Ramsey Park History

With current additions to the original 217 acres transferred by the State of Minnesota in July 1957, Ramsey Park now encompasses 256.23 publically owned acres which extends up to Lake Redwood. Now termed as the “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota”, the park is now the largest municipal park in the state.

Ramsey Falls History Waterfall

The entrance of Ramsey Park starts at Lake Redwood which provides boating access, fishing, swimming, playgrounds and exhibits a decommissioned Sherman Tank commemorating the sacrifices men and women of Redwood Falls played in World War II insuring liberties such as having parks are forever preserved. Ramsey Park itself has five shelters, a zoo, multiple playgrounds, fishing areas, and 3.5 miles of hiking trails. There are seven walking bridges in the park traversing the Ramsey Creek and the Redwood River. Unique structures were also erected by the W.P. A.; the Lower Shelter and Restroom along with the Swayback Bridge all constructed out of local hand-cut granite and remain prominent park structures to this day.

Many events have progressed throughout the history of Ramsey Park to help it to become the place we know and love today. The events below layout a few of the milestones.

Redwood Falls, a city in Redwood Falls and Honner Townships and the county seat, was first settled in the spring and summer of 1864, was platted in 1865, and incorporated as a village in 1876, and as a city in 1891. The name stemmed from the falls of the Redwood River which descends about 140 feet by vertical falls and by rapids during the last few miles. A good portion of this descent takes place by the picturesque gorge.

The US government built a sawmill at the falls of the Redwood River in 1855 and later a gristmill.

Ramsey Park History Driveway

Historic Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls, MN


The history of Ramsey Park itself goes back to at least the 1890s.

 Much of the land was owned for a time by Dr. J. H. Riheldaffer , a Presbyterian minister, along with his two sisters and four wards. Picnickers were said to have been given free use of the land near the falls. The present golf course & part of Ramsey Park was also known as Riheldaffer’s pasture. In addition one of the main picnic areas became known as Chautauqua park and was a location of an annual show.

Building a Dam & Hydroelectric Power

In 1902, A.C. Burmeister built a dam on the Redwood River for hydroelectric power production. This makes it Minnesota’s oldest hydroelectric facility. He was quoted in the May 9, 1900 edition of the Redwood Gazette saying, “The idea is to dam the River at a point 100 feet south of the bridge. It is to be built high enough to flood all of the land that is to be purchased, and hence will form a beautiful lake, which is to be stocked with fish, & which can be used for boating, bathing and other purpose.” Currently Lake Redwood is one of two man-made lakes in Redwood County. The establishment of hydroelectric power in 1902, is the oldest hydroelectric facility in the State. A grist mill and lumber mill were also located in the area the Park now encompasses.

The journey to create a state park had a key turn of events in 1911 when a successful appropriation made the way for the purchase of 80 acres.

The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota

Ramsey Park was named after the first Territorial Governor when the territory was established in 1849 and Second Governor of the State of Minnesota from 1860-1863. Alexander Ramsey was also an United States Senator for the State of Minnesota and was also appointed the Secretary of War in President Hays Cabinet. Alexander Ramsey Park was founded as a State Park in 1911 and was dubbed the “The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota”.

State Park Sold to the City of Redwood Falls

Ramsey Park was a state park from 1911-1957 & was operated by the Department of Conservation. It was a state park early on as the MN State Park system had only begun in 1889. One of the original signs still exists in the Redwood County Museum. In 1957 the State of Minnesota sold the park to the City for $1.00. In 1957 the State charged a $0.25 entry fee. Once the City gained ownership, park usage became free.

Adding Roads and a Zoo

Joe Tyson was an early advocate for establishing the park. He laid out the extensive road system in the park and was appointed by Governor Eberhart to become the first superintendent in 1912. He also played a role in bringing in & rebuilding the McPhail cabin. In July of 1912, a dedication was held inside the west entrance to the park.

The zoo was started soon after the park’s conception. Waldo Marsh is credited with helping to open the zoo. Many types of animals have been in the zoo throughout history including elk, buffalo, bear, monkeys, deer, goats, prairie dogs, and various types of birds. The old bull bison was a well-known one and received the nickname Oklahoma Frank.

The Ramsey Park March

A special piece of music was written by George Bittrich, U.S. Army band leader, for Ramsey Park in 1919. This was titled “The Ramsey Park March”.

Restoring the Ramsey Park Swayback Bridge

The Swayback Bridge is made of battered piers, a stepped parapet, and 10 concrete slabs forming an inverted arch deck. The largest span is just over 12 feet and the total length is 183 feet, while the deck has a width of 20 feet. A count in 2008 placed the average daily traffic at 1099 people.

In the Spring of 2010, the bridge suffered damage from flooding and regular ice flows and needed repairs. The county was able to request some of the funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Soon enough in 2013, the rehabilitation of the bridge’s rustic style and granite veneer was finished while keeping the classic cobblestone appearance on the sides.

Ramsey Park History Swayback Bridge Fishing
Closeup Brick Bridge
Background Graphic Opacity Half Section

History of Alexandar Ramsey Park

For many years there was an island just downstream from the Swayback Bridge called Scout Island. A cabin was even built on the island in 1922 for the Girl Scouts. However, in 1957 it was destroyed with a flood. There is only a remnant of the island left today.

In the later 1930’s the zoo & road system were called expensive and unsanitary. The zoo was ordered closed for a time and in 1940 it was stated that animals that died could not be replaced. Maintenance was focused only on the two main roads. Between 1957 and 1962 following when the state sold the park to the City of Redwood Falls, plans were immediately carried out to restore the zoo and reopen old roads.

The Park also has a rich geologic history with a monument placed by the Minnesota Geological Survey referencing a kaolin clay bank along the Redwood River in the Park which is some of the oldest decayed granite material in the world. Numerous academic institutions come to Alexander Ramsey Park to study geology. The following is a brief geologic description of the park provided by Dale R. Setterholm, Geologist, Associate Director, Minnesota Geological Survey:

Geologic Highlights

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    Morton Gneiss

    The park has exposures of the Morton Gneiss which is regarded as the oldest rock in North America (3.6 billion years). It represents the core of the North American continent. In places, the Morton has been intruded by the younger Sacred Heart Granite (2.6 billion years old) of which the falls on Ramsey Creek runs over.

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    Weathering Profiles

    The park has particularly well-exposed deposits of kaolin-rich residuum created by chemical weathering of the Morton Gneiss, and probably also the Sacred Heart Granite. Under tropical conditions, at least 100 million years ago, acids created by rotting vegetation seeped down into fractures in these hard igneous and metamorphic rocks and broke down their mineral components. Beginning with his Ph.D thesis in 1938, Samuel Goldich studied these deposits in the Minnesota River Valley and recognized that the minerals break down in a particular order, beginning with feldspar, and ending with quartz. This is now taught to every geology student as the Goldich Mineral Stability Sequence in Weathering. In some places the kaolin-rich weathering products have been eroded and redeposit during the Cretaceous Period, and these rocks represent the youngest rocks in Minnesota. So, both the oldest and youngest rocks in Minnesota are found near each other in this neighborhood.

The River Warren

Redwood River View

The valley now occupied by the Minnesota River was created by the River Warren, which drained glacial Lake Agassiz about 11,000 years ago. Lake Agassiz covered more area than all the Great Lakes combined, so the enormous volume of water draining from it created this large valley now occupied by the much smaller Minnesota River. That large flow volume cut down through glacial sediments and exposed the bedrock and weathering deposits in places. The tributary rivers, such as the Redwood River and Ramsey Creek have been eroding into the shoulder of the valley ever since, driven by the steep gradient left by the River Warren.

Ramsey Park also features numerous historical 1930’s WPA hand cut granite buildings: Lower shelter, lower bathrooms, Ramsey Falls shelter bathroom facility and Swayback Bridge. Recently the Swayback bridge was refurbished to its original historical new condition due to damages incurred during the 2011 flood disaster. The Swayback Bridge is the only hand-cut block granite bridge of its design in the Nation.

Park Buildings & Bridges

Ramsey Park History Shelter

The Lower Shelter, restroom building & the Swayback Bridge were built starting in 1938 by the W.P.A. using local hand cut granite. These all remain prominent park structures to this day. Some of the granite for the bridge came from North Redwood Granite Works. In 1939, the Swayback Bridge was dedicated. This was the same year as the city’s Diamond Jubilee. The Swayback Bridge is a multi-span, reinforced-concrete slab bridge faced with North Redwood granite veneer. The rustic style also included the use battered piers, stepped parapet, and the swayback design in its aesthetics. The bridge carries County Road 31, also known as East Oak Street, over the Redwood River. It is listed in the National Register.

Col. Samuel McPhail, had a cabin in the early stockade. It was donated to the park and placed by Ramsey Creek near where it empties into the Redwood River. Unfortunately, the flood of 1957 also took a toll on this. Included on this link is a picture of a log cabin once located at the junction of Ramsey Creek and the Redwood River.

The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota

The park continued to be managed by the State of Minnesota until July 1957 when the park was transferred to the City of Redwood Falls. At the time the State charged a 25 cent entry fee which became free admittance upon transfer to the city. The transfer document (Item 10) ends with a covenant stating “ –is hereby transferred to the City of Redwood Falls, County of Redwood, State of Minnesota; together with all buildings, roads and permanent structures theron; provided that the City of Redwood Falls shall use the property above described solely for public park, recreational or other civic and cultural purposes and for no other.” signed by Gorge A. Selke Commissioner of Conservation and stamped with the Official Seal of the State of Minnesota Department of Conservation. The City of Redwood has followed that executive order to this day and continues to maintain “The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota” which continues to have State wide and National significance.

  • In 1971 the lookout was constructed at Ramsey Falls.
  • In 1979 the Zeb Gray Shelter was first constructed.
  • In 1985 the trails in the park got hard surfaced. They have since been improved even more.
  • In 1987 the zoo was refurbished by the Friends of the Park & the City of Redwood Falls.

There are 31 improved (leveled) electrical sites for RVs/campers (reservable) and 15 rustic non-electrical tent sites for uses on a first come first served basis. Campers also enjoy two bathroom facilities including the original WPA hand cut granite bathroom and a 2005 modern ADA shower/bathroom facility. Ramsey Park has five picnic areas with shelters which have been set in the park's natural woodlands. Three shelters can be reserved:

  • The Lower Shelter: The park's original and largest passive recreation area features the 1930's W.P.A. Vintage Lower Shelter with its massive timber and granite construction. Nearby activities include a playground structure, ball field, Ramsey Park Zoo and campground/restroom facilities.
  • Ramsey Falls Shelter: One of the park's most popular attractions is the Ramsey Falls' observation area, which utilizes rather unique bridges and pathways to access many varied scenic vistas of Ramsey Falls and Ramsey Creek. The Falls' area also provides ample picnic space with an open shelter, 1930’s WPA hand cut Morton Gneiss, block restroom building, and access to some of the park's most scenic hiking trails. A new playground feature was added in 2012 next to the shelter to bolster use and meet user requests.
  • Zeb Gray Overlook Shelter: This portion of the park features the unique Zeb Gray Shelter with scenic overlook of the Redwood River and the park's hogback peninsula. This area also offers a playground structure and access to the mill site waterfall which bears the city's name. The Falls is spanned by a pedestrian bridge providing a striking view of the Redwood River gorge

In Ramsey Park, near the campground is a zoo which features animals such as buffalo, elk, deer, prairie dogs, and numerous species of upland game and waterfowl. The zoo is always a popular park destination for visitors! From 2009 through 2011 the Zoo was renovated utilizing private donations and matching funds from grass root organizations such as Friends of the Park. The renovations have improved exhibit appeal, enhanced ADA accessibility and reduced erosion to the Redwood River.

Redwood County restored the Swayback Bridge in 2013 following flood damage. Preservation regulations came into play with the restoration. The County received a design exception for the 6-inch high railings, leaving it as it has been for many years as the design intended to have water flow over the bridge during flooding. With the restoration, the masonry was repointed, new floor drains installed, & the roadway improved. In-kind material was also used for replacing missing stones & concrete.

Ramsey Park itself has 3.5 miles of hiking trails which were originally paved but in 2017 through a DNR legacy grant and local matching dollars in 2017 the City was able to have all steps and trails poured in concrete. Ramsey Park was renamed from Alexander Ramsey Park by the Redwood Falls City Council. It is now also used in conjunction with the name Cansayapi.

Ramsey Park History Gallery

Friends of the Park History

Late in 2017 and into 2018 a steering committee driven by members from the Lower Sioux and the City of Redwood Fall collaborated and invested in new welcoming signs for Ramsey Park. The five new bilingual signs in the park prominently feature both communities – Redwood Falls and the Lower Sioux. The signs include the Dakota place name for our region, Cansaypi. They signal the significance of Dakota history and culture to citizens and visitors of all ages for decades to come. This project was funded by The crucial workings by the Lower Sioux & Friends of the Park.

In 2021, a playground expansion was added near the Zeb Gray Overlook Shelter. This expansion was Ramsey Park’s first inclusive & accessible playground.

The Park is minutes away from fine dining, lodging, golfing, an outdoor water park, top-rated casino, historic and cultural venues and access to the City’s on an off-road trail system providing 10 miles of biking and hiking.

The trail system is in place to access the State Authorized Casey Jones Trail, Chief Sleepy Eye Trail and the Minnesota River Trail and have planning in place for trail hub locations. The vision for the future shows Alexander Ramsey Park as destination hub to access three State Trail systems fortifying its rank as a regional park.

Ramsey Park provides zoo animal watching, fishing, tubing, hiking on improved trails, and public camping as previously listed. The real scarcities are the prominent feature of the zoo which attracts many visitors to the park, the geologic features as listed above that can be observed all through the park, and the historical economic contribution the Redwood River and its falls have played for milling lumber, grain and providing electrical power. Ultimately the features of the falls themselves, Scenic Ramsey Falls with overlook and the Redwood Falls with aerial walk bridge are the unique natural features that cannot be witnessed anywhere within a 2 hour drive.

Since 1957 the park has been free to the public so daily use is calculated utilizing MNDOT traffic counts of MSAS 118 that runs through the park. Average daily traffic counts through the park are 970 vehicles based on the MNDOT 2013 traffic volume survey. Ramsey Park fills a large gap of providing amenities expected to be found in the State Park system without daily use fees.

On average 500 camping stays are made from Mothers Day weekend thru September. Of these 500 overnight stays it is assumed 2 persons per stay or 1,000 patrons. A review of statistics based on annual data from the online reservation system currently in place shows that 30% live less than 50 miles away, 60% are greater than 50 miles to 200 miles away, 10% live in excess of 200 miles from Ramsey Park. Of the 31 improved (level) electrical sites for RVs/ campers and 15 rustic non-electrical tent sites, the 500 reservations show that the park is primarily full 18 weekends out of the 25 available due to the high percentage use over the weekends. All camping reservations are done via our online system. This certifies that Alexander Ramsey park is a regional destination drawing users beyond the State Park system.

Ramsey Park has been a part of two Governor’s Design Team planning visits. Utilizing those planning suggestions along with Citizen Input. The City of Redwood Falls Park and Recreation Commission has prioritized projects within Ramsey Park and fashioned a master plan. The Park and Recreation Commission is comprised of 5 Mayor appointed Citizens who advise the Council on Park priorities throughout all of the Redwood Falls park system. Recent projects have been subject to open house reviewing the proposed project to develop input from the residents prior to solicitation of funding. This process will continue for all future applications and has fashioned the list of projects that are previewed with this submission.

In addition to the Commission and the Design team, Citizens have formed a grassroots organization known as Friends of the Park. This organization has been instrumental on helping prioritize projects and raising donations through organizing festivals and fundraising with private donors and businesses to provide matching funds for grant submission. This group is passionate about the Park and has fostered the renovations that have been done to date.

Your support helps make it possible for us to maintain & improve Ramsey Park so that future generations can also enjoy the vast beauty & features of the area. We look forward to the ways we can build on this history & create even more memories in Ramsey Park!

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A day of adventure is waiting for you at Ramsey Park!

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