Friends of the Wild Flower Garden

Then and Now
Bassett's Creek in the area of
the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Bassett's Creek flows through and near to Theodore Wirth Park. The area has history relating to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Here is a look back in time with the view today.

The Bassett's Creek area in 1937

The aerial photo below of July 1937 shows some of the landmarks of the area. The Wildflower Garden is just to the west. Photo - University of Minnesota.

Bassett's Creek area 1937

The Fruen Mill

The old Fruen Mill sits on the south side of Glenwood Avenue at Thomas Ave. The Creek passes under Glenwood and then goes over a dam at the mill. The first photo below shows the site in 1908. The second photo shows the dam reconstructed with new stone retaining walls lining the Creek below the dam. This work was done by a WPA crew in 1937. These WPA crews would return each year through 1941 for projects in Wirth Park. [1937 photo - Walter Dahlberg].

1908 Fruen mill 1937 Fruen Mill

In the photos below we see the site in 2019. Water still flows heavily at the dam due to a very wet Spring season. The old retaining walls are partially in place and boulders have replaced other parts of the old walls. The mill is abandoned. Photos G D Bebeau.

Fruen Mill 2019 bassett's creek at fruen mill

The Burma Shave Company

In 1940, just downstream from the Fruen Mill, a new building was constructed at 2318 Chestnut Avenue West, on Bassett's Creek and just west of the Penn Avenue bridge that went over the Creek and rail lines. This was the new home of the Burma-Vita Company, makers of Burma Shave. The firm had moved from its old quarters at 2019 East Lake Street. The owner was Clinton Odell.

Below: The newly constructed office and factory of the Burma-Vita Company as it looked in the Summer of 1941. Bassett's Creek is in the foreground and a rail line, now abandoned, runs between the building and the Creek. Photo Norton & Peel.

Burma Vita Company 1941

This move was significant for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Clinton Odell had been a student of Eloise Butler when she was still teaching. He had various interactions with her after the Wild Flower Garden that bears her name was developed. In 1940 Martha Crone was the Garden Curator and Odell now got reacquainted with the Garden. He would walk there from his office. You can read more about this background in his history.

Two major developments came from this proximity to the Wild Flower Garden and Odell's interest. First in 1944 he was the force in working with the park board to add an upland addition to the Garden. Details here.

Second, was the founding of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden in 1952. Odell became the president and the Friends legal office was maintained at the Burma-Vita Company until Odell's death in 1958.

Below: A view of 2318 Chestnut Avenue West with just the top of the white chimney and a portion of the roof visible in the vegetation that now covers the area. The formerly open water of Bassett's Creek is visible just above the rail bridge where the Creek passes under, flowing toward Penn Avenue. The old building is the same shape, but the exterior has been clad in wood. Photo G D Bebeau.

2019 view of burma-vita building

The water diversion line

north meadow of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Another development on Bassett's Creek near the Garden was installation of a large diameter water diversion pipeline running from the Creek in Wirth Park to Brownie Lake. Work began in 1957 and was completed in 1958. The purpose was to divert water from the Creek as needed to refill the chain of lakes. The aerial photo shows the meadow just north of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden - an area that was part of the Wildflower Garden until 1944 - and which formerly contained Eloise Butler's Mallard Pool. The diversion pipe runs under the path that bisects the old lily pond. The pipe continues outside the west portion of the Wildflower Garden, then around Birch Pond and on to Brownie Lake.

From 1958 to 1965 an average of 2 billion liters of water per year were pumped through the diversion line. It turned out that the Creek did not have enough capacity to provide water for the line so a pumping station was installed on the Mississippi River in 1966 to put water into the storm sewer line that emptied into Bassett's Creek. [Ref: Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Minnesota.]

Photo Courtesy Google