Iron Spring History

The "Iron Spring" was named for the high mineral content found in the water that once flowed naturally in the area. Originally, the water from the spring which existed before the development of Washington Park had been kept on tap at the Leland Hotel and was valued for its cure of rheumatism, gout, and indigestion. Later, the spring was used for watering cattle, and, finally, was abandoned and allowed to fill in. At the time of the park's development in 1901, it was a small trickle of water at the foot of a steep clay bluff. Work crews excavated the site by terracing back into the bluff, tapping the source, and conducting the water to a basin made from a single block of Bedford stone. The path leading to the well was later covered by a rustic arbor with benches built along the sides and wild grapevines planted to provide further shade. The spring became a popular attraction and was "visited by hundreds daily" for the use of the water as a cure for rheumatism and other ailments. Tin cups were left at the spring for people to drink from and some brought big jugs to take water for home use. The spring was shut down in the 1950s due to deterioration and health concerns.

The Iron Spring Today

Restoration of the Iron Spring began with the ground-breaking in June of 2010. Construction is now complete and the Iron Spring is flowing once again in Washington Park. The restoration of the Iron Spring and natural pergola was the first phase of a three phase project to restore this area and return it to the vision of designer Ossian Cole Simonds. The water flowing at the site is the original spring that was first introduced to the park in 1901 and flows into a replica of the original Bedford Stone. The log pergola was designed by local architect Bill Maslauski who worked in conjunction with Rocky Mountain/Pioneer Log Homes. It is a beautiful structure constructed out of dead standing lodge pole pine. This type of pine is taken from trees that have died due to damage by a fire or like event, but the wood is still useable for an application such as this, thus no live trees were cut to build this structure. Likewise, most of the trees removed at the construction site were recycled and will be utilized by New Salem State Park as fence posts. The removal of these nonnative trees and the planting of native prairie grasses and cover crop returned the hillside surrounding the spring to its original 1901 state.

Phase one of the project, the restoration of the Iron Spring, was dedicated in October of 2011. It was a well attended event with our guest speaker and key sponsor for the project, Polly Roesch, reading a beautiful poem written by her father, for whom the restored spring is dedicated.

Construction Update

Phase two of the project is mostly complete. The parking lot has been relocated, opening up additional green space, and one of the three new sidewalks is in and being utilized. The old drinking fountain was removed last fall and will be upgraded to a fully ADA compliant drinking fountain along with the added feature of a pet fountain. This will be installed by mid August when the other sidewalks are laid out and poured.

Phase three of the project involves the construction of a combination concession stand/picnic shelter. Construction on “The Stand” as it was affectionately called is approximately 60% complete with dedication scheduled for early to mid September. The structure again utilizes reclaimed lodge pole pine logs similar to the Iron Spring pergola, along with natural stone, thus keeping with the natural prairie style design of the park. We will be installing additional benches along with picnic tables in the area. These will be constructed out of reclaimed logs from trees that have been taken out of Washington Park and other local parks due to storm damage. The entire site will be landscaped in a prairie style utilizing native plants and trees, again keeping with the original design and intent of Ossian Cole Simond’s vision of Washington Park.

Design and Funding

This project is unique in a couple of ways. First, the project was proposed, designed, constructed and managed under the guidance of the Springfield Parks Foundation/Friends of Washington Park Committee. Secondly, the entire project is funded through private donations secured by the Friends of Washington Park Committee--NO Springfield Park District funds have be utilized for the construction of the Iron Spring structure, the concession stand/picnic shelter, parking area or any related landscaping. Additionally, the Friends of Washington Park Committee is proposing the private funding of maintenance accounts to offset the costs associated with maintaining the new structures.

Washington Park is one of our oldest and most historically significant parks. The restoration of the Iron Spring will be one more step in preserving its unique history for future generations. If you would like to learn more about this restoration project, make a donation, or sponsor a picnic table or bench, please contact Doug Reynolds at 553-1329 or email f16ratt@mac.com.

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