The ready availability of parks and recreation opportunities is so highly prized by residents, and often a key reason that people choose to live here, that it probably comes as no surprise that the community has stepped up time and time again to preserve land for parks, playing fields, and recreation facilities, dating as far back as a donation of land in 1846 from Eugene Skinner, himself.
This month we celebrate Parks and Recreation month and so it is a perfect time to share some highlights from a history of Eugene’s Recreation written by retired Recreation employee, Bruce Steinmetz.
When the Skinners donated 40 acres for the county courthouse, it was matched by the owner of the adjacent property, Charnel and Martha Mulligan. Bruce notes in his history that the property became a “locus for public meetings, concerts, fairs and cookouts so the Skinners and Mulligans could be regarded as founding parents of Eugene City’s first de facto park, which also served as the social center for the growing community.” That property, which we know today as the Park Blocks, is still a locus of the community, drawing crowds for Saturday Market, concerts and public business at the County Courthouse.
After adopting a charter permitting it to purchase, hold and receive land for parks in 1905, The City accepted Thomas Hendricks’s donation of 47 acres in the southwest hills and purchased 31 more acres the next year. In 1908, voters approved a bond measure to purchase Skinner Butte and the park was dedicated in 1915.
The first funding for recreation came a decade later, with the passage of Public Recreation and Playground Fund in 1927, the first levy earmarked for recreation activities. Recreation programs were created for community youth during the summer months. Administering the funds and programs was a newly-created five-person Playground Commission.
Led by the UO Law School’s dean, a fellow from Wisconsin by the name of Wayne Morse, residents stepped up again some years later to save what is today a favorite recreation site: Spencer Butte, from the loggers’ axe. More than a thousand people donated 1 penny to 5 dollars to buy the butte and then voters approved a tax levy to finance the balance of the purchase price.
In the next installment, read about the purchase of 17 swampy acres that became Amazon Park the original vision for Civic stadium, the birth of Parks and Recreation Bureau, and Eugene’s Recreation hey days.