Ramsey County History – Fall 2004: “The Life and Death of Central Park—A Small Part of the Past Illuminated”

Paul D. Nelson

The Life and Death of Central Park—A Small Part of the Past Illuminated
Author: Paul D. Nelson

The Central Park story begins in 1884. It was a time of city expansion, and the affluent and powerful residents in an area near today’s State Capitol wanted a park to buffer them from the spreading downtown. The Lampreys, the Dawsons, the Lindekes, and the Schurmeiers donated parts of their land to the city to create Central Park. Landscaping began around a year later, and, in 1886, it was the site of the first Winter Carnival Ice Castle. However, the group living there preferred it to be a neighborhood park rather than a citywide attraction. The presence of the park attracted additional wealthy families who built elegant homes around the amenity. Originally conceived as a formal “pleasure garden,” the park’s use would begin changing with the surrounding neighborhood, and its days as an exclusive retreat came to an end. The 1920s and 1930s were hard on the park and the neighborhood. Nearby houses and apartments were divided into smaller units and Central Park became more of a children’s playground. The biggest change, however, was the increasing desire to level much of the area to increase the Capitol mall and to clear out what were seen as deteriorated structures. The 1958 construction of the Centennial Building signaled the park’s doom. In 1970, the state decided to build a parking ramp on the site and to assuage the feelings of some, it was topped off with a swatch of grass and trees to maintain a park-like sense.
PDF of Nelson article