's Creek showing the rapids and channel retaining walls just competed by a WPA crew in 1937 (1).

1938 was Martha Crone’s 6th year in charge of the Garden as temporary Curator. The Garden began its 32nd year.

The Garden came into the new year with little snow cover for the plants. There were small snowfalls up through mid-March, but in early and late February there was little snow cover and after March 10th there were no more snowfalls. Temperatures were above normal from mid-March into early April. The snow trilliums were already blooming in March.

During the Winter months Martha Crone was actively involved at the Minneapolis Public Library Science Museum, and, with husband William, in the Minnesota Mycological Society. Her position this year at the Garden would continue be "temporary" Curator. (2)

Spring 1938

Preliminary notes about the plants. Native Status: Some of the plants obtained by Eloise Butler in the early years of the Garden were not native to Minnesota or if native, may have been difficult to establish in the Garden. Most of these are no longer present. Martha Crone was somewhat more selective of native plant material, but also brought in many species not native to the state, and many of her imports have not survived either. The plants illustrated here, so one can see what they looked like, are mostly of the class no longer extant in the Garden. Some of those plants still existed at the time of Martha Crone's 1951 Garden Census and they are identified by the "(M.C.)" following the plant name. As for plants mentioned here that are still present in the Garden today, there may have been numerous re-plantings, and most have a web link to a detailed information/photo page, or, if not, are noted as being present in the Garden today - these are not illustrated in this article. Botanical classification: Over the years Botanists have reclassified many plants from the classifications in use at the time Eloise Butler wrote her Garden Log or when Martha Crone prepared her census. I have retained the nomenclature that Eloise Butler or Martha Crone used and then provided the more current classification as used by the major listings in use today, particularly Flora of North America and the Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota from the University of Minnesota Herbarium.

Snow Trillium
Snow trillium (Trillium nivale). Historical photo from a Kodachrome by Martha Crone on April 19, 1952.

Martha Crone opened the Garden on April 1st, she noted in her log:

Turned very cold after three weeks of unusual warm weather, not a trace of ice or snow anywhere. In spite of present cold spell the season is advanced about 10 days.

Many Mourning Cloak Butterflies were noted. She later reported that:

The opening day April 1st found the Dwarf or Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) in full bloom, carpeting the ground. (note 3)

By April 10 the Hepaticas were in bloom and on the 11th it was warm enough to open the window of the office.

She was a great “birder” and her log is filled with her notes on bird sightings including one of the blue bird building a nest just west of the office. Her report of Virgin’s Bower blooming on May 2nd is an extremely early date for that plant. Waves of warblers were reported moving through for three days prior to May 20th. By May 30th, the mosquitoes were “vicious” and 2 young owls had appeared on a branch of a large White Oak.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly
Mourning Cloak Butterfly, Photo ©G D Bebeau.

On Thursday morning, May 12 she discovered that the office had been broken into either Wednesday night or Tuesday night. (On Wednesdays the Garden was closed and Martha was not present, as that was her only day of the week off work). Thieves had broken the hasp and taken the police lock but they could not get past a second lock, so they broke a screen, raised a window and got in, taking hatchets, an ax, knife, nails, pliers and miscel. other stuff.

On April 21st Martha began her first planting of the season by putting in 22 Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) near the office. Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) was added on May 23. She actually planted many plants from seed and over 500 obtained elsewhere during the season but most of the planting occurred in late summer and early autumn.

The 24 Ram's Head Lady's-slippers that Martha transplanted from Cedar Creek to the Garden in 1936, died out this year from an excess of water. This was particularly dis-heartening because in 1937 Martha had noted in her report to the Board of Park Commissioners, the reestablishment of the plant after many years of failed effort. Now, again, a failed effort.

Weather: Aside from the abnormal warm temperatures in March and part of April, May was average with good rains during the spring season.

Summer 1938

Nodding Lady's Tresses
Nodding Lady's Tresses (Spiranthes cernua); Photo ©Merle R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.

The Showy lady’s slipper bloomed on June 15th.
Martha recorded a male hummingbird doing the “pendulum swing” courtship ritual over several days for a female right near the office. This is an aerial dance where the male bird moves in an arc in front of the female, wings buzzing, to show off his control. She would see this again later in the summer.

Many entries in Martha's summer Garden log concern birds. Back in May the Bluebirds west of the office were feeding their young. On June 8 the young left the nest and on June 27 the adults were building a nest for a second brood. By July 18 they were incubating a second brood which left the nest on Aug. 3. In the mean time the Wood thrushes hatched a brood on June 18. On June 13 she noted a Black-billed Cuckoo. By early August she noticed the first migrants coming through and at the end of August the warblers started arriving.

In her annual report to the Park Board, Martha remarks that “The protection of the birds is being incouraged (sic), because they constitute the main check against the reproduction of insects. The opportunity for bird study here is unlimited.” (Note #3) In this remark she echoes the thoughts of Eloise Butler 25 years earlier in her annual report to the Park Board.

Her sources for plants in the summer were all from places in Minnesota. She planted many species already in the Garden and the following first-time-for-her plants (First time noted in her garden log). Two are shown at right:

Prairie Blazing Star
Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya). Photo ©G D Bebeau.

The last two plants are present today, Neither orchid is but S. cernua did survive to the time of her 1951 Garden Census.

During the early summer, a representative of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture visited the Garden to collect seeds. Martha received a thank-you letter from the Lake States Experiment Station for letting them collect tree seeds and they also sent back seeds of the red and white pines with instructions for her on planting them. (Note #4).

In her annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners she wrote about the visitor traffic at the Garden and particularly pointed out the school visits:

Among the large groups conducted thru the Reserve were the daily bus loads of children from the public schools under the supervision of Mr. Minty of the Board of Education. The object of these tours was that with the instruction of children in nature study, sure results can be reached in social betterment, and that an early implanted knowledge and love of birds, flowers and nature in general are the most potent factors in making useful citizens. (Note #3)

Cedar Creek
Cedar Creek area. The spot of the Crone's cabin is the brownish hill in the center of the photo. Photo - U of M.

Twenty-five years later, Gardener Ken Avery would record in his report to the Park Board comments about the usefulness of these school visits. (see 1963)

The summer weather was within the seasonal norms with precipitation close to normal. Martha wrote that:

This year reached a point of perfection largely due to the abundant precipitation and ideal temperature. The moisture being conserved by the luxuriant forest growth, and the natural drainage into the bog and the pool formed by the dam makes certain a continued supply for the entire season. (Note #3)

On December 31st, 1936, the Crone’s had purchased 40 acres in the area of Cedar Creek Forest. Within this parcel of land there was dry upland that resembled an island elevated above the swampland. Here they built a cabin in 1938, completing the structure on June 29th and then began the interior finishing work and moving in things necessary for daily living. They carried the building materials in their car from Bethel and then carried them through the swamp to reach the dry land. Log bridges over the wet areas were not finished until 1941. On September 3rd, they discovered the cabin had been broken into and all there inside possessions were stolen.

Autumn 1938

Northern Blazing Star
Northern Blazing Star, (Liatris scariosa). Photo ©G D Bebeau

Ever being the bird watcher, many of Curator Martha Crone's log entries for the autumn concerned the bird migration. It is probably well known to us now that the numbers of birds in the city is less than in those earlier years in the Garden, for when she writes about wave after wave of migrating birds, especially warblers, and she can note the time of day of largest wave, we realize that we don’t see these large migrations today.

Temperatures in early autumn were well above normal. On September 23 she notes “Cicadas are still singing since the weather turned warmer. 89 degrees." The weather would stay warm and dry until late December when there would be a severe cold snap at the end of the month, but still dry.

During the summer the southern part of the Garden was surrounded by a new fence which was greatly appreciated by Martha and well received by the public. The old fence dated back to 1924 and only contained a portion of the Garden. Martha had made a plea for a new fence in her 1937 report to the Park Board, and this is certainly an instance of bureaucracy responding rapidly. Although some records state that 1,900 linear feet were installed that is hardly enough to enough to enclose about 5-1/2 acres. It was constructed by workers of the WPA (Works Progress Administration). It was six feet high and of wire mesh, with 3 gates for entrance.(5) The existing wire mesh fence (2018) is the remaining parts of the one erected in 1938. It was reported that Clinton Odell paid what the costs were to put in the fence. (5a) The two main gates were been replaced with sturdier and more impressive designs in 1990 and 1995 and fencing near the gates replaced with wrought iron.

1938 photo of a portion of the completed wire link fence around the Garden. Photo by Walter B. Dahlberg.


Martha noted in January of 1939 (6) that Park Board maintenance workers were in working on new fencing in the "lower enclosure", which must have been an area excluded in the 1938 project. The "lower enclosure" would be the same area Eloise Butler called the "north enclosure," as that is the north meadow area of lower elevation. (see 1924 fence article)

The area covered by the fence is verified by aerial photos from late 1938 which show a new fence, not seen in 1937 photos, highlighted by a snow line, enclosing what was then the Garden Martha Crone tended, about 9 or 10 acres - that is the portion south of the tarvia road - which was the southern part of Eloise Butler's 25 acres which had included the northern meadow and adjacent areas.

Below: 1938 aerial photo of the Garden area showing the outline of the new fence. Photo Courtesy University of Minnesota.

1928 aerial photo of garden

Below: 1947 aerial photo of the Garden area showing main features of the area and the 1038 fence, the later 1944 upland addition and other key features. North is up. The Garden office is visible in lower center and Birch Pond in the lower left. It is probably April as there is still some ice on Birch Pond and a few cars in the Garden parking lot. Photo Courtesy University of Minnesota.

1947 aerial photo

Martha recorded that “hundreds of plants were set out that had been propagated from seed, in addition to 500 plants obtained elsewhere thru efforts of the curator. All plants were labeled during their blooming period.” (note 3) (which must have been quite a chore).

Martha planted many species already in the Garden and the following first-time-for-her plants (First time noted in her garden log):

Goldenseal, (Hydrastis canadensis) Photo ©G D Bebeau

Other extant plants that she added to stocks already existing were:
Smooth Aster,
Panicled Aster,
Many-flowered Aster,
Sky-blue aster,
Silky Aster,
Jack-in-the-pulpit and
Skunk Cabbage.

The Mushroom Society held a show on September 22 at the Curtis Hotel and Martha brought in a huge puffball, presumably from the Garden, that was pictured in the Tribune the following day.

Her last noted activity on September 30, the day the Garden closed, was about how many asters were blooming. She also said the Interrupted Fern hillside looked as beautiful as it did in May. Normally the Interrupted Ferns die back in late summer and the ground is bare. Her final comment in her report for the year to the Board of Park Commissioners stated that:

The Reserve closed September 30th with a greater profusion of plants still in bloom and the foliage just starting to turn to beautiful hues. There has been an increasing request for the Reserve to remain open until at least October 15th, so that visitors may enjoy the fall beauties.

Happily, that request was granted in 1939 and October 15th became the closing date for some years to come until it was further extended to October 31st in 1947.

Below: An overall annotated view of the Garden area in Wirth Park in 1938. Click on image for a larger version. Photo courtesy University of Minnesota.

1938 map

(1): This is Bassett’s Creek which flows north and east of the Garden through Glenwood Park (now Wirth Park). The scene is from the summer of 1937 at the site of the old Fruen Mill and shows the rapids and channel retaining walls just competed by a WPA crew. Photo is by Walter Dahlberg from The Story of W.P.A. in the Minneapolis Parks, Parkways and Playgrounds, for 1938.

(2): Martha was appointed "temporary" curator in April 1933 to work until October 1st, 1933 for $60 per month. (Letter of Superintendent Theodore Wirth to the Board of Park Commissioners dated April 18, 1933). This arrangement was confirmed in 1936 and 1938 by the Minneapolis Civil Service Commission that her position was "temporary Curator" at the same rate of pay. It was not until April 4, 1940 that the position was confirmed permanent.

(3) Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated December 10, 1938.

(4) Letter dated June 14, 1938 from Raphael Zon, director of USDA Lake States Experiment Station

(5) The Story of W.P.A. in the Minneapolis Parks, Parkways and Playgrounds, for 1938, Minneapolis, Minnesota pub by Park Board in 1939

(5a) Minneapolis Tribune May 12, 1949 (pdf copy)

(6) Martha Crone's Diary - January 18, 1939.

Historical photo at top of page The east path in the Garden leading to the office on June 1, 1950. Photo from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone.

Previous Year ----------- Subsequent Year

Year chart - all years

Garden History Archive

Printable PDF file of this page.

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

Other References:

Garden Log - Native Plant Reserve, Glenwood Park, Minneapolis, MN by Eloise Butler

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

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

Kodachromes of Martha Crone are from her collection that was given to the Friends by her daughter Janet following Martha's death in 1989.

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

Friends Home Page

©2017 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Photos as credited and 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. "https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org" - 030122