History of Our Parks
This account of the history of some of the parks in Stevens Point appeared in the Stevens Point Journal in 1958 as part of the city’s 100th anniversary.
Like its water, Stevens Point’s recreation areas are wonderful. And, coincidentally, two of the city’s major parks are linked directly to the development of our water supply.
Old Water Works Park, now Bukolt Park, followed the founding of the first water utility in 1887 near the east bank of the Wisconsin River in the north part of the city. When the city shifted to the Plover River basin for a better water supply, there followed the development of Robertson Park, now Iverson Park.
The third major recreation area in the city, devoted primarily to athletic activities, is Goerke Field, once the hub of the city’s outside activities as the fair grounds at the east end of Main Street.
The forth major park and most recent, is Mead Park along the west bank of the Wisconsin River.
Two other smaller areas complete the six public parks of Stevens Point. They are the South Side Memorial Park and McGlachlin Park.
McGlachlin Park, a narrow three-block long area bordering the east end of Main Street, was the first area to designed as a park and officially named. The land was purchased in 1919 and beautified the following year. The Park Commission, on April 1, 1920, christened the area McGlachlin Park in honor of Edward McGlachlin, president of the Park Commission and founder of the Stevens Point Daily Journal.
McGlachlin Park became the site of the city’s memorial to General Casimir Pulaski. On October 11, 1929, the 150th anniversary of the death of Pulaski, the monument was dedicated. Pulaski was mortally wounded in the Battle of Savannah Georgia, October 9, 1779, in the service of the Continental Congress in the American Revolutionary War. The event was proclaimed a national holiday and the key speaker here was the governor of the state, then Walter J. Kohler Sr. The Pulaski monument consists of a marble foundation and bronze bust of the famous general.
In 1921 the city purchased land near the Soo Line Railroad depot at Division and Depot streets for park purposes. The area came to be known as the South Side Park. In 1923 the city park commission officially named the area Memorial Park in tribute to men from Portage County who served with the armed forces of the United States.
A monument consisting of a base with bronze tablet listing those killed in World War I and a flag pole rising above was dedicated July 5, 1923. The main speaker at the dedication ceremony was Rear Admiral A. W. Grant, a native son, who praised members of the Stevens Point Women’s Club for their efforts to erect the memorial.
The park annually became the site of ceremonies marking the anniversary of that first great world conflict. On November 11, 1926, a captured German howitzer was dedicated on the grounds.
The park now also serves as a recreation area for small children. Playground equipment was furnished by the South Side Business Association in 1955.
Read the Complete History of Jules Iverson Memorial Park (PDF). The first real development of the present day Iverson Park came after the construction of water pumping facilities for the city where Highway 10 crosses the Plover River. Prior to that time swimming was popular at the river in an area known as Red Bridge and the Stumps. Another early day "swimming hole" was Cashin’s on the Plover River at the east end of an extension of Dixon Street.
The City purchased 47 acres of land in the Plover River basin in 1921. During that summer a bathing beach project was undertaken near Red Bridge with funds from a public subscription.
From 1923 to 1935 the swimming area was operated by the water commission and named Robertson Park after E. B. Roberson, president of the local water commission and also president of the now defunct Wisconsin State Bank of Stevens Point.
In 1927 bath houses and a beach with wooden ramps running into the water were constructed at the area known as the Stumps.
The Water Department also erected stone pillars marking the entrance to the park off Highway 10. A parking area also was completed. During the same year a group of private citizens headed by A. J. Sprague, Soo Line engineer, purchased the Cashin swimming hole property and made the area a public playground with bath house facilities, refreshment stand, and playground equipment.
A check room and refreshment stand were added to facilities at Robertson Park by the water commission in 1931. In 1933 supervised play was set up at the park under American Legion sponsorship. Dave Krembs was hired as director. Play sessions were also provided by the Grant, Jefferson, and Garfield schools. Several Central State College students assisted in supervising play for children.
A major boost for the Plover River park area came in 1935 when the late Jules Iverson, jeweler here for many years, purchased a 60-acre tract between Highway 10 and Dixon Street from Mrs. A. G. Green and deeded it to the city for park purposes. The city accepted the land and agreed to erect a memorial at the Jefferson Street entrance to the park. The memorial of native stone stands today marking Iverson Park.
A second major factor contributing to the growth of Iverson Park and other city parks as well, was the vast building program undertaken during the 1930s under federal works projects as pump priming to lift the nation out of the depths of a depression.
After the land donation by Jules Iverson, work was begun surfacing and landscaping the park. In 1936 a community house and Boy and Girl Scout Lodges were constructed. During 1938 new toilet and sanitary facilities were added and by the following year a new swimming pool area in the stream with steel siding lining the shores. A new bath house was constructed in 1940.
During the period of major building at the park much landscaping was done, rip-rap was put in along the banks of the Plover River through the park, fireplaces were built and a Scout council circle was fabricated.
Iverson Park also has become a center for winter sports action. A ski jump scaffold is located near the Jefferson Street park entrance and hills on either side of the Plover River provide fun for ski, sled, and toboggan enthusiasts.
Goerke Park today occupies the site of Stevens Point’s famous fair grounds where thousands gathered in earlier days for fairs, exhibitions and similar spectacles. The area received its name as the outgrowth of a donation in 1923 of $10,000 to the city from Mrs. Amanda Goerke as a trust fund for recreational purposes. The first steps in the conversion of the fairgrounds came in 1932 when the Common Council adopted a resolution setting the grounds aside as a recreational, school, and military tract and authorized the use of funds from the Goerke estate for preparing the field. The grounds were also officially named the Goerke Memorial Recreation Field. The original field was bounded on the south my Main Street, on the north by Prais Street, on the east by Minnesota Avenue and on the west by Michigan Avenue.
The first building for athletic uses at Goerke Park was the Parker Memorial Fieldhouse dedicated May 29, 1934. Work on the fieldhouse began in 1933 using a $1,000 fund donated to the city by Mrs. Laura Mae Corrigan in memory of her mother, Mrs. Emma Parker. City relief workers completed the structure under the Civil Works Administration.
Prior to the fieldhouse project, work had been done preparing the athletic field for track and football events. The first football games were played at the present site of the gridiron in the fall of 1932. By the 1934 football season lights were dedicated at the field and night football commenced for high school teams. The stone and concrete stadium was built in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration Project.
The largest structure to grace the grounds rose in 1937 when P.J. Jacobs High School was constructed with WPA assistance.
All these were preceded by the old armory built in 1921. The building now serves a recreation purpose being used variously for basketball games, as a roller skating rink, and a Youth Center.
In recent years Goerke Park has sported a public skating rink and hockey rink. Under private enterprise and the supervision of the city Recreation Department tennis courts were added to the field in 1951. And this year marked the inauguration of a municipal swimming pool.
Unorganized play and picnic areas under tall pines developed in two places in early day Stevens Point. One spot known as Cartmill Grove became the site of the Portage County Infirmary in 1931. The other spot near the first water works became Bukolt Park.
Suggestions for the improvement of Water Works Park came in 1925. The Park Board was urged by Alderman Frank Urowski to improve and beautify the grounds and make the area more accessible to tourist campers. Three residents of Sixth Avenue, Urowski, Anton Kosmici and Peter Rinka, donated land on the south side of the avenue to provide a better roadway to the park.
In 1931 the city granted flowage rights to the Consolidated Water, Power and Paper Company specifying that an island and lagoon be formed in the park.
As with Iverson and Goerke Parks, Water Works Park got its big push during the recovery period of the 1930s when WPA construction was at its peak.
Major improvements included landscaping, parkways, fireplaces, beautification of the lagoon including bridges and in 1935 and 1936 construction of the bathhouse, beach area, ramps and a diving tower. A large lodge built in the park was completed in 1940.
On May 5, 1936, the council renamed the park the John J. Bukolt Park in honor of the founder of the Automatic Cradle Manufacturing Company, now Lullabye Furniture Corporation.
The park covers an area bounded by the Wisconsin River on the west, Front Street on the Old Wausau Road on the east and north, Fourth Avenue on the south where a large grass seeded field has been provided for athletic activities. An archway of logs frames the park entrance on Bukolt Avenue.
At the foot of Bukolt Avenue a boat landing was completed last year for boating fans.
The buildings and ground of Bukolt, Goerke, and Iverson have been particularly stamped as the product of Stevens Point. Stone used in projects at these parks was obtained on the west side at a city-owned quarry.
A site long contemplated by Stevens Point citizens as park material became the city’s latest recreation area - Mead Park.
Mead Park planning was undertaken by the Board of Park Commissioners created by the city in 1945. Land was deeded to the city in 1946 by George W. Mead of Consolidated Water Power and Paper Company for whom the park is named.
The park, running along the west side of the Wisconsin River, includes a small area south of the Clark Street Bridge, while the main part runs northward along the dike, bounded on the west by Whitney Street and North River Drive.
The first task in the creation of Mead Park was draining and filling the land which lies below the river level. Work started in 1946 and continued through 1947 and 1948. Seeding and shrubbery beds followed.
In 1951 a Little League baseball diamond was established at the park after a public fund campaign. A swimming area was improve at the north end of the park and bath houses were erected in 1955. The following year the area south of the bridge was improved. A crushed gravel circular driveway was formed with picnic tables for tourists along with a boat landing facility.
During 1957 the Little League diamond was shifted to a new site to conform with overall blueprints for the park. The ball park is now located at the corner of Cornell Street and North River Drive.
A skating rink is provided at the park during the winter months.
Future plans for Mead Park include more landscaping, tennis courts, a bandstand and a music and picnic grove.