Call of the wild: The beginnings of Wildwood Park & Zoo
By Kris Leonhardt
Like much of Marshfield’s history, it all began with the Upham family.
The land on which Wildwood Park & Zoo now resides was originally owned by brothers Charles M. and William H. Upham. As part of a tract that once encompassed the property extending 7 miles east and 15 miles south of what is now the corner of Maple Avenue and East 14th Street, the Upham brothers established a railroad to carry lumber from the dense woods to their mill at the center of town.
The Upham brothers named it the Marshfield & Texas Railroad and ran a line that skirted the eastern edge of what eventually became the park.
Upon the discovery of springs nearby, workers used the cool, clean water to quench their thirst while laboring in the woods. The area became affectionately known as The Springs.
When William Upham decided to establish a power plant and water works station, he selected the springs area for development, and it then became known as Water Works Woods.
After a lengthy court battle that went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the city purchased the Upham plant, along with 120 acres of land, and the area became Water Works Park.
In 1913 the Eagles Club took out a 10-year lease from the city on five acres of the park with the intention of creating walks and installing benches. The agreement was made so the city would retain all ownership, including improvements.
When the need for a ballroom arose, and in order to host the state United Commercial Travelers convention, the Eagles began construction on a 60-by-120-foot pavilion in the park.
The pavilion was designed to be used as an auditorium and dance hall and was named the White City Pavilion. Soon the park became known as White City Park.
After World War I, the American Legion took over the lease and hosted weekly dances, and in 1929 ownership of the pavilion reverted back to the city.
During the post-World War I years, the Women’s Club became active in promoting the park on the city’s south side. Looking to create a brand for the facilities, the women suggested adopting the name “Wildwood Park.” The city agreed.
(Next week: Part II – The creation of the zoo)
Kris Leonhardt may be contacted by mail at P.O. Box 51, Marshfield, WI 54449 or email at email@example.com.