Written by Julie Jo Severson, author of "Oldest Twin Cities: A Guide to Historic Treasures" 

From a tiny, old-school magic shop tracing back to 1899 to a sacred cave tucked below 450-million-year-old bluffs, local author Julie Jo Severson's "Oldest Twin Cities: A Guide to Historic Treasures" pays homage to enduring treasures and natural wonders in our midst. Here are selections from the book that are found in Southwest Minneapolis


Oldest Rose Garden

Lyndale Park Rose Garden

4124 Roseway Road, Mpls. 55409

The Heffelfinger Fountain

One of the prettiest places to savor the change of seasons in the Twin Cities is the Lyndale Park Rose Garden on the northeast corner of Lake Harriet. It’s a vibrant world of fragrances, colors, and flower varieties from all over the world. Designed and built by Theodore Wirth, the Rose Garden is the oldest of four themed gardens at Lyndale Park and the second oldest public rose garden in the US.

Wirth started his career as a florist and landscaper in Zurich, London, and Paris. In 1888, he immigrated to the US and created the nation’s first municipal rose garden in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1904, as the newly hired superintendent of the Minneapolis Parks System, he set out to create a second one in the Twin Cities.

At the time of Wirth’s arrival, Lyndale Park was mostly swamp and woodland. He was intent on creating a rose garden that would be both beautiful and instructive. With something blooming in every season, it would demonstrate which roses could grow in this climate and how to cultivate them. Completed in 1908, the garden still retains Wirth’s original layout of 62 rectangular beds, laid out in classical style. There are more than 3,000 roses representing 250 varieties on display. During its peak season, the garden contains nearly 60,000 blooms.

While strolling through the garden, you’ll pass two fountains. The Phelps Fountain, nicknamed the Turtle Fountain, is one of the last remnants of downtown’s old Gateway Park. The Heffelfinger Fountain, adorned with decorative Greco-Roman elements, is technically the oldest sculpture in the Minneapolis Park System. Built in the late 1500s for Pope Sixtus V, the fountain originally resided in Fiesole, Italy, before it was purchased in the 1920s by Frank T. Heffelfinger, a prominent figure in early Minneapolis. (Bonus Trivia: His brother is William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, the first athlete to play American football professionally.) Heffelfinger donated the treasured fountain to the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners in 1944.

SIDEBAR: Lyndale Park is home to three other themed gardens as well, including the Annual-Perennial Garden, the Butterfly-Hummingbird Garden, and the Peace Garden, which was designated an International Peace Site on May 5, 1999.


Oldest Washburn-Fair Oaks Mansion

Eugene Merrill Mansion

2116 S 2nd Ave., Mpls. 55404

Eugene Merrill Mansion

The Washburn-Fair Oaks Mansion District is a place of grand architecture and history. Centered around Washburn-Fair Oaks Park, across from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, it was once home to the biggest mansions in Minneapolis, occupied by prestigious families such as the Pillsburys, the Turnblads, and, of course, the Washburns.

Most of the area’s first-generation mansions fell to the wrecking ball, but several are still standing. The oldest of those is the 1884 rustic red sandstone estate with the polygonal tower at 1884 2116 Second Avenue South. Its first occupant was banker and lawyer Eugene Merrill, his wife Addie, and their four children. It was later converted into a rest home for the elderly and then an art gallery. Today, it houses a law firm.

That’s not the only original mansion near the park to be repurposed. The George H. Christian Mansion at 2303 Third Avenue South is now home to the Hennepin History Museum, a wonderful resource devoted to social history. The mansion at 100 East Twenty-Second Street, built for Charles Pillsbury Jr., houses a school for the blind. And the Gale Mansion at 2115 Stevens Avenue is a special events venue.

The park, itself, is named for a castle-like edifice that once stood there on a 10-acre lot, encompassing 40 rooms, a carriage house, lake, and pond. It was built in 1884 for William D. Washburn, brother of Cadwallader Washburn, founder of the Washburn Crosby Mill, which later became General Mills. In 1915, after both Washburns had died, the Park Board took control of the property until it was demolished in 1924, despite considerable protest. While at the park, look for the information sign about the long-gone mansion, including photos, at the corner of Stevens Avenue and Twenty-Second Street.

SIDEBAR: Combine your house gawking with a visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (free general admission), followed by a meal on Eat Street, a stretch of Nicollet Avenue nearby that features some of Minneapolis’s most beloved restaurants distinguished by diversity and history.