Rock Island Public Parks

The parks of Rock Island consist of three public squares, and a tract containing about forty acres within the corporate limits, known as Long View Park. The small parks are known respectively as Spencer Square, Garnsey Square and Court House Square. Spencer Square is situated in what is known as Spencer and Case’s Addition, this Addition was laid out in 1836 by John W. Spencer and Jonah Case. What is now known as Spencer Square was not laid out in lots, but in the first instance was occupied in part for school purposes, from April, 1846, to about 1850. The little old one-story brick school house being in the center of the square, the north-west part by the First Methodist Episcopal Church, and the southwest part by the Baptist Church. It ceased to be occupied for school purposes about the year 1850, by the Baptists about 1846, and in the year 1855 the City of Rock Island bought out the claim of the Methodist Church. After the year 1855 it was not occupied for either church or school purposes. It was fenced in by the City, a large Liberty Pole erected, and trees planted; the fence was removed about the year 1870, since which time it has been in actual use by the public. Previous to the year 1880, occasionally during periods of high water in the Mississippi River, Spencer Square, then known as Union Square, was flooded. This continued until the grade of Second Avenue was raised. This prevented any further flood on the Square. Previous to 1889 there existed in the City a society known as the Citizens Improvement Association. This association was organized for the purpose of advancing the improvement of the City in matters material. The first objects of improvement advocated by the association was the paving of the streets and the filling up to grade of Spencer Square; the Square before that time was in a very rough condition. At one time a quarry was opened in the Square by the City, very much to the disgust of Mr. Ben Harper, who in 1870 built what is now known as the Harper House, situated on the west side of the Square. For the purpose of further improvement the City Council appointed the office of park commissioner without salary, to which office Mayor William McConochie appointed William Jackson, a lawyer of the City. Immediately after his appointment Mr. Jackson laid out the Square with cross and interior walks, then called upon the citizens for donations of statuary, vases, arches and other ornaments, the principal ornament was a fountain donated by Honorable Ben T. Cable and Mrs. Lucy Castleman. In 1892 a granite statute of the Indian Chief, Black Hawk, was presented by Otis J. Dimick, of Chicago, who for many years was a resident of Rock Island. Many citizens contributed to the ornamentation, costing altogether about $6,500. When completed the Square was conceded to be one of the handsomest in the northwest, the pride of the citizens of Rock Island. Judge Spencer, after whom the Square is named, came to Rock Island about the year 1828, and resided here until his death.in 1878. He was a kind, Christian gentleman, held in high regard by all the people. The Square was named after him in 1885. About the year 1871 the heirs of Jonah Case endeavored to recover from the City an undivided half of the Square, claiming that the purposes of the dedication of the Square by the proprietors had been abandoned by the City and others, and that the Jonah Case half of the Square belonged to his heirs. Judge Spencer supported the City’s claim. A suit was brought in the United States Court in Chicago by the Jonah Case heirs to recover the land, but the court sustained the possession and right of the City. Since that time no attempt has been made to disturb the City in the possession of the Square as a public park. The Court House Square was dedicated for County purposes by the County Commissioners, who laid out the town of Stephenson in 1835. Afterwards, in 1841, it was named the town of Rock Island, The Square was named Stephenson Square after one Colonel Benjamin Stephenson. On this Square is located the Court House and jail, the first Court House was built in 1837, the first jail in 1836. The present jail was built in 1857, the present Court House in 1895. It is never spoken of as Stephenson Square, always Court House Square. Garnsey Square is located at the west end of the City, it is located in what is known as the Chicago or lower Addition, and was first called Franklin Square. It is named after Daniel G. Garnsey, who was one of the proprietors of the Addition. The Square was underlaid by a gravel deposit, a few trees were grown upon it, but the nature of the soil was not favorable to trees and vegetation. About the year 1881 the City Council induced by the popularity of the improvement of Spencer Square, resolved to improve Garnsey Square. With that end in view they hauled away the gravel underlying the Square and filled it up with clay; after that was done the Square was graded, trees were planted, also improved by walks and cross walks, a fountain, the gift of Weyerhaeuser and Denkmann, was placed in the center, and improved and ornamented in other respects by gifts from citizens. The Square is now a beautiful public resort. Long View Park contains about thirty-nine acres. It is bounded by Eighteenth and Twelfth Avenues, Seventeenth and Fifteenth Streets. The land was donated to the City for park purposes by Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Morris Rosenfield, Charles H. Deere and Captain T. J. Robinson The deed conveying the land, made by Rudolf Weyerhaeuser, who was trustee for the donors, is dated August 30, 1897, and contains a provision forbidding the sale, barter, gift or use of intoxicating liquors on the land. ‘ About 1902 Mr. Chris Gaetjer was appointed superintendent of the park without salary, but on account of the meager annual appropriations made by the City Council little was done by way of improvement except the cleaning up of the land and the trimming of the trees. In 1905 the Honorable George W. McCaskrin, then mayor of the City, for the purpose of securing the permanent improvement of Long View Park, appointed a Board of Park commissioners, consisting of William Jackson, Fred C. Denkmann, William H. Dart, Otto Huber and Ed B. McKown. These gentle-men afterwards formulated a plan which was concurred in by the City Council, by which the City agreed to appropriate for two years the annual sum of $6,250, provided the citizens would subscribe a like sum. The work of obtaining subscriptions from the citizens was begun by the members of the board in which they were assisted by Superintendent Gaetjer. The effort was successful. By the month of May, 1906, the citizens’ subscription amounted to over $13,000; there-upon the work of permanent improvement was begun. The plan of improvement consisted of laying out macadamizing and draining a road and branch road through the park; excavating for two lakes on which beautiful swans and water fowl could disport, and be viewed with pleasure by visitors; the improvements also including a model public building. Cement walks, a waterfall, a brooklet connecting the lakes, a splendid pavilion over-looking the Cities of Rock Island and Davenport, a rustic bridge and series of dams on the line of the lakes and connecting brooklet. A beautiful memorial fountain, the gift of Misses Naomi and Catherine Davenport, of Davenport, Iowa, in memory of their uncle, the Honorable Bailey Davenport, deceased, several times mayor of Rock Island. Many other valuable improvements were made, all of which are highly appreciated by the citizens of Rock Island, as evidenced by the numbers that visit the park daily. On the west side of the park is a children’s play ground, with swings, slides and other fixtures for their amusement, the gift of Mrs. Anna Davis. From the varied character of the land composing Long View Park, with its beautiful plateaus, mounds, slopes, with the improvements made it is no exaggeration to say that when completed it will favorably compare with any park on the Mississippi River; the ease by which it can be reached by the people will make it always a center where the people can enjoy its restful and beautiful surroundings.

 

City of Rock Island

 

Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908