In a Rowboat on Maple Lake & North Lake: 1913

It is a perfect summer day and there couldn’t be a better time to go row around one of the lakes out in the west end of Mansfield. Come with me. It is 1913 and civilization is at the peak of American culture before the 20thcentury really starts its roller coaster ride.  

The society is still largely rural, even in the city, and people still dress for dinner. They dress to walk down the street.

The world is still a quiet place in the early 20thcentury—as of 1913, there are still nearly as many horses on the streets of Mansfield as there are automobiles.  

Even so, an hour on the lake sounds serene as a prayer: gliding over the face of the water and watching the clouds pass beneath you, mirroring the sky above, so the boat is suspended between Heaven and Earth.

There is not much that is more relaxing than that—especially if someone else is rowing.

It’s not lighter than air exactly, but certainly lighter than the 21stcentury: a purity of light that shines like American innocence.

As one who studies history, people tend to think I live in the past. But it is not the past if it makes you feel something: feelings take place only now.  If it feels good, then time does not exist.

History is only another aspect of right now.

So let’s dip the oars into the surface of time and take a look around the parks.

The best way to enjoy this ride is to scan through and just look at the pictures first. Study them. Let yourself go there. Some of them you can really get lost in.

And then you can go back and read the captions when you’re ready to re-engage your mind.

Maple Lake

Maple Lake was located on Maple Street between South Linden Road and Oakwood Drive. It was originally called the South Park Extension, and then Maple Street Lake Park.

In 1913, Maple Lake was the newest of Mansfield’s city parks. The little swampy glen was donated to the city in 1905 and it took a few years to shape the landscape into a healthy body of water.

Each of the boats on the lake had a name: this one is Hiawatha.

The Maple Lake boathouse was also a meeting venue hosting church groups, garden clubs and the Maple Lake Girls Club. That building in the background is a rustic cabin sided in slab wood, with a chimney made of rounded creek stones. Folks rented it for special occasions, and it went by the name of Slabside Cabin.

These park photos were made in 1913 before the many years when Maple Lake suffered various indignities. In the 1930s the water level dropped so low the place became a mosquito marsh so the lake was drained at the beginning of each summer. A number of proposals were put forth in that decade to address the eyesore, including full-blown plans to turn the lake bed into a formal civic sunken garden, or a city pool. In 1937 it became a WPA project and the lake was dredged and restored.

The lake was deep enough to have a diving board for a few years, but every couple decades, the waterbed silted in and the shallow end became a marshy haven for an impressive colony of bullfrogs, who nightly sang in massed chorus.

As neighborhoods of homes filled in around the lake, the human population came to outnumber the bullfrog population, and the peoples’ chorus was unanimously in favor of eliminating the noise.

The lake was drained in 1951, and serves today as a sports field seen below.

In the early decades of the 20th century, when the neighborhoods around Maple Lake were being laid out and built up, the developers came up with new names for the 46 acres of suburban Mansfield allotment by which they sold the properties: those streets surrounding the lake on three sides were originally known as Lakewood; and when the development changed hands in 1913 the area was renamed Farmington.

In the 1920s, Maple Lake was reclaimed once again from swampland to make a proper fishing hole. In 1927 it was stocked with bass, and in 1929 there were 10,000 fish taken out of this lake and moved to North Lake and to the fountain in Central Park.

We are lucky to be here in 1913: it is really the high-water mark of Maple Lake’s history.

North Lake

North Lake Park on West Fourth Street is a more comprehensive recreation complex in 1913: there is an amusement park on one end, as well as a swimming pool, a theater, a restaurant, and a dance hall.

The lake itself is configured differently than you find in the 21st century: in 1913 it is a sequence of three little connected lakes. We’ll see if we can get our boat into all of them.

Almost as soon as the lake opened to the public in 1888 there was a slip of boats available for gliding around the waters. In those earliest days it was known as Sherman Heineman Park, named for two city benefactors who donated the parklands: Senator John Sherman and Abram Heineman.

Eventually there was a landmark boathouse built into the shore of the lake, seen in the background, big enough for rowboats to cruise right into the enclosure and dock on an inside pier.

The waters seen in this portrait were only one of the lakes folks could navigate. This is the lowest lake, and the second water surface was more elevated–raised by the stone dam visible in the background, behind the sandstone bridge.

The eastern end of North Lake has a dam today, but in its first years there was an iron bridge spanning the stream where it flowed out of the lake basin.

Viewed from the south shore, this postcard image shows tracks in the background of the B&O Railroad.

This rare view of the park captures the second leg of the lake: the water surface that connected the boathouse lake and the Casino lake. This area today is covered by parking pavement.

These boaters are crossing the surface of the third lake in the park: the westernmost body of water that stood between the Casino (seen in the background) and the Luna Park midway. This lake was filled with gravel during a 1920s flood and is today covered with pavement.

The moon connects us to those in distant parts of the planet who are all seeing the same sky from separate views; and it connects us as well to the distant past in the same way… or the future.

As we watch the moon reflecting on the waters of Mansfield in 1913, we can dream of folks in Mansfield in the 21st century.

For more background on these places check out:

The Casino

The Midway at Luna Park

Thank You:

Many of these images were collected by Phil Stoodt, who was always pleased to have them seen and shared.

Also in this album are pictures from Mark Hertzler, Richland County Chapter Ohio Genealogical Society, Marge Graham, and Wanda Donnan.

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