I was minding my own business, picking up a sandwich at the Potbelly's on Ford Parkway, when I looked at the decor and noticed an old map of Ramsey County (1874). Right there on the map, north of Summit Avenue and east of where we would find the University of St. Thomas today, is "Wm. Finn". William Finn. Finn of Finn's Glen.
Forgive the flare. It was a dramatic moment.
Bingo. Meaning what, exactly? (Unfortunately, it doesn't identify the glen.) Years ago I wrote about Finn's Glen in conjunction with Shadow Falls. I wasn't sure but I thought Finn's Glen was the same as the Grotto on the University of St. Thomas campus, south of Shadow Falls. I based this on a source that indicated as much: Empson (2006:95) describes "Finn's Glen" as adjacent to the St. Paul Seminary, south of Summit Avenue, and a place of meditation. As a University of St. Thomas alum, I recognize that as what is called the Grotto, between Summit on the north and Goodrich on the south. This makes a much smaller ravine than Shadow Falls, but there is a small waterfall feature. Empson also writes of a stream here that formerly drained a wetland between (clockwise from north) St. Clair, Snelling, Randolph, and Fairview. We can see this in Winchell's "Falls of St. Anthony" map (1877). But...
Finn's Glen is clearly marked...
...Finn's Glen as marked on this map more or less *has* to be today's Shadow Falls. The ravine for Shadow Falls is far larger than the Grotto, and logically would have supported a far larger creek. Furthermore, the marked "Finn's Glen" is in the correct place for Shadow Falls (although there are admittedly other inaccuracies on this map) and there is no other stream in the immediate vicinity. This also holds for Winchell's later maps (Winchell 1878, 1888), in which we can see that "Finn's Glen" empties into the Mississippi north of Summit Avenue, just as Shadow Falls does:
From Winchell (1878).
|From Winchell (1888).|
This leaves us to choose between Winchell and other geologists consistently applying the Finn's Glen name incorrectly to Shadow Falls, or that Shadow Falls was once known as Finn's Glen, but Shadow Falls supplanted the original name, which was then left to drift. Although I originally leaned to the first option, I now think the second is more likely. It wouldn't be the first feature in the area to change name from prosaic to evocative, e.g., Brown's Falls becoming Minnehaha Falls. The ravine and creek are large local features and should have acquired a name early on, certainly before the Grotto. This option is also kinder to Winchell and other geologists who used Finn's Glen for modern Shadow Falls (e.g., Sardeson and Ulrich). Does it fit with the timeline?
Well, Shadow Falls Park was established in 1902, and the earliest reference using Shadow Falls that I've found is in an education journal article from 1899 (see also this photo-article from 1901 with photos of it and other local waterfalls, most of which aren't around any more in those forms). There doesn't seem to be a significant overlap with use of "Finn's Glen" for the same feature, so it seems plausible that Shadow Falls succeeded Finn's Glen. Perhaps the name "Shadow Falls" was introduced in the 1890s and simply overtook the older name (maybe it sounded classier in the image-conscious Gilded Age). Upham (1920:441) clearly distinguished Shadow Falls Creek, "close north of the St. Paul
Seminary," from Finn's Glen "about a mile farther south". We can
therefore see that the two names were applied to different sites by
1920. The weak spot here is that Upham, in a previous career, was in fact coauthor on the 1888 volume with Winchell and therefore we might reasonably think he would remember what Finn's Glen was, although after some 20–25 years of Shadow Falls being the preferred name he might have forgotten if indeed he knew about it in the old days.
Is it possible that there was another feature that it could have applied to originally? Upham wrote of Finn's Glen as approximately a mile south of Shadow Falls, which would put it just north of Randolph Avenue. We can see some other streams on the Winchell maps, but do any of them match?
|Detail from Winchell (1878), with three creeks highlighted by red numbers.|
#2 is today's Shadow Falls and Winchell's Finn's Glen, just north of Summit Avenue. #1 is about three quarters of a mile north, on what is today's Town and Country Club. (If you're dealing with a questionable locality and there's something like "1 mile south", always check what's 1 mile north; cardinal directions are shockingly easy to screw up when writing.) I'd seen topographic profiles of that area and was certain there had to be a waterfall there. Well, there was, but it's been gone a long time. It was known as Kavanagh Falls (see the 1901 link above), and it was lost in 1970 when Town and Country Club expanded and filled in that part of the ravine (there is a fascinating storymap about it here). (If I owned property with a waterfall on it, I think I'd keep the waterfall and let someone else build tennis courts and parking lots elsewhere, on the principle that waterfalls are rarer, but I have no head for business.)
#3 is more of a mystery. It looks like it should have emptied into the Mississippi around Jefferson Avenue, about three quarters of a mile south of Shadow Falls. This is not a mile, but it's not unconscionably off, either. This one is even harder to account for than Kavanagh Falls. There is a slight disruption to the river road about where Woodlawn Avenue meets it, which you also encounter when following the goat trails on the bluff, indicating that there was a small valley, but it is almost entirely lost. Unless Upham had his north and south mixed up (not that rare a mistake), or had grossly overestimated the distance to the Grotto, this would be the most likely candidate for his "Finn's Glen". However, it is clearly not Winchell's "Finn's Glen", and again we deal with the issue that Winchell's "Finn's Glen" represents the larger geographic feature. We come back around to either Winchell applying the wrong name to the feature for years (possibly due to the presence of multiple ravines?), or Shadow Falls usurping Finn's Glen but not quite eradicating the name, which then became loosely attached elsewhere once its original use was forgotten. (Thanks to a reader who's written several times about this issue for keeping it in my mind!)
Empson, D. L. 2006. The street where you live: a guide to the place names of St. Paul. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Upham, W. 1920. Minnesota geographic names: their origin and historic significance. Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society 17. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Winchell, N. H. 1877. The geology of Hennepin County. Minnesota Geological Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota. Annual Report 5:131–201.
Winchell, N. H. 1878. The geology of Ramsey County. Minnesota Geological Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota. Annual Report 6:66–92.
Winchell, N. H. 1888. The geology of Ramsey County. Pages 345–374 in N. H. Winchell and W. Upham. The geology of Minnesota. Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Final Report 2. Johnson, Smith & Harrison, state printers, Minneapolis, Minnesota.