History Of Washington Park part 1
by Sandy Folaron •
To many Milwaukee residents, Washington Park holds numerous sentimental and historical memories of an exciting past. One hundred and twenty four acres were originally allocated and purchased in 1891 by what was then a Milwaukee Park Commission. The Park Commission Board immediately engaged Frederick Law Olmsted & Company to design and plan the park, originally named West Park, relative to the surrounding city neighborhoods. The firm was signed on at a design fee of 12 cents per acre! At that same time, the company was commissioned to include two other sites, Lake Park and River Park (Riverside) which ultimately began the creation of Milwaukee County’s Emerald Necklace.
Olmsted’s plans and vision for urban parks was groundbreaking for its time. Plans included road and boulevard designs that reached out into the city neighborhoods, walkways, bridges, waterways and a natural landscaping plan that was showcased hundreds of native and indigenous species; particularly trees. It was to provide the “common” man access to nature and the therapeutic qualities of country life.
Work began in 1892. The park commissioner carefully followed Olmsted’s plans beginning with the excavation of a seven acre lake and an aquatic garden (following the example of the popularity of another aquatic garden in Humbolt Park.) It showcased a four level heated waterfall, exotic fish species, a lily pond, stone bridges and meandering walkways. A deer park housing eight donated deer was created nearby and soon to follow was the addition of a boathouse and landing which offered boat rentals. A new bandstand erected in 1896 showcased Tuesday night concerts usually performed by the United Singing Society of Milwaukee. Things began to move quickly and soon the Park Commissioners moved to install an athletic clubhouse and open air gym making West Park Milwaukee’s first athletic center. In 1900 West Park was renamed Washington Park and a new era began as the deer park began to grow in popularity and size and eventually would become the focal point as the park began to annex additional land and expand.
Next issue….Milwaukee’s renowned and first Zoological Society and the new Emil Blatz Temple of Music is built, showcasing the “Music Under the Stars” series.