How a ghost town was turned into a Minnesota state park

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SANDSTONE, Minn. — It’s said that Banning State Park is full of extremes. From the rush of the Kettle River, to the gentle waterfall of Wolf Creek. And it’s not just the river way that catches your eye. It’s the rocks, too.

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

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

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

A nearly two-mile trail shows the path a train took, while hauling tons upon tons of rock. The business is long gone, but deep in the forest, the walls still stand.

There’s a spring inside that would power the steam engines. At each location, stonecutters had a specific duty. One former building used to be called The Rock Crusher, and it’s just like it sounds. Here, they would take stones and break them down into small pieces to be used for concrete.



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

Both the quarry and the town died because of a lack of high-quality stone and more demand for steel. But some of the rock slabs can still be found in buildings in the nearby city of Sandstone. Hikers today quickly see that what man left behind at Banning, Mother Nature has taken back.

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

Banning State Park is also the site of a natural geological fault that’s 10,000-feet thick. When the water is high, the park is also known for kayaking and whitewater rafting.

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

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