DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — The park was founded in 1870 by German immigrants who were members of the Schuetzengesellschaft as a place for target shooting. But right from the start it was more than that.
Soon the 23-acre site at 700 Waverly Road was home to a dance hall, music pavilion, bowling alley, roller coaster, small zoo and picnic grounds. Lots of people, primarily Germans, gathered there for socializing.
The popularity of the park began to decline around 1917 when anti-German hysteria surrounding World War I restricted activities of German Americans, including speaking their language in public, according to Quad-City Times archives.
The park took another hit in 1919 when Prohibition outlawed beer sales that had been a major source of income for park upkeep. And, as first-generation Germans became second and third-generation, the ties to the old ways were replaced by other pursuits.
TheQuad-City Times reports the park closed in 1922 and a year later was sold to the Chiropractic Psychopathic Sanitarium, a group of chiropractors who attempted to treat mental illness and various disorders with chiropractic adjustments. Park buildings were torn down.
The Davenport Shooting Association continued to use the park for many years after the sale but then moved to a new range near Princeton.
In 1960, much of the property was sold to the Good Samaritan Society of Fargo, N.D., for what has become a senior living complex offering independent and assisted living as well as skilled nursing care.
The rebirth of the park began in 1995 when Davenport resident Kory Darnall, a student of history and of German language and culture, was doing research on German immigrants and kept finding mention of “Schuetzen Park.” What was this park, he wondered. He investigated further and visited the site. By then all that was left of the one-time social hotspot was a weedy, overgrown woods with just one original building, a trolley pavilion made of poured concrete that was vandalized and in bad shape.
Darnall launched an effort to restore the park, establishing a nonprofit organization called the Schuetzen Park Gilde that could apply for grants and whose members could help support efforts in money and labor. Thereafter, year by year, grant by grant, and donation by donation, the park was restored.
Invasive plants were cleared from the woods, a pond that helps with stormwater management was made and walking trails were built. The trolley pavilion was restored and several new structures were added, including a stage for musical performances, an enclosed picnic shelter with a warming kitchen, a large stone fireplace and an outdoor toilet building.
Of the park’s original 23 acres, all are now owned by the Schuetzen Park Gilde, minus those where the Good Samaritan buildings sit. The gilde also has acquired additional land that wasn’t part of the park but that is contiguous, bringing its total acreage to 28, Darnall said.
The total cost of land acquisition, pavilion restoration and construction of new buildings has “easily been $500,000,” Darnall said.
The park has been designated as a city of Davenport historic landmark and it is once again a place where people gather to have a good time and to enjoy nature. As Darnall says, “it’s useful again.” It also preserves a significant slice of German-American and Quad-City history.