All's well that ends well, in Fountain Park's colorful history

Echoes of our past
William Wangemann • for The Review

Fountain Park in downtown Sheboygan has for many years been a center for numerous celebrations, band concerts and more recently the well-attended farmers market which is held twice a week.

Fountain Park, once known as Evergreen Park, has a long and colorful history dating all the way back 1817 when it was set aside for a city square by the common council. The park may have been designated as park but it took years to develop.

The name Evergreen Park took its name from the fact that the area was covered with virgin pine trees some as tall as 80 feet. Beneath the trees grew a tangle of brush and weeds. It is recorded that area residents even allowed pigs to run around the area.

Soon the unauthorized dumping of trash took place, and worst of all manure piles began to grow in the future park. As for the beautiful pine trees, one by one they were cut down and hauled away by thieves.

What remained after all the trees were gone was a square block of tangled brush, rubbish and putrid manure piles. Area residents also complained that the park, which many considered to be on the very edge of town, had become a hangout for rough gangs of youths.

At last the city decided to take action and passed ordinances prohibiting the dumping of any kind of trash, manure or discards of any kind. Little by little the park was cleaned up and took the form of the park we know today.

By 1875 the city had a paid fire department which needed a constant water source in the downtown area for firefighting. A John Dobyn, professional welder, was hired by the city to drill a well in Fountain Park for the purpose of supplying water for the fire fighting. A contract was signed with Mr. Dobyn for $5,000 which in those days was a considerable amount of money.

As the drilling was begun the city began to construct a series of cisterns, each measuring 14 feet square and 20 feet deep with a water capacity of approximately 800 barrels. A cistern was constructed along Eighth Street at every cross street heading south from the Park to Pennsylvania Avenue and then west to the river.

The cisterns were all interconnected with a pipe system so that when the first cistern filled with the well water it would then overflow into the second cistern and so on until all the cisterns were filled with the final overflow running into the river. All the while the cisterns were being built the well drilling continued.

At 1,475 feet water was discovered and to the delight of everyone the well turned out to be an artesian well that was measured at 42 lbs. pressure which could raise a column of water to 96 feet above the ground. Furthermore the water was found to be a mineral water well.

It didn’t take the fire department long to discover that the strong mineral content of the water was rusting and corroding their firefighting equipment. After several years they had to abandon the use of the cisterns and seek other water sources. Fortunately the city had begun to construct a pumping station and began to draw water from Lake Michigan.

But all was not lost. Many people felt that the strong mineral content of the water had curative powers. Local doctors even prescribed the water for their patients for every possible malady.

I guess the doctors felt that anything that tasted that bad had to be good for you. I can remember well the taste of this water as the city had a small fountain from which you could take a drink or fill a gallon jug. The only way I can describe the taste of the water would be, if you took a tin can and filled it with water and let it stand out in the sun for a month until the can was good and rusty it would taste something like the water from Fountain Park, but not quite as bad.

Shortly after the well was drilled the public was allowed to take water only from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

In between these times the water was piped to the Sheboygan Mineral Water Company owned by John Bertschy and J.O. Thayer who paid a monthly royalty to the city of Sheboygan. Some people thought that the city of Sheboygan would become famous for its mineral water and mineral baths as in Kissengen and Kreutznach in Germany.

The bottled water from Sheboygan Mineral Water Co. for many years was sold worldwide. It was recorded that cases of the mineral water were even shipped to the White House.

The Sheboygan Mineral Water Co. was located along the Sheboygan River near North 13th Street in a large building that later became Verifine Dairy. The company existed at several locations around the city and was operated by several different owners until about 1960.

A little known fact about the park is that in the northwest corner, just in front of the large Civil War monument, are three grave sites. One was a seven-year-old girl said to be the first white child to die in the county, while the others were two occupants of a passing ship.

For years the grave site of the child was surrounded by a small white picket fence and was attended by family members. It is believed that her remains, at an unknown later date, were exhumed and transferred to a cemetery. It is not known what became of the two unidentified persons buried there.

The small drinking fountain that stood in the park was removed, for some unknown reason, and at the time of the writing of this column it is not known if the well was capped off or if it still exists. If I find out I’ll be happy to let you know. Maybe we can convince the city to install a new fountain in the park and you could stop in at any time for a long cool drink, but don’t look for me, I won’t be there!

If anyone has any comments or suggestions for future columns please feel free to contact me, Bill Wangemann at 920-458-2974 or e-mail me at wangemann@yahoo.com.

NOTE: Each Tuesday morning at 7:30 Am a discussion of today’s column can be heard on radio station WJUB “The Breeze”.


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