Harriet Island was named after pioneer school teacher Harriet Bishop. In 1900, Harriet Island was given to the citizens of St. Paul by Dr. Justus Ohage. He wanted to provide St. Paul with a recreational area that would benefit the public. Over the years, Harriet Island was home to many attractions including a complete outdoor gymnasium, a center pavilion for refreshments and bands, swimming lessons, slides, water games, and St. Paul’s first zoo.
From 1910-1915, Harriet Island offered free public baths, bringing some 15,000 people to the beach every year. As pollution of the river increased, the popularity of the baths decreased.
In the 1920s an entrance was added to Harriet Island to increase accessibility at the south end of the Wabasha Street Bridge. However, by that time the park's heyday had passed. The Harriet Island public park was unappreciated despite its central location in the Twin Cities and more construction was attempted in 1929. A wide drive (Ohage Mall) was built around the island, and some trees and shrubs were planted. Unfortunately, the onset of the depression prevented any further development.
In the early 1950s, the water channel connecting the park to the mainland was filled creating today's Harriet Island. In 1969, expansion of Harriet Island was again considered. The idea was dismissed because there was still a large amount of river pollution in the area, which was unappealing to visitors.