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Big Attractions Await Visitors to Small Parks

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By Victor Block

In 1948 the city of Portland, Oregon, intended to erect a flagpole in a downtown median. When the plan failed, a journalist whose office overlooked the tiny site planted flowers there and named it "Mill Ends," after the column he wrote for the Oregon Journal. This was a reference to pieces of wood left over at lumber mills in the area.

In 1976, the 2-foot-wide plot was renamed Mill Ends Park. Soon people began decorating it with items that included a horseshoe, a miniature Ferris wheel and a miniscule swimming pool complete with diving board. At one time it was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest park in the world.

Large attractions can come in small sizes. A number of little parks throughout the United States have equally intriguing stories to tell. They warrant a visit and perhaps a photograph.

Other parks now challenge Mill Ends in terms of size -- or rather lack of it. Waldo Park in Salem, Oregon, measures 12 feet by 20 feet. It consists of a giant sequoia tree surrounded by landscaping and marked by a plaque and sign. It is named for William Waldo, an attorney and judge who planted the tree on his property in 1872 and later sold it to the city with the promise that the sapling would be preserved. In 1936, the tree was made a city park and since then it has reached a height of 82 feet.

Some petite parks occupy an island. In the 19th century a man who owned an outcrop of less than an acre in Gardner Lake, Connecticut, named it for his niece, and Minnie Island State Park retains her name. The thickly forested land rises 16 feet above the water and is accessible by boat.

 

Oak Point State Park is a 1.5-acre enclave on Ohio's South Bass Island in Lake Erie, which was formed during the last ice age and still displays evidence of that time. Native Americans, British troops and American colonists disputed ownership of the area until an American fleet under direction of Oliver Perry won control of Lake Erie in 1813. Over time the island has been home to a sheep ranch, a fruit farm and vineyards. The park is close to Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, which celebrates one of the most decisive battles during the War of 1812 as well as the lasting peace between Britain, Canada and the United States that followed the fighting.

Other parks tell sadder tales. Elizabeth Crockett's grave was the smallest Texas state park (260 square feet) until ownership passed to the state's historical commission. She was the widow of David (Davy) Crockett, the renowned frontiersman, soldier, politician and hero. After his death she is said to have mourned until her own by wearing black every day. Her gravesite is marked by a statue of her with a hand shielding her eyes, peering into the distance in hope of seeing her husband.

In the early 1900s a man named Alfred LeFevre and his son Albert maintained a small park in West St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1930, 15-year-old Albert went swimming in the Mississippi River with several friends and drowned. His father got permission from the city government to name the area Albert Park.

During the rest of his life Alfred planted flowers and meticulously maintained the park in his son's honor. A plaque notes that Ripley's Believe It or Not once declared it to be the smallest dedicated park in the United States.

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