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Posted on October 13, 2015 at 8:20 PM by Ken Kocher
The dog days - those hot, sultry days that mark midsummer - lead us to find respite in the cool green grass under the shade of a large oak. Could it have been the dog days of 1916 that prompted Mrs. Belle Knight, Joshua Hill's granddaughter, to donate to the City of Madison its first public park, Hill Park? Mrs. Knight donated over five acres of family land, formerly the “Holland Lot,” and a part of Hill’s “Cabin Woods” land, “desiring the improvement, the refinement and beauty of Madison, and the culture and pride of its inhabitants, and believing that nothing tends more strongly to develop these traits of citizenship, than public parks.”
It was the City’s wish that the park “be made more beautiful and serve the citizens of [Madison] as a place of recreation.” With generous donations and ample support coming from many Madisonians, “Let joy be unconfined!” could be heard shouted throughout Madison when the first public swimming pool was opened in Hill Park in 1929, to “[everyone] who desires… without any charge.” A club house was later added by the Kiwanis Club and a full renovation of the pool completed in 1967.
“A site along the picturesque and winding little stream and against the hillside is being graded and planted for an [amphitheater] and a rustic bridge will lead to the level spot across the stream where a large [audience] may be seated,” reported The Madisonian in 1934. The Madison [La Flora] Garden Club’s work was to be showcased at a pageant in celebration of ‘Morgan County Day’ to be held later that year. Plantings were added and maintained by the City around the outdoor theater.
Madisonians could again be heard shouting, “Hurrah For The Tennis Courts,” in 1958 when new tennis courts were constructed, a much needed improvement to the existing tennis courts, constructed in the 1930s, being used until this time. “Covered with asphalt and bordered by strong and high wire fences, they are among the finest in the section. Located behind the Madison Swimming Pool in Hill Park, they are an invitation to every tennis lover to come and partake of their resources.” Additional improvements, including lights installed in 1961, were added and countless tournaments were held at the tennis courts throughout the years.
Local churches, many civic organizations including the Madison Woman’s Club, Kiwanis Club, and Madison [La Flora] Garden Club, as well as invested citizens have worked together over the years to make Hill Park the community attraction it is today. Though the pool and amphitheater are no longer in existence, these civic projects provided a point of pride and a place where citizens could come together and celebrate over the years. It seems the City’s mission to provide a beautiful respite, “a breathing place,” has come to fruition.
Madison Moments, a weekly blog highlighting Madison's rich history, is a creation of the Madison Historic Preservation Commission in collaboration with other City Boards and Departments. This installment was contributed by the Greenspace Commission and written by Mollie Bogle, GSC staff. Since 1990, this volunteer board has provided a focus for the conservation of the municipality's natural resources.
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