Evolution of Minneapolis Parks

There are three great names associated with the history of Minneapolis parks: Horace Cleveland, Charles Loring, and William Watts Folwell. Each brought a different perspective and approach to advancing the goals of the Board of Park Commissioners, now known as the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The journey to the current park system began over 150 years ago. Murphy Square was the first city park established in 1857.  Following a number of failed attempts to gain additional land, the Minneapolis City Council finally acquired Hawthorne Park (later renamed Wilson Park) in 1882 for $13,500 along with donated land at 5th Avenue and 16th Street.

With the increase in park holdings the City  realized a need for an independent park board.  In 1883, by city referendum, the city established the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. The first president and leader in the park system’s early advancement was Charles Loring.

Following the passage of the referendum, the City turned over four parks in their possession to the Board: Murphy Square, Market Square (demolished in 1986), Hawthorne Park (nonextant), and Franklin Steele Square. At the Board’s request, Horace Cleveland wrote “Suggestions for a System of Park and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis” in 1883.  This document would guide the Board’s decisions for years to come.

In 1891, William Folwell introduced his idea for a park system that connected the entire city. He named the system the Grand Rounds, but as a result of the recession, little progress was made to advance Folwell's Grand Rounds until 1911. At that time, 170 acres was obtained at Glenwood, Camden Park (now Weber) was established, and the Board accepted a series of land donations.

Despite numerous attempts over the years to disband the Parks Board, it continued to strive to meet the goals set forth by the three fathers of Minneapolis parks. The Board obtained thousands of acres of land and trails, developed a series of parkways, created a chain of lakes, established a citywide recreation program, and redeveloped the forgotten Mississippi riverfront. One hundred thirty-three years of hard work by numerous board members, staff, and volunteers has paid off to create a truly remarkable park system.

For more information about the development of Minneapolis's park system, we recommend reading City of Parks by David C. Smith.


author: Stephanie Rouse