Due to scheduled maintenance, parts of MNHS.org will be inaccessible on Monday, November 24.
Minnesota Historical Society M-Flame Logo


History Center Museum
State Historic Sites
Minnesota Place Names
National Register of Historic Places

Shipwrecks
Bridges
State Parks
Landmarks

Other Places
 

 at Itasca State Park Itasca State Park
National Register Listing:
May 1973; May 1992 update


The Itasca State Park CCC/WPA/Rustic Style historic resources include 45 contributing buildings, 16 contributing structures, 11 contributing objects, and one contributing site.

These resources are located within Itasca State Park, which encompasses Lake Itasca, the official source of the Mississippi River, and a scenic area of northern Minnesota that has remained relatively unchanged from its natural state. The park includes 157 lakes covering over 3,000 acres, as well as 27,500 acres of upland and 1,500 acres of swamp. Most of the area has a heavy growth of timber that includes stands of virgin red or Norway pine, some of which are over 200 years old.

The development of recreational facilities in the park began in 1905 with the construction of Douglas Lodge, the first Rustic Style building in the state park system. Subsequent construction over the next 20 years added 12 more Rustic Style buildings to the park.

With the Rustic Style already firmly established, the federal work programs of the 1930s continued the tradition when they began large-scale recreational development in the park. Development was undertaken by two CCC camps as well as two WPA transient camps. Architects for this later development were from the Minnesota Central Design Office of the National Park Service with Edward W. Barber and V.C. Martin serving as principal architects for the park buildings. Log construction was generally used because timber was easily available in the area.

The parkís historic resources include:

East Entrance
Entrance Portals
Entrance Pylon

Douglas Lodge Area
East Contact Station
Drinking Fountains
Douglas Lodge
Cellar
Stairway
Nicollet Court
Dormitory
Clubhouse
Cabin 11
Old Timerís Cabin
Forest Inn
Latrine
Stone Curb
Multiple Cabin
Cabins 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12
Pump House

Preacherís Grove
Retaining Wall

Turnbull Point Trail Shelter
Trail Shelter

Bear Paw Campground
Campground Registration Building
Stone Curb
Pump House
Cabins #s 1-6
Pump House
Stone Steps
Comfort Station
Drinking Fountains
Combination Building
Ice & Wood House
Civilian Conservation Corps SP-19 Camp Site
Pump House
Fechner Plaque

Incinerator

Park Headquarters
Old Park Headquarters
Water Tower
Headquarters Building
Stone Curb
Superintendentís Residence and Garage
Power House
Warehouse
Water Tower

Mississippi Headwaters
Drinking Fountains
Bath House and Shelter
Stone Steps
Museum
Foot Bridge
Pageant Grounds Latrine
Water Tower
Concession Building
Mississippi Headwaters Dam

Lake Ozawindib Cabin

Lake Ozawindib Transient Camp
Foremanís Quarters
Pump House
Footing and Foundations

Elk Lake Transient Camp
Mess Hall/Shelter
Staff Quarters

Historical Significance

Itasca State Park Rustic Style historic resources are historically significant for their association with the development of recreational facilities in the oldest permanent state park in Minnesota. Itasca was also one of the first state parks in the United States. Created by an act of the Minnesota Legislature in 1891, the park was established to preserve the historic Headwaters of the Mississippi and to "maintain intact, forever, a limited quantity of the domain of this commonwealth, seven miles long and five in width, in a state of nature." This was the first action by the state to provide recreational areas, protect natural and geologic features of the Itasca Basin, and preserve some of the largest stands of virgin Norway and White pine in the United States.

Architectural Significance

Itasca State Park Rustic Style historic resources are architecturally significant as the largest collection of log-constructed buildings in the state park system. Constructed over a 37-year period from 1905 through 1942, these Rustic Style buildings include many of the finest log structures in the state.

The park contains the first examples of Rustic Style state park design and the largest concentration of Rustic Style buildings that predate the Depression Era. These structures represent a remarkably diverse and well developed collection of buildings featuring irreplaceable labor-intensive construction and finely crafted detailing.

The Landscape Architecture for Itasca State Park is significant as one of the most comprehensive park designs from the period which successfully incorporated new expansion and construction with the existing Rustic Style buildings of the park.

Park History

Evidence of people in Itasca dates back 8,000 years. They lived in permanent settlements and hunted, trapped, harvested wild rice and buried their dead in mounds located adjacent to the Headwaters.

The story of the European discovery of the headwaters began more than 300 years before the park was established. Spanish and French explorers traveled the Mississippi River looking for the riverís head and at least six claimed the honor of discovering it. It remained for an American, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, to claim discovery of the true source of the countryís greatest river.

Schoolcraft first visited the upper river in 1820 as a member of an exploring party headed by Gov. Lewis Cass of Michigan. Cass was satisfied that he had found the source of the Mississippi in Cass Lake, but Schoolcraft did not agree. He believed that it lay farther to the southwest, and he privately resolved to return some day to find it. His opportunity came 12 years later when he joined an expedition in June 1832. Guided by Ojibwe leader Ozawindib, Schoolcraft reached Lake Itasca one month later and raised the American flag on the island which today bears his name. Schoolcraft coined the term Itasca from the Latin phrase veritas caput, or "truth head."

By the late 1800s, Minnesota's logging era was at its peak and many companies moved north in search of prime timber. The Headwaters were threatened with deforestation when Jacob Brower, a land surveyor and historian, began his heroic battle to establish the park. Brower became Itasca's first superintendent and devoted the last 14 years of his life to acquiring land for the park and enhancing its beauty until his death in 1905.

1905 also marked the year of the construction of Douglas Lodge, a pivotal development in the park's history. The Lodge is significant as the oldest building in the state park system and the first example of Rustic Style design. The building is also significant for is association with the first major development of recreational facilities in a state park.

During the next 20 years more Rustic Style buildings were constructed. The buildings range from the Clubhouse, one of the most unusual rustic buildings in the state, to the finely crafted Old Park Headquarters.

CCC Camp SP-1 was the first state park CCC camp approved in Minnesota and was assigned to Itasca State Park. The camp occupied a site just north of the park beginning on June 27, 1933. One of the campís more notable projects was the construction of the Old Timerís Cabin built in the summer of 1934. The cabin was the first CCC-constructed building in the park and it represents a spectacular example of Rustic Style log construction with walls only four logs high.

Transient relief camps located at Lake Ozawindib and Elk Lake were also involved in the expansion of the park. Workers from these camps improved trails, built bridges and worked on reforestation and landscaping.

CCC camp SP-1 closed in 1937 and was replaced by CCC camp SP-19. One of the projects the CCC workers constructed, the Forest Inn, is one of the largest buildings in the state park system. CCC camp SP-19 closed on July 15, 1942, the last Civilian Conservation Corps state park camp in the United States.

For current information about Itasca State Park, go to the DNR website.