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Brainerd ice skating rinks provide wintertime fun for generations

The Norwood Street ice skating rink near 10th Street provided hours of outdoor wintertime recreation for Brainerd lakes area residents in years past. But it was by no means the only ice skating rink

People skating on the ice at a rink on Norwood Street in Brainerd.
People skate on the ice at a rink on Norwood Street in Brainerd.
Brainerd Dispatch archive
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BRAINERD — The Brainerd lakes area can be a winter wonderland, and its past inhabitants probably knew that better than anyone.

Several outdoor skating rinks were established in the region offering relatively affordable amusement that was accessible to young and old, man or woman, rich or poor.

"Extensive preparations are being made for the establishment of a skating rink in the valley between the city and the Northern Pacific (Railroad) shops … and the citizens old and young are preparing to enjoy it,” according to the Jan. 19, 1878, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.

The skating rink in present-day Gregory Park in north Brainerd recently hosted its annual Valentine skating party that was a testament to the enduring popularity of the winter pastime. That skating rink opened on North Seventh Street in 1890.

Valentine's Day skating party at Gregory Park
Evan Aitchison competes in the rose relay race during the annual Valentine's Day skating party Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, at Gregory Park in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Regarding the skating rink written about by the Brainerd Tribune in 1878 and in 1879: “The skating rink was overflowed again last evening and is now in grand condition — glib as a bottle. … The skating rink still continues to afford rare sport for the ladies and gentlemen.”

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The cost was $5 for family season tickets, $2.50 for single season tickets, $1 for single monthly tickets and 25 cents for single admission tickets, which were available at a nearby drugstore.

“It is wonderful how rapidly the new beginners acquire confidence and skill in keeping their equilibrium on the glassy surface. Many are already fine skaters, and all the patrons of the rink are making rapid progress in this pleasurable art,” according to the Brainerd Tribune in 1880.

Upwards of 40 people at a time on the skating rink on the north end of Seventh Street was not uncommon, according to the news publication, and it was a family-friendly destination.

Children dressed warmly hold hands and ice skate on a sunny winter day.jpg
Children dressed warmly hold hands and ice skate on a sunny winter day in Brainerd.<br/>
Dispatch archives

“The best feature about all this is that children — all in fact — are perfectly safe here, no treacherous air holes to take the unwary and bring sorrow to any house,” according to the Jan. 17, 1880, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.

According to the Brainerd Dispatch in 1888, skating parties on Gilbert and Rice lakes were all the “rage.”

Some enterprising individuals by the names of F.A. Farrar and W.A.M. Johnstone endeavored to give Brainerd lakes area residents even more fun on the ice but sheltered from the elements by opening an indoor ice rink in 1893 at the corner of Sixth and Kingwood streets,

“The floor has been given a thorough soaking with linseed oil, after which about 3 inches of sawdust was covered over it and frozen by degrees in order to keep the water from soaking through and running out when the flooding took place,” according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

The admission was 15 cents for men, and 10 cents for women and children. Admission and use of skates were 25 cents.

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“The idea of indoor ice skating is a new one in this city, and it bids fair to be as much of a rage this winter as roller skating used to be in its palmiest days,” according to the Dec. 8, 1893, edition of the Brainerd Dispatch.

Another ice skating rink was constructed in 1894 by Fred Paine and N.P. White on a vacant block on Main Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets, according to the news publication, and there was a YMCA skating pond on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway in 1914.

Calls for a public skating rink in northeast Brainerd were answered in 1917 when a location was selected just west of Lowell School, between Second and Third avenues, and Ash and Elm streets, covering nearly one block.

Another ice skating rink was constructed by a garment factory in 1949, and it was located on the south side of Norwood Street between Southeast 11th and 12th streets.

This was a cool place to go.
— Carl Faust

“I skated many hours there as a kid, even though I lived across the street from Gregory Park,” said Carl Faust, a local historian. “This was a cool place to go. … I had to go there as well.”

While many public and private ice skating rinks have existed over the years in the Brainerd lakes area — and some still standing — the popularity of the winter pastime and sport endures.

“It is the amusement and ‘life’ of Brainerd this winter, and we trust it may be continued through all the winters to come,” according to the Jan. 17, 1880, edition of the Brainerd Tribune.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

Related Topics: BRAINERD HISTORYCENTERPIECE
I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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