So did the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board rename Lake Calhoun to be known as Lake Mendoza back in 1890?
Officially, the answer is no, judging by the record of proceedings kept by park commissioners of the day.
But the name seemed to catch on for a time in public imagination, if nowhere official, judging by contemporary news accounts.
The matter might be of little interest but for the current debate of whether to drop the name of John Calhoun, a noted advocate for slavery, in the wake of the fatal shooting of nine people in a Charleston, S.C. church. That event has directed new attention at such symbols of South secession as the Confederate battle flag.
The significance of what happened at the Park Board in 1890 is that a case could be made that if the Park Board had actually voted in favor of Mendoza 125 years ago, then that action would precede the current regimen of statutes that its legal counsel opined leave the board with limited renaming options.
But it’s clear from 1890 board minutes and its annual report that the Park Board didn’t approve a name change for Calhoun as it did for 10 other parks and parkways that year.
The confusion about what happened more than a century ago started when then-Star Tribune staffer Ben Welter blogged in 2011, when the name issue also was debated. His blog, "Yesterday's News," cited a Dec. 21, 1890 Tribune editorial on the topic of renaming Calhoun to Mendoza. The editorial clearly asserted that the name had been changed but opined that the chosen name of Mendoza selected by the Park Board wouldn’t stick.
Apparently, such a change was among those among those discussed a month earlier. The St. Paul Daily Globe reported in November on the potential changes under discussion in the Committee on Nomenclature. Calhoun-to-Mendoza was among them, but didn’t make the final cut of changes forwarded to the full board for approval, board minutes show.
(Among the name changes made that year were renaming Central Park as Loring, Prospect Park to Fairview, and Saratoga Park to Glenwood Park, now known as Wirth Park.)
Nevertheless, despite Mendoza not getting the Park Board’s imprimatur, the name was in use around the lake. The original Dakota name, Mde Maka Ska, meant White Earth Lake. The lake was also called Lake Med’oza early on by some, or Lake of the Loons or Cranes. That’s the basis for the name of Mendoza the Park Board considered but rejected.
Early examples of the use of Mendoza include the Mendoza Park addition that was platted just off the northwest corner of Calhoun. That development never took off, and in 1898 it was purchased for Minikahda Golf Club. The club says that Minikahda signifies “by the side of the water” in Dakota.
At least one newspaper of the time used the name Mendoza from time to time. That’s the Daily Globe. For example, it reported in July, 1891 that a delegates to a national Masonic convention would be driven to lakes Harriet and Mendoza. A month later, it listed Lake Mendoza among the Park Board’s assets. The following year it reported on a boat club’s petition for a new boathouse at Lake Mendoza.
All these mentions occurred after the Democrat-oriented Daily Globe took this shot at the Republican Tribune. “The Evening Tribune should keep posted about the city to which it is so fiercely and intensely loyal. The name of Lake Calhoun has not been changed to Lake Mendoza.”
The following year, the Globe printed without comment this snippet from a Park Board member: “Dr. Folwell, as a member of the committee on nomenclature, stated that, in spite of what the newspapers were saying, the name of Lake Calhoun had never been changed to Lake Mendoza.” He said that the drive on the lake’s east side was named Mendoza and that the papers had confused the two.
Still, a commercial map for Minneapolis streets and features published in 1902 lists Mendoza as the lake name.
And what of the other assertion made by the Tribune’s mistake-prone editorial writer -- that the lake was named not after the famous Calhoun, who was the secretary of war who decreed that a string of forts be built on the western frontier, including Snelling as the northernmost? The anonymous opiner posited that the lake was actually named after a Lt. Calhoun.
But the editorialist offered no proof, nor have those who have seized on this as evidence against the renaming sought by the more than 4,000 people who have signed an online petition. Two specialists in Fort Snelling at the Minnesota Historical Society stand by the South Carolinian politician as the lake’s namesake. One of them, Matt Cassady, searched officer rolls for the regiment that built and garrisoned the fort for its first 10 years and found no Lt. Calhoun.
The 2015 Park Board is due for a staff report on the question of renaming the lake at its early September meeting.