The Gooseberry River appeared on explorers’ maps as early as 1670. The river’s name comes from the Ojibwe Shabonimikanisibi (“the place of gooseberries river”), although some say it was christened in honor of French explorer Sieur des Groseilliers, who explored the area in the 1660s with Pierre Esprit Radisson (Groseilliers is French for “currant bushes”). The river has an estuary at its mouth, which made it an ideal place for voyageurs to stop and camp.
The Nestor Logging Company set up camp at the river’s mouth between 1900 and 1909, using two narrow-gauge rail lines to bring logs to the estuary, where the timber was tied into rafts and towed by tugs to mills in Baraga, Michigan, or Ashland, Wisconsin. One such raft contained six million feet of logs and took eight days to reach Baraga. In the late 1920s the state of Minnesota bought 638 acres of land along the river from the estate of Wisconsin’s Henry Vilas. It was intended to be a game preserve and public hunting ground, but in 1934 it became a state park, and the Civil Conservation Corps went to work on it. From 1934 to 1941 the CCC built twenty-seven rustic structures made of stone and wood throughout the park, including administration buildings, officers’ quarters, barracks, a mess hall, and a latrine. They also created picnic shelters and indoor facilities with kitchens, a sanitation building, and several picnic tables with surrounding fireplaces. Gooseberry’s CCC unit included two Italian stone masons, John Berini and Joe Cattaneo, brought in to oversee and execute the intricate stone work still found in the park.
Today the park has been expanded to 1,687 acres and features three of the river’s five waterfalls, including Upper Falls, which drops seventy-five feet, and Lower Falls, which cascades three hundred feet. In 1996 the park’s facilities received a major makeover: a new bridge over Highway 61 and an award-winning Visitor’s Center designed by Duluth architect David Salmela, which features a fireplace made from stone blasted out of the Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel. More than 570,000 people visit the park each year.