Thanks to Jameson’s Irish Bar for their support.
Albert Park is West St. Paul’s first and smallest park. The triangle-shaped park created by the intersection of Smith, Dodd, and Bernard is roughly 1,800 square feet. It features a flag pole and a 10-foot obelisk that’s been described as a “miniature Washington monument,” perhaps a nod to the park’s diminutive size.
The park grew out of tragedy and has been the focus of several mysteries and misnomers, as well as a gathering place for (small) groups in West St. Paul.
Albert Park Throughout the Years
Smallest Park? Nope
A plaque at the park notes that Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” declared Albert Park the “smallest dedicated park in the U.S.” Note the qualifier there: “dedicated.” There are smaller parks, such as Mill Ends Park in Portland, Ore., that’s just a two-foot circle.
The Ripley’s designation dates to a 1933 sketch by Robert Ripley, according to a 1981 St. Paul Dispatch article.
But not so fast.
In 2013, the Pioneer Press talked to Edward Meyer, vice president of exhibits and archives for Ripley Entertainment. Meyer said the company has no record of Albert Park.
“I looked up Albert Park. I looked up West St. Paul. I looked up Albert LeFevre. Nothing,” Meyer said. “I hate to be the one to break the news. But it’s not the first time I’ve disappointed a whole town.”
So while Albert Park is clearly not the smallest park in the U.S., it’s unclear if it ever had the Ripley designation. Multiple newspaper stories repeat the claim before it was literally written in stone at the base of the park’s obelisk. Ripley Entertainment has no record, but it’s possible they don’t catalogue every claim Ripley made, especially from his early days as a syndicated columnist.
First Park? Sort Of
Albert Park is repeatedly heralded as West St. Paul’s first park, officially created in 1931. However, Harmon Park was created in 1925 and the Commercial Club moved their clubhouse to Thompson Lake in 1929, creating a popular picnic spot. But neither Thompson nor Harmon were officially designated as parks by the city.
Harmon was technically a playground, as West St. Paul became one of the first cities to receive funding from the Harmon Foundation to establish playgrounds. Thompson was technically a private recreation area until 1963 when the city purchased the land and it became the city’s second official park before being transferred to Dakota County. Most of West St. Paul’s existing parks were established in the late 1960s and 1970s.
The Park’s Namesake
Albert Park is named for 15-year-old Albert LeFevre who drown in the Mississippi River in 1930.
On October 25, 1930, a trio of LeFevre and friends Vern Bovee and Bernard Nelson walked to Mendota along the railroad tracks and then down to the river. The boys found a raft and LeFevre and Bovee pushed it into the river and jumped on, eager for adventure, while Nelson stayed behind and cautioned them against it.
According to newspaper accounts, the raft struck a moored barge and the boys were tossed into the river. They were swimming toward shore when they were caught in the undertow. Police found the raft floating upside down the following day, but the boys’ bodies weren’t discovered until the spring. Bovee was found in April in Hastings and LeFevre was found in May a half mile down river from the accident. LeFevre is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul.
Albert’s parents, Alfred and Katherine LeFevre, were heartbroken. They had moved to West St. Paul from Canada in 1911, and had adopted Albert soon after they became citizens. Alfred worked as a janitor at the nearby Dodd School.
“That boy Albert was their whole life,” said neighbor Elizabeth Malone in a 1970s newspaper article. “Albert was a good kid, tall, blond, and very good looking. He was the leader of the local Eagle Scouts.”
Albert and Alfred had a special bond. Three years before Albert’s death, the father and son started taking care of the city-owned triangle of land between Smith, Dodd, and Bernard. After Albert died, Alfred petitioned the city to dedicate the land to his son. The city agreed, creating Albert Park as the city’s first official park in 1931 and naming Alfred as park commissioner.
Alfred planted flowers and erected a metal plaque, meticulously maintaining the park until his death in the early 1940s.
The Park’s Transition
After Alfred LeFevre’s death, a series of caretakers looked after the park, including John Haag in the 1950s and Fred Klahr in the 1960s.
The Smith-Dodd Businessman’s Association eventually took over care of the park. In 1967 they revamped the park, removing a jack pine tree, adding stone walls, and erecting a 10-foot obelisk patterned after the Washington Monument.
The dedication ceremony in July 1968 drew hundreds, including American Legion Post 638, the Sibley Band, the Boy Scouts, Mayor Rollin Crawford, and a telegram from Minnesota Lieutenant Governor James Goetz. City Council Member Garth Armstrong gave a speech titled, “What a Community Can Do When It Works Together.”
Unfortunately, in addition to cementing the dubious Ripley’s claim, the Smith-Dodd Businessman’s Association also messed up Alfred LeFevre’s name. The obelisk lists the father’s name as Albert, confusing him with his son.
The black memorial stone in Albert Park has a unique history. While some assume Alfred paid for and installed the stone, it was actually installed more than a decade after his death. John Haag, who had served as caretaker of the park, purchased the memorial in 1953 from the Riverview Monument Company, according to the July 3, 1953 issue of the West St. Paul Booster.
In 1967, the Smith-Dodd Businessman’s Association hired masonry contractor Bob Licha to pour a foundation, sidewalks, and a concrete base for the obelisk as part of their effort to spruce up the park. As Licha told the Pioneer Press in 2013, an official with the Smith-Dodd Businessman’s Association told Licha to get rid of the original black marble marker, mistakenly thought to be purchased by Alfred in 1931.
“I’m sure they paid a lot of money for the new one, so he wouldn’t let me put the black stone back,” Licha told the Pioneer Press. “I said that it’s a dishonor to the father, who bought it, and he said that they’re putting the money up for it, and it’s up to them to decide what to do there. And that’s the order I got.”
That didn’t sit well with Licha, who kept the marker.
“He couldn’t have been making more than $1.25 an hour … and he bought this stone for his son,” Licha said, mistakenly attributing the stone to Alfred LeFevre. “Imagine that. How could I get rid of it? C’mon.”
The granite marker sat in the alley next to Licha’s garage in Mendota Heights for 46 years. Licha tried at various times to contact the LeFevre family, with no luck. He figured as long as the official from the Smith-Dodd Businessman’s Association was alive the marker wouldn’t be returned.
But on Sept. 12, 2013, a West St. Paul Parks and Recreation crew returned the marker to Albert Park, with 87-year-old Licha watching.
“I want people when they stop by to know the real story behind it,” Licha said. “Maybe now, with this stone back, they will.”
Gathering at Albert Park
While the tiny park doesn’t often get a lot of use, it has been a gathering spot over the years.
1956: The 30-foot pine tree in the park was decked out with 300 lights and lit up in a ceremony presided over by Mayor John Sperl with the Sibley High School Chorus singing.
1968: The senior class of Sibley High School spent their skip day at Albert Park with more than a hundred students showing up at the tiny park. According to John Ramsay, a member of the class of ’68, the Smith-Dodd Businessman’s Association worried the students would damage the landscaping and called the police. The police showed up and told the crowd to disperse. When it didn’t happen fast enough, the police took two girls down to the police station. That prompted the rest of the students to follow and a crowd of about 75 tried to enter the police station. Ultimately they were able to negotiate the release of the two girls and permission to return to the park. The incident made page two of the Pioneer Press.
2004: On Memorial Day a new flag pole was dedicated at the park and a new flag raised. Patriotic gifts and a history of Albert Park were handed out.
2010: Amore Coffee hosted an arts festival celebrating Albert Park. The gathering scored a mention in MPR’s Art Hounds and included a performance by the jazz band the Albert Park Trio as well as a reading from a novella inspired by the park, Albert Park: A Memoir in Lies. Written by West St. Paul resident Susan Koefod, who lives within sight of the park, the novella is the quirky story of a person named Albert Park. While the story remains unpublished, it did win a McKnight Fellowship for Writers award. At the end of the “arts festival,” the group walked down to Albert Park and posed for a picture.
2020: Over several days in June, peaceful protesters gathered at Albert Park in support of racial justice after the murder of George Floyd. On one of the days, Police Chief Brian Sturgeon joined the protesters.
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Where do they have copies of the West St. Paul Booster, and did you have to manually comb through issues to find that fact? (Or was there an index or text search to make it a little easier?)
James: Thanks. Dakota County Historical Society has all the goods. They have most of the West St. Paul Booster (though there are a few decades that were lost) and they had a handy file on Albert Park that pulled newspaper stories from a number of stories. Made my job a lot easier. Often I have to scroll through the microfiche, so this was nice.
Thank you so much for this! It is so good to get well-researched information for now and future searchers. Slowly you are writing the next volume of the West St. Paul history book I dream about!