Noerenberg Memorial Park

Noerenberg_Garden27_06202008

Noerenberg Memorial Park
A bustling Gilded Age estate is now a tranquil retreat

Meander through formal gardens. Gaze across an extensive natural shoreline. Tour historic structures. Walk along rustic trails. Encounter tranquility. These experiences await you at Noerenberg Memorial Park. Preserving this halcyon atmosphere, while conveying interpretive information and experiences about the park’s cultural and natural history and encouraging stewardship, is a balancing act. Add challenges such as a lack of on-site interpretive staff and bisection of the park by a busy road and you have an exciting opportunity for creative solutions. Planners and stakeholders sought to strike a balance between dual, and sometimes conflicting, goals: providing more interpretive experiences and maintaining the park’s tranquil feeling.

Preserving a Cultural Landscape

Originally the private estate of Grain Belt Brewery founder Frederick Noerenberg and his family, Noerenberg Memorial Park, connects visitors to Lake Minnetonka’s Gilded Age. The mansion was removed at the family’s request, but a number of other historic structures have been preserved: a carriage house and barn are both original to the estate, a pump house dates from the turn of the last century, and a historic water tower continues to be used for garden irrigation. These physical structures help tell the story of how such Gilded Age estates worked.

The Noerenberg’s formal gardens are key to preserving the park’s cultural landscape. Gardens have been a central feature of the property since the family began developing the estate in 1890. Influenced by the English style, the original garden featured tree-lined avenues, tiered rose beds, and manicured lawns. Today, the garden’s design reflects the historic garden style while incorporating greater accessibility features. The northern part of the park, once the heart of the estate farm, is now a natural preserve area providing sanctuary for wildlife.

The historic structures, gardens, and natural areas all remain as testament to the park’s roots as a nineteenth century gentleman’s farm—an agricultural enterprise owned and operated by wealthy businessmen for recreational purposes rather than financial gain, and a common feature among the emerging leisure class during the Gilded Age.

Conveying the story of a Gilded Age retreat

When the Noerenberg family lived here, seventeen employees maintained the mansion, barn and outbuildings, and gardens and orchards. Fowl and livestock raised on the estate fed the household and supplied local establishments. Without interpretive staff on-site to tell these stories, other elements are needed to orient visitors and provide them with meaningful information about the park’s cultural and natural history. The park district commissioned an interpretive plan to balance the preservation of the park’s tranquil character with the need to provide visitors with meaningful interpretive experiences.

The plan recommendations emphasize minimal visual intrusion and an environmentally sensitive approach. Recommendations call for minimal outdoor signage and markers designed to blend with their surroundings. Any new structures or physical improvements must also lay lightly on the landscape and reflect the historic architectural character of the site. A planned series of thematic brochures (e.g. seasonal, tour based, or activity based) will convey relevant stories at walking-tour stops through the park. The tour stops will be linked to landscape features rather than signs to minimize visual interference.  

North Shore Drive bisects the park, creating a strong physical separation between the southern and northern section of the park. The southern section, with its beautiful formal gardens and a charming boathouse gazebo, define the park today. While the northern section, with its wildlife sanctuary and barn and water tower once used on the Noerenberg estate, remain off limits except for special occasions. The interpretive plan recommends development of a safe crossing to help visitors experience more of the park’s history and hike the rustic trails yet to be established within the wildlife sanctuary.

A carefully planned site layout that seamlessly integrates interpretive elements will offer visitors a quintessentially Noerenberg Memorial Park experience. Preserving both the landscape and structures are critical to conveying the park’s rich history and tranquil atmosphere.

Reinvigorated for the Future

The interpretive plan, approved in May 2012, has re-energized park preservation and development efforts. Moving forward with plan implementation, current site challenges will be transformed into beautiful solutions. Noerenberg Memorial Park, a Three Rivers Park District site, is the only publicly accessible historic estate property on Lake Minnetonka. It is a place for quiet reflection, horticultural education, and special events. The next time you seek a tranquil, lakeside retreat, you are welcome to visit.

See the Three Rivers Park District, Noerenberg Memorial Park website for hours and directions: http://www.threeriversparks.org/parks/noerenberg-gardens.aspx

Regine Kennedy, M.U.E.P., manages the Interpretation & Design team at the 106 Group, a St. Paul firm specializing in resources management, planning, interpretation, and design.
Marika Proctor is a seasonal research assistant at the 106 Group. She is an English major currently enjoying a year abroad amidst the history and hills of rainy Scotland.

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