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The Lake Harriet Toboggan Slide

"Children living in the Lake Harriet district were dusting off their toboggans today and getting them ready for the advent of the first real snowfall in Minneapolis, because the park board’s new toboggan chute at West 43rd Street and Lake Harriet Boulevard has now been completed and needs only snow and ice to make it usable." - The Minneapolis Journal, December 4, 1913.


Advertised as the staple winter event of the Twin Cities, the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival kicks off this weekend. The Loppet brings together thousands of cross country skiers, skijorers, snowshoers, winter cyclists, kubb players, and spectators who share the common love for winter sports and activities. In fact, Minneapolis and its parks system is arguably the mecca for winter sports. In addition to the Loppet festivities, winter enthusiasts have access to countless skating rinks, ski hills, and miles upon miles of snow-trodden winter trails throughout the metro.


However, a different type of winter activity was in its ascendency in the City of Lakes over a century ago: tobogganing. Tobogganing became popularized after several Canadian cities and Duluth opened city-operated slides to the public in the early 1900s to much fanfare. Hoping to capture the popularity of this new pastime, Minneapolis planned to unveil their very own toboggan slide to the public. Thus in the autumn of 1912, park board employees began to scope out suitable locations to build a manmade slide.


Although smaller toboggan slides were created at Powderhorn Park and along the Mississippi River bluffs, the largest and most popular slide was built on a high bluff overlooking the western shore of Lake Harriet. The Lake Harriet toboggan slide resembled a wooden roller coaster. Its wood-framed structure began near the intersection of Queen Avenue and Linden Hills Boulevard. Packed with snow, the chute’s frame spanned over and above Lake Harriet Parkway before settling on the ice below at Lake Harriet.


The 1912-13 toboggan slide at Lake Harriet. Courtesy of the Minnesota Digital Library.

This toboggan slide opened to the public on January 3rd, 1913. As you can expect, the slide was incredibly popular in its first winter. Scores of children would line up with their sleds and toboggans, with some sleds large enough to accommodate five children at a time. More daring kiddos would grease the rails of their sleds for an even faster ride. With enough speed, the impetus from the slide hurdled tobogganers from the base of the chute several hundred feet towards the center of the lake’s icy surface.


Two policemen were dispatched to Lake Harriet daily to oversee the slide operations. One officer was placed at the top of the slide to make sure that the children maintained an orderly line and used the slide in ninety-second intervals for safety. Another officer was placed at a warming house near the base of the slide to ensure that children returned their toboggans to the top of the slide for the next group.


In its first year of operation, estimates suggest the slide was ridden over 10,000 times before its closure and dismantling in March of 1913.


Because of its immense popularity, the park board had grandiose plans to bring back the toboggan slide for the 1913-14 winter season. At first, the park board planned to erect two toboggan slides at Lake Harriet. This plan sought to operate one slide at Queen Avenue, with a second slide on the Lynnhurst side of the lake at the intersection of Lake Harriet Parkway and West 46th Street. The idea was that tobogganers could circuit up and down the two toboggan chutes to reduce lines and congestion.


As exciting as two toboggan slides would be, the building of two separate slides and paying four policemen to chaperone proved too costly. Instead, the park board chose to build a new slide featuring two parallel ice-lined toboggan chutes 125 feet longer and 25 feet taller than the previous year’s slide at Queen Avenue.


Looking down one of the two ice-lined toboggan chutes at Lake Harriet, 1914. Courtesy of the Minnesota Digital Library.

The new double-tracked slide opened on January 13th, 1914, but not without issue. A few days prior, a warm spell caused the thawing ice underneath the slide’s scaffolding to give way. The frame of the slide fell six feet through the ice, resting on the lakebed below. Park board officials decided to leave the slide as-is; they asserted the slide was still structurally sound, the steeper incline would be nothing more than an additional thrill.


Here you can see the dip in the chute from where the frame fell through the ice as well as the portico for cars on Lake Harriet Parkway, 1914. Courtesy of the Minnesota Digital Library.

Despite the park board’s lackadaisical assessment, the steeper, longer, and faster slide was much more dangerous than the previous year. Paired with the new ice-laden track, reports suggested that toboggans would reach speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour!


The toboggan slide in 1914 offering another view of the dip in the track from the collapse through the ice. Courtesy of the Minnesota Digital Library.

As one could expect, injuries were commonplace at the new slide. In the very first week of operation, one woman was knocked unconscious in a toboggan collision; a young boy broke his leg in another collision; and yet another rider broke her wrist while falling off their toboggan. These injuries compounded with parents calling for the closure of the dangerous toboggan slide was a major headache for the park board. By February, two of the injured parties sued the park board for damages. As a result, the park board discontinued and dismantled the Lake Harriet toboggan slide after the 1913-14 winter season.


Looking up the toboggan slide with the Dacotah apartments in the background, 1914. Courtesy of the Minneapolis Digital Library.

Although the toboggan slide at Lake Harriet is now a memory of years gone by; snow tubing has taken its place over the last several decades as a safer winter activity. Many parks throughout the Twin Cities including Theodore Wirth, Afton Alps, Buck Hill, and Elm Creek offer tubing complete with lights, tow-ropes, chalets, and hot chocolate at the ready.


One thing is certain, I’d pay top dollar to spectate competitive snow tube racing. To the Loppet Foundation: the ball is in your court…


Sources


“Big Toboggan Slide at Harriet Waits Ice” The Minneapolis Tribune, January 4, 1914. P. 22.


“Coasting Starts! Toboggan Slide Opens at Harriet” The Minneapolis Tribune, January 14, 1914. P. 1.


“Great Toboggan Slide is Started” The Minneapolis Journal, November 16, 1913. P. 15.


“Great Toboggan Slide Planned” The Minneapolis Journal, December 1, 1912. P. 10.


“January Thaw Plunges Slide Into Lake Harriet” The Minneapolis Journal, January 7, 1914. P. 13.


Lake Harriet Park toboggan slide, Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, 1913. collection.mndigital.org/catalog/p16022coll55:2033 Accessed 31 Jan 2023.


“Lake Harriet Park toboggan slide, Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, February 19, 1914. collection.mndigital.org/catalog/p16022coll55:2034 Accessed 31 Jan 2023.


Lake Harriet Park toboggan slide, Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, February 19, 1914. collection.mndigital.org/catalog/p16022coll55:2029 Accessed 31 Jan 2023.


Lake Harriet Park toboggan slide, Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, February 19, 1914. collection.mndigital.org/catalog/p16022coll55:2030 Accessed 31 Jan 2023.


Lake Harriet Park toboggan slide, Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, February 19, 1914.

collection.mndigital.org/catalog/p16022coll55:2032 Accessed 31 Jan 2023.


“New Toboggan Slide at Lake Harriet Presents Another Form of Winter Sport” The Minneapolis Tribune, January 5, 1913. P. 6.


“Park Board Won’t Keep Up Toboggan Slides This Year; They’ve Proved Expensive” The Minneapolis Tribune, December 2, 1914. P. 6.


“Park Sports are Costly” The Minneapolis Tribune, February 19, 1914. P. 5.


“Snow and Ice; Then Toboggans Will Shoot Half Across Lake, Reviving Popular Winter Sport” The Minneapolis Journal, December 4, 1913. P. 9.


“Tobogganing at Lake Harriet” The Minneapolis Tribune, November 16, 1913. P. 22.


“200-foot Toboggan Slide at Lake Harriet to be Opened to Public Tomorrow” The Minneapolis Journal, January 2, 1913. P. 11.

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