“Captain” Edward Murphy arrived in the area in 1850 and was a farmer, ferry and steamboat operator, community activist, and real estate speculator. He filed an 80-acre plat including two adjacent blocks dedicated for Minneapolis’s first public park in 1857. Parks were a low priority for Minneapolis’s elected officials, and the site remained little more than a cow pasture for years. When a public referendum established the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners in 1883, the board gained custody of Murphy Square (renamed Murphy Park in 1890).
In 1885, H.W.S. Cleveland drew up a plan for Murphy Square. This apparently led to the planting of "101 Rock Elms, 34 Lindens and 54 Norway or Hard Maples" in the park that year at a cost of $1,757. The park became a welcome retreat in a city that according to the board’s annual report for that year was "an undulating prairie, for the most part bare of trees.”
The park endured several threats in the last half of the twentieth century. It was nearly sold to Augsburg College, whose campus surrounds it, in 1957, and dodged a proposal to build apartments there in 1962. Construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s separated the park from the neighborhood to the south and nipped the park, reducing the original 3.3 acres to 3.15. Nonetheless, the park retains the essence of Cleveland’s design. Its winding, symmetrical paths, nearly identical to those shown on the original drawing, are dotted by trees and interspersed by lawn panels. It remains one of the city’s only parks without active recreation.