A hundred years ago if you had gone on a picnic at South Park in Mansfield you would have no doubt taken a stroll through the wildflower gardens in the south end of the grounds, and to get across the little wooded ravine that separated the two areas of parkland you would have walked across the rustic footbridge.
This photo essay taken from a scrapbook of Mansfield postcards and snapshots explores this long gone piece of park history where folks posed to have a camera capture them in a moment of our past.
South Park was created in 1888 when Senator John Sherman donated to the city a piece of scenic farmland on the far west end of town. At that time a commission was designated to tend to city recreation lands, and within weeks they had set in motion plans to turn the wooded hills and ravines into an urban park setting: access roads were laid out on the grounds, a gully was filled on Brinkerhoff Avenue to create the broad front lawn, and a picnic pavilion was built.
The park was an instant and terrific success. In August of 1892 The Weekly News called for the Park Commissioners to make a streetcar depot on Park Avenue at the Brinkerhoff entrance to the park in order to accommodate the crowds of folks visiting the park: “There is a picnic in the park almost every day in the week and some days there are several picnicking parties; hundreds of people go out every Sunday on the streetcar.”
The Wildflower Gardens
The original plans for developing South Park included a 3-acre forested tract set aside for a special woodland garden to show off native wildflowers and flowering shrubs.
To initiate the creation of this unique undertaking an amazing rustic bridge was constructed that served as entrance to the wildflower grounds by spanning a small ravine at the southern end of the park lawns.
For the next 40 years various groups worked at planting along the paths, and in 1939 the wildflower gardens were fully accomplished by the Johnny Appleseed Garden Club with flagstone stairways along the paths, and intensive plantings through the woods.
Though the rustic bridge is long gone there are still remnants to be found today of the wildflower gardens among the wooded paths off Maple Street, in the form of mysterious stone enclosures, flagstone stairs to nowhere, and pedestal footings. In season, however, there are floral remnants from 100 years ago that blossom and spread every year like no time has passed at all.