Great Medicine Spring

1939 History
of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

Winter 1938/1939

WPA sign
Above: The WPA signature on the 1939 stonework of the Bubbling Spring in the Garden's north meadow.

1939 was Martha Crone’s 7th year in charge of the Garden as temporary curator. The Garden began its 33rd year. (1)

During the winter Months Martha Crone was actively involved at the the Minneapolis Public Library Science Museum and, with husband William, in the Minnesota Mycological Society. Martha was secretary of the Society from 1926.

In 1938 the Crones had constructed a basic cabin on their newly acquired property in the area of Cedar Creek Bog. During the winter months of 1938-39 they went to “the woods” to enjoy the wild area and do what winter work they could on finishing the interior of the cabin.

Cedar creek bog
The area of Cedar Creek where the Crone's built their cabin on the island -like hill in center of the photo. Photo - University of Minnesota.

In January the Park Board maintenance workers were in the Garden working on a new fence in the area Martha referred to as the “lower enclosure.” (2) This was either a replacement for Eloise Butler's 1924 fence or a supplement. See fencing details in this article.

The weather of late 1938 was warm and dry until late December when there would be a severe cold snap at the end of the month, but still dry. January was above average in temperature and February was below average. There was significant snowfall after the first of the new year, such that snowfall for the winter was right on average.

Edith Schussler
Edith Schussler is 2nd from left. The others are l to r: Mary Meeker, Martha Crone, Louisa Healy. Photo taken at Eloise Butler's 80th birthday party, Aug. 3, 1931.

On March 30, she and husband Bill went to the Garden in late afternoon to check things out. She reported the gate was slightly frozen but they chipped it out. All the snow was gone. Everything else was in good shape and ready for opening day on April 1st. (2)

The Garden was re-named in 1929 as the “Eloise Butler Wild Flower Garden;” in honor of its first curator. Up until 1938 Martha referred to the Garden as the “Native Plant Reserve,” sometimes prefacing it with “Eloise Butler.” In 1939 she added the words “and Bird Sanctuary” but then dropped those words in later years. (4)

Martha’s (and Eloise Butler’s) friend Gertrude Cram was spending the year in Europe at the American School in Athens. This would preclude any more plants coming to Martha in the fall from Isle Royal as was the case in many previous years. But in a letter to Martha dated March 4, 1939, postmarked from Athens she made the comment:
You will be thinking of opening your sanctuary when this reaches you, though it may arrive in a blizzard. I still remember some of the “spring days” you lived through in that exposed place. Has anything yet been done to your office to make it more livable?

Another friend of Martha’s and a former pupil of Eloise Butler’s, Edith Schussler [2nd from left in photo at right], sent a note dated March 25, 1939 from Tempe AZ, telling Martha and friends all about the warm weather and what plants were flowering, but she also was reminded of the Garden opening when she wrote:
All hail to you on April 1st as you gather in the little office for the first day of the season...we feel a homesick twinge for the bloodroot, Hepatica and spring beauty now struggling so valiantly to be ready for the “great day.” Now as you gather welcoming each other and no doubt pausing a moment in memory of our dear old friend, who loved us all, Mr. Van Wyche, please remember the Schusslers too, gather there in thought.
Mr. Van Wyche was a source of some plants in the days of the early Garden.

Spring 1939

Mourning Cloak Butterfly
Mourning Cloak Butterfly, Photo ©G D Bebeau.

Martha Crone opened the Garden on April 1st, she noted in her log: Snow-Trillium and Skunk Cabbage in full bloom. Not a trace of snow or ice to be found, altho 2 weeks earlier several feet of snow covered the ground. Snow melted and drained into the ground, no run off to wash away the soil.” This weather was not to last however.

On opening day she cleaned the front room of the office and had the stove going all day so that it was “real comfortable” Mr. Pabody had been for many years one of her first callers when the Garden opened but was too ill to come in this year. (2). [This was E. F. Pabody, Photographer, 1920 Colfax Ave So., Minneapolis. See 1933 for some of his photos of the Garden in Winter.]

On the 2nd she fixed a bird house that squirrels ruined and noted that many folks were out to the Garden. Being a great birder, she made of list of 31 birds present and noted that the “owl calls at sharp 4.” By the 6th the weather turned much colder and snow began. She had to keep the stove going all day in the small room to keep warm and the owl still called at 4. On the 7th it was still snowing but thousands of juncos passed through at 4 - all singing she reported. The next day it was very cold with heavy ice in the water bucket in the office. (2).

The 9th was Easter Sunday, but Martha had to open the Garden. She noted “still cold and stove going all day. On the 10th it was “still cold. Few people out. Have been coming in Tamarack Trail so car doesn’t need to climb hill.” (2). The Crones frequently had winter difficulty with their old car (a Whippet) and the steep hill leading to the front entrance to the Garden was too much for it on cold winter days. Tamarack trail was at the back of the Garden - see a Pabody photo in 1933 history.

Hay-scented Fern
Hay-scented Fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula. 100 were donated to the Garden. Photo ©Emmett J. Judziewicz, Wisconsin Flora.

By April 13th the temperature began to warm and she noted on the 14th that the first Hepatica was out and the Mourning Cloak and Red Admiral butterflies were about. Her husband Bill came in on the 16th to clear out some brush. But once again, the weather turned and on the 17th she noted heavy wet snow falling followed by a gale. Snow was 6 inches deep and drifts in some places so she did not make it to the Garden. On the 18th she noted “Six inches of snow remaining on ground all day. Looks like mid-winter, trees clothed in heavy snow. Went down to the Garden at noon. Snow deep and slushy. Snow Trilliums keep in bloom in spite of heavy snow.”

By the 21st she could write “Weather lovely, 1st day of break-up of months of bad weather. Clear after an all day rain of yesterday. Water level very high. A great deal of water in swamp below office. Large stream going over dam.” The “dam” was the concrete structure Eloise Butler had constructed at the north end of the tamarack bog to create a small pool in the Garden. It drained under the tarvia road that bisected the Garden area and into the north meadow where Eloise Butler’s Mallard Pool was located.

Within several days it was real spring, 83 degrees on the 24th. the Hepaticas were in full bloom as was the bloodroot. Men came in to help her carry out brush.

On the 25th she was able to do her first planting of the season - 36 New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) brought from her home garden. Carpenters came in to do some fixing and brought in a new cabinet for her plant labels.

On the last day of such a strange month (a Sunday) she noted “Hepaticas are in full bloom. Crowds in reserve great and had much to do."

Gerald Burgess
Gerald R. Burgess. Newspaper photo.

Early May saw warm weather, 88 degrees on the 5th. On the 6th she noted “crowds great but interrupted by showers, Scouts out, Trilliums beautiful.” And on that same day she had time to plant 325 Dwarf Trillium (Trillium nivale) obtained from Mankato. [The Mankato/New Ulm area a familiar source of plants for her.] Sunday the 7th: “Ideal day - great crowds thru, birds in. Bill conducted Scout leaders thru at 2 - crowds very unruly, glad to close.”

She found a pheasants nest near the office on the 7th of May with 13 eggs in it. By the 14th it had 16 eggs. On the 9th she planted 100 Hay-scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) that were sent from Askov MN in memory of frequent Garden visitor Gerald Burgess. (Note 3) Sadly, none of the Hay-scented ferns survive.) Martha does not note who made the donation, whether it was his wife Louise or some other person, perhaps the nursery owner in Askov.

Martha made many bird notes in her log during May and concluded the May bird notes on the 28th with this:

Dr. Thomas Roberts
Dr. Thomas S. Roberts, University of Minnesota. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Reserve filled with bird song such as Oriole, Red-breasted Grosbeak, Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Crested Fly-catcher, Veery, and Cuckoo. Followed two Connecticut warblers about for some time, they were singing their beecher, beecher, beecher, be song, somewhat like an Oven bird yet on one level instead of ascending. Hummingbird performed the pendulum swing. [Note: The pendulum swing is an aerial dance where the male bird moves in an arc in front of the female, wings buzzing, to show off his control.]

Parks Superintendent Emeritus Theodore Wirth and Park Board Vice President Francis Gross came to see her - subject of meeting not mentioned. On the 29th Dr’s. Roberts, Breckenridge and Kilgore were in the Garden with their classes. This usually happened every year. [These three were University of MN professors. Dr. Roberts was Thomas S. Roberts, author of Birds of Minnesota and for whom the Roberts Bird Sanctuary is named. Dr. Breckenridge became Director of the University of Minnesota Natural History Museum.] By the 30th the temperature reached 95 degrees but Martha noted “many folks in, in spite of mosquitoes.”

1939 was the last year that Martha Crone references any planting activity in the northern section of the garden where the Mallard Pool was located, except for actually removing some plants in the 1940s. Here are her last two log entries about the area:
1939, May 19: Planted 10 American Dog Violet from Cedar swamp in lower enclosure below dam.
1939, May 25: In bloom . . . . Blue Delphinium near west gate of lower enclosure.

For more details on this area see this article on the Open water in the wetland.

Summer 1939

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea); Photo ©John Crawley, Utah Birds

Summer weather of 1939, like spring, was eventful. On Wednesday, June 7 Martha recorded “Worst June gale at 5 AM - a lot of split trees down everywhere.” Wednesday was her day off and the Garden would be closed, but the next day she noted “Found a mess of trees and branches in Garden after storm. Will need help to complete.” (2). The 2nd largest elm, near the large one in the Garden, was snapped off 25 feet from the base and completely destroyed. This was followed on Sunday, the 18th with this note: “Thunderstorm at 3. Lightning struck on hill at 4. Shock rooted us to the ground. 3 others in office. Tornado at Champlin and Anoka at 3:20 - much damage, 10 dead.” The lightning had hit a large cottonwood tree on the hillside overlooking Birch Pond.

In midsummer a cold snap occurred. On July 17th Martha noted “High of 62 degrees, uncomfortably cold all day, rained 1/2 day. Rains have been well distributed all summer. Very lonesome in Garden.” (2)

Deathcap Mushroom
Deathcap Mushroom (Amanita phalloides). Photo ©Fred Stevens.

Summer Garden Logs were also full of bird notes. On June 4th Martha noted “Mrs. Ure [a birder] found a pair of Blue-gray Gantcatchers building a nest in a white oak tree on hill near SW corner of Reserve, about 20 feet from ground, beautifully constructed similar to a Hummingbirds nest, but a little larger and thicker.” (5)

She noted those birds are very rare here. On July 2nd a Mr. Yelick came in and took down the nest after the young had fledged and sent it to Dr. Roberts at the University. The Showy lady’s-slippers were at their best on June 17th. (5)

On July 25 she found 7 of the deadly Amanita phalloides mushroom growing near the Garden Office. (5) In 1927 Martha and husband Bill had gathered over 1000 of these and forwarded them to the University of Minnesota for experimental purposes. [from Newsletter of the Minnesota Mycological Society]

By August 21, when the temperature only reached 76 degrees, Martha noted: “At 10:30 a large warbler wave suddenly arrived.” Migration continued the rest of the month and on the last day of August she wrote: “A blue-winged warbler flew up to the N.E. window while I closely observed it. It was hanging upside down on the leaves of the Dutchman’s pipe vine. It was a splendid opportunity to note it in detail being only a few inches from me.” (5)

Great Medicine Spring 1939
New stonework, fountain and shelter at the Great Medicine Spring, built by the WPA crews in 1939. Photo by Walter B. Dahlberg. Click on image for larger version.

Visitors to the Garden this summer included a Mr. Macdonald, the curator of the Reserve at Winnipeg along with 4 others from there. Her most frequent visitor all during the Garden season was Miss Lulu May Aler. She was one of the first visitors when the Garden opened in April and Martha would often note in her diary that “Miss Aler in” and sometimes for lunch together. (2)

Friends member J. S. Futcher reports that he knew Miss Aler and that she started and then maintained a large bird feeding station at the back side of the Wildflower Garden, so she would visit several time a week to tend it. At this time she was president of the Audubon Society of Minneapolis.

By the early 1950’s she had become too old to do the work and Mr. Futcher found some neighbor boys who would do it as they were in the Minneapolis Bird Club, which was affiliated with the Minneapolis Audubon society, which then took over the task from that time on. The feeding table is not maintained today.

Another big project during late summer and into fall was the tapping of a spring in the marsh to fill the pool of open water maintained there. On August 22 a group of men came in and began looking for a spring near the pool. While they were there they closed up a hole in the office dug by a woodchuck. On the 28th the men struck the spring on the west side of the pool, they secured the area from their work making it un-noticeable. The spring had a large flow and within 24 hours had noticeably put water in the pool. By the 31st, the pool was running over so on Sept. 2nd the men came back and put in a drain pipe so the pool would drain excess water through a pipe. (2)

It's not known if this was a Park Board crew or the WPA crew that had been placing some masonry work around the other three springs near the Garden, which were the Great Medicine Spring just Northwest of the Garden, the Bubbling Spring just outside the current Garden back (north) gate, and the spring on the corner of what is now Glenwood Ave. and Wirth Parkway.

There is a remnant of this work in the Garden today. Former Gardener Cary George states that there is a 4 inch pipe leading to the hillside near the existing Garden pool where this water drained to. There is also an upright pipe in the wetland by a large River Birch. This pipe is probably the site of the spring and in 1939 it would probably have been on the western edge of what was then a slightly larger garden pool.

old Spring at Glenwood and Wirth
The old Spring at Glenwood and Wirth Parkway in 2015. Photo G D Bebeau.
Spring at Glenwood and Wirth Parkway 1939
New stonework just completed by the WPA crew in 1939 at the corner of Glenwood and what is now Wirth Parkway. Photo by Walter B. Dahlberg. Click on image for larger version.

Stonework around the old spring just outside the current North Garden gate, shown here in 2015. Stonework was done in 1939 by a WPA Masonry Crew. Photo G D Bebeau.

Stonework around old spring

Autumn 1939

Rosinweed, (Silphium integrifolium). Photo ©G D Bebeau

The fall weather of 1939 continued to be different from normal. The hottest day of the year was on September 18th when 98 degrees was reached with high humidity. Then on September 26 there was an early killing frost, but in October it warmed up with temperatures above average through the end of the year. Martha Crone noted on Oct. 4th the heaviest electrical storm in years but without damage in the Garden. (5)

Also on September 18th, Mr. C. A. Bossen, the new Parks Superintendent who succeeded Theodore Wirth in 1936, came to the Garden to tell Martha the Garden should remain open this year until October 15th instead of closing on September 30th as was the custom. (2) Martha had requested this in 1938 with these words in her 1938 Annual Report: “The Reserve closed September 30th with a greater profusion of plants still in bloom and the foliage just starting to turn to beautiful hues. There has been an increasing request for the Reserve to remain open until at least October 15th, so that visitors may enjoy the fall beauties.”

October opened with “77 degrees, beautiful sunny weather. Great crowds in. Too dry for mushrooms. Asters and goldenrods still lovely.” (2) On the 14th men came in from the Park Board to move out her boxes of material and the typewriter as Martha prepared to closeup the following day, which turned out to be a nice 60 degrees with many visitors and the witch hazel in bloom. (2)

Her Garden Log contains many notes of bird movement in the fall, particularly waves of warblers on September 27 through the 29th, and on October 10th

Ginseng, (Panax quinquefolius) Photo ©Dennis W. Woodland, Wisconsin Flora.

Notable plantings in the fall, while no new species, included six Ohio Buckeye on October 12th,
10 Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on October 10th, and
Rosinweed and Prairie Dock on October 14th.
Earlier in the year in July she had noted Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) blooming in the Garden. This was the first mention of the plant in her logs since becoming Curator.

After the Garden closed, Martha and husband Bill continued to work on their new cabin at their Cedar Forest property - adding good windows, adding plants, and placing some log bridges over the small streams that ran through the property. When the Garden was closed on Wednesdays, Martha’s day off, they would frequently drive up to the property.

Cedar Creek Bog
Cedar Forrest where the Crone's had their cabin. Photo - University of Minnesota.

As to the benefit of the two-week extension to the Garden’s season, Martha had this to say:

Following popular request the season in the Reserve was extended two weeks, this included three Sundays of beautiful weather. Scores of visitors availed themselves of this opportunity to view and enjoy the fall foliage of wondrous hues, for Autumn the scene is of surpassing loveliness, with the beautiful groups of maples, oaks, poplars and birch. May the season be extended again. (4)

Martha noted that on November 30th the temperature was 60 degrees. “Loveliest Thanksgiving I can remember, like mid-summer.” (2) [Note: In 1939 Minnesota had not yet opted to adopt the 4th Thursday of November as Thanksgiving.] This dry warm weather continued with Martha noting on December 17th “53 degrees, beautiful weather, everyone sprinkling lawns, very dry.” (2) Then on December 19th snow came and remained on the ground through the end of the year.

One of Martha’s frequent Garden visitors during the season was Robert Dassett, who in future years would be come the seventh president of The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden.

He frequently brought along his bride-to-be, Betty, and they were married in late 1939. Years later, on May 18th, 1960, Dassett would write to Martha:

Enclosed is a check for $5 to enroll me as a Friend. A thousand dollars couldn’t even begin to repay for the wonderful hours spent in the Garden. I’ll cherish forever those moments spent on the paths in the Garden and also in your little cabin chatting about all sorts of wonderful things, but mostly about birds and flowers.

Martha’s activities in the Mushroom Society continued. On December 8th at the annual meeting, she was elected secretary for the 8th time with 104 votes out of 108 (2). Dr. Crone gave up his position as Vice President this year after holding in since 1929.

(1): Martha was appointed "temporary" Curator in April 1933 to work until October 1st, 1933 for $60 per month. (Letter of Superintendent Theodore Wirth to the Board of Park Commissioners dated April 18, 1933). This arrangement was confirmed in 1936 and 1938 by the Minneapolis Civil Service Commission that her position was "temporary Curator" at the same rate of pay. It was not until April 4, 1940 that the position was confirmed permanent.

(2) Martha Crone's Diary - 1939. For Lulu May Aler and the stations see this article on the Bird Feeding Stations.

(3) Mr. Burgess refers to Gerald H. Burgess who was a real friend of the Garden who sourced plants for Martha Crone for a number of years in the 1930s. He was active in many associations and owner of Panama Carbon Co. He passed away on April 29, 1938 and in 1986 a memorial fountain was erected just inside the Garden front gate, in honor of him and his wife Louise. When the Martha Crone Shelter was built, the first Book of Memorials that was kept in the Shelter.

(4) Annual Report to the Board of Park Commissioners dated December 12, 1939.

(5) Garden Log

Historical photo at top of page: The new stone work and fountain built by a WPA masonry crew in 1939 at the Great Medicine Spring, just outside the west side of the Garden. The Park Board carpenters then constructed the cedar protective cover. Photo by Walter Dahlberg.

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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

Other References:

Garden Log - Native Plant Reserve, Glenwood Park, Minneapolis, MN by Eloise Butler

Martha Crone's Garden Log and her 1951 Census of plants in the Garden.

Various papers and correspondence of Eloise Butler 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. "" - 030122