Like Lilac Way, Christmas Lake Park was designed by Arthur Nichols, influenced by the “Rustic Style” of landscaping, and built in the 1930s under FDR’s New Deal.
As a consulting landscape architect for Minnesota’s Highway Department from 1932-40, Arthur Nichols created many roadside parks.
Arthur R. Nichols (1881-1970) was considered one of MN’s most important landscape architects. Christmas Lake Park and Lilac Way’s seven parks are clear examples of his work. They both demonstrate the National Park Service’s “Rustic Style” influence on Nichols. The stone features show the labor-intensive construction techniques and use of local materials that characterize both the “Rustic Style” and federal relief construction in Minnesota.
MnDOT records include a set of original Christmas Lake Roadside Park plans signed by A. R. Nichols.
Browse a photo album of Christmas Lake Park in April, 2021
Built by the NYA, not the WPA
NYA’s 1943 Final Report stated that the Christmas Lake roadside development project employed an average of 50 NYA workers each month of construction.
The NYA also provided a supervisor for the project, and the NYA contributed approximately $3,500 to the total project, most of which was spent on youth labor.
Christmas Lake Park may have been damaged in tornadoes on May 6, 1965
This beautiful picnic spot may have been damaged when the worst tornado outbreak in Twin Cities history struck the western and northern metro area.
The five tornadoes eventually killed thirteen people, injuring 683. More than 600 homes were destroyed, leaving 1,700 people homeless.
Learn more about the historic May 6, 1965 tornadoes at the MN Department of Natural Resources.
Christmas Lake Roadside Park had three sections
It was originally a huge 16-acre site on both the northern and southern sides of Highway 7 in Shorewood, MN. The picnic area south of Highway 7 is located on the northeast corner of Christmas Lake near Radisson Inn Road and Covington Road. Read MnDOT’s 1997 Historic Roadside Development Structures Inventory for more info.
Section 1: Picnic area, south of Highway 7
This included a council ring, well enclosure, flagstone walkways, a rectangular picnic fireplace and historic marker. There were also two 6′-long stone benches with poured concrete seats resting on mortared limestone pedestals in front of historic marker.
Section 2: Scenic overlook, north of Highway 7
The limestone overlook wall north of Highway 7 had a semicircular shape with two 9′-long end walls. Incised stone reads “Constructed by National Youth Administration 1938”. There was also a 15′-long section of low limestone retaining wall.
Section 3: Picnic area, north of Highway 7
Included a 6’2″ sq., limestone picnic fireplace on 19′ dia. asphalt-paved circle which originally had a tall chimney and metal grates on all four sides. (Not sure of this still exists.)
What is written on the historical marker plaque?
This Lake and Lake Minnetonka now occupy what in pre-glacial times was part of the channel of the Mississippi River near its junction with the pre-glacial Minnesota River”
According to neighbor Lee Blaske in 2021,
“Not all that far away from where we live sit the remnant of one of those old parks erected in the early days of driving and highway building. The idea, evidently, was to have nice areas close to highways where families could stop and have a picnic on their recreational drives into the country.
Some of these parks, often constructed of stone (probably because it would be low maintenance) were quite extensive. The one that’s a stone’s throw from our house used to be fairly well developed.
By the time I moved here in 1986, it was no longer being used. I don’t recall ever seeing any picnic activity in that area. According to Tom, there used to be stone picnic tables. I don’t remember seeing them. I do remember seeing a number of stone barbecues with steel grates and stone chimneys in various states of disrepair. Those are all gone now. I think the highway department removed them to make mowing the lawn faster. There were structures on both sides of Highway 7.
All that remains now on the south side of the highway are two rather large gathering areas (one with a fire pit), and a geological marker plaque. On the north side, there’s still a big stone wall that’s sort of a scenic overlook point. I’m not sure if the wall was built in the same time as the other structures (it’s a different type of stone).
Whenever I pass them, I wonder what kinds of things transpired there when the park was in actual operation. Maybe it was possible that the area never saw much use. Realistically, if you drove out to this area on your Sunday outing, would you really want to have your picnic on the side of the highway, or would you want to get close to the Lake Minnetonka? I wonder how long they’ll last.