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History of indoor ice rinks in Minnesota

Source in part: Donald M. Clark Unpublished Notes

PART ONE: PRE - WORLD WAR II 1892 - 1941

1934 Hallock Old Arena

The availability of indoor ice facilities has played an important role in the development of ice hockey in Minnesota. Those communities that have possessed advantages of indoor rinks consistently have developed better programs and players in most programs that have had to rely on outdoor ice.

In late 1892 the ice polo teams in St. Paul outfitted four indoor roller rinks with natural ice.  They were as follows: Jackson, Summit, Wigwam and Exposition, all located near downtown St. Paul. These installations are believed to be the first buildings in the state with natural ice.  During the winter of 1893, St. Paul ice polo teams played many of their contests at these rinks.

On February 7, 1893, the Glen Avon Curling Club Rink in Duluth hosted a game of ice polo in which St. Paul Henriette's defeated the Duluth Polo Club 2-1. The ice surface at the Duluth rink measured 126' x 80'.

In the fall of 1894 Hallock, located in northwestern Minnesota, constructed a wooden indoor skating rink. On January 8, 1895, two Hallock teams played a hockey game in the newly built rink that may have been among the very first hockey games played in Minnesota or the country. These two groups decided to play a game of hockey when the speed skaters who were scheduled to entertain the crowd did not show up.  By 1907 four additional enclosed rinks had been constructed in Hallock. With the exception of the 1907 building, which was used through the 1915 season, these early rinks usually lasted only a year or two before being dismantled.  In 1897 nearby Stephen and Pembina, North Dakota, built indoor skating facilities. Also in 1897, Crookston, located 90 miles to the south of Hallock, erected in indoor rink.  In Drayton, North Dakota, a large enclosed rink measuring 100’ x 62’ was constructed in 1899. Most of these rinks were small, often 50’-60’ by 150’-160’ in size. Carnivals, hockey, curling, speedskating races and public skating were among the events that were held at these rinks.

By 1899 ice polo, which preceded ice hockey and had been a very popular winter sport in the late 1880’s and 1890s in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth, had been replaced in popularity by ice hockey, a game better suited to a smaller size ice surface.

Records indicate that the first game of hockey played by a St. Paul team on an indoor ice surface occurred on January 6, 1901. The game was played at the Star Rink, located at 11th Street and 4th Avenue South in Minneapolis with St. Paul defeating Minneapolis 3-1. The Star Rink was a roller skating facility and a natural ice surface was installed in the building during December of 1900.  In addition to the Minneapolis Hockey Club, North and Central high schools used the rink for practice and games.  Two seasons of hockey and skating activity ended the use of the Star Rink as an ice rink.

The first indoor hockey in skating rink to be built on the Mesabi Iron Range was constructed at Eveleth by Andy O’Hare of Winnipeg in the fall of 1902. Located at the south end of Grant Street, the wooden building possessed an ice surface of 75’ x 150’. The first hockey game was played in the structure on January 23, 1903, when Two Harbors defeated Eveleth 5-2. World-renowned skater Norval Baptie of Bathgate, North Dakota, and John Nilsson of Minneapolis, the North American speed skating champion of 1896 in 1897, thrilled Eveleth audiences with their performances in the building. The building was used as a rink for only a few seasons after which Eveleth was without an indoor rink until construction of the recreation building in 1919.

The second building in Minneapolis to be employed as a hockey rink was the Broadway rink, located at Broadway and Washington Avenue in North Minneapolis.  This building was used for hockey during the season of 1904-1905 but after one season of use it ceased to operate as an ice rink. During the first decade of the present century, hockey grew rapidly in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth and northwestern Minnesota.  St. Paul was especially active during this period, maintaining about 10 outdoor rinks and icing about three dozen teams of varying ages.  Through this early period the progress of the game was hampered by the lack of suitable indoor playing facilities.  Hockey in the Twin Cities was given a big boost when the Hippodrome at the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul was made available to skating and hockey in 1912. The use of the Hipp paved the path for the development of a strong St. Paul team composed of such outstanding local players as Moose Goheen, Tony and George Conroy, Emy Garrett, Ed Fitzgerald, Everett McGowan, and Cy Weidenborner. These teams competed favorably with the best in Canada and the United States.  The Hippodrome proved to be a very popular facility and was used continually for skating and hockey until it was replaced by the present Coliseum in the 1940s.  The Hipp had one of the largest sheets of indoor ice in the world measuring at- 270’ x 119’.

The opening of the Curling Club Arena in Duluth in 1913 resulted in increased interest in hockey in skating, just as it had in St. Paul.  Soon Duluth formed a strong team and competed on an equal basis with the nation's best.

In 1919 the first combined curling and hockey rink on the Mesabi Range was opened at Eveleth.  The recreation building, built at a cost of $125,000, housed curling on the first floor and hockey and skating on the top floor.  In the first hockey game played in the building, part of the three day Winter Carnival to celebrate the opening of the rink, Eveleth lost to Hibbing. Players imported from Two Harbors dominated the Eveleth line-up. Opening of the recreation building vaulted Eveleth into big-time hockey and within a few years the city of Eveleth was noted nationwide for its teams and the development of outstanding players.

Following in the footsteps of Eveleth, in the early 1920’s Hibbing, Virginia and Chisholm constructed facilities similar to the Recreation Building in Eveleth. In 1922 interest in hockey proved so great in Eveleth that the city, mainly through the efforts of Mayor Essling, built a second and larger rink named the Hippodrome.  This building, which was completely remodeled in 1936, is the rink presently being used in Eveleth.

St. Paul gained a second indoor rink in 1922 when ice was placed in the Coliseum, located on Lexington Avenue near University Avenue.  The Coliseum was adjacent to the Lexington Baseball Park and home runs hit to left field and landed on the roof of the building.  The Coliseum was torn down in the late 1950s to make way for a shopping center.

In 1924 the first buildings in the state to be built with artificial ice were constructed in Duluth and Minneapolis.  The Minneapolis arena, with a seating capacity of 5,500, and the Duluth Amphitheater, accommodating 4,000 fans, created reliable ice conditions and additional comfort for the fans.  Availability of artificial ice led to improved college, high school and amateur hockey and within a few years to the professional game.

Natural ice was placed in the riding Academy at Fort Snelling in 1924 and the facility was used for several years by Twin City amateur and the Fort Snelling teams. The Riding Academy still stands but ice has not been placed in the building since the late 1920’s. Within a few years natural ice was installed in White Bear Lake’s Hippodrome, which at the time was a part of the Ramsey County Fair complex erected in 1926.  This building has been a popular rink for amateur teams during the past sixty years and continues in use at the present time.

Roseau in northwestern Minnesota constructed an indoor rink in 1924.  This facility operated until it was destroyed by wind in 1943 and was replaced in 1949 by the present Memorial Arena.

In 1931 a modern arena-auditorium was built in downtown St. Paul, containing St. Paul's first artificial ice and seating for more than 7,500 fans for hockey. The very popular Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament was initiated at the St. Paul Auditorium in 1945.  It was held there for the next twenty-four years until it was shifted to the newly constructed in larger Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington. The Auditorium has been the home of many professional, amateur and high school sextets during the past fifty years.

During the mid-thirties indoor arenas with natural ice were built in the northwestern Minnesota communities of Thief River Falls, Hallock, Crookston, Bemidji and Clearbrook. These structures, along with the one at Crosby, located on the Cuyuna Range in the East Central Minnesota, where built as Federal government WPA projects. Those at Thief River FallsCrookston and Hallock are still being used.

The rink at Hibbing, which had been built in the early 1920’s, was destroyed by a fire in 1934.  It was replaced in 1935 by a beautiful, modern hockey and curling complex.  The new facility, named the Memorial building, installed the largest sheets of artificial ice in the state (99’ x 200’) and seated 4,100 fans. The structure, in top physical condition, is currently in use.

In the late 1930’s artificial ice was installed, as an afterthought, in the Mayo Civic Auditorium in Rochester.  This was the first artificial indoor facility in southern Minnesota.  Although a short rink, it proved to be a boost for the game in that part of the state.  At about the same time Myrum Fieldhouse at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter placed natural ice in the building and there college team played there after opening in January of 1939.  Within a few years the fieldhouse was converted to a drill building by the U.S. Army. In 1947 the building was converted to use as a basketball facility, in which capacity it remained prior to being demolished in 1984.  The Lund Center, and Don Roberts Ice Arena opened in 1974 where the Gusties play today.

In the 1930’s Fergus Falls placed ice in an unused broom factory which contained posts down the center of the building. The Fergus Falls players soon developed the skills of taking advantage of the posts in their game strategy.

At the outbreak of World War II nineteen indoor ice rinks were operating in the state. Four of these - Mayo Civic Auditorium in Rochester, St. Paul Auditorium, Minneapolis arena and the Memorial building in Hibbing - contained artificial ice.  Loss of the 14 year old Duluth Amphitheater occurred in 1939 when the roof of the arena caved in during a Fireman-Police game before a full house of 4,000 fans. Luckily no one was seriously injured.  Natural ice rinks were in use at Duluth, Eveleth (2), Chisholm, Virginia, Clearbrook, Bemidji, Thief River Falls, Crookston, Roseau, Hallock, Crosby, St. Paul, White Bear Lake and St. Peter as the U.S. entered World War II.


The advent of World War II dealt a severe blow to the growth of hockey in the state.  Indoor facilities were lost in Eveleth, Virginia, Chisholm, Clearbrook, and St. Peter in the mid-forties. The buildings at Eveleth, Chisholm and Virginia were taken over by the Arrow Shirt Co. in 1946 in 1947.

In the decade of 1941-1950 only two new rinks were constructed in the state.  Warroad and Roseau, both located near the Canadian border in the northwestern part of the state, built indoor facilities toward the end of the decade. By 1950 the number of enclosed rinks in Minnesota had decreased from the nineteen existing in 1940 to thirteen. At this time four of the arenas possessed artificial ice.  All of the thirteen buildings in use, five were located in northwestern Minnesota and only three in the Twin Cities area.

Activity in arena construction continued at a slow pace during the decade of the 1951-1960.  The University of Minnesota, badly in need of practice and playing facilities, placed artificial ice in Williams Arena on the campus in Minneapolis for the 1950-1951 season.  During the late fifties the Ice Center in Golden Valley and Miners Arena in Virginia were constructed, both with artificial ice.  Albert Lea laid natural ice in a small structure, the Pavilion, in 1958.

In 1960 only seventeen indoor arenas were operating in the state, two fewer than in 1940. Eight of the seventeen structures contained artificial ice. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area and northwestern Minnesota each had five facilities, while three were functioning on the Mesabi Range. 

The 1960’s experienced great growth in youth and high school hockey in Minnesota, resulting in an upsurge in arena construction.  Notable buildings constructed during the period in including Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, home of the North Stars, and the Duluth Arena-Auditorium complex. The former was built to seat more than 15,000 fans for hockey and the latter to seat 5,800.  Aldrich Arena, located on St. Paul's East side, was built during this era and proved to be a boom to the game in St. Paul.  In 1969, the Minneapolis Auditorium, with a seating capacity for 6,800 fans, installed artificial ice.  During the decade numerous rinks were built in the seven county Metropolitan area.  North St. Paul, South St. Paul, St. Paul, Blake at Hopkins, Edina (2), St. Paul Academy, Breck in Minneapolis, Fridley (2), Roseville, St. Mary's PointBloomington (2), Richfield, Stillwater, Wayzata, West St. Paul, Minnetonka (2), and St. Louis Park were among those erecting rinks. 

In the northern part of the state, arenas were placed into operation at ColeraineGrand Rapids, Baudette, Red Lake Falls, Two Harbors, Silver Bay, Roseau, Detroit Lakes, Bemidji, Babbitt, Hoyt Lakes, Thief River Falls, International Falls, Fergus Falls, Cloquet, Wheeler and Duluth.

Construction in southern Minnesota during the 1960’s included a rink at Faribault, built by Shattuck School, which had participated in varsity prep school hockey on outdoor natural ice since 1922. Graham Arena in Rochester, opened in 1968, provided the Mayo city with its second facility.

By 1970 sixty indoor arenas were in use in the state, more than a threefold increase from the number existing in 1960. 40% of those were located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and 70% of the 60 contained artificial ice.

During the decade of the 1970’s, the increase in the building on the indoor facilities followed the growth of youth hockey in the state, resulting in a doubling in the number of indoor arenas.  Demands for ice rental time remained strong throughout the decade as thousands of youths competed for use of a limited amount of indoor ice.

During this period the city of St. Paul and Ramsey County built ten indoor rinks with artificial ice, while Minneapolis constructed four.  In the early seventies the Civic Center was opened in St. Paul adjacent to the Auditorium. With its large seating capacity of nearly 19,000, the Civic Center was able to lure the popular Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament away from the Metropolitan Sports Center in 1976. With the Civic Center’s added seating capacity, attendance at the eight-team, three-day event climbed to more than 100,000 annually.

New buildings were also opened during the decade in the Twin Cities suburban area at Apple Valley, Brooklyn CenterBurnsville, Buffalo, Coon Rapids, Cottage GroveElk River, Farmington, Hastings, New Hope, Osseo and Shakopee.

Construction during the seventies in southern Minnesota included new arenas at Albert Lea, Austin, St. Peter, Mankato, Northfield, LeSueur, Owatonna, Rochester and Windom. In central and west central areas of the state, rinks were erected at Alexandria, Brainerd, Hutchinson, Litchfield, Moorhead (2), Fergus Falls, St. Cloud and Willmar.

In the Duluth and Iron Range areas new arenas were built in Duluth, Ely, Proctor and Hibbing. Bubbles, with natural ice surfaces, were in use at Moose Lake, Gilbert and Pine City.  Communities in northwestern Minnesota whom added buildings were Williams, Red Lake, Roosevelt, Hallock and Crookston.

Enclosed arenas continue to be erected at a brisk pace in the first few years of the 1980’s. From 1980 to 1982 the following communities open indoor facilities: Eden Prairie, Mound-Westonka, Princeton, Anoka, Red Wing, Inver Grove Heights, Forest Lake, New Ulm and East Grand Forks.

Many of the smaller communities in the state could boast of having two indoor facilities.  Among those with two as of 1982 were Crookston, East Grand Forks, Fergus Falls, Fridley, Hallock, Hibbing, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Moorhead, Roseau, Rochester, Thief River Falls, and White Bear Lake. Bemidji, a city without an indoor arena in the early 1960’s, had three indoor facilities by the early 1980’s, all equipped with artificial ice.

The facilities with the largest seating capacity, always seating in excess of 4,100, were: Hibbing Memorial Building, Duluth Arena, St. Paul Auditorium, Saint Paul Civic Center, St. Paul Coliseum, Minneapolis Auditorium, Williams Arena in Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington.

By 1982 the number of indoor arenas in the state numbered 130, more than double the number in use in 1970.  All the 130 operating, 110 had artificial ice.  Sixty of the buildings were located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Compiled originally: January 27, 1982

Number of indoor rinks with recap of location

Year SM TC CWC NE NW Total Number
1904 0 1 0 1 0 2
1913 0 1 0 1 1 3
1920 0 1 0 2 0 3
1930 0 3 0 7 1 11
1940 2 4 1 6 6 19
1950 1 3 1 3 5 13
1960 2 5 1 4 5 17
1970 4 25 3 15 13 60
1982 17 60 10 22 21 130
1998 26 106 26 27 30 215

SM – Southern Minnesota
TC – Twin Cities Metropolitan Area
CWC – Central/West Central Minnesota
NE – Northeastern Minnesota
NW – Northwestern Minnesota 

1995 Mighty Ducks Bill Grant

In 1994 - Minnesota State DFL Representative Bob Milbert from South St. Paul, was the chief author of the 'Mighty Ducks Grant' program that was proposed as a way for Minnesota to both purchase the Winnipeg Jets, and assist youth hockey rinks across the entire State.  Upon his retirement, the bill was described as his [Bob Milbert] greatest legacy, and was named as the 'biggest sports booster in the Legislature'.  The legislation got its name from the two movies about a youth hockey team starring Emilio Estevez, and both shot in the Twin Cities, and prominent lawmakers called to sell bonds to purchase the Jets, and use the estimated $4.1 million in tax revenue the team would then generate to pay off the bonds and fund both construction of new arenas, and renovate existing rinks.  The primary impetus behind the program was the ensure ice time for the ever growing number of girls' hockey teams [at time of bill there was 49 high schools that iced teams].

Initially, in 1994 the bill was shelved due in part to the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves when the State agreed to annually spend $750,000 for 15 years to save the franchise.  In 1995, 82 communities including 31 in the metro area and ranged from Baudette in the north, to Albert Lea in the south that applied for matching grants through the Mighty Ducks program that was finally passed by Legislature.  The State funded ten grants of $250,000 for new arenas, and eight grants of up to $50,000 for renovations among the 82 applicants.  The winning communities however had to find ways to match the grants from the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission.  'Communities must prove that their own financing is in place before the winners are announced when the Sports Commission meets December 18" [1995] - James Metzen, sponsor of the bill.

From 1995-2000 the grant provided $18.4 million in state money that helped build 61 new arenas statewide, and renovated countless others.  'Though the program was widely acclaimed, the money has since dwindled and only $858,000 was awarded in 1999 and 2000.  In recent years, persuading taxpayers to invest in such facilities has proven more difficult'. - Rep. Bob Milbert

October 31, 1995 Mighty Ducks Bill Grant

May 7, 1995 Minnesota to Get NHL Jets & Help Youth Hockey

April 2, 2002