How a ghost town was turned into a Minnesota state park

SANDSTONE, Minn. – It is said that Banning State Park filled with extremes. From the swift currents of the Kettle River, to the gentle cascades of Wolf Creek. And it’s not just the river that catches your eye. Those are also rocks.

Over thousands of years, Mother Nature has molded, chiseled and shaped much of the sandstone in the park, but humans have also left their mark, according to Clarissa Payne, the park’s curator.

“You can see the holes drilled from when they blew them up in the wall,” Payne said.

Before any of these, she said, was a state park, it was actually a quarry bustling with workers. Many of them were European immigrants who blasted and harvested sandstone. If you look closely, you will find relics of that activity.

A trail nearly two miles long shows the path a train took, while carrying tons of rocks. The business is long gone, but deep in the woods the walls still stand.

There is a spring inside that will power the steam engine. At each location, the stone masons have a specific task. A building was formerly known as The Rock Crusher, and it just sounds like it. Here, they will take rocks and break them into small pieces to make concrete.



While business was booming, a community was forming, named after the quarry’s founder, William Banning. A town existed on the site for 20 years, from 1892-1912. At its peak, there were 300 people. There is a bar, a motel, an inn and just a few houses.

Both the quarry and the town died because of the lack of high quality stone and the increasing demand for steel. But some slates can still be found in buildings in the nearby city of Sandstone. Today’s hikers quickly realize that what people left behind in Banning, Mother Nature has regained.

Hiker Laura Garza said: “I think it’s great to see it merge and nature is taking back what we’ve left behind, so it certainly makes for a great setting.

Banning State Park is also home to a natural geological fault 10,000 feet thick. When the water is high, the park is also popular for kayaking and white water rafting.

Banning will celebrate its 60th anniversary as a state park next year.

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