Woodland Garden 1951

1940 History
of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1939/1940

Duck house
The newly remodeled duck and swan house in Glenwood Park in 1940. It was heated and had two pools to separate ducks and swans during the winter months. Photo Walter Dahlberg.

Curator Martha Crone noted in her diary that on January 1st she completed her annual report for the year 1939 about the Native Plant Reserve (her favorite term for the Garden). This was due annually to the Board of Park Commissioners at the end of each year. Her position this year at the Garden, her eighth as Curator, would finally cease to be "temporary" Curator when on April 4th she received confirmation of the position being made permanent at a salary of $100 per month, April through October 15, Wednesdays as the only day off. (note below)

Except for her early years as Curator, she would not usually go the Garden during the winter but on February 7th she noted meeting Miss Aler (Lulu May Aler). Miss Aler maintained a large bird feeding station at the back side of the Garden, so she would visit several times a week. During the Garden’s open season they would frequently lunch together at the Garden. (more detail in note 1)

During the winter months Martha was actively involved at 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.

The Crones made numerous visits to the “woods” during the winter months. This term referred to their newly constructed cabin in the area of Cedar Creek Forest east of Bethel MN. Last year they had just completed the interior finishing.

"Path through the Tamaracks", Photo by E.F. Pabody, March 25, 1933. Studio at 1920 Colfax Ave. So., Minneapolis.

The winter of 1939/1940 had snowfall just above the average of 43 inches. Temperatures swung from above normal in January to below normal in February. Martha reported on March 1st that March “came in like a lamb” and that the first part of March was nice but then turned wintery. On the 13 -14th there was a two-day storm that left 16 inches of snow. The first day of spring, March 20th that year, was 8 degrees in the AM but that “Scilla’s were up west of house.” Easter was on March 24th and it was -2 degrees in AM with a daily high of 10 degrees and a foot of snow on the ground.

On March 28th Martha met Mrs. Cram (Gertrude Cram) while attending a program at the “Farm School”. [This probably refers to programs offered at the University of Minnesota School of Agriculture]. (1)

On March 30th Martha and husband Bill drove to the Garden with a kerosene stove, walked through the Tamarack Trail and met with Park Keeper Mr. Carl Erickson. Walking was hard due to deep snow and they had to chip out the ice at the gate to get into the Garden, where they found everything in fine condition. (1)

Note: Martha was appointed "temporary" Curator in April 1933 to work "during the balance of the season, or such other time thereof as seems advisable and satisfactory" for $60 per month. (Letter of Superintendent Theodore Wirth to the Board of Park Commissioners dated April 18, 1933). This was re-confirmed in 1936 and 1938 by the Minneapolis Civil Service Commission that her position was "temporary Curator" at the same rate of pay.

Spring 1940

New Plant: Fringed Milkwort (Gaywings), (Polygala paucifolia). Photo ©Aaron Carlson, Wisconsin Flora

Spring did not come on the equinox in 1940. Throughout April and May the weather swung from very cold to very warm. On opening day, April 1st, Martha recorded:

Beautiful clear day, warm, much snow in Garden. 3 foot drift north of office. Cleaned large room, chipped out upper gate, came in thru tamarack trail [photo above], melting snow for scrubbing, everything is fine condition, nothing disturbed. (1)

On April 4th “cold and moist, stove going all day, stay in all day - no one in.” The next day, “Frost last night, pond froze over.” On April 11:

Men in to take out dead timber, scheduled to come in so arrived at garden at 8:30, temperature only 10 above, coldest on record, dressed very warm - walked outside some, nine men working, stove did not make much impression. In morning could not open upper lock, froze shut, walked around and nearly froze. East lower gate froze but opened west gate. This was followed on the 12th with: “water froze, cold again in office, pond froze over, men in to finish up.” (1)

Snow Triliums
Snow Trilliums (trillium nivale). Photo by Martha Crone from April 19, 1952

But only two days later on the 14th she would record:

“Lovely and warm, 70° Paths still muddy, many folks in.” The next day: “Season is 2 weeks late, planted Dwarf Trillium [Trillium nivale] that Dr. Britjius brought yesterday from New Ulm. In full bloom.” [Dr. Britjius is mentioned a number times over the early years of her tenure as Curator but we have not been able to determine who he was - perhaps associated with the University of Minnesota’s botany department.] (1)

By April 28th the temperature was 77 degrees then on the 30th “Rain and bitter cold, 38 degrees in AM, Miss Aler in, very gloomy.” The next day the lock on the lower gate was frozen.

The weather turned again on Sunday May 12th when she wrote “91° and very hot and uncomfortable, crowds thru. Bill in Garden with me. Warbler wave through.” And then on the 14th “nearly froze in office.”

After mid-May things got more seasonal. Miss Aler visited and Mrs. Cram showed up on the 20th for the first time at the Garden in 2 years. Many school classes visited the Garden, she noted the Trilliums, Mertensia [Virginia Bluebells] and violets were most beautiful.

Garden Events:
A skunk sprayed near the office on the 16th and the “odor is dreadful.”

Sometime or other she offended a visitor because on May 9th:

Mr. Bossen [Parks superintendent after Wirth retired in 1935] in early, brought letter of complaint from woman falsely claiming to be aggrieved. Wrote answer. (1)

New Plant: Macloskey's Violet (Northern White Violet) (Viola macloskeyi ssp. pallens). Photo ©G D Bebeau.

During May Martha noted planting these 3 new species for the first time: (2)

Mamillaria missouriensis [now Escobaria missouriensis] Missouri Foxtail Cactus. A native species. 25 planted. This species was also planted by Eloise Butler in 1917.

Polygala paucifolia, Fringed Milkwort (Gaywings). Eloise Butler had introduced it to the Garden in 1908.

Viola pallens [now Viola macloskeyi ssp. pallens] Macloskey's Violet (Smooth White Violet, Northern White Violet). Ken Avery also planted it in 1964 and it is considered indigenous to the garden.

Personal events: (1)
She had an important visitor on April 18th when this note was written:

“Dr. A. N. Wilcox in to get our version of conservation at Cedar Bog.” The Crones had purchased property at Cedar Forest in 1936.
[She is referring to Arthur N. Wilcox, University of Minnesota & director of the Cedar Creek Science Reserve. He was President of the Minnesota Academy of Science in 1950, and was a driving force behind the founding of what is named today the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. As the Chair of the Committee for Preservation of Natural Conditions, Wilcox raised enough funds to purchase large tracts of land in the Cedar Creek Forest and later oversaw transferring care of the land to the University of Minnesota. The Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is a research site in central Minnesota dedicated to research on ecology and the influences of human activity on natural systems. The site is currently owned and operated by the University of Minnesota in cooperation with the Minnesota Academy of Science.]

Summer 1940

Yellow Coralroot
New Plant: Yellow Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida). Photo ©Matthew L. Wagner, Wisconsin Flora.

On June 2, a Sunday, Martha Crone noted (1) “97° hottest day so far. About 100 people thru in spite of mosquitoes.” A Connecticut Warbler was in the Garden singing north of the office all morning on the 8th. Mid-summer was very hot. Martha noted in her diary: July 20 - 96 degrees; July 21 - 99 degrees; July 21 - “still hotter, even at night, few in garden, glad when day is over, too hot to be interested in Aquatennial doings.” July 23 - 103 degrees; July 24 - 95 degrees.

But by late August it was much different. On August 23 she wore a coat to the Garden, on the 24th she noted “Heater going all day - whole week of cold weather, waves of warblers thru.” And on the 26th it was so cold that all performances at Minnesota State Fair were canceled.

Moccasin floer
Stemless Lady's-slipper or Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule). Photo ©G D Bebeau.

A new plant was put in on June 13th when she planted 25 Corallorhiza corallorhiza [now Corallorhiza trifida] the Yellow Coralroot which is native to Minnesota (2). She also noted on Wednesday June 12 that she got 18 Cypripedium acaule [Stemless Lady’s-slippers or Moccasin Flower] at Cedar Bog and planted them in the Garden (1). Wednesday was her day off and she and husband Bill would usually go their cabin at Cedar Bog and return same day. This orchid was a favorite of all Garden Curators and Gardeners, planted by Martha several times and by Eloise Butler, Ken Avery and Cary George. In 1940 there were six species of Lady’s-slippers growing in the Garden. (3)

On June 20th a new trellis was put up at the office by the Park Board workmen. Martha said it “looks very nice.” Photos from the period [see one below in the "Autumn" section] show a trellis left of the office door but there were also others around the office so it is not certain which one she is referring to. Workmen were also busy taking down the remains of a nature trail and many dead trees right outside the Garden (caused by a gale on June 5, 1939) including the large cottonwood on the hillside overlooking Birch Pond that had been struck by lightning on June 18 the prior year. On that date Martha had noted:

River Birch
River Birch (Betula nigra). Perhaps this is one of those Martha planted in 1940. Photo G D Bebeau

Thunderstorm at 3. Lightning struck on hill at 4. Shock rooted us to the ground. 3 others in office. Tornado at Champlin and Anoka at 3:20 - much damage, 10 dead. (1)

Martha planted 2 River Birch (Betula nigra) on August 8th. This is her first mention of the species, although Eloise planted it in 1925. There are several large specimens in the Garden today and perhaps the one in the photo was one of those planted that day. (2)

The spring which had been tapped and channeled the previous summer was working well in maintaining uniform water levels in the wetland pool. (see summer 1939).

Theodore Wirth, retired Park Board Superintendent, made a visit on August 13. It was his custom to visit Martha and the Garden several times each season.

The open season of the garden brought many visitors coming for many purposes. Martha summarized it this way:

Visitors again have been numerous, including large groups of school children, Girl scouts, Boy scouts and various clubs. Many visitors have found the Reserve a haven of rest and peace for troubled souls. Bird students are ever increasing, finding here ideal conditions for leisurely making observations of the myriads of birds sheltered and protected to all desiring it. (3)

Autumn 1940

office trellis
A trellis at the Garden Office as noted above in the summer section. Photo - Martha Crone.

September started off on the wrong note for Martha, she noted on 1st that when she went home from the Garden “lost house key so locked out, went thru basement window.” It was a good year for mushrooms however and this was important to Martha, being secretary of the Minnesota Mycological Society. She noted the Garden had great quantities of the black Horns of Plenty. She gathered a few species in the Garden for the September 9 meeting of the Society where members brought “loads of mushrooms.”

Fall weather again was very erratic. There was light frost on the roofs on September 12 with birches having dropped their leaves by the 13th. This was a prelude to the great storm on Nov. 11th. On September 16th she wrote:

Very quiet in garden not a soul in garden all day. Walked over hill east of garden, asters and goldenrods most beautiful there. [this was the site of the future upland garden addition of 1944] (1)

Upland Garden 1948
On September 16, 1940 Martha Crone strolled over the hill east of the Garden - that hillside would later be added to the Garden in 1944 and is shown above in 1948 after development started. Photo from a Kodachrome by Martha Crone in 1948.

On September 24 she contacted some disorder, reporting that she felt she had “a poisoning of some kind - swelling on face and itchy with welts raised everywhere.” Her doctor was inconclusive but husband Bill had to open and close the Garden for her September 26 through 28th, then she went to the garden herself on September 29th with a 102+ degree temperature.

The Garden would again stay open until October 15th, a change Martha had secured in 1939. Since its founding September 30th had always been closing day. On October 14th:

Men came with boxes and I packed them, later men came to plant an oak tree. Benches taken to warehouse, boxes also. Mr. Lucking, new horticulturist in and we visited [Mr. Lucking is Greg Lucking, Parks horticulturist from 1940 to 1966] (1)

On the last day she noted “Roofs frosted white but plants not frozen yet, not even Jewelweed in garden.” She saw a flock of red crossbills. Many visitors but “Finally got everything done.” The next day she could write “my first free day.” She and Bill went to the cabin later. A Mr. Ryling and another man come over to solicit for Rural Electrification - $3.50 minimum, the Crones were not interested.

On October 28th she went back to the Garden to direct some workers on which trees to cut. She met Mr. Lucking there. One of the trees removed was the old giant white oak called “Monarch” that Eloise Butler had estimated to have the great age of 700 years. Martha wrote:

It is with deep regret that I record the passing of the oldest inhabitant of the Reserve, the Giant White Oak, estimated age 700 years. It had become a hazard to passers-by, therefore it was removed in October. (3)

Below: Newspaper photos of the old White Oak which Eloise Butler (in 2nd photo) named 'Monarch'. The 1st photo is from 1926, the year after the June 1925 tornado tore off many branches and forced out some of the concrete that Eloise had inserted into the trunk in 1912 to stabilize the tree. The 2nd photo with Eloise is from the July 24, 1924 Minneapolis Star. It was noted in a 1913 article (4) that the circumference was 10 feet, which would indicate an age of about 290 years based on forest researched tree age tables that are available today. More details in the article on Monarch.

Monarch Eloise with Monarch

Some new information came to light when on May 6 1946 the Minneapolis Tribune in Ruth Thompson's Minnesota Memories column published a look-back at Eloise Butler under the theme that the Garden was a memorial to the former teacher. The writer states Monarch was taken down in 1942, but here in 1940 we have Martha Crone’s report. The size of the tree in the article is given as 4 feet in diameter and 14 feet in circumference and the age of 700 years is given which is a repeat of what is stated in many references of the time. The only previous reference to the actual size of the tree is Eloise Butler's measurement written in the 1913 article.

Since Martha Crone had the tree taken down and was there at the time, perhaps this new reported size comes from what was seen in 1940, in which case if we use the circumference of 14 feet we have an average diameter of 53 inches and the tree growth tables tell us the tree could have been about 400 years old, still well short of Eloise Butlers proudly proclaimed age of 700 years - but she did not have researched tree growth factor tables in her day. Contrary to Eloise, the Park Board Forester, Louis Boeglin, only estimated the tree to be 400 years back in 1923.(5) The largest known White Oak today in Minnesota is in Scott County and is 5.8 feet in diameter and that still falls well short of 700 years. The only known White Oak in North America of that age is the National Champion located in Virginia, having a circumference of 331 inches (27.6 feet - 8.8 feet in diameter), which yields an age approaching 800 years. [The Morton Arboretum studies state the growth factor for White Oaks is 7.6, which is multiplied times the diameter in inches to attain the average age.]

The Armistice Day Blizzard

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

November 11, 1940 is remembered for the deadly unexpected storm that came on a day that had temperatures above 50 degrees in the early afternoon. Martha's daughter Janet was in medical residency training in Mankato but up in the cities on Nov. 11th and was to return to Mankato. After having dinner together Janet went to the Minneapolis hospital where she had received her local training - Martha records in her diary:

November 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.”
November 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 all right without getting cold.” (1)

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.

Photo top of page: The woodland garden east path with the office on the plateau. From a Kodachrome by Martha Crone taken May 29, 1951.

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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


(1) Martha Crone's Diary - 1940.
Special note on Lulu May Aler - Miss Aler set up and 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. In later years when Miss Aler was too old to do it, the station was maintained by the Minneapolis Bird Club, which then became affiliated with the Minneapolis Audubon society. See this document.

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

(3) Martha Crone's Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated December 11, 1940.

(4) The 10 foot circumference is reported in a story about the Wild Botanic Garden that appeared in the May 3, 1913 issue of The Bellman. Studies done by the Morton Arboretum in Chicago resulted in an age calculation for White Oaks. Referencing that data yields the age calculated.

(5) Minneapolis Tribune December 13, 1923 "City's Oldest Tree Periled by Flames in Glenwood Park." (pdf copy)

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.

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©2014 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