Around Hamline and Como Avenues
Saint Paul, MN
Submitted by: Ben Welle
This multi-use regional park features unique activities and attractions.
Como Park, located in St. Paul, MN has everything – trails, a lake, an historic glass-dome conservatory, a golf course, a children’s amusement park with a vintage carousel, public gathering spaces and even a zoo that includes a polar bear and orangutans. The park, approximately 300 acres in total size was created in the late 1800s as a place for St. Paulites and others to relax and enjoy nature. The Park’s 2.3 miles of paved hiking and ski trails, 18-hole golf course and sprawling open spaces provide that same refuge today. The Park is a true multi-use urban park that features unique activities. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park is the largest glass-domed garden in the region. The garden occupies approximately one-half acre under glass and includes the seasonal Como Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden and the Enchanted Garden and Frog Pond to the east. First opened in 1915, the Conservatory welcomes nearly 400,000 visitors annually. In addition, the Como Zoo attracts over one million visitors annually, including thousands of children from many Minnesota schools.
What Makes Como Park a Great Place?
In the old days, streetcars made it possible for St. Paul and Minneapolis residents to make the trip to Como Park. Although that wonderful link is far gone, people can reach the park on foot at several points from surrounding neighborhoods, park in a few parking lots, take a city bus, or ride their bike.
The Park is surrounded mostly by early twentieth century homes and businesses. Lexington Parkway and a few other streets wind through the park so that cars and those on foot find little bother with each other. The rolling hills, large and numerous trees, lake, and “frog pond” provide soothing features. One can also ponder on some of the statues located in the Park, including a bust of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, a reminder that many of the region’s immigrants are of Norwegian descent.
The park is used by a diverse group of park-goers for large gatherings, picnics, bonfires, Nordic skiing, running, walking, golfing, row-boating, and many other activities. One event in the winter, as part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival, involves over a hundred people jumping into a hole in the lake’s ice for a charity event. Other winter events include dog sledding and snow-sculpture contests. Of course, St. Paulites and Minnesotans can escape the cold winter by visiting the indoor gardens at the Conservatory or go to the Zoo, which is open year-round. In the summer, children converge on the Park’s small amusement park that features a turn-of-the-century carousel. The park also offers four ball fields, four tennis courts, and swimming and wading pools.
Como Park is used individually and by groups of all sizes. It’s a place to watch baseball, ride the carousel, go skiing in winter or running and rollerblading in summer. The Park is used by groups across all ethnic groups and is a source of pride among many Minnesotans. After a cold Minnesota winter, the Park is filled with people crazy for the coming of spring. The park is one of the most social public spaces in the entire state during spring, summer, fall and even the cold winter.
History & Background
In 1873, early park supporters donated $100,000 to purchase land for a park, and the City acquired 300 acres around Lake Como. In 1890 Frederick Nussbaumer became the Superintendent of Parks, casting his vision, know-how and hard work into what largely is Como Park today. Born in 1850 in Baden, Germany, Nussbaumer spent his youth working in Europe's great gardens. He worked at London's Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and at one of the largest tree nurseries in France. It is believed that Nussbaumer met Horace Cleveland, the Chicago landscape architect who, in the coming decades, was to play a major role in American city planning and the Twin Cities parks and boulevard systems. Apparently, Cleveland was impressed by the horticultural knowledge and experience that Nussbaumer possessed, and invited him to St. Paul to work at Como Park.
Saint Paul Parks And Recreation, 25 West Fourth Street, 300 City Hall Annex, Saint Paul MN 55102; (651) 266-6378