Leave it to Portland, Oregon, home of 37,000 acres of parks, to be home to the world’s smallest park. At just 24 inches across, Mill Ends Park holds the distinct honor of being listed in the Guinness World Records as actually being, the world’s smallest park.
As intentionally unique as Portland can be, (Insert Keep Portland Weird) the beginnings of this park, was anything but intentional. Have you ever driven past an eye sore day after day and thought to yourself, if the city won’t do something about it, I will?
Well, that’s “exactly” what happened back in 1948 when Oregon Journal reporter, Dick Fagan had had enough. Or is it?
How Did Mill Ends Park Become A Park?
After conducting extensive research on Mill Ends Park, the popular narrative of the world’s smallest park’s origins, reads more like a response than that of something intentional. That is, until we found a different story.
What Is the Popular Narrative For The Mill Ends Park’s Origins?
Returning to his reporting duties in 1946 after World War II, Oregon Journal reporter Dick Fagan sat in his 2nd floor office in the newspaper’s building which stood along what was then known as NW Front Avenue in Portland, Oregon. Since renamed Naito Parkway, this remains as of one of downtown Portland’s busiest thoroughfares.
In early 1948, Dick noticed outside his window a circular concrete hole that was created to play host for what was supposed to be a light pole. But sadly, over time, the light pole was never installed. Instead, the round hole became infested with overgrown weeds.
It was an eyesore, if ever there was one.
Over time, Fagan had had enough and decided to do something about it by planting flowers in what was essentially, a concrete bowl. The park was dedicated St. Patrick’s Day of 1948 where Dick Fagan said this about the park’s dedication, as “the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland“. The park would officially be named as a city park on St. Patrick’s Day of 1976.
This version of the story is also understood to be the official narrative held also by Portland Parks as seen on their website as well as the official park plaque located near the park location.
How Did Mills End Park Get Its Name?
As a writer for the now defunct Oregon Journal newspaper, Fagan had a popular column that was called Mill Ends (rough, irregular pieces of lumber left over at lumber mills).
Or Is It? The “Other” Real Story Behind Mill Ends Park
In a quick Google search for Mill Ends Park, over 2 million results appear. But in further researching of how the park got its name, something different appeared at the top of the page.
In an article posted on the “PDXccentric” website, which supports a book by the same title by Scott Cook and Aimee Wade, the writers wanted to know one thing, what was written by Fagan in his column that the park was named for.
What they found was something much less responsive, and a lot more intentional.
What a Letter in City Archives Revealed About Mill Ends Park
In a letter dated March 24, 1955 found in the city archives from the parks department on the creation of Mill Ends Park, the Superintendent of Parks wrote to a Mrs. Smith the following:
“Mill Ends Park was initiated in February, 1954 as a promotional stunt to publicize “Rose Planting Week”. The idea was conceived by staff members of the Oregon Journal.”
What the authors of “PDXccentric” would further learn is that the park didn’t get its start in the Mill Ends column, but rather was first mentioned in a “features” section in the paper which showcased an assortment of photos from what was happening that week.
Did Dick Fagan Actually Plant Those Flowers?
Continuing their investigation into the real story of the origin of Mill Ends Park, PDXccentric wrote,
“In the winter of 1954 Portland was battling with the city of Columbus, Ohio for the title of the Rose City, a title that Portland had held for over 50 years at that point. Columbus had just built the largest Rose Garden in the country and wanted to steal away our title but the people of Portland stood up and fought with their gardening gloves on. Roses were planted everywhere! Even in a lonely, weedy, gravel filled hole at the intersection of SW 1st and Taylor St.”
They would go on to also uncover that the original name for the park was Envoy Park, named after an Oregon developed rose bush called the “Portland Envoy”. But, in yet another publicity stunt, the Mill Ends column author, Dick Fagan battled then Commissioner Ormand Bean, who coincidentally wanted to keep the name of the park, to rename the park Mill Ends.
Eventually, Fagan would win, thus renaming the world’s smallest park after his newspaper column.
Mill Ends Park Remains A Favorite Spot
Today, Mill Ends Park remains a favorite spot to find, that is, if you don’t blink.
“Missed it the first time driving down the road and had to turn around and try again driving very slowly” wrote one tourist who found the listing in a local guide book.
In a quick search of Instagram for #millendspark, the world’s smallest park appears to be a favorite photo destination for locals and tourists alike. Often times, enhancing the park experience with the placement of gnomes, Jurassic Park signage as well including even miniature dinosaurs.
Regardless of the park’s origin, there is no debating that Mill Ends Park is the world’s smallest park. Yet, in keeping up with Portland, Oregon’s long standing unique personality, the Portland Envoy, couldn’t have a more perfect place, to call home.