The stately columned entrance to South Park tells two stories.
First is the love that late nineteenth and early twentieth century Mansfielders obviously had for parks and nature. After the Civil War, local citizens, like their counterparts across the country, sought respite from the grit and grime of city streets in bucolic settings. Before 1890, the city was benefited through the donation farmland for the purpose of establishing a municipal park.
Second was the love that the community had for that donor – the statesman John Sherman. Sherman, who we have recently profiled on 1812Blockhouse, backed up that land donation with a bequest of some $5000 to provide for park improvements.
The columned entrance was the recognition that Mansfield decided to furnish the man who had not only made the park possible. City leaders sought a design from a New York City firm, as they had a model in mind from that city’s Van Courtlandt Park, although cutting of the Indiana limestone was done locally by stonecutter E.M. Wolff. The gateway grouping was completed near the end of 1903.
The park was also named ‘Sherman Park” in his honor.
Sandstone entrances were also placed at other entrance locations to what is now Middle and North Lake Parks.
Even though Mansfield had acquired and improved land for these parks, the money was not always there to operate them. According to a 1965 Mansfield News Journal story, at one time funds were so scare that park department employees were placed on the police department payroll.
The story also relays that John Sherman himself sent William Saunders to beautify the park; Saunders was a landscape gardener for the United States Department of Agriculture. Saunders had had a distinguished career, having designed the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This website from The Cultural Landscape Foundation profiles his work as a “pioneer of landscape design.”