Saint Paul, MN

The Early Days of Como Park

The Streets of St. Paul
Como Park, looking toward Como Lake.Photo byMNHS

Charles Perry was the first person of European descent to settle in the Como area. In 1848, he gained a 160-acre claim that would become Como Park. He farmed the land, grew potatoes, and raised cattle in his short time there. Because of an increased population around him, Perry soon left the area, moving north and settling near (present-day) Lake Johanna.

In 1851, East Coast developer Henry McKenty came to Minnesota and purchased Perry's claim. He dreamed of turning his holdings at Como into a resort area. Mackenzie needed a link to St. Paul and spent six thousand dollars to construct a road from downtown to the lake. His "Como Road" roughly followed the path of today's Como Avenue.

Unfortunately for McKenty, his dream for Como Park wouldn't come to be. The Financial Panic of 1857 bankrupted him. On August 10, 1869, after years of fighting to regain his earnings, the man once considered one of the wealthiest in St. Paul took his own life. His "Como Road," leading to the resort of his dreams, soon fell into disrepair and became known as the "swamp route."

In the 1870s, famous landscape architect Horace W.S. Cleveland urged growing cities throughout the country to set aside land for public parks before it became scarce and prices skyrocketed. To Cleveland, parks were an essential refuge from the hustle and bustle of urban life — they offered visitors a chance to see nature without leaving the city limits. Cleveland recognized that many natural features in St. Paul were worthy of preservation.

City leaders listened. In 1872, amid an economic boom because of rapid industrial development after the Civil War, St. Paul leaders decided they needed an urban park system. This departure from the previous system of simple open spaces would offer a network of parkways and boulevards to allow easy travel to visit and interact with city parks.

A Legislative act on February 29, 1872, called to appoint five commissioners to purchase land within a convenient distance of St. Paul for a park. The city provided a bond of $100,000. Nearly two-hundred-and-sixty acres were purchased on the north and west of Lake Como in 1873 (the Lake was included) to eventually become Como Park.

The boom that preceded the purchase of parkland was soon followed by bust. An economic recession in 1873 had city residents questioning a purchase many of them were initially behind. They didn't understand how the city could use money to buy park land when there were so many more important needs to be met. The economic downturn meant another fourteen years before anything would be done with the land.

During that time, officials considered other options for the Como land. In 1875, a legislative enactment called for the purchased land to be broken into five-acre lots and given away as bonuses to "industrial enterprises" to help stimulate the economy. In 1882, the City Council allocated forty acres for a workhouse on parkland. It was built to house prisoners from St. Paul and the Ramsey County area. The building opened in February 1883.

In 1887, funds became available, and a legislative enactment created a City Park Board. $225,000 was allocated to improve the city's park system; $25,000 was to be used for Como Park. Horace W.S. Cleveland was hired to design the park and the parkways that ran through it.

Como Park soon took shape.

In 1891, officials named Frederick Nussbaumer the Superintendent of Parks. He believed in Cleveland's naturalistic philosophy but also saw a beautiful park with many recreational opportunities for visitors. Nussbaumer felt every inch of the park should be enjoyed.

Como Park blossomed under Nussbaumer. By 1893, electric rail cars reached the area, making Como Park accessible to all of St. Paul. The first shelter pavilion, greenhouse, boathouse, and docks were also added. By 1896, the "Gates Ajar" and "Schiffman Fountain" had been installed. Como Zoo opened in 1897 with the donation of three deer. Soon a sizeable free-range pen housed animals native to the region, like elk, deer, and bison.

In 1897, an interurban route came through the park with passengers from both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, many considered Como Park one of the United States' finest parks. It was a local marvel. Many people believed you had not truly seen St. Paul until you had visited Como.


  • Bergerson, Roger “First Como Settler Didn't Stay Long.” Park Bugle. May 20, 2013.
  • Castle, Henry A. History of St. Paul and Vicinity: A Chronicle of Progress and a Narrative Account of the Industries, Institutions, and People of the City and Its Tributary Territory. Volume II. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1912.
  • “Como Park,” St. Paul Globe, July 3, 1904,
  • Kunz, Virginia B. “A Day in the Life of Henry McKenty.” Minnesota History 56, no. 4 (Winter 1998-99): 235-37.
  • McGuire, Colleen “Best of Home Guide to Como Park: The Central Park of St. Paul.” CBS Minnesota. June 11, 2011.
  • Ramsey County Historical Society. “Como Neighborhood.”
  • Schmidt, Andrew J. “Pleasure and Recreation for the People: Planning St. Paul's Como Park.” Minnesota History 58, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 40-58.
  • Shinomiya, Sharon. “Como Park: A Brief Historical Tour of One of Saint Paul’s “beauty Spots”.” Como Park: District 10 Como Community Council.
  • Shinomiya, Sharon. “Como Park History Tour: Part I.” Como Park: District 10 Como Community Council. May 4, 2009.
  • “St. Paul's Beautiful Parks Are Made Ready for Summer Visitors,” St. Paul Globe, April 10, 1904,
  • Warner, George E. History of Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul,including The. S.l.: British Library, Historic, 2011.

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