Saturday, March 6, 2010

Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls is arguably the most widely-known scenic location in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metroplex.  In the 1930s the park surrounding the falls was extensively improved by crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Project Administration.

The stonework that greets the visitor to the park at the upper levels of the falls is masterfully crafted, and judging by the similarity of the blocks to one another, I would assume this is quarry-harvested stone.

The walls are handsome and seem quite formal for what amounts to a rural setting.  This rounded wall terminating in a wrought-iron fence would not be out of place at a castle.

I believe CCC crews tried to use local material whenever possible.  This formal wall  terminates near the creek, where the native limstone is apparent.  The native stone is more irregular in shape and slightly darker in color.

This is one of the stairways leading from the upper park down to the areas below the falls (along the creek).  For this stairway, the sidewalls and columns appear to be of native material.
Better seen in this closeup view of the wall of the stairway.  It takes more skill to create a wall out of differently sized pieces like this than the wall at the top of this post.
Our trip now brings us down to the lower reaches of the park, where the slopes along the creek are held up by retaining walls, also crafted from local limestone.  This section is rather nicely done:
This wall was probably assigned to new trainees, because the limestone slabs are at irregular angles, and the mortar is much thicker, but it has served its purpose for 80 years..
In a number of places in the park the walls have started to deteriorate - an inevitable consequence in a climate where fall and spring bring freeze/thaw cycles.

A quick websearch yielded thousands of photos of Minnehaha Falls itself, but few of the stonework (which is one reason I've created this blog).  Some of the better pix of stonework are these of another staircase, the bridge over the falls, the WPA retaining wall and hiking path along the creek, another staircase, and the bridge over the creek below the falls.


  1. Hi. I'm a stonemason and it's great to come across such a good idea for a blog. I've been tweeting (@JoeValles) about CCC projects lately. The carriage road bridges of Arcadia National Park in Maine are beautiful examples of CCC stonework. There's a stonemason in Texas who's doing repairs to CCC projects his father and uncles worked on in the 30's ( Thanks for sharing your photos.

    1. Correction - The carriage road bridges in Acadia were financed and built by John D. Rockefeller. The Maine Folklife Center says that the CCC worked on other projects in the park: brush clearing, building fire breaks and access roads, pest and disease control, trail work, campsites etc...

    2. The National Park Service website has photos of CCC members working on bridges on Mt. Desert Island -

      - though it doesn't specify that they are on the bike trails.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Joe. I have wonderful memories of the carriage paths at Acadia, having visited it a number of times when I lived further east. It's on my (long) list of things to add to this blog... eventually.

  3. Thanks for featuring this beautiful stonework in this blog. We forget how much CCC workers contributed to so many of the places we enjoy. My closest association with the CCC is the work that they did in the Southeast on archaeological sites, including the one where I worked for seven years in Tennessee (40SY1, commonly known as "Chucalissa," a Choctaw word meaning "abandoned house"). The early work was carried out under the supervision of archaeologists from the University of Tennessee, but since 1962 it has been owned by the University of Memphis and is the site of the C.H. Nash Museum. Nash, an archaeologist, was pivotal in getting the place going as a park, museum, and research center. Without the help of the many hands of CCC workers, the entire place could have been long forgotten.