Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

This content is shared with MinnPost by MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia created by the Minnesota Historical Society and supported by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Charles M. Loring: ‘The Father of Minneapolis Parks’

One of Loring’s proudest achievements was acquiring Lake Harriet as a park, almost completely through donations of land.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Charles M. Loring

Charles Morgridge Loring is known as the “Father of Minneapolis Parks.” As the first president of the Minneapolis park board, he was the one most responsible for acquiring the city’s lakes and their shorelines as parks. Loring Park near downtown Minneapolis is named for him.

In 1860, Loring moved to Minneapolis with his wife, Emily, and infant son, Albert, from Portland, Maine. He quickly found work in the lumbermen’s supply store owned by another Maine native, Dorilus Morrison. A year later, Loring and a coworker, Loren Fletcher, opened a dry goods store at Bridge Square. The store became the foundation of their financial success.

Fletcher and Loring branched out in many business directions from there, including ownership of three flour mills. Loring was a founder of the Soo Line Railroad, the Minnesota Brush Electric Company, and the North American Telegraph Company. He also invested in Minneapolis real estate, built office buildings, and developed residential neighborhoods.

Loring was well known for his efforts to improve Minneapolis. He served as president or vice president of the city’s Society of Fine Arts, Board of Trade, Civic Improvement Association, and Chamber of Commerce as well as of Lakewood Cemetery and the Minnesota Horticultural Society. He was an officer of the Athenaeum, which helped create the Minneapolis Public Library. He co-founded the Homeopathic Hospital, too. He was elected twice to public office-as road supervisor in 1864 and alderman in 1872. Loring ran for mayor in 1882 but lost to Dr. Albert Ames.

Article continues after advertisement

Despite his many accomplishments, Loring is remembered most for his love of trees and parks. He produced the city’s first flower show in 1865, and he helped plant trees in the city’s first park, Murphy Square, when he was an alderman.

When the state legislature created a park board in Minneapolis in 1883, Loring was elected its president. He held that office for seven productive years. He worked to implement the ambitious plans of landscape architect Horace W. S. Cleveland and even expanded upon Cleveland’s vision. Loring wanted to acquire not only the shores of Lake Harriet but also those of Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles as parks. He personally negotiated with landowners around all three lakes and along Minnehaha Creek to encourage them to donate land. One of Loring’s proudest achievements was acquiring Lake Harriet as a park, almost completely through donations of land.

In 1885, Governor Lucius F. Hubbard appointed Loring to lead a commission to select the land for a state park at Minnehaha Falls. Loring also traveled throughout the state at his own expense, urging people to set aside land for parks. He gave illustrated lectures in Duluth, Fergus Falls, Glencoe, Little Falls, Northfield, Red Wing, Rochester, and Windom.

Loring also helped develop parks in Riverside, California, where he spent many winters. In 1898, when park advocates from around the country created the American Park and Outdoor Art Association in order to promote the development of parks, they elected Loring its first president.

Loring especially believed in the importance of parks to children. He was among the first to push for including children’s playground equipment in Minneapolis parks.

Loring was one of the most generous donors to Minneapolis parks. He donated the shelter in Loring Park in 1906. In 1917, he donated the Loring Cascade, a man-made waterfall beside Glenwood (now Theodore Wirth) Lake. He also gave more than $50,000 for the purchase and perpetual care of elm trees that were planted along Victory Memorial Drive.

Loring was such a beloved figure in Minneapolis that, in 1916, Arbor Day was renamed Charles Loring Day. Schoolchildren and others planted more than a thousand elms in his honor throughout the city that day.

On the day of his funeral, March 21, 1922, people throughout the city observed a moment of silence at 11 a.m. in his memory. He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery, where his monument reads, “Father of Parks.”

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.