Desnoyer Park

Saint Paul's Hidden Community

Red River Ox-Cart Trail Heritage Flower Garden History

Est. 2000 by Karen Wargo

In the early 1970s, the Ramsey County Historical Society erected five historical plaques with a brief history of the Red River Ox Cart Trail that once passed through our area. Beginning in 1844, fur traders used oxen to pull carts with 6-foot-diameter wooden wheels packed with furs and other materials from as far north as Manitoba to St. Paul for shipping on the Mississippi River steamboats. One of these signs is located in the Desnoyer Park neighborhood at the intersection of Raymond, St. Anthony and Doane avenues.

The garden is named the Red River Ox-Cart Trail Heritage Garden because it is located on the trail, at the historical marker. The Red River Ox-Cart Trail ran from the Red River Valley to St. Paul in the mid-19th century. Ox-carts, with wheels as tall as a person, creaked along the trail, bringing fur to the city and taking supplies back. The ox-carts had large, all-wood wheels, and the axles made a very loud creaking noise.

Karen Wargo, who lived on Raymond Avenue, one-half block from the sign, was disappointed in the plain grass that fronted the sign. She decided to install a garden worthy of this historic site and, in 2000, started preparing the ground. The next year her lovely flower garden appeared. During the next eight years Karen purchased and installed a wide variety of native and heritage flowering plants.

Karen made a huge individual commitment to beautifying this space in Desnoyer Park. Karen received the 2006 Good Gardener Award for this garden from the City of St. Paul, Division of Park and Recreation and St. Paul Garden Club. She was recognized by the Minnesota Horticultural Society and the Blooming Saint Paul Program for her work in creating a beautiful community space on city property.

Unfortunately, Karen and her husband had to leave Desnoyer Park due to career re-location, so she was faced with this dilemma: dismantle the beautiful garden or find someone else to sustain it. Karen’s public garden was a treasure worth keeping—but more than most could maintain alone.

In 2008, Kathy Franzen, who lived at 383 Pelham Boulevard, a former DPIA president and the Project Director of the Desnoyer Park: A History of the Neighborhood, stepped forward to contact neighbors in Desnoyer Park requesting their assistance in caring for the garden. At the time, Kathy was a co-chair of the Public Garden Committee for the Garden Club of Ramsey County. This experience was used as a guide to develop a garden management system for the Ox-Cart Garden.

In 2012, Kathy Franzen and her husband, Phil Hage, also a former DPIA president, moved to downtown Minneapolis. Susan Rasmussen stepped forward to manage the Ox-Cart Garden volunteers

More photos on instagram.