A Bridge Across Time in North Lake Park

There is nothing that tells the history of a place better than old landmarks that have stood through time as witness to other eras. We are fortunate to have two of these old stalwarts in North Lake Park, bringing an older age of Mansfield up so close you can lay your hand on it.

These two landmarks bridge time; they span generations of Mansfielders, to make the world of our grandparents and great-grandparents always present.

And they are, in fact and form, bridges.

The Setting

Mansfield had only one small park before 1887—it was the Square downtown: Central Park. So it was quite a civic asset, adding terrific value to the city, when the new Park Commission arranged to procure South Park from Senator John Sherman, and North Park from Abraham Heineman; and combine them into a whole mile and a half of scenic green space on the west end of town, called Sherman-Heineman Park.

This gift was such a momentous game-changer for the city, that they renamed the street going out to the new recreational area as ‘Park’ Avenue.

The acreage of Middle Park was acquired by the city to connect the South & North Parks, and for the first generation of its growth, the entire swath of groves, streambeds and shade—from Maple Street on the south, to the B&O Railroad tracks on the north—was viewed by Mansfielders as simply one continuous public garden.

Walking paths and carriage drives were laid to connect the parks, and within ten years, the bridges of these thoroughfares were carefully conceived and constructed in a way that served functionally for traffic, and aesthetically perfect in the scenery.

Fourth Street Park Bridge

This is how the scene looked in 1903 at the place where Fourth Street crosses the little stream that runs through the parks.  (The photographer faces south, and the sandstone entryway to North Lake Park can be seen on the right of the image.)  This same bridge still stands today, bridging time back more than 100 years, though the scene has changed considerably.

Comparing the photo from 1913 and today, it is apparent that the sandstone bridge on Fourth Street has grown considerably taller through the ages, and the carefully manicured stream bed of a hundred years ago has become considerably wilder.

The Fourth Street bridge passing North Lake Park was given new height in two progressive stages: in the 1910s three layers of sandstone blocks were added, and about forty years later a second wall was constructed on top of that made of smaller blocks.  The name sculpted into the stone–Sherman Heineman Park–clearly marks the level of the earlier addition.

As young Scouts exploring the waterways of South, Middle and North Lake Parks, we never crossed the roads anywhere but underneath the bridges.  It was easy to imagine the Fourth Street bridge as a time tunnel, hoping to emerge on the far side in a different era of Mansfield.  With this particular bridge it is not a difficult leap of fantasy, because one end has ’87 carved above the arch, and the other end says ’97.  The bridge was initially built in 1887; it was widened in 1897 to accommodate streetcar traffic.

North Lake Park Arched Bridge

When Heineman Park (North Lake) opened in 1888, the landscaping and carriage paths were configured somewhat differently than they are today.  The landmark arched bridge wasn’t built until ten years later, and this photo from 1894 shows the site when the roadway crossed North Lake by a simple trestle bridge.

The park was originally designed with three lakes.  The wall seen in the foreground of this postcard image was the dam and waterfall where another small lake cascaded into the body of water we know today as North Lake.

Photos from a hundred years ago show the landmark bridge variously covered with ivy.  Originally planted in 1898, the ivy has survived to this day with more or less flourish according to which generation of groundskeepers has been in charge.

In the early days of Heineman Park, the scenic bridge was considered such a treasure of the city that images of it were used in civic publications, travel brochures, and promotional advertisements.

Today the landmark bridge is showing its age in some respects–having dropped a few sandstone blocks off its backside–but retains the classic and timeless beauty that never grows old.

Images in this article come from the collections of Gabe Mastin, Mark Hertzler, The Sherman Room of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, and Phil Stoodt.

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