Beauty Spots: The framing of nature and urbanity in Midwestern towns

 

Red Wing Broadway Park

Broadway Park in Red Wing Minnesota. Postcard circa 1925.

In 19th century midwestern and High Plains towns, there was a natural urge to create enclosed and urbane settings as an escape from the surrounding open landscape. The history of their city parks tells a story of the of the desire to create “beauty spots”—places of geographic fantasy and a kind of “paradise” on the plains.

A generation later, in the City Beautiful and Beaux Arts eras (1900-30), midwestern towns began to build even grander, neo-classically inspired settings with pergolas, performance halls, and amphitheaters. Surrounded by churches and the neo-classical Sheldon Auditorium, Broadway Park in Red Wing, Minnesota may be one of the most beautiful small civic spaces in the country.

Postcards show how towns wanted their parks to be seen by others. Though retouched with color and perhaps some early “photoshopping” to remove flawed elements—they document civic aspiration and pride.

The following images capture the range of town oasis parks from the very formal to the rustic. This page will continue to be updated.

 

Morris

Set on the edge of the transition to the tall grass prairie in western Minnesota, the city of Morris began as a railroad town with few trees and flat open vistas. They began building parks—as seen here with City Park still in its rough-cut early years. Postcard circa 1930.

 

Orklyn Park Lake City

City Park and Fountain Rice Lake, WI

Rice Lake’s City Park combines the European formality of a tiered fountain and symmetrical planning with the curvilinear shoreline and vistas of Rice Lake.

 

Litchfield Central Park

 

 

City Park Decorah, IA

City Park Decorah, Iowa. The “rustic style” of bridges and buildings relied on local materials and highlighted regional topography.

 

chester-park-duluth.jpg

Poised on a hillside that was once the Lake Superior western bank, Duluth, Minnesota has a remarkable parks system with rustic beauty spots and trails following streams, ravines, and creeks.

 

 

Pine Walk at Monastery Dubuque, IA

Pine Walk at Monastery Dubuque, Iowa.  The Rule of Saint Benedict describes monks  as “lovers of the place.” Building on this appreciation of locality and the need for windbreaks, many monasteries, cemeteries, and campuses planted dramatic allees of pines for wind shelter and walks.

 

All titles, text, and captions copyright Frank Edgerton Martin, 2018.

 

 

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