Mill Ends Park may not necessarily be what you have in mind when you think of a day at the park.
In fact, there’s not quite much you can even do at this unusual park.
That’s because this tiny urban park, located in the media strip of SW Naito Parkway in the city of Portland in Oregon, USA is the world’s smallest park.
The unique park is a small circle with a diameter of 60.96 cm (24 in), or an area of 2,917.15 cm² (452.16 in²).
A sole tree sits in the center of the park, alongside its iconic name sign.
On 17 March 1976, Mill Ends Park was designated as the official park of the city of Portland.
Portland Parks & Recreation currently manages the petite park, which shouldn’t be too much work, given its meagre size.
“It’s got its own weeding and watering schedule,” said Mark Ross, public information officer at Portland Parks & Recreation.
“It’s got its own park technician whose duties are to care for it and replant it."
History of Mill Ends Park
Mill Ends Park was originally designated as a site for a lamppost.
Fortunately for the lucky little park, the city of Portland failed to have the post installed.
Dick Fagan, an Irish newspaper reporter for the Oregon Journal, sat on the second floor of the building across the street and had a clear view of the unused median.
It may be the smallest park in the world (according to @GWR), but Portland's tiny @MillEndsPark is big on holiday spirit. 🎄✨ And it's only a short walk from #PortlandState at 56 S.W. Taylor St. 📷 @AstridOnestopic.twitter.com/AhlnYQzfR6— Portland State University (@Portland_State) December 12, 2018
After weeds began growing on the tiny lot, Dick took it upon himself to engage in a bit of city beautification.
As a practical joke, he planted flowers at the empty spot. The rest is history, quite literally.
Dick metaphorically named the quirky park “Mill Ends,” after his newspaper column—a term used to refer to the unused scraps of wood left over at lumber yards.
“His column was comprised of miscellaneous stories,” said Dick’s son, Bill Fagan.
“And that’s what mill ends are—extra things that you wouldn’t normally pay any attention to.”
As luck would have it, news of the park spread and on 17 March 1948, the city celebrated the park’s official dedication ceremony.
The legend of the leprechaun
To increase the park’s popularity, Dick often described the newfound park in his newspaper column and the “events” that took place there.
He created an urban legend surrounding the sudden development of the park.
Dick claimed that as he sat in his office, he looked out his window and noticed a leprechaun digging a hole in the park.
Running as fast as he could, Dick was able to catch up to the leprechaun and trap it.
In return for its release, the leprechaun granted him a wish.
Dick’s wish was to own his very own park but since he did not specify its size, the wily leprechaun fulfilled his wish with the two-foot hole.
Although Dick billed the space as the “World’s Smallest Park,” it also came to be known as the “only leprechaun colony west of Ireland.”
Until his death in 1969, Dick wrote about the park and often described the lives of the group of leprechauns that he said inhabited the park.
Dick claimed to be the only person who could see Patrick O’Toole, the head of the leprechaun colony.
In his column, Dick even published a threat by O’Toole regarding the 11 o’clock curfew set on all city parks.
O’Toole threatened a leprechaun curse on the mayor if he attempted to try to evict him and his followers from Mill Ends after the curfew.
According to the legend, the Mill Ends Park leprechaun colony is only visible at midnight during a full moon on St. Patrick’s Day to children bearing four-leaf clovers as gifts.
Opportunities to catch a glimpse of the colony are limited, as the next St. Patrick’s Day full moon won’t occur until 17 March 2041.
“I’ve never met the leprechauns, but they’re rumoured to be the O’Toole family and their home is decorated sometimes with little figurines like sheep, fences, dragons, or tiny army figurines." - Mark Ross
A day at the park
Today, Mill Ends Park continues to be a popular site for St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
In the past, children have left drawings of leprechauns at the celebrated site, and it was even visited in 2001 by a tiny leprechaun figurine and his pot of gold.
“Bill and I have been married almost 49 years and every year except one year, we’ve gone to the park for St. Patrick’s Day and taken Irish whiskey and Bailey’s and had a toast there,” said Dianne Fagan, the late Dick Fagan’s daughter-in-law.
“Our kids have grown up doing that and now we have four grandchildren too and they all come when they can, and we make it a family affair.” - Dianne Fagan
Other St. Patrick’s Day activities here have included concerts by the Clan Macleay Pipe Band, picnics, and rose plantings by the Junior Rose Festival Court.
The evolution of Mill Ends Park
The park has seen many changes over the years. For a while it was home to a small swimming pool and diving board for butterflies, a variety of statues, and even a miniature Ferris wheel brought in by a normal-sized crane.
The city of Portland was doing construction on a nearby bridge doing across the Willamette River. The Ferris wheel was hooked up to the crane being used at the site and transported to the tiny park.
“We still have that Ferris wheel in our possession,” said Dianne.
“All of our grandkids have played with it throughout the years.”
Mill Ends Park was also said to have been used as a popular spot for snail racing.
“He [Dick] made several references to leprechauns occasionally and we knew when he was going to hold snail races,” said the late journalist's son, Bill Fagan.
In 2006, the park was temporarily moved seven feet away while construction on the Naito Parkway took place.
It was replaced on 16 March 2007 during a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration complete with bagpipers, Irish folk music, and Dick’s family in attendance.
The plight of being the smallest park
In 2013, the lone tree standing at the park was stolen in an act of petite theft.
Although Portland Parks & Recreation immediately replaced the tree, a passerby reported seeing the stolen tree uprooted next to the replacement tree the very next day.
“We jokingly involved the police, who said they were going to catch the crook and bring him to justice,” said Ross.
“As we replanted a new tree, the old tree somehow reappeared still intact next to the park. The culprit is still at large." - Mark Ross
That same year, the municipal government of Burntwood in the United Kingdom lodged a complaint with Guinness World Records.
They argued that Mill Ends Park should not be considered a park because it lacked a fence and other park related characteristics.
Instead, they suggested that Prince’s Park (the smallest park in the UK) should hold the record for the world’s smallest park.
Portland volunteers responded by building a fence around Mill Ends Park and placing an “armed guard” soldier figurine at its entrance.
“They got a tiny plastic fence and put it all the way around the park, and they put little park benches in there,” said Dianne Fagan.
“Portlanders kind of went to bat and said ‘uh-uh, WE are the smallest park.’”
Mill Ends Park retained its title and continues to be one of Portland’s most historical sites.
“Maybe it’s not utilized in the same manner as other city parks because of its size, but there’s no doubt that it’s not only a park, but the world’s smallest park." - Mark Ross
Most recently, the world-famous park was once again moved to a new location in 2021 December after the completion of the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Better Naito Forever project.
Its new location now sits six inches west from its previous location as the city of Portland installed bike and sidewalk improvements nearby.
Other improvements include a new cloverleaf park border and a new park sign.
The bureau is hopeful that park visitors will be able to find their way to the park’s new location without a map.
The future of the world's smallest park
There is additional work to be completed at Mill Ends Park.
This spring, the Portland Bureau of Transportation plans to install additional planters along Naito Parkway, permanent striping, and will plant trees along the corridor.
“The city of Portland embraces the park because it’s awesome and fun,” said Ross.
“There’s a lot of things to be serious about in the world today and it’s delightful to have the chance to be joyous and have fun with this unique tiny little site.” - Mark Ross
There is no word yet on whether the leprechaun colony will be present for any future celebrations.