Going outside this spring and soaking up some air and sun can be a refreshing cure for restlessness, especially when we crave meaningful connections amid social distancing. With seemingly endless trail systems and extensive trails around the Twin Cities area, what better way to do this than around the Chain of Lakes? We’ve put together an online map that will allow you to deepen our understanding of the area as we roll, walk, or ride around the lakes – and offer some less obvious options to explore both on and off the main thoroughfare. (Enter full screen view to optimize your route.)
Finding the half-dozen historical markers on the shores of the lakes is something of a scavenger hunt. Plaques are embedded in many large rocks that document significant moments in the lives of past generations. One of these boulders gently points to the eastern slope overlooking Bde Maka Ska to mark the construction site of the first Minneapolis apartment in 1834.
In its current context, at the center of intersecting streets on the north side of Lake of the Isles, the Peavey Well is a more obvious monument, but its importance is easily overlooked. It was built in 1891 as a drinking fountain for horses, but later it paid tribute to horses that died in World War I.
Along the southeastern part of Bde Maka Ska, a beautiful ornamental railing delineates the lake edge, which was created in June 2019 by Sandy Player, Angela Two Stars and Mona Smith in memory of the Dakota who harvested and cultivated grain along the lake in the early 19th century . The flora and fauna engraved on the sidewalk are less easy to spot.
Photo by Alex Smith
Visible from almost every part of Lake Harriet, the Bandshell is arguably the lake’s best-known landmark, but nearby, hidden among ancient trees, are the humble historic rest buildings for men and women. The two separate shelters were designed by Harry Wild Jones, with compelling hexagonal shapes and unique features (including a fireplace that is unlikely to be found in today’s toilets).
The stories told by historical landmarks are joined by voices of modern design and innovative materials that move us forward in time. Almost every approach to modernism imaginable can be discovered in the neighborhood blocks that stretch from Lowry Hill to Tangletown. Whether it is remarkable for its immaculately manicured landscapes, which themselves become works of art, or the shiny steel cladding that reflects golden sunsets, it is worth leaving the often overcrowded sea route.
Just east of Cedar Lake, Lazor / Office’s Flatpak house is relatively easy to find during the construction of the new light rail line. It was built in 2005 as one of the first prefabricated systems for single family homes in the Twin Cities using locally made wall panels.
Nowhaus, a renovation by Locus Architecture, is a bit more hidden in the neighborhood on the south side of Cedar Lake. The translucent panels with recycled billboard-backed sides create a striking facade and a first impression. Upon closer examination, one can see what this billboard advertised in the subtle outlines of the still visible images, which gives the design depth and fascination.
On the northeast slope of the Lake of the Isles, the award-winning Dayton House (designed by VJAA) seamlessly combines exterior and interior spaces and becomes a kind of hybrid between an art pavilion and a modern residence. Though not visible from the path itself, the retaining walls that form courtyards that buffer public views are visible from the streets of the neighborhood and begin the merging of landscape and structure.
Between the highlights along the route there are endless details, subtleties and carefully designed landscapes that are worth paying attention to. Make it your outdoor mission this spring and summer to identify the “unnoticed” and imagine how design can offer us opportunities to engage with the world around us in new depths.
E-mail [email protected], and we’ll add your recommendations to the online map and share your discoveries and knowledge with others in the community.