Hiawatha Golf Course nominated for National Register of Historic Places

Photo by Chris Juhn

The future of the Hiawatha Golf Course in South Minneapolis remains in flux. On Monday, it was announced that the course, which has a storied Black history, could be deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, according to a nomination filed with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). 

The National Register nomination was commissioned by the Minneapolis-based Bronze Foundation, paid for by a private donor, and prepared by the Minneapolis-based historical consulting firm Hess Roise.

The nomination is now under review by the SHPO, which could issue a Technical Opinion Letter on the property’s eligibility prior to the nomination going before the State Review Board in early 2023. 

The eligibility news comes ahead of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s (MPRB) public hearing Wednesday, August 17 regarding the Hiawatha Golf Course Area Master Plan, first introduced in 2018.

It is expected that the Park Board Planning Committee will vote on the plan after the meeting, and if passed, it will be presented to the full board at its scheduled September 7 meeting.  

The plan calls for reducing the current Hiawatha course from 18 holes to nine holes, which supporters state will address the longstanding water flooding issue. The last time the course was flooded was in 2014. 

The Bronze Foundation is working with others on an alternative plan with the goal of preserving Hiawatha’s current 18 holes as well as helping to address the water problem.  

Opponents of the Park Board’s plan say reducing the course won’t entirely address the flooding problem and the plan ignores the Black cultural and historical significance of the course as one of the first golf courses to allow Blacks to play there. 

Critics further contend that the board is rushing too quickly in approving a plan that basically ignores the community’s wishes. 

As a result, some are suggesting that Wednesday’s public hearing won’t do anything to dissuade the Park Board commissioners and that it is a foregone conclusion that their master plan is ultimately approved. 

“I believe at the Hiawatha location there is no viable way to keep 18 holes of golf and have a healthy lake and ecosystem,” Commissioner Cathy Abene told the MSR last week. She added that she has a background as a water resources engineer, which has convinced her that the course should be reduced in half.  “I will be voting to approve the nine-hole plan,” Abene said.

Commissioner Becka Thompson stressed, “What I think would be the middle ground, and I’m trying to figure out” is how to keep Hiawatha as it is “and I’m trying to figure [out how] 18 holes and the back nine might periodically be in the floodplain, and then everyone would just have to accept that.” Thompson added that she supports not approving the plan.

Park Board President Meg Forney told the MSR that the Hiawatha issue “has made zig-zags all over the place” during her time on the board. “This has got a long history,” she noted.

“I don’t think [there’s] ever [been] an issue at the Park Board [that’s been] given as much time,” she continued. 

Forney said she’d hoped that opponents of the plan, including the Bronze Foundation, among others, had presented a workable plan that would save Hiawatha as is. 

She believes Bronze’s alternative plan which is still being formulated might be too late. “I was hoping and praying that they would bring forward a plan that could preserve 18 holes [but] unfortunately, it is not a viable option,” the board president said.

Thompson said she is afraid that many of her fellow commissioners are ignoring the community. “I feel like my colleagues might just ignore me,” Thompson said, “because this is clearly a special place. The flooding has always been an issue. It’s been compounded but not through any fault of community members who play golf.”

Thompson added, “The people who want the master plan are very organized and they show up every week and they email every week, and they’re very loud,” Thompson said. “I know that there is a huge group that wants to save the golf course and the commissioners need to hear from them.”

Abene said of this week’s public hearing, “I am committed to listening.” But she added that whatever decision is ultimately made about Hiawatha, “I will hear expressions of deep loss.”

When asked if the hearing, in the long run, is a waste of time considering the majority of the board has already decided to vote in favor of the Hiawatha master plan, Forney replied, “I would never, ever paint these hearings as tokenism. I don’t believe that there’s any of that.” 

“Please hold us accountable,” concluded Forney.  “We listen.”