Parks & Recreation

Leif Erikson Park History

Leif EricksonFrom Zenith: A Postcard Perspective of Historic Duluth, copyright © 2005, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota. Image courtesy Tom Kasper.

A statue of Leif Erikson crediting the Viking explorer with discovering America one thousand years ago marks the entrance to Leif Erikson Park, perhaps Duluth’s best-known greenspace. Across a footbridge and down next to the Lakewalk a vast groomed lawn forms a natural amphitheater and, at its base, a wonderfully whimsical stone stage framed by castle-like “towers.” This pavilion/stage, designed by Abraham Holmstead and William Sullivan (who also designed Denfeld High School and the St. Louis County Jail), has made the park a natural site for such events as the Duluth International Folk Festival and the Lake Superior Shakespeare Festival. Behind the stage the park meets the lakeshore. The beach is lined with stones, some boulders large enough to explore and others small and ideal for skipping. (The photo above of children skipping stones at Lakeshore Park was taken in 1911.)

When I-35 was expanded through Duluth in the 1980s, Leif Erikson Park was changed dramatically. One of those changes resulted in the creation of another park: Duluth’s Rose Garden, a lovely spot featuring stone benches, a gazebo, and an incredible variety of roses and shrubs. It also includes the horse fountain that sat where London Road once split off from Superior Street. The Rose Garden actually sits on top of I-35; highway traffic passes through tunnels beneath it.

Leif Erikson Park was originally Lakeshore Park, part of William Rogers’ dream of a park that paralleled Terrace Parkway (now Skyline Parkway); the parkway and Lakeshore Park would be connected by “a string of pearls”—parks, like Chester and Lincoln, built along the creeks that fed Lake Superior. But Lakeshore Park was forever changed by Bert Enger and Emil Olsen when they purchased the Leif Erikson replica Viking ship.

More on this and all of Duluth’s parks to come!

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