This year has been notable for a variety of reasons, and the parks have had to make adjustments as all of us have. Reservations and programs had to be canceled or postponed, holidays have looked a little different and crowds are still being avoided. But the parks continue to be essential in our communities, and Great Parks has worked tirelessly to provide outdoor recreation, education and conservation in our new “normal.” Park leadership and staff have dedicated themselves to balancing safety with public service. But 2020 is also a special year because it marks Great Parks’ 90th birthday! So while we may not be able to celebrate with all of you in person, we are still celebrating our history in whatever ways we can. If you have special memories of our parks, make sure you share them in the comments! Let’s take a walk down memory lane, starting with the first Great Park, Sharon Woods.
In 1930, former Cincinnati mayor, Murray Seasongood, was at the forefront of a movement to form a county park system. Mr. Seasongood was known for putting an end to an era of corruption in Cincinnati leadership. He was also interested in the outdoors and had been inspired by a visit to Cleveland Metroparks. The Hamilton County Park Board was formed in 1930 and featured many powerful local citizens. Plans for acquiring “vast acreage” began in 1931, with a vision of creating tracts for “recreation grounds, picnic spots, and freshwater bathing” (Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb. 18, 1931). By 1932, Sharon Woods was open to the public as the first official Hamilton County park!
However, this brand new Sharon Woods looked quite different from what we enjoy today. There was no lake, no playgrounds, no golf course and no Sharon Centre. There were grills for public use with wood provided, a deer pen and a “pool” in the creek. But one familiar site was there from the beginning – the Pavilion Grove picnic shelter – the first permanent structure built in the parks!
Another thing that has always been a feature is the wooded trails, although, there may have been fewer trees at first. One forested area was planted by the Cincinnati Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Many other trees were planted thanks to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of President Roosevelt’s programs for relief during the Great Depression.
In the park’s early years, the WPA was actually a major part of building Sharon Woods. The Stone Arch Bridge so often photographed was one of these projects, as was the Kreis Dam.
The Kreis Dam was built to provide even greater recreational opportunities for the public. They used rocks from the bed of the creek where the lake would be and dammed Sharon Creek to create the 30-acre lake. The dam was completed in 1936 and the lake was open for business in 1937. The park rented row boats out of the Lakeside Lodge, and an old home was converted into an “eat shop.” The harbor, playground and snack bar would not exist as we know them until 1990!
The park quickly became a popular destination for outdoor recreation. The number of visitors in 1936 was 424,336 – close to the population of Cincinnati in the 1930 census! The golf course was added in 1938, adding to the park’s appeal.
There were many interesting goings-on over the years. One fun story that made it into the Cincinnati Enquirer says that in 1950, park ranger Ed Evers cared for a fledgling black-crowned night heron. A problem arose, however, when the heron – Pete, A.K.A. Mr. Squawk Squawk – loudly demanded more fish at all hours of the day. Not only that, but the heron also refused to fly south for the winter. Pete’s care became too much for the rangers at Sharon Woods, and he eventually moved to the Cincinnati Zoo.
In 1953, Sharon Woods opened Nippert Museum in the building now used for employee training. The Sharon Centre we have now was opened in 1999.
Over the years, Sharon Woods has consistently been a refuge in a busy world. A walk along the Gorge Trail is like a walk back in time. Generations have come to fish, boat, learn, play, picnic, hike, golf, see performances and celebrate. We are excited to celebrate 90 years of Great Parks, and look forward to 90 more! Next time you come to Sharon Woods, take a moment to take in the history of the first Great Park!
Share your favorite park memories with us below or on social media using the hashtag #GreatParks90th.
Nature Interpreter, Sharon Woods