City of Parks

The Story of Minneapolis Parks


David C. Smith

[A] thoughtful and comprehensive history of our park system.

Minneapolis Observer Quarterly

Minneapolis has long been known as the “City of Lakes.” But all the city’s major lakes are, in fact, parks. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board also owns significant stretches of the banks of the Mississippi River and tributary streams within the city. Neighborhood parks and playgrounds dot the landscape as in few other cities. Encircling them is an extensive system of parkways, the Grand Rounds. In reality, Minneapolis is not just a city of lakes, but a city of parks.

This vast system of open spaces was acquired by a park board largely independent of the rest of city government. The park board was created by the Minnesota legislature and ratified by Minneapolis voters in April 1883. The vote that created a park board with extraordinary powers culminated years of effort by a handful of park visionaries—and marked the beginning of a celebrated municipal park system.

City of Parks tells the stories of many people who helped create Minneapolis parks and managed the turning points in park history. Among them were Horace Cleveland, the eloquent proponent of preserving land for public use, Charles Loring, known as the “Father of Minneapolis Parks,” and William Folwell, the first president of the University of Minnesota, who was a staunch advocate of park expansion. These extraordinary men were followed by an energetic superintendent of parks, Theodore Wirth, who managed the expansion and reshaping of parks, Clifford Booth, who helped establish an active park recreation program, and Eloise Butler, who created a wild flower garden of world renown.

With foresight and determination the stewards of Minneapolis’s parks have adapted to evolving public demand for parks and for recreation programs—nearly always with an eye on the future. City of Parks is the story of how the people of a city not only met their own needs, but anticipated those of future generations.

David C. Smith is a Minneapolis resident who has enjoyed the city’s parks for more than thirty years. He has been a freelance writer for many publications and corporations for more than two decades. This is his first book.

[A] thoughtful and comprehensive history of our park system.

Minneapolis Observer Quarterly

Virtually everything about this new book is first-rate. The handsome hardcover work is filled with both black-and-white photographs and several color illustrations, such as maps and postcards. Many of the photographs feature detailed captions. Most important, the book is an enjoyable read.

Minnesota History