The Ellsworth Rock Gardens were determined eligible for the National Register in 1998, as an extraordinary and unique American art environment and outstanding example of mid-twentieth century vernacular landscape architecture. Jack Ellsworth, carpenter/building contractor from Chicago, constructed the Ellsworth Rock Gardens in a forested area on the north shore of Lake Kabetogama between 1944 and 1965. He and his wife Elsie spent summers on the lake transforming a 60-foot granite outcrop near their summer home into a grand garden. The Ellsworth Rock Gardens are a major visitor destination in Voyageurs National Park, attracting approximately 100 people a day from mid-May to mid-September. Mr. Ellsworth used stone in a number of ways in the gardens. He first constructed 65 terraced flower beds which he filled primarily with tiger lilies, but augmented with a variety of other flowers. He created over 200 sculptures—spires, monuments, pyramids, multi-tier tables, and whimsical figures. He edged paths with stone, used stones to direct water away from and to desired areas, and used stone for other functional elements such as benches, bridges and steps.
The purpose of the stone wall workshop was to provide hands-on training for park staff, Ellsworth volunteers and others interested in learning to build and repair drystone walls. The intent was to create a cadre of trained personnel to continue work at the gardens and also increase the availability of trained workers for future projects in the park or other historic sites in the country with similar resources. Voyageurs acquired funding through grants and donations to bring master stonemason Neil Rippingale of the Dry Stone Conservancy to the park to teach the workshop. A few walls required complete dismantling, some required disassembly of short segments to repair collapsed sections, other walls required only removal of the top layer of rocks or the top layer and the course below. Historic photographs were used when available to replicate the original appearance of the wall as closely as possible. Participants had the opportunity to work on different wall types including retaining, free-standing and double-boulder. The group of seven trainees repaired 617 linear feet of wall during the week, exceeding the estimated 150 linear feet of repairs. An optional stone wall construction day was offered to trainees at an off- site location to reinforce their understanding of the principles of drylaid stone construction. Four trainees constructed a 4’x15’ section of dry-stacked stone wall during this session (see photographs in Appendix C).