Barden Park, 720 5th Avenue South, Saint Cloud, Minnesota

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Barden Park

Address: 720 5th Avenue S
Saint Cloud, Minnesota
Stearns County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year Established: 1856
Founded by: John L Wilson
Historic Function: Park
Current Function: Park
Notes: Information provided by the Barden Park Historic District Study, April 2003

Saint Cloud Stearns

Barden Park, 720 5th Avenue South, Saint Cloud, Minnesota
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According to Mrs. George W. Lehrke, Secretary of the St. Cloud Park Board in 1945 “...[Central] Park was planned when St. Cloud was planned. The first park, one square block, was a gift of John L. Wilson to the new village.” Mrs. Lehrke’s reference to “...the first park...” is a reference to Central Park, the original name of St. Cloud’s current Barden Park. Mrs. Lehrke also wrote that a square block marked “park” was about in the central of the platted area “hence the original name of Central Park” from blocks south of the ravine and about equal distance from the river and Lake George. The streets and avenues had names and these names were later changed to numbers. The park now known as Barden Park is the original square (2.5 acres) located between 4th and 5th Avenues and 7th and 8th Streets South. For decades before amenities were added, Central Park was indistinguishable from any other block in the hard wood forest that was Lower Town, now St. Cloud Minnesota’s South Side/Barden Park Neighborhood. A park has a life history of use and service to its community. Barden “Central” Park expanded its public service role in 1859, not only as a place of recreation but also as a place of higher education. In March 24, 1859, citizens took steps toward establishing a seminary in Barden Park where the young people of St. Cloud might secure some of the more advanced studies in a liberal education. St. Cloud was a growing frontier town in 1859. St. Cloud citizens felt that their children needed to be exposed to aspects of western culture that were not readily found in Central Minnesota. Central Park’s largest neighbor, St. Cloud State University, was not founded until 10 years later in 1869. At the dedication ceremony $67.00 was raised to complete the building. It seems that the building never was completed to the satisfaction of the community. A report from 1862 regarding the Institute stated that it had “...but one coat of plaster, was without weather boarding and the floor so full of openings as to be most uncomfortable in winter.” The seminary opened with 33 pupils and ended the first school year with a class of 81 pupils. The subjects taught were German, music, mathematics and French. Incidentally,mathematics and French were taught by Lyman W. Ayer, reported in the History of Stearns County as the first child of European ancestry born in Minnesota.

The building was eventually sold to J. F. Stevenson who moved it from the northeast corner of Barden Park to his foundry. He then used it as a warehouse, ending Barden Park’s years as the center of culture and higher learning in St. Cloud. The removal of the Institute, and the development of the college at St. Cloud meant that the park was fully dedicated to recreation and relaxation for lower town, now known as the South Side University Neighborhood.


Site History

Features of Central/Barden Park

The citizens of St. Cloud and generations of South Side residents have made additions to the landscape of Barden Park. The wooden bandstand was a one-story, white, Victorian structure typical in many cities of the time. It is seen in several post cards of the park made in the early Twentieth century. The wood band stand was moved to St. Cloud Park in East Side St. Cloud when the current granite band stand was constructed. The granite neo-gothic revival octagon shaped bandstand was completed in 1925. It was designed by prominent St. Cloud architect Louis Penault. The sum of $5,000.00 was budgeted for its construction. The Barden Park Bandstand is connected historically and architecturally with the rest of the city because of its granite construction. Granite as a building material in structures is a common theme throughout St. Cloud - the Granite City. This same brown granite is used across the city in various retaining walls, city parks, the adjacent Lewis/Atwood house, and local Works Progress Administration projects in the city such as the entrance to the former Whitney Airport now the Whitney Center. The The St. Cloud Municipal Band played from the open second floor platform. Band members entered the platform through a trap door in the ceiling of the storage room that is directly under the second floor playing area. The original leaking roof was replaced by the park department in the 1990’s to stabilize the structure and prevent further damage. Water damage was stopped, but the repairs detract from the original design and function. In 2007, the City restored the granite bandstand to its historically appropriate 1920s appearance. Barden Park was home to two different fountains. The first had one large bowl on the top supported by sculpted cranes. At some point, it was removed from the park. In 2007, the St. Cloud Historic and Neighborhood Preservation Association worked with the City to install crane fountain that closely resembles the original fountain. The second, a three-tiered fountain that sat in the circular brick and mortar lily pond surrounded by an ornamental iron railing, was a gift from C. L. Atwood, who lived in the present S.C.S.U. Alumni House directly east of the park. As the fountain aged, it was removed and the pool was used as a wading pool. The entire structure was later removed. A heavy iron cannon, which once stood near the northeast corner of the park, was removed during World War II and given to the War Production Board during a scrap iron salvage campaign. That cannon was from the Spanish battleship Viscia, which surrendered when it was beached at Santiago Harbor, Cuba when the Spanish fleet was bottled up there during the Spanish American War. The place where the cannon once stood is vacant but its memory persists. Barden Park still contains many mature oak trees, but has lost its elm trees in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Maple trees that were planted by Mr. Barden have also been removed. The park is level and of the same grade as the surrounding area. It does not appear that the park has had any artificial earthworks and landscaping. The abundance of native trees and the restrained plantings that have been added in the history of the park make it shaded, green, cool and unpretentious. Besides trees and grass, Barden Park currently has a few white spirea bushes that are mature and bloom each spring. At the turn of the century, Barden “Central” Park was in the center of the elite neighborhood of St. Cloud. The Victorians of turn of the century St. Cloud made for themselves a comfortable and picturesque park. Post cards of Barden “Central” Park clearly show the wooden Victorian band stand, lanterns on wooden poles scattered around the park, simple benches, and the circles of planted flowers. Two rings of flowers were maintained in the park prior to 1910. These plantings were the work of the Reading Room Society. The Victorian gentlemen of South St. Cloud were building the business community while the women dealt with the cultural issues they felt fitting at the time. Besides working for years to build a local library, women focused on developing a beautiful park system. One flower circle was replanted by the St. Cloud Historical & Neighborhood Preservation Association near a granite marker bearing the words “Reading Room Society”.

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