Long before Smetana Lake Park was a park, it was where Rick Smetana played with his cousins, went horseback riding and swung from rope swings in the old barn.
“The farm was always a fun place for me as a kid,” Rick Smetana recalled as he looked over a family photo album. “I just loved going out there.”
The 64-year-old and his mother, Marjorie Smetana, drove up from their homes in Florida this June to return to the land that was once the Smetana family farm. On June 21, around 20 relatives will gather at the park to reminisce, grill and rejoice on the land named for their family.
Many of Eden Prairie’s lakes, including Bryant and Staring, are named for families that once lived in the area. Although many of the Smetanas have since scattered across the country, the old farmland-turned-park serves as a beacon for the family and a way to connect to their history.
The first Smetana to arrive in Minnesota was Frantisek Smetana, who immigrated from Bohemia in the mid-1800s. In 1878 he bought the 40-acre plot for $105, according to “Eden Prairie: A Brief History” by Marie Wittenberg. Three generations of his family lived on the farm, which primarily produced raspberries, Rick Smetana said, until Edward Smetana sold most of the property in 1963.
“My grandfather wanted out of there young,” Rick recalled.
Marjorie Smetana, 89, has curated a 3-inch binder full of family photos and history dating back to the early 1900s. She first met her husband, John Smetana, at a birthday party for his cousin when she was 10. Years later, impressed by his charm and manners, she married him. The couple lived in St. Louis Park and often visited the Smetana farm in summer to let Rick and his sister Kathy enjoy the outdoors. The family gatherings were full of fun, Marjorie Smetana remembered.
“They liked to party,” she said. “These Bohemian farmers, they love their beer.”
John’s career took the family to Florida in 1969, where they’ve lived ever since. Births, deaths and life events have spread the family far and wide over the years, and even in this interconnected internet age, Rick Smetana wasn’t able to reach all of the relatives he’d hoped to invite. He’s also hoping to get in touch with a distant cousin who may have tintype photos of more family members from the 1800s.
“If somebody doesn’t care enough, it’ll disappear. That’s a piece of history,” Rick Smetana said.