It’s been said that perspective is everything, and there may never be a truer example of this than at Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either the smallest park in the world — or it’s “the largest leprechaun colony west of Ireland.”
Yes, leprechauns. Springing straight from the imagination of park founder Dick Fagan, the leprechaun Patrick O’Toole was caught by Fagan one night when hiding out in a hole that had previously been intended for a city light post, but was then abandoned. As per leprechaun rules, since he had been caught, Patrick O’Toole was required to grant Fagan a wish. Fagan then wished for a park of his own – but since he didn’t specify a size for the park, the sneaky leprechaun simply gave him the hole where he was standing.
Thus, Mill Ends Park was founded, and was dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day in 1948. The city recognized it as an official city park on St. Patrick’s Day in 1976; unfortunately, Fagan didn’t live to see that day, and passed in 1969.
Over the years, Fagan, who was also a columnist at the Oregon Journal, made use of the park’s leprechauns for stories in his column, which was also called Mill Ends. The name is a reference to the area’s lumber trade, with the mill ends being irregular pieces of lumber that still have interesting stories to tell.
One of the most prominent stories of the leprechauns of Mill Ends Park took place when the mayor of Portland imposed an 11:00 pm curfew on all city parks. Writing on Patrick O’Toole’s behalf, Fagan published a letter in his column which threatened to issue a “leprechaun curse” on the mayor should the curfew stand. As a result, leprechauns became officially exempt from the curfew.
Regardless of the time of day, leprechauns and other whimsical creatures generally will be the only ones to be found at Mill Ends Park, as they’re the only ones who can fit inside it: at just two square feet, it’s been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records since 1971 as the smallest park in the world. Besides a rotation of flowers, plants and trees, the park has also played host to a butterfly swimming pool (complete with diving board) and a mini Ferris wheel. During the Occupy protest in 2011, tiny plastic army men holding signs were placed around the park.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, including bagpipe concerts, are also held every year at the park; a remarkable feat, considering Mill Ends Park is situated in the median of a busy road, Naito Parkway.
When Naito Parkway was under construction in 2006, Mills End Park was temporarily relocated to a planter in front of Portland’s World Trade Center. After completion, the park was returned to its original location, a day before St. Patrick’s Day in 2007, with festivities including bagpipes, the Fagan family, and the Royal Rosarians, Portland’s official ambassadors.
You can see more footage of Mill Ends Park and its story in the video below:
Mill Ends Park may be the smallest park in the world, but it goes to show how one man’s imagination can make a big impact on it.