The ultimate getaway from the city’s hustle and bustle, parks have been an integral part of our urban environment for centuries. While parks vary in size, style and vegetation, they all seem to have enough room for every person who wish to enjoy their green space. That is, unless you're talking about Mill Ends Park in Portland OR. Nestled in the middle of a traffic median, this miniature park defies everything we’ve associated with this term so far.
If you were to walk by Mill Ends Park at Downtown Oregon, you would most probably mistake it with a mundane flowerbed. Nevertheless, this verdant speck of land is anything but usual. Nestled on a median in SW Naito Parkway, next to SW Taylor St, this circular garden spans across a meager 452 square inch, or 0.292 m2, with its diameter measuring merely 2 feet (0.61 meters), making it officially the world’s smallest park.
This unusually tiny park was the brainchild of Dick Fagan, a columnist who worked for the Oregon Journal. Named after the wooden waste generated by lumber mills, “Mill Ends” was Fagen’s own newspaper column and where he shared different intriguing stories with his readers. As his office was located on the second floor of a nearby building, Fagan had a clear view of the then SW Front Avenue (nowadays SW Naito Parkway).
When the adjacent street underwent some improvement works in 1946, he noticed that the avenue’s brand-new traffic median had an empty hole, designated for a light pole. To his surprise, the hole remained unused even after the median was long completed. As the concrete traffic island began accumulating rubbish and weeds, Fagan chose to intervene by planting flowers, unintentionally creating a miniature green lung, named after his personal column.
When the diligent writer later discussed about the tiny park in his column, he mentioned that one day, while routinely looking at the street below from his office window, he suddenly spotted a leprechaun (an Irish mythical creature) digging inside the circular void. Moments later, he was already down, holding the Irish fairy in his hands. Since catching a leprechaun earns you a wish, Fagan asked for a park of his own, albeit without elaborating on which size or shape he wants his natural enclave. Consequently, the leprechaun awarded him with the unassuming hole.
Parallel to his new career as a part-time gardener, Fagan kept on sharing his outlandish stories about the park’s mythical dwellers at his column. He referred to Mill Ends Park as the “only leprechaun colony west of Ireland”, swearing that he regularly sees their chief leprechaun, called Patrick O’Toole. Seven years after his death, the life’s work of Dick Fagan was officially recognized as a city park during the 1976’s St. Patrick’s Day.
Similar to its larger counterparts across the city, the park has evolved throughout the years, with pint-sized facilities being installed within its boundaries. Among the many contributions were multiple sculptures, a tiny swimming pool that features a diving platform for butterflies and perhaps most notably, a miniscule Ferris wheel that was transported to the site by a full-sized crane. Additionally, the park hosted numerous events, including live music concerts, plantings of flowers and even an exciting snail race.
Throughout its existence, the park has been relocated twice while maintenance works were carried out along the SW Naito Parkway. In 2021, when the municipality of Portland spruced up the street as part of their effort to make it pedestrian and bike friendly, the park was rebuilt a whopping 6 inches relative to its initial whereabouts.
photography by: EncMstr and Lovemedead/ Wikimedia Commons
photography by: daveynin/ Flickr
photography by: mike krzeszak/ Flickr
photography by: brx0/ Flickr
photography by: Another Believer/ Wikimedia Commons