It’s been an outdoor gathering spot for generations of Brainerd lakes area residents.
But for many who frequent the city park, its namesake may be a bit of a mystery.
The Rice Lake-adjacent Lum Park in Brainerd has been the site of Fourth of July festivities, water ski shows, RV campsite rentals, picnics galore and more in its storied history.
The 38-acre park along Highway 210 with its playground, rentable pavilions, shelters, beach, boat landing, fishing pier, grills, disc golf course and volleyball courts is popular year-round.
The free access to most of the Northeast Washington Street park’s amenities is no doubt part of its appeal to celebrate many of life’s milestones like birthdays, weddings and retirements.
But ask many of the park’s countless visitors as to how the park was created or who it was named for, and plenty of those park users of today would be stymied or hard-pressed to answer.
Leon E. Lum, a Brainerd attorney, donated to the city a patch of land on the east shore of Rice Lake for use as a park, according to Margaret O'Rourke, the assistant administrator of the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd.
Lum was born in Anoka on May 20, 1859, and the unmarried man died of a heart attack in Nisswa on March 18, 1926, at the age of 68 — the heart attack brought about by overexertion from shoveling snow after returning from visiting his sister and mother in California.
Lum’s mother hailed from Maine while his father came from New York state to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” His mother became the first teacher in Anoka County, and his father became one of the first commissioners of the county board when the county was organized.
The park’s namesake was an early resident of Brainerd, according to an interview with his sister Elizabeth that was recorded by Sarah Heald for the Crow Wing County Historical Society.
Lum came to Brainerd in 1881 and when a state legislative act incorporated the city of Brainerd, Lum was elected city attorney. He later became a county attorney before being elected to the state Legislature as a county representative in 1888 and served a term.
Lum relocated to Duluth in 1901 where he continued to practice law but continued to spend much of his time in Brainerd and at his summer home in Nisswa, according to his sister.
“He was a man of deep convictions regarding his relation to public affairs and zealous in every way for the welfare of his community, local to the state of Minnesota, and always interested in pioneer life and all that pertained to it,” Elizabeth Lum said of her brother.
Heald wrote of Leon Lum’s characteristics that he was “whimsical, unique — not peculiar; eccentric, but never grotesque.”
“He spoke in a low-toned drawl, and so infrequently that everyone paused to note carefully what he said,” Heald wrote of Lum, a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Law who was later buried in the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Lum was the attorney for confessed murderer John Pryde, whose hanging was the last public execution in the state, according to Heald in her account of Lum. Afterward as a state legislator, Lum introduced a successful bill that outlawed capital punishment in Minnesota.
According to O'Rourke, the process to start the Crow Wing County Historical Society began in 1923 as Lum’s vision. He willed $500 and his handmade desk in 1926 to begin the society. He chose a few prominent citizens to organize it and a year later it was incorporated.
Dr. Clarence Lum of Duluth, Leon Lum’s brother, donated more than $500 to erect a memorial entrance to the park in honor of his brother, according to a 1926 newspaper article.
“This has become a favorite picnic ground, and to some degree has been used ever since then as a municipal bathing beach,” according to the book “Brainerd 1871-1946” by Carl Zapffe.
Twenty-nine heirs were named in Leon Lum’s will, and the city of Brainerd was originally bequeathed $2,000 for the improvement of the park that bears his name while $500 went to the county historical society.
“In the 1940s, the Park Board contributes to further aesthetic development by landscaping and beautifying Lum Park with flower beds and trimmed shrubbery,” Zapffe writes in his book published in 1946 by Colwell Press.