May 19, 2011, marked the perfect ending to a perfect week for Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery—the kind of week that comes around once every 83 years. It was a week in which we celebrated the history of Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial (formerly Layman’s) Cemetery while making a little history of our own. May is National Preservation Month, a time when preservationists and their supporters call attention to efforts to save the nation’s historic treasures. One of those national treasures is right here in Phillips Community
Grand Opening of the Restored Main Gate “Hinges” on contributions
On Tuesday, May 17th, about 60 people attended the unveiling of Phase I of the restoration of the cemetery’s gates and the 13 sections of the fence that were in the worst condition. The weather was glorious, the tulips were in full bloom, and even the dandelions looked festive. A lime-green dune buggy buzzed around one of the vacant lots across from the Lake Street gates where guests gathered to listen to speakers. A gentleman walking down Lake Street removed his hat and held it over his heart as he passed by the cemetery gates. Council Member Gary Schiff made the opening remarks. He was followed by Winnie Layman Fernstrom, great-great-granddaughter of the cemetery’s original owners; Britta Bloomberg from the State Historic Preservation Office; Chad Larsen, Chair of the Heritage Preservation Commission; Joyce Wisdom, Executive Director of the Lake Street Business Council; and me, as Chair of Friends of the Cemetery. The message was clear: this project wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and generous support of many individuals and agencies. The State Historic Preservation Office and the City of Minneapolis have provided the lion’s share of funding, but the value of contributions from those who have adopted pickets can not be overstated. Funders want to know, and rightly so, that the projects that they fund have broad public support; they want to know that a project matters.
Council Member Schiff and Winnie Layman Fernstrom did the honors of opening the Lake Street gates. Winnie noted that it was a day of which her Great-Great-Grandparents Martin and Elizabeth Layman, the cemetery’s original owners and among the city’s finest early residents, would have been proud. Tim McCall, cemetery archivist, recorded the event for posterity: 100 years from now (or even sooner), a historian will be able to look back and see that something historic happened on Lake Street in the Phillips neighborhood on May 17, 2011.
Award Highlights exemplified cooperation and preservation
On Thursday, May 20th, all of the partners involved in this restoration project received an award at the 20th annual Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Awards ceremony. The award was for a project that “exemplifies a landscape that is being returned to its original character in a manner that is respectful to the property’s historic past.” And, what a past that is. The first burial took place in 1853 five years before Minnesota became a state. (Interestingly, the Lake Street and Cedar Avenue portions of the fence are 1,853 feet long). Today, more people walk or drive by the cemetery than lived in the entire city during the cemetery’s early decades. The cemetery is the largest green space on Lake Street between the Mississippi River eastward and the lakes at the west edge of Minneapolis. The award winners included Miller Dunwiddie Architects, staff from the City of Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development and Public Works Department, Terra Contracting, and Friends of the Cemetery.
The restoration is not over. Phase II of the restoration which will restore another 33 sections of the fence is funded. Funding for Phase III is still needed.
Photojournalist Wing Young Huie, who is himself one of Minnesota’s great treasures, has generously offered to donate part of the proceeds from the sale of prints from his Lake Street U.S.A. project to the fence fund. By buying one of his prints, you can support two great causes: historic preservation and the arts. The images and an order form can be found on the City of Minneapolis website.
If you have not adopted a picket or would like to add more pickets to your collection, you can make a donation at Friends of the Cemetery, P. O. Box 7345, Minneapolis, MN 55407 or on-line at www.friendsofthecemetery.org. To all of you who have helped in this effort, thank you for making history in Phillips.
142nd Memorial Day Celebration
The perfect week in the middle of the month was a wonderful preface culminating with the 142nd Memorial Day Celebration with music, flowers, speeches, and military honors. That whole story will appear in the July Alley.
[“A gentleman walking down Lake Street removed his hat and held it over his heart as he passed by the cemetery gates.” And now may we all make whatever similar salute we choose to the memory of those buried here and also to the vigilant work of hundreds of ”friends of the cemetery” who continue to enhance this place and all of the history enclosed herein. Especially, “hats off” to Sue Hunter Weir for her diligence in raising the awareness of this sacred place and its stories for us and generations to follow. Editor]