Robbinsdale Celebrates Revival of Historic Graeser Park
A project in Robbinsdale that took years of planning and hard manual labor is finally complete. The historic Graeser Park has been restored to its former glory.
“The park is starting to look like it did in 1940-41 when it was built,” said Kristi Gibson, who helped spearhead the restoration effort.
On Thursday evening, volunteers, residents and the Robbinsdale City Band came together to celebrate the occasion.
The park was born out of the Great Depression. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) project was a historic rest-side stop along Highway 100. Decades of use and eventual apathy caused the park to fall into disrepair.
But the Robbinsdale Lions, volunteers and MnDOT, which owns the property, helped bring it back.
Eleven picnic tables were restored and rebuilt from stone pieces saved by MnDOT. The iconic limestone beehive — the only one in the U.S. still in its original location — was also restored to its past glory.
“There were a lot of stones damaged and broken and missing, and the historic masonry experts that worked here under MnDOT did a fabulous job piecing that all back together,” said Gibson. “They had to cut some stones to fit and they found the right kind of stone, so it’s still authentic to the way it originally looked.”
Willmar-based Environment Associates Inc. is credited with doing the masonry work.
“The only difference is people sometimes ask ‘can we still have fires and roast weenies in there?’ Unfortunately, [the answer is] no because that’s how the beehive got damaged so much over the years,” said Gibson.
Volunteers also recreated the park’s unique rock garden.
“There are 102 historic roadside properties in Minnesota, it’s the only one like it,” said Gibson.
Fond Memories of Graeser Park
During the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt amid the Great Depression, one of the WPA projects created roadside parks along a 12.5-mile stretch of Highway 100, known as “Lilac Way.” Graeser Park was among them.
Barbara Hannemann is among those with fond childhood memories of the park. She brought a WPA shovel needed to clear snow at the park to Thursday’s celebration.
“This was our family picnic area growing up. I learned how to play wiffle ball at this park in the 1960s. I learned how to play frisbee at this park in the 70s. And every Sunday my mother brought a picnic with sandwiches, cookies and an ice cream bucket filled with peaches,” Hannemann recalled.
The park land is still owned by MnDOT, but the agency is working to turn over the property to the city of Robbinsdale. MnDOT funds and donations helped pay for the restoration.
Gibson hopes the park will create community connections.
“I’m hoping people will come back,” said Gibson.