The Weekend Tourist

A guide to art, architecture and culture 

Sometimes we just need a little prodding to go somewhere different. That’s my new job! I’m here to search out intriguing destinations, investigate their history and convince you it’s worth visiting — right in the middle of your overscheduled weekend. 

Each column will feature a location easily accessible in the metro area, but concentrating on Downtown, Northeast and Southwest neighborhoods (the Journals’ territory). They say people only go to their local tourist spots when they have out-of-town guests, but why save it for them? You deserve some fun too. So grab your camera and city map and let’s hit the road!

One of Minneapolis’s most grand statues finally has a home worthy of its artistic merit. The Pioneers statue has moved for its third time. After weeks of planning, hoisting and rolling from one side of Marshall Street to the other, The Pioneers now reside in B. F. Nelson Park. This riverside park used to be home to the city’s early sawmills and paper mills but will eventually include trails, wetlands, river overlooks and interpretive signs. The park blends seamlessly into Nicollet and Boom islands and will connect to land just purchased by the city across 8th Street. This is going to be a great, expansive park with a stunning skyline view and will be a must-see for your visitors — but remember, you’re going there first.

So where did The Pioneers originally homestead? When Minneapolis was building its main post office in the 1930s, the entire block to the south was landscaped as a formal urban park. The park board held a sculpture competition and local artist John K. Daniels won the commission. He wanted to honor the milling industry but when the park was officially named “Pioneer Square” Daniels went back to the drawing board. After he made a scale model of the sculpture, Daniels took it to a St. Cloud quarry where two local stone carvers assisted him in the final work. It was dedicated in 1936. For 30 years, until Gateway District revitalization razed the area, The Pioneers had a beautiful, unobstructed view of the post office. Then they moved across river to a small triangular piece of land that was essentially someone’s yard.

John K. Daniels was born in Norway in 1895. When he was nine his family moved to America and settled in St. Paul. Though Daniels mostly worked in stone, metal and wood, at the 1901 Pan-American Expo he exhibited a model of our State Capitol carved in butter! (And you thought that was just for Princess Kay!) 

In addition to several pieces in St. Paul, Daniels’s sculptures dot the landscapes of Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, Canada and London. An article about the artist published in 1939 said his work was “appreciated by the man on the street as well as by the critics.” Daniels lived a long artistic life and celebrated his 100th birthday in Governor Wendell Anderson’s office. That same year The Pioneers were featured on a Minnesota bicentennial medallion. 

With the skyline growing over their shoulders, three generations of pioneers now welcome visitors to one of the city’s newest parks. Behind the sculpture you can see the long-hidden relief carving of Father Hennepin meeting Native Americans. Wander further into the park and discover the little iron bridge to Nicollet Island. This park is going to be very popular next summer and you can be ahead of the curve. 

Know of any underappreciated tourist spots in your neighborhood? Write to [email protected]

Editor’s note

This is the debut column of the Weekend Tourist. It will appear in the Southwest Journal and the Journal serving downtown and northeast Minneapolis, featuring unique points of interest in the Journals’ coverage area.

LUNCH TIP: For your afternoon treat head up the street to Elsie’s (729 Marshall St. NE), a Northeast classic. And don’t miss their vintage bowling alley!