Burma-vita Company office

History of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1943/1944

Martha Crone
Martha Crone in the Garden in a 1951 photo.

We no longer have Martha Crone’s diaries available this year, so most information comes from her log (1) and other sources. This year she also abandoned typing the log in favor of hand written entries.

At the beginning of 1944 Martha took on the job acting head of the Minneapolis Public Library’s Science Museum. The museum had been closed for five months, perhaps due to wartime personnel shortages. She would also be editor of the Museum’s newsletter titled “Minnesota Naturalist.” In a newspaper report it is stated for the first time we know of that she "worked with Miss Butler for 15 years as unofficial assistant." (2a) It was noted in Vol. 3, No. 1 of the Museum newsletter for March 30, 1944 and in the daily newspaper (2b) that she would be relinquishing those posts in order to resume her duties at the Wild Flower Garden. Rhoda Green became the new acting curator. (2c)

1944 would be Martha Crone’s 12th year in charge of the Garden, which now begins its 38th year.

Spring 1944

Garden Office
The Garden Office on another wintry April day - April 14, 1949. A wood stove and stove pipe (on the right side of the roof) were donated in 1944 by Clinton Odell. The kerosene stove brought from home is no longer mentioned. Photo by Martha Crone.

April 1st was Garden opening day and it was not nice. Martha records:

Six inches snow covering the ground. Nothing up and still very cold. Heavy snow storm in November followed by mild weather during Dec. Jan. and Feb. March has been cold.” On April 2nd “the temperature was 14 above in the morning. Pails of water frozen almost solid in the office. Wood chuck came out today. (1)

Fickle as April can be, the 12th was a beautiful warm sunny day, the icebound lakes gave up their ice on that day only to have the ground covered with snow on the 16th. But, on the 21st, the Snow Trilliums were blooming profusely. On the 27th the first Hepatica was in bloom, and on May 1st the Skunk Cabbage was in bloom. These are late dates. Martha’s successor, Ken Avery, kept detailed records of early and late bloom dates and his successor Cary George maintained the list and their latest date for Skunk Cabbage was April 19 and for Hepatica was April 24; only the Snow Trillium was later on their lists, but only by one day. [PDF of Avery Bloom Dates]

Large waves of birds were noted coming through the Garden May 18-21. The Audubon people checked off 100 species. (1) The first Hummingbird was sighted May 12th.

Summer 1944

The Upland Garden Addition:

1944 upland plan
Above: Drawing of the Garden, taken from the official blueprint, with proposed changes as proposed by Clinton Odell and approved by the Park Board on Oct. 4, 1944. Some proposals were not implemented. Note the large area of the North Meadow that was fenced at the time. [larger size pdf image.]

Clinton Odell, President of the Burma-Vita Company, and future founder of the Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, had offices at 2318 Chestnut Ave. West, just blocks from the Garden [photo top of page]. He had been a botany student of Eloise Butler and he frequently spent time in the Garden helping Martha Crone with weeding and planting. In June 1944, Odell wrote to Board of Park Commissioners (the Park Board) Superintendent C. A. Bossen, proposing to donate $3,000 to cover the cost of clearing an upland garden, fencing in the new area, tarvia surfacing the paths both in the lower Garden and the newer portion, positioning settees on the center hill of the new upland and constructing a small summer house near the Garden Office.

At some point during the summer or autumn of 1944 the Park Board felt certain of Odell's requests should be “wait and see” as Mrs. Crone developed the area, in particular the paving of paths and construction of facilities. The paths were left to Martha Crone to complete and there was no surfacing except what Martha could accomplish. Many paths of Wirth Park already traversed that new section and she used many of them.

On August 29, 1944 Clinton Odell wrote to the Board of Park Commissioners replying to their comments on the project.(3) He noted that he had met with various Park Board staff and those meetings had “resulted in our practical agreement on the various features of the program as outlined in my letter of June 29, 1944 to the board.” He added "My thought has always been that the moving of the fence to enclose the upland garden, tarring the paths and other construction features should wait until at least the end of the war in Europe, at which time they should fit nicely into a post war work program."

He noted his donation of a wood stove and stove pipe for the office and that a Park Board truck had picked it up at his home and it was being installed. He referenced that the Park Board architect was working on the design for the upland and for the construction; he requested that Mr. Bossen allow Martha Crone some time off to gather new plant material for the upland; and then outlined his financial commitment and how and what records he wanted to keep track of it. [In terms of purchasing power after inflation the $3,000 of 1944 is equivalent to $44,000 in 2020.] At this point the Park Board had not yet given its approval to the entire project as he concluded "I shall await with interest your final action on my proposal as approved by your committee and particularly in the meanwhile I am happy to have Mr. Wirth's enthusiastic approval." [Wirth had retired as Superintendent at the end of 1935, but was obviously still being appraised of events and in fact, was one of people Odell referenced meeting in his letter of August 29.]

Odell sent an initial check for $1,500 and in subsequent years between 1944 and 1952 (until The Friends were founded) he reimbursed the Park Board for what they spent, eventually exceeding his original $3,000 offer by an additional $4,000.

Below: Before and after aerial views of the upland area. Note the large number of trees removed in the 1947 photo.

1938 upland aerial photo
Above: A 1938 aerial view of the area where the new upland addition would be. The existing east fence of the Garden and the service road around the area are noted.
1947 upland aerial photo
Above: A 1947 aerial view of the same area after the upland addition was fenced and trees cleared.

1987 plan map
1987 Garden plan- The Upland Addition to the Garden in 1944 includes the right hand semi-triangular section of the map above the larger wetland/woodland area and to the right of the north/south dashed fence line. Map courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Click image for larger image.

The following information is from invoices and letters between the Park Board and Clinton Odell in the files of the Martha Crone Collection at Minnesota Historical Society. In 1944 the Board spent $1,009 on this project; in 1945 the amount was $1,116 and Odell sent another $1,500. In 1946 the amount for that year totaled $1,314. Each year the Park Board sent a summary to Odell and he paid any amount due above his $3,000 deposits. In addition to this in 1945 he paid for the wages of a second man to help Martha Crone, a Mr. John Schulte. In 1946 he did likewise but had to dismiss Schulte early for the reason stated as “they did not agree” and he was looking for a replacement. In 1947 he simply sent the Park Board $1,000 for the purpose of paying for help and in the subsequent years of 1948, through 1951 he sent $500.

Martha Crone wrote in her 1945 report to the Park Board that the addition added about 10 acres. Based on what is known about the size of the current woodland garden and wetland area that was enclosed with a fence in 1938, her acreage number is much too high. As the total Garden area prior to the most recent expansion in 1993 was 14 acres, then the upland area was no more than 4 to 5 acres. Gardener Cary George wrote in 1994 that the one acre 1993 upland addition added 20% to the size of Upland Garden. (The Fringed Gentian™ Vol. 42 No 1).

clinton odell
Clinton Odell, 1945 newspaper photo.

A separate issue raised by Odell in his August 29 letter concerned the need for help for Mrs. Crone to remove invasive weeds in the Garden. He wrote "But to appreciate our problem some of you board members should visit the so called wild flower garden. With the exception of a small space near the office the entire area is grown up to a perfectly solid growth of Jewell Weed, nettles, and burrs, shoulder high in many places. Unless some plan is evolved to plant something which will act as a future check on these weeds the situation is hopeless." He then goes on to say that he and Mr. Bossen have devised a plan, which today we are fortunate they did not implement, of heavily planting tamarack and spruces on all the hillsides to "push the weeds north and keep them pushed." This plan would leave the area near the paths for wild flower planting. Perhaps Martha had some say in subduing that idea.

Abandonment of the Mallard Pool

This acreage count given above for the Garden would have then excluded the north meadow where the Mallard Pool had been constructed in 1932. Martha had made no notes in her log about doing anything in the Mallard Pool area after 1939 except for notes in 1946 and 1947 about removing some plants from that area and transferring them to the current Garden space. We believe the Mallard Pool area was completely abandoned in 1944 for reasons stated in the next paragraph. The fence outline of the woodland and wetland shown on the 1987 map above is the same outline of the Garden at the time of the 1944 proposal and also agrees with Martha's 1952 map (see 1952). Full history of the Mallard Pool is in this article.

Purple Loosestrife
Purple Loosestrife. Photo G D Bebeau

Martha Hellander's research found correspondence between Clinton Odell and the Park Board containing his original idea on adding the upland to the existing garden. He advocated abandoning the northern area because it was swampy and also that it should never have been fenced in. (The Wild Gardener, Pg. 104) [Swampy after several very wet years in the early 1940s, but also because it was already a cattail marsh at the time Eloise Butler created the Mallard Pool there in 1932.] Former Gardener Cary George has stated to me that the fence from the northern meadow was removed and used to fence in the new area. It was wartime and steel fencing could not be easily obtained. (Conversation on May 18, 2018). Other notes of Martha Crone in 1939 (diary) indicate some of the fencing in the northern area was installed that year - other parts of it could date to Eloise Butler’s 1924 fence. Historical Garden Fencing Details.

In her Annual Report, Martha Crone Wrote “The proposed extension of the fence enclosure, made possible through the efforts and contributions of Mr. Clinton Odell, to accommodate native upland and prairie plants will fill a long needed want. It is greatly appreciated and further development of this project is looked forward to with great interest.” (4)

On July 18 Martha noted Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) becoming lovely around pool.” Eloise Butler first noticed the plant in the Garden in 1916, Martha noted it blooming in 1939 and even in the 1960s planting of this invasive was still advocated. Martha herself wrote in 1958:

It is a good plant to grow along streams, margins of ponds or in wet meadows. Especially where the competition is too severe for less aggressive plants to grow. The Plant is a long-lived perennial and produces graceful spikes of purple or pink flowers. They bloom during July and August. When once established it is hard to eradicate and will crowd out other weaker growing plants. (5)

She does at least state that it is invasive.

Autumn 1944

Spotted Jewelweed
Spotted Jewelweed Flowers. Photo G D Bebeau

In her Annual Report Martha also noted the problems with Jewelweed that Clinton Odell had written about in his August 29 letter. She wrote:

The later flowers found difficult competition in the abundant growth of jewel-weed and nettle. The seedlings of the jewel-weed appearing in such great numbers as to take complete possession of the garden. The program for their removal will greatly aid the establishment of desirable plants. (4).

This was not the first time Jewelweed created problems. Of the two species, Eloise Butler recorded Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) as indigenous to the Garden and she planted the other species, Pale Jewelweed, (I. pallida) in 1916. Back then it also took over the Garden and had to be pulled. Clinton Odell’s daughter Moana, wrote about her and her father pulling Jewelweed for Martha Crone.(6) In 1943 Martha noted pulling it by the thousands.

In the autumn months Martha and Park Board maintenance workers began clearing sumac and other unwanted plants from the upland area. In his August 29 letter referenced above, Clinton Odell had noted that "The preparation of the upland garden tract should include the removal of several black oaks of little value and considerable sumac." Then on about November 9 and again on November 16 he met with Superintendent Bossen at the Garden and apparently made several more requests for plant removal including more oaks. The superintendent wrote in reply on November 17, reconting how Mrs. Crone had met several weeks earlier with the maintenance people and supervisors and they had designated what trees and shrubbery should be removed, and that the work crews were now busy with that work.

The superintendent then says "wait a minute." Operations were just starting, there was sufficient open space, we should wait until developments tell us what to do. "The oak trees have taken a great many years to grow and they should not be removed until it is found necessary for the proper development and best interests of the garden to do so.
There may be a slight difference of opinion as to what should be done at the present time at the garden in reference to this matter, but I am certain we are all together on the proposition of making our mutual efforts count in rendering the garden project a successful undertaking."
When a large number of oaks in the upland began succumbing to oak wilt in the 1980s and later it was evident that Mr. Bossen's decision to leave these to maintain an oak savanna was spot on correct otherwise there might be none today. (7)

On September 24, the Minneapolis Tribune ran a short article about the wild asters blooming in the Wild Flower Garden - 18 different ones in bloom, plus the beautiful colors of the sumach and the tree leaves. Also noted was that 15,000 persons had visited the Garden since April. The last Hummingbird left the Garden by September 11th. On October 15, closing day, the foliage was beautiful in numerous hues of red, orange and yellow.

Martha was allowed by Mr. Bossen to have 4 field trips to collect plants during the year (3). That usually means time away from the Garden other than her normal Wednesday day off. In 1944 alone, Martha set out 210 new plants in the new upland area (detail below). Within two years she had established 2000 feet of paths, some of which were adapted from existing paths in that part of the park. Some of the new prairie plants would have come from seedlings. Martha planted seeds each fall. In 1944 alone she planted seeds of 29 species.

Martha listed the first plants that she had set out in the new Upland Garden:

Not withstanding the slow start to spring, the weather the remainder of the season was favorable. In November it was announced that Martha would again rejoin the staff of the Science Museum for the winter months, this time to specialize in making terraria for native bog plants. (8)


(1) Garden Log - 1944

(2a) Minneapolis Star January 10, 1944.
(2b) Minneapolis Star March 29, 1944.
(2c) Papers and Newsletters of the Minneapolis Science Museum Society in the Martha Crone Collection. Minnesota Historical Society. Also, Minneapolis Star January 10, 1944 and March 29, 1944.

(3) Letter in the Clinton Odell folder, Martha Crone Papers, Minnesota Historical Society. (PDF)

(4) Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated February 20, 1945, to Superintendent C A Bossen.

(5) The Fringed Gentian ™ April 1958, Vol. 6 No. 2

(6) The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 24, no.1

(7) Letter dated November 17, 1944 from the Board of Park Commissioners to Clinton Odell, signed by C. A. Bossen, Superintendent. Letter in the Clinton Odell folder, Martha Crone Papers, Minnesota Historical Society. (PDF)

(8) Minneapolis Star, November 2, 1944.

Photo top of page: Plant and office of the Burma-vita Company at 2318 Chestnut Ave. West, 1941. Photo by Norton and Peel

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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


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.

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. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org" - 030422