What Happened to Sandy Lake?

minneapolismap1892.jpgIf you search old maps of Minneapolis prior to 1900 you may notice a small lake on the edge of town named Lake Sandy or Sandy Lake. This small lake is noted on a number of maps from the era just west of Central Avenue along what is now St. Anthony Parkway. Over the years, the lake has disappeared off of maps and can be hard to locate in our well-developed part of town.

One of the most pervasive rumors about the disappearance of the lake is that it was filled in with debris dredged from the bottom of Lake of the Isles in South Minneapolis in a back room dealing to preserve one lake at the expense of another. In nearly 100 years since the disappearance of the Sandy Lake, this rumor still abounds. It seems the truth may be a little more boring than the idea of sensational City Hall dealings, and far more complex.

Accounts from the late 1890's describe Sandy Lake as a muddy, spring-fed lake of varying size. In his written history Parks, Lakes, Trails and So Much More: An Overview of the Histories of MPRB Properties, David C. Smith writes,

At the time it was acquired, Sandy Lake was described as a spring-fed lake. In 1894, Sandy Lake was officially renamed Lake Menomin, but the name appears to have been little used. In 1910, park superintendent Theodore Wirth noted that Sandy Lake was completely dry. He wrote then that the lake, the bed of which he calculated at 24 acres, "will never be a satisfactory sheet of water" except "possibly" during wet seasons.

As city planners turned their attention north of Broadway Street, the city installed storm sewers and drainage systems that eventually helped dry out low-lying marsh areas that were fed by ground water accumulation. The new sewers diverted water back into the Mississippi River instead of allowing it to accumulate in the small lakes, creeks and marshes that were common in Northeast in the 1800's.


A variety of surveys and reports between 1870 and 1920 validate the assertion that the lake was indeed shrinking from year to year. By 1926, Sandy Lake was all but lost. Subsequent developments in the area including the construction of St. Anthony Parkway and Columbia Golf Course all but erased what was left of the lake.

A study by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs in 1986 found that it may be physically feasible to restore Sandy Lake. Yet even if the area were restored, there is no guarantee that consistent or predictable lake levels could be maintained from year to year. Likewise, our modern, mature drainage system through Northeast Minneapolis may work against the possibility of area groundwater draining into the lake.


Even though time and development have taken away much of Sandy Lake, periods of significant rainfall, like the spring of 2011 have provided enough groundwater to bring the lake back, if just for a short time. If you travel along St. Anthony Parkway between the Columbia Golf Learning Center and the Archery Range after a big rain and catch a glimpse of the water hazard between the 11th and 12th holes, you can see what is left of our small Sandy Lake.

For more information on the history of Lake Sandy, visit the Columbia Park Neighborhood Association. Historical maps of the area can be found at the John R. Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota.

Follow us on Twitter!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jeffrey Martin published on April 3, 2012 2:08 PM.

Waite Park Community Garden Sign Up is Coming! was the previous entry in this blog.

Waite Park Voice, May/June 2012 Issue is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.