The neighborhood now known as Tangletown was founded as Washburn Park by milling tycoon Cadwallader Washburn in 1886.
Washburn came from a family of ten children and made his fortune through lumber, railroads, and building the Gold Medal Flour Company. Appreciative of his good fortune, Washburn became a philanthropist and provided in his will $375,000 to found and preserve an Orphan Asylum in honor of his mother.
The will specified that the orphanage should be, “no less that 20 acres in a desirable setting with ample shade, and within a few miles of the city of Minneapolis.”
A board of trustees appointed to oversee the orphanage chose a site between 49th and 50th streets bordered by Nicollet Avenue. The first children were admitted to the orphanage in 1886 and the facility went on to care for over 900 children in its 43 year history.
Changes in child welfare policy eventually made orphanages obsolete and in 1929, the orphanage was demolished.
The site chosen for the orphanage was picturesque and Minneapolitans would often take the streetcar down to the end of the line at 50th Street to escape the bustle of downtown Minneapolis and enjoy the park-like atmosphere and nearby creek.
The charming setting soon drew developers and a well-known landscape architect, Horace Cleveland, was commissioned to plat out ample lots that used the rolling landscape and creek-side views to their best advantage.
Cleveland’s foresight and interest in parks led him to develop the land in a way that maintained open and natural spaces.
The first non-farming resident of Washburn Park was Harry Wild Jones, the architect that designed the Lakewood Chapel at Lakewood Cemetery, the pagoda pavilion at Lake Harriet and numerous other Minneapolis buildings.
As an active park board member, Jones encouraged the Minneapolis Park Board to preserve the land directly surrounding Minnehaha Creek for public enjoyment.
The board took his recommendation seriously and by 1893, the land for Minnehaha Parkway was acquired. The pathway that was established to link the chain of lakes to Minnehaha Falls is still used and beloved today.
The second development in Washburn Park was platted by the Thorpe Brothers, and featured smaller lots in a grid that compromised Cleveland’s landscape design. The Thorpe Brothers intended to attract businesses and increase density by creating more homogenous lots.
When the proposed grid for Washburn Park was released there was strong public outcry. The Minneapolis Journal published an article titled “The Spoilation of our Woods” denouncing the development.
Charles Loring, who was Park Board president during this time, wrote a strongly worded letter to the editor which was published in the Minneapolis Journal. Loring said, “For years I have begged and pleaded for the preservation of what was left on Minnehaha Parkway, that most beautiful of all our drives, but each year, little by little, we see that it is disappearing.”
Loring predicted that if the “gridiron” plan were to be developed, “in a few years the charm of that drive will be ruined and it can never be restored.”
Without the advocacy of Loring and the attention the issue was given by the press, Washburn Park may have had its streets straightened to conform, and the neighborhood called Tangletown may have never gone by that name.
Ultimately, the Thorpe Brothers caved to pressure and restructured their developments to respect Cleveland’s design for the area. The curvy streets and large lots that define Tangletown were saved and stay with us to this day.
Written By: Allison Nowak for “The Neighborhood Files”, June 10th, 2011