How a Ghost Town Was Turned into a Minnesota State Park

GRES, Minn. – Banning State Park is said to be full of extremes. From the rush of the Kettle River to the gentle waterfall of Wolf Creek. And it’s not just the river path that catches your eye. It’s also the rocks.

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

“You can see the drill holes from when they blew them off the walls,” Payne said.

She says that before this was all a state park, it was actually a rock quarry that was teeming with workers. Many of them were European immigrants, who blasted and harvested the sandstone. If you look closely, you will find relics of this operation.

A nearly two-mile trail shows the path taken by a train, while hauling tons and tons of rocks. The company is long gone, but deep in the forest, the walls are still standing.

There is a spring inside that would power the steam engines. In each place, the stonemasons had a specific duty. An old building was called The Rock Crusher, and that’s what it sounds like. Here they would take stones and break them down into small pieces to use for concrete.



As business boomed, a community was forming, named after the quarry’s founder, William Banning. A town existed on the site for 20 years, from 1892 to 1912. At its peak, there were 300 people. There was a bar, a motel, a boarding house and a few houses.

The quarry and the city died due to a lack of high quality stone and an increased demand for steel. But some of the rock slabs are still in buildings in the nearby town of Sandstone. Today, hikers quickly see that what man left at Banning, Mother Nature has taken over.

“I think it’s cool to see it mixed together and nature reclaiming what we’ve given up, so it makes for some cool scenery for sure,” hiker Laura Garza said.

Banning State Park is also the site of a 10,000 foot thick natural geological fault. When the water is high, the park is also known for kayaking and rafting.

Prohibition will celebrate 60 years as a state park next year.


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