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Owatonna's Central Park is located at the heart of the city, bordered by local businesses, the fire station, and the county courthouse. Originally founded in 1855, the area that is now Central Park was a wet, swampy marsh. Even though it may not have been ideal land for such a use, the engineer who platted Owatonna insisted on the creation of a public square at the heart of the city. The Public Square, as it was originally known was the city's very first park, which currently boasts 30 parks that are maintained by the Owatonna Parks & Recreation department.

Central Park has seen many changes over the years, including its shape. Though it was first known at the Public Square, it was in fact round in shape. The park would retain its oval shape until the 1950s when it was deemed necessary to change to a rectangle in order to improve traffic flow with an ever increasing number of cars.

Today, the park remains a hub of activity in the community. Festivals and events are held here throughout the year, ranging from the city's Bold and Cold winter celebrations and snow carving contests, to the summer concert series and civic festivals held downtown during the summer months. Dozens of locals can even be seen on regular days either enjoying a lunch on the benches, walking their dogs, or simply enjoying a little bit of nature downtown.

Central Park, c. 1950

Photograph, Plant, White, Black

Aerial view of Central Park, c. 1900

Sky, Building, Tree, Landscape

Central Park, c. 1920

Plant, Sky, Building, Tree

Central Park Grandstand, c. 1900

Plant, Building, Tree, Window

Located at the very center of Owatonna, Central Park has been the hub of the community since the park was first platted in 1855. Though it was originally nothing more than marsh land that was to remain untouched, local residents quickly found joy in the ability to have a play to rest and relax in the middle of the ever growing city. As early as 1856, locals were flocking here for special events, with more than 150 residents showing up on the 4th of July that year. The park would finally earn that moniker in 1873 when it was formally transformed into what we think of as a park: with trees planted, landscaping done, and a fountain and bandstand constructed. The bandstand and fountain have remained central pieces to this park ever since.

Central Park has always been a focal point for local gatherings, and remains so today. As far back as the 1880s, the City of Owatonna has paid local and regional bands to play concerts in the park during the summer. This continues to this day as a community band plays each Thursday evening during the summer, and the first Friday of June, July, and August feature a large celebration in the park. Other local celebrations such as Gem Days and the winter's Bold and Cold celebrations take part in Central Park and are annual events that local residents look forward to.

Surrounding Central Park are some of the city's most iconic buildings, many of which date back to the 1800s. The Steele County Courthouse is located to the south of the park, as is the first city hall building, currently serving as the fire hall. To the east of the park lies the headquarters of Federated Insurance, an international insurance firm founded and located in Owatonna. To the north is the National Farmer's Bank building, currently home to a Wells Fargo. This is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, being designed by Louis Sullivan, a mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Primary features of today's Central Park include the bandstand that was rebuilt in 2004 after the previous version was torn down in the 1970s. This new version features a community stage that folds out from the structure itself, providing a unique way to maintain the historic look of the park while providing modern amenities.

Various. Owatonna: Memories and Milestones. Owatonna, MN. J-C Press, 55060.

Central Park. Accessed August 27th 2021.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Steele County Historical Society

Steele County Historical Society

Steele County Historical Society

Steele County Historical Society