Harold Olson's construction photographs were invaluable in evaluating properties. Here workers are building the Taylors Falls Overlook.

Assessment + Analysis
Evaluating the Properties

Mn/DOT’s roadside development inventory was one of the first studies of its type in the U.S. There had been no previous comprehensive cultural resource study of Minnesota’s roadside development facilities and no historic context development, although several of the inventoried properties had been the subject of earlier Mn/DOT or SHPO attention.

A historic context was developed entitled, "Roadside Development on Minnesota Trunk Highways, 1920-1960" to help understand the properties and evaluate their significance. Among the sources that were especially helpful in this process were a large collection of original construction photographs taken by Roadside Development staff, a study of Rustic style structures in Minnesota State Parks that had been completed in 1990, and documentation developed by the National Park Service to evaluate landscape architecture and structures within the national parks.

An evaluative process was developed, based on National Register criteria, to determine which sites were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places:

1) Apply the fifty-year age criterion necessary for National Register eligibility except in cases of exceptional significance.

2) Determine if the property is associated with a Depression-era federal relief. Though many of the properties were products of federal relief programs, this was not a requirement for National Register eligibility. Determining whether a property had New Deal associations helped focus the rest of the process.

3) Determine if the property is historically or architecturally significant. A property would meet this requirement if it fulfills one of the following seven conditions:

• Important federal relief project
• Rare federal relief property type
• Non-federal relief property that closely resembles a federal relief property
• Significant to the history of roadside development
• Significant to transportation history
• Significant to local history
• Design significance

4) Assess the property's physical integrity. The National Register uses a composite assessment of seven qualities to help determine a property's overall integrity: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. A property need not retain integrity in all seven areas to be eligible, but it must retain enough overall integrity to continue to convey its historic character and design intent.

Inventory File Contents

 

The consultants developed guidelines to help assess physical integrity. The guidelines explain, for example, that a property can be in very poor condition and still be National Register-eligible, as long as it retains enough integrity to continue to convey its historic character and design intent. Assessing integrity was one of the most challenging tasks because many of the inventoried properties have been altered to some degree—even if only through the decline and loss of American elm (Ulmus americana) trees to Dutch elm disease.

About half of the 102 properties, or 56 sites, plus one historic district, were determined eligible for the National Register under the Roadside Development context and six more were already listed on the National Register under different contexts. The Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office is adopting Mn/DOT's criteria to evaluate the historical and architectural significance of similar roadside properties.

The study produced three notable final products: an extensive inventory file for each property; the final report, Historic Roadside Development Structures on Minnesota Trunk Highways; and eight cataloged and indexed volumes of historic photos. In addition, a less tangible but important result is that Mn/DOT now realizes it owns a significant collection of historic waysides and that a valuable cultural resource exists along Minnesota’s highways.

Arthur Nichols' attention to detail is illustrated in the Rustic style St. Cloud Historical Marker. Note the naturalistic stonework flanking the granite tablet.

Assessment + Analysis
St. Cloud Historical Marker

Designed by A. R. Nichols and built in 1937, the St. Cloud Historical Marker is typical of a small site with a symmetrical design. The wayside rest was planted with American elms, silver maples, red cedars, and Chinese juniper shrubs. Its historical marker has a raised, stone-paved terrace that is surrounded on three sides by low walls. A granite tablet describes Minnesota's first granite quarry that opened just west of the site in 1868.

Not surprisingly, the entire marker is built with St. Cloud granite. What is unique is the striking stonework that features roughly-hewn, pointed blocks of granite. It is unlike any other markers in the inventory, all of which have more restrained or formal designs.

 

This 1936 drawing by Arthur Nichols includes a plan, two elevations, and this perspective sketch of the St. Cloud Historical Marker.

The study determined that this property is eligible for the National Register because of its importance to the history of roadside development and for its design quality. The statement of significance notes:

The St. Cloud Historical Marker is among the 68 Depression-era properties in the inventory that represent the Minnesota Highway Department's first large-scale effort to construct roadside development facilities in the state. The site is also important as a well-preserved example of the accomplishments of the NYA (National Youth Administration) working in cooperation with the MHD. It is an example of the distinctive and well-constructed public facilities built by the MHD in partnership with federal relief agencies that met the objectives of roadside development while providing essential work and job training to the nation's unemployed during the Great Depression.

The design of the marker is also important as an intact example of small-scale roadside parking areas that incorporate shrine-type markers. With its unusual, naturalistic design, featuring large, irregularly-cut, dark granite boulders, the marker is an excellent example of the application of the National Park Service Rustic style to an interpretive marker. The marker displays the special labor-intensive construction techniques and distinctive use of indigenous materials that characterize both the Rustic style and federal relief construction in Minnesota. Furthermore, the St. Cloud Historical Marker is an important example of the roadside development work of prominent landscape architect A.R. Nichols.


The massive Garrison Concourse-the only Mn/DOT overlook that projects into a lake-has been a landmark stop for travelers since the 1930s.


Assessment + Analysis
The Garrison Concourse

Scenic overlooks were one of the features built most often by the Roadside Development Division. Overlook walls promoted highway safety by providing tourists with safe vantage points from which to admire a view, thereby discouraging them from stopping at unsafe locations. Overlooks also enticed tired drivers to leave their cars and walk around to refresh themselves. Local communities liked them because they promoted tourism.



 

A comparison of a bird's-eye view perspective drawing from 1937 showing the design of the Garrison Concourse and adjacent roadway (top) with a contemporary aerial view (bottom) reveals the high integrity of the site. Few changes have occurred since construction over 60 years ago.

The Garrison Concourse is located in the town of Garrison on the west shore of Mille Lacs Lake, an immense body of water in one of the state's most popular recreational areas. The Concourse is a massive fortress-like structure that projects 180 feet into the lake, rises 12 feet out of the water, and extends 336 feet along the shoreline. It consists of a retaining wall built with huge, randomly-laid, granite boulders. It was actually built on dry land during the drought years of the Great Depression with the expectation that the lake would eventually return to its normal level.

The landscape includes a circular roadway that forms a center island, a stone monument supporting a flagpole and historical plaque, and curved concrete benches resting on granite pedestals. (Several granite benches are missing.) Shrubs such as juniper, spirea, honeysuckle, and rugosa rose were planted in a symmetrical pattern that emphasized the island’s walkways, and dozens of American Elms provided shade. The project included designing the adjacent "Y"-shaped highway intersection and improving a swimming beach.

The Garrison Concourse was built by the CCC Camp SP-15 in 1936-39. The camp was one of four in Minnesota devoted to roadside development projects. The Concourse was the cornerstone of many miles of highway improvements near Mille Lacs. Along the corridor, CCC workers extensively shaped and planted the roadsides and developed four stone bridges, another stone overlook, and a rest area with a log and stone picnic shelter. Collectively, the work represents the most extensive roadside development project undertaken by the CCC in the state.

The Concourse is one of the largest stone features included in the inventory and the only overlook that projects into a lake. It was determined eligible for the National Register because of its significance to the history of roadside development, its design significance, and because it represents a rare federal relief property type.

Several picnic areas were built in parks and wayside rests along Highway 100 as shown in this 1939 view of Lilac Park.

Assessment + Analysis
Highway 100 - Lilac Way

Building the western segment of Trunk Highway 100 and its roadside development facilities was one of the state's largest federal relief construction projects. Located west of Minneapolis, this 12.5-mile section of roadway was the first portion of a "Belt Line Highway" that encircled the Twin Cities by 1950. It was the state's first 4-lane highway with controlled access and boasted the first cloverleaf interchange.

The project began under the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) but was transferred to the Works Progress Administration when the WPA was created in 1935. In that year alone the project employed between 2,500 and 3,000 men.

 

Highway 100 is the only roadside development project in the state that includes rock gardens and ornamental pools. Designed by Arthur Nichols, this historic view of Lilac Park depicts one of these picturesque features. (inset) This unique stone "beehive" fireplace contains cook stoves for picnickers. Harold E. Olson, the longtime head of the Roadside Development Division, remarked in a speech in 1933 that stone fireplaces were preferred to concrete "which detract from the natural environment."

Besides the highway, workers built seven parks with rustic entrance signs, stone overlooks, picnic areas, and even ornamental pools and rock gardens. Arthur Nichols designed the parks and landscaping along the "Lilac Way," as the original portion of Highway 100 was called. Lilac Way was one of the Roadside Development Division's largest, best-publicized, and most visible projects.

In a previous Mn/DOT study, historian Barbara J. Henning noted that the landscaping of Highway 100 was extraordinary in scope. In the St. Louis Park segment there were 12 types of evergreen trees, totaling 420 plants, and 37 varieties of deciduous trees, shrubs, and vines. The total number of deciduous plants came to 23,505. The largest units were American elm (1,890), sumac (9,478), three kinds of spirea (2,199), Persian lilac (2,487), and common lilac (5,408). The lilac bushes were an exception to the Roadside Development Division's general policy of not planting flowers or flowering shrubs along highways.

Lilac Way was the only property in the roadside development study that was classified as a historic district. The district included a portion of the highway and the five surviving parks. Lilac Way was considered important as a rare and especially large federal relief project, for its significance in the history of transportation and roadside development, and for its design significance. The district was also significant in the history of suburban development and regional transportation in the Twin Cities. Highway 100 is being reconstructed and is no longer completely intact.


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