Salute to A Man
The Big Sioux River, born of a glacier as it died about 10,000 years ago, has slowly flowed across the prairie for thousands of years. It is a slow-moving stream and is never in a big hurry except for in the spring, when the snow melts and water pours down its pathway. It has constantly changed its course over the years as it weaved its way through the rich land covered with prairie grass. In several places the river bumps into high bluffs adjacent to the river and is forced to turn back from the high ground. One of these bluffs is the land we now call Sherman Park. No other park in the park system has undergone more changes, or been host to more activities, than Sherman Park. Its long history spans a length of time from the days of the first automobile to the days of the space vehicles. It was born of one man's dream, and that dream has taken root and sprouted into a classic American park.
By 1900, Sioux Falls was a busy place, with new businesses sprouting up all over the prairie. However, some townspeople began to ask why the city did not have a park. "We need parks just as much as business" was the phrase that was often heard around town. The unofficial park for the city was an island in the Big Sioux River located just south of the area where the falls of the river were located. Located close to the downtown area, the island was originally called Brookings Island after W.W. Brookings, who first owned the island. Later it was sold to George Seney, an East Coast businessman, and the named changed to Seney Island. Many early-day events occurred at the island, including July Fourth events. Several organizations held picnics on the island, including one by a group called the Log Rollers in 1906. On May 15, 1906, the Argus Leader newspaper suggested to the readers that the time had come for the city to have a park to help promote the "Queen City of the West."
A park for the city was not far off, for on September 29, 1906, Mrs. Helen McKennan died. She was a successful and wealthy pioneer woman of the city, and one of her friends was E. A. Sherman. She made known to him that she wanted to donate land to the city for a park, and Mr. Sherman helped her prepare her will to comply with her wishes. She left to the city the land that would become McKennan Park. Mr. Sherman must have also been a park advocate, because he devoted the rest of his life to promoting parks for the city. He became the unofficial spokesman for a system of parks for Sioux Falls, and labored both in the media to promote parks and with shovel and hoe in the hot sun at Sherman Park.
On October 2, 1906, Sherman requested that the City Council appoint a Park Commission. This request went nowhere, so Sherman must have felt that he needed to be elected to the Council to get anywhere with new parks. In 1907, he ran for the City Council and was elected. He immediately set out to promote parks, and in 1908 organized the first "City Beautiful" campaign. He was elected president of the Council, and was named chairman of the new Park Committee, which he had helped to organize. He was now ready for his next move, the creation of a new park.
In March of 1910, E.A. Sherman and his wife Katherine offered 52 acres of land to the city for a park. It was a wonderful piece of land, with the Big Sioux River winding its way through the land, and a high bluff located on the east side of the river. A large grove of trees graced the land along the river, and on the bluff overlooking the river were five ancient Indian burial mounds. Mr. Sherman had acquired the land in 1886, and said he felt guilty for enjoying the land for so long just by himself. In giving the land, Mr. Sherman stipulated that "no intoxicating liquors" be allowed on the grounds. The City Council accepted the land in July of 1910; however, the vote was not unanimous. This was a concern of Sherman's, and he asked that the Council reconsider its vote. He wanted the decision to be unanimous, but the idea was opposed by one of the members of the City Council. Sherman patiently explained the purpose for the park, and helped to calm the fears that the park would just drive up taxes. He also explained that the Sioux Falls Traction System, the streetcar line, would extend a line from Summit Avenue westward along 22nd Street to the park. In October of 1910, the City Council again voted to accept the land for a park, and named it Sherman Park.
In preparing to develop his park, Sherman must have realized that there was no local authority over a system of parks, other than the committee the City Council had appointed. There was no Park Board, and no legal way to create one. There were also no laws or ordinances dealing with park matters, and no way for a system of parks to generate revenue. In order to have the legal means to manage park lands, new state laws would have to be adopted. In 1911, E.A. Sherman was elected to the South Dakota State Legislature. For several years Sherman tried to get a system of laws enacted for the creation of park boards, and for the operation of a park system. In 1915, his parks bill finally passed and became law (SDCL 9-38-10). Sherman then turned his attention to the development of two parks, Sherman and McKennan parks.
Sherman had actually begun work at Sherman Park as early as 1911, planting trees and building roadways. At the top of the Sherman Bluff were five ancient Indian burial mounds, and Sherman laid out a road to the mounds that still exists today. On July 4, 1911, the Knights of Pythias had a celebration in the park, which was the first organized event ever held in Sherman Park. A new footbridge across the river was dedicated in 1911, with 2,000 people attending the event. This first project involving the river would mark the start of many years of trials and tribulations as the City tried to make the river behave.
In 1912, the electric motor streetcar line reached Sherman Park via 22nd Street from Summit Avenue, and many more people now had access to the park. The city built a concrete retaining wall along the river to protect the bank from erosion, and swimming and boating on the river became more popular. Many boats, canoes, and rafts plied the quiet waters of the river, and if you did not have a boat you could rent one for 25 cents per hour. While the river was not exactly Moonlight Bay, it was water in a prairie state, and many people enjoyed a boat ride on the river. The river remained unpredictable during the summer months, with not a lot of good swimming and boating due to low water levels. Swimming in the river at Sherman Park became very popular, and the river and beach served the city as the first swimming pool.
With all the boating and swimming going on in the river, Sherman decided to build a boathouse and bathhouse near the beach. In 1914, the buildings were ready for use, and the old swimming hole became even more popular. The swimming beach was located near the present-day parking lot at the South end of the Great Plains Zoo. There were band concerts held at the pavilion, and 20 fireplaces were built for the public. The park at that time was still covered with a wild undergrowth of brush and wild trees, and there was a lot of brush cleared out and trees removed. The person in charge of all this work was E. A. Sherman, and he turned 70 years old while clearing brush and building his park. Perhaps he realized it was time to take another step in the development of a park system for Sioux Falls.
Throughout these early years of the park, Sherman had been speaking to people about the need for a park board. He had several articles printed in the local newspaper, and he was always a willing speaker at local meetings of the day. He argued that for the city to advance as a modern community of people, it would need a committee of people who would promote parks for the city. The issue was finally put to a vote of the people, and on June 29, 1915, the people approved the creation of a Board of Park Supervisors. Accordingly, on June 6, 1915, the City Commission named the first park board, with E. A. Sherman, Astor Blauvelt, and Robert Wehling serving on the board. The first meeting of the board occurred on June 29, 1915, and Sherman was appointed president of the board.
One of the first things that Sherman did was to hire a caretaker for Sherman Park, who was to live in the park lodge house. The board also hired Carl Berry to serve as a lifeguard at the beach, and to teach swimming. A night watchman was hired for $10 per week for Sherman Park, and the board approved the first set of plans for improvements at the park. The Sioux Falls Band and the Moose Band were hired to put on several Sunday afternoon concerts that summer. In September, the board hired a boat and bathhouse caretaker for the beach area, with payment to be 40 percent of the gross receipts from the rental of boats and bathing suits. Perhaps this is the first indication on how popular the swimming area and the river was becoming.
In many ways 1916 was the most critical year in the development of Sherman Park, and the park system. On January 4, 1916, the board hired Fred Spellerberg to be the first Superintendent of Parks for the city. Mr. Spellerberg was only 28 years old at the time, and the board offered him $85 per month for the job. The board kept its new superintendent on a tight line, requiring him to get board approval for any expenditure over $5. Spellerberg was trained and educated as a landscape architect, and the city was fortunate to get a man of vision and dreams. He was the park superintendent for only seven years, but many of his ideas from long ago are still being implemented.
In January of 1916, plans for beautifying Sherman Park were drawn up by a Mr. Frank Nutter and accepted by the board. In February of that year the board purchased a new invention, a 1916 Ford automobile, touring body type, for use by the superintendent. For the sum of $465, the board began a connection with the automobile that would impact Sherman Park for many years to come. However, at that time teams of horses were used to do the heavy work in the park, and the board was always buying harnesses and wagons for the teams owned by the City. In March of 1916, the board awarded its first contract for work at Sherman Park, involving grading near the swimming beach. The firm of Fanebust Brothers was hired to move 4,200 cubic yards of dirt for 14 cents per yard, to be completed by May. This was the first of many contracts with the firm of Fanebust Brothers at Sherman Park. In April of 1916, Fred Spellerberg built a barn for livestock used at the park, which was located just west of present day 18th Street. On June 13, 1916, the Board of Park Supervisors met, but quickly adjourned "sans die" because they did not have their president anymore. Edwin A. Sherman had died, and the board passed a resolution of "deep regret and profound sorrow" in the loss of this great citizen of Sioux Falls.
In the fall of 1916, the Board of Park Supervisors awarded a contract to Fanebust Brothers for the construction of four bridge piers, a concrete retaining wall, and grading of the lower park road. This work was all in conjunction with the increasing popularity of the swimming and boating area on the Big Sioux River. The popularity of the swimming area is shown by the purchase of eight dozen men's and women's bathing suits for rental by the swimmers, at a cost of $1 per dozen. The increasing use of the area required a new bathhouse and dressing rooms to be built in 1918. The board continued to struggle with swimming in the river, and in 1919 a dam was built across the river in an attempt to improve the water depth. The beach needed to have sand hauled to it each summer, and the river level was always a problem. The old slide from on top of the bluff down into the river was condemned and dismantled in 1919, and the board continued to try and make the swimming area more acceptable. The low water levels of the river made diving dangerous, and one man was killed diving into the shallow water. The swimming area became such a problem that park superintendent Fred Spellerberg suggested that a concrete swimming pool be constructed, but it would be another 15 years before the first concrete swimming pool was built in Sioux Falls at Drake Springs.
With the coming of the Roaring Twenties, two significant developments occurred at Sherman Park. In September of 1920, Superintendent Fred Spellerberg spoke to the Board of Park Supervisors regarding his idea for a golf course at Sherman Park. Spellerberg told the board that this was a game with tremendous popularity in other states, and thought it could be very popular at Sherman Park. The board was not overly excited with the idea, and only gave Spellerberg $500 for the project. A six-hole course was laid out in the park, with a charge of 10 cents per round. By 1921, the course was already seeing 6,000 rounds of golf played on the rough little course. What Spellerberg wanted was more land, and the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, headed by Bishop Thomas O'Gorman, had land located south and east of the park. This was the location of the catholic Columbus College, which had moved to Sioux Falls from Chamberlain, South Dakota, in 1921. In 1922, the board leased 40 acres of land for 5 years for a golf course. The rent was $180 yearly, but did not include use of the college buildings. The lease also allowed free use of the course by the faculty of the college, which must have been the first "perk" that was offered to the professors of the school. This part of the course was located on the land where the Minnehaha Country Club golf course and the Veterans Hospital are today. The course continued to be popular through the 1920s until the new city course opened at Elmwood Park in 1931. The Columbus College closed in 1929, and all golf play moved to Elmwood Golf Course.
It was Fred Spellerberg's idea to bring golf to Sherman Park, and in 1920 he also dared to suggest to the board that the land from 18th Street to 12th Street, from Harvard Avenue (today's Kiwanis Avenue) to the Big Sioux River, be acquired for park purposes. This was a huge piece of land to consider as part of the park, and would have more than doubled the size of the park. The Board of Park Supervisors must have been stunned by the suggestion of acquiring such a large piece of land. Such was the vision of this young Park Superintendent. Although no action was taken regarding the acquisition then, the board would eventually acquire the land in 1929.
The other significant development at Sherman Park connects us back to that old Ford Touring Car that the board purchased in 1916. When Henry Ford and his Ford Automobile Company perfected the manufacture of the Ford motorcar, it put America on wheels. In 1921, the Board of Park Supervisors met with the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce regarding the development of a tourist camp at Sherman Park. This would be a site where the tourist could camp overnight for free, and would be a way to attract people to Sioux Falls. The shady grove along the banks of the Big Sioux River seemed like an ideal place to pitch a tent, and the board began to develop that area of the park as a camp site. The county was asked to build a road from 22nd Street to 18th Street, since the park was still not in the city limits. In April of 1921, the county began construction of a road from 12th Street, which was US Highway 16, to 18th Street for access to Sherman Park and the tourist camp. The board decided to put the tourist camp on an island of the river, which was created by the bending course of the river. It was located on the West side of the river, and there was no access to it from the rest of the park. In 1922, the board received a 50-foot steel bridge that was donated by the Minnehaha County Commission. The bridge, which had originally been located in Hartford, was used to span the river to provide access to the tourist camp by the new automobile contraptions. The board contracted with Fanebust Brothers Construction Company to place 40 pieces of cypress wood pilings for the bridge to sit on. In 1923, a refreshment stand was built in the camp, and even a gassing station was added. The board decided to offer free camping for the first 48 hours, and $2 per day after 48 hours. However, the high cost of maintaining the campground cause the board to change the fee to 50 cents per car. A sign at the corner of US Highway 16 (West 12th Street) and Harvard Avenue (Kiwanis Avenue) advertised the existence of the campground for the tourist. The Guaranteed Tire Company was allowed to put a tourist road map in the campground, and electric lights and an access loop road were built. The cost of all this development caused the Board of Park Supervisors to ask the Chamber of Commerce for additional funds for operating the camp. Thus the City began a campground operation that would last until 1940.
In July of 1923, Fred Spellerberg and the board published a set of rules and regulations for the operation of the park system. Sherman Park was rapidly becoming an important asset for the city. One of the assets of the park was the swimming beach, and in October 1923 the City again contracted with Fanebust Brothers to grade the West bank of the river in front of the beach, moving 1,200 cubic yards of dirt. To help beautify the park, the Park Superintendent planted a peony flower garden, and trails that connected the lower part of the park to the upper part were constructed. These trails ran up the bluff through the trees, and would eventually become known as the Indian trails, and many a young boy would "run the Indian trails" at the park. It was fun for a boy to explore the trails, emerging hot and sweaty and covered with mosquito bites, and looking for a cold glass of Kool-Aid. These trails continued to be added to over the years, and still exist today.
Fred Spellerberg had worked hard to help develop Sherman Park, in some cases following E. A. Sherman's wishes for the park. In 1917, a bronze bust of Sherman by sculptor J. K. Daniels and the Roman Bronze Works of New York was created in his memory. The bust had been placed on a large piece of granite and made into a memorial at the park. It was located on the lower part of the park near the river. Because of flooding problems, the Board of Park Supervisors decided to move the memorial bust to the upper part of the park near the start of the old long slide that Sherman had built. In 1924, they appropriated $50 for the job, and told Spellerberg to prepare plans for a suitable memorial. Spellerberg drew a plan for a Sherman Memorial Outlook Shelter to be located on the top of the bluff above the river. Phillip Sherman, the son of E. A. Sherman, was contacted about moving the bust, and he also approved the plan. However, Spellerberg never got the chance to follow through with his plans. In December of 1924 he fell ill to a mysterious disease, and on January 29, 1925, he died after exploratory brain surgery by two Minneapolis surgeons. Spellerberg was only 37 at the time of his death, but was ahead of his time in park management and design. He has been called the architect of the park system, and on December 3, 1968, the Park and Recreation Board named Spellerberg Park after him. His ideas for a greenway around the city on the Big Sioux River are still being implemented today.
With the death of Fred Spellerberg, the Board of Park Supervisors was left without a Park Superintendent. This started a period of time when there was no one really in charge of the parks except the board. In 1926, the board did appoint one of the Park Caretakers, Mr. Dan Tremere, as Foreman of the Park Caretakers. The board and Mr. Tremere worked hard to continue the development of the parks without Spellerberg's presence, and in recognition of everyone's hard work during the year, Mr. Tremere was authorized by the Board of Park Supervisors in 1926 to buy all of the Park Caretakers and the office secretary a Christmas goose. Perhaps this was in recognition of all of the work they had done in the parks, and may mark the board's growing dependence on the caretakers in managing their respective parks. This would lead in future years to several misunderstandings between the caretakers and the board over lines of authority in the park system.
In 1927, the park Foreman was authorized by the board to regrade the road leading from 12th Street to Sherman Park. The board also learned that the city had a grove of young black walnut trees growing near the city water works, and a plan was developed to transplant the trees to Sherman Park and McKennan Park. Today, both of these parks have a fine grove of mature walnut trees, along with many happy squirrels. They are the only parks with walnut trees in the park system. In 1928, the board gave to the City the control and maintenance of Harvard Avenue (Kiwanis Avenue) from 22nd Street to 12th Street. This was done to help improve access to the tourist camp at Sherman Park. The camp continued to be well used, and in 1928 the board decided to build cabins in the park for use by the tourist. Park Foreman Dan Tremere was instructed to look over the grounds for a spot for the new cabins, which were built by the lumber companies of Sioux Falls. Eventually, the board would acquire 29 cabins for the tourist camp area. A night watchman was hired for 30 cents per hour to patrol the campground, and the roadway for automobile access to the campground was greatly improved. The final sign that the motorcar had arrived occurred in January of 1929, when the board sold all of its teams of horses and harness to the Riverside Stables for $125 cash. Horsepower was now found in the internal combustion engine.
With the coming of 1929, the Board of Park Supervisors took up one of Fred Spellerberg's original ideas. The land located North of Sherman Park was an attractive piece of ground for park purposes. In August of 1929, the board purchased 156 acres of land known as the Donahoe Property, by far the largest piece of land ever bought by the board. The board paid $34,300 for the land, which was only partially under cultivation. It was low and rocky in places, but did have a fine alfalfa field on a portion of it. The board for many years leased this land out for farming purposes, saving it for future park use. It was a wise sale of land for the former owners, for on September 29, 1929, the famous stock market crash occurred on Wall Street.
Despite the depression years of the 1930s, Sherman Park continued to improve. In 1930, the board sold the old barn that Spellerberg had built years ago for the livestock of the park. The new land North of the park was seeded to oats and alfalfa, and the entrance road off of 18th Street was leveled and beautified. This road was really only a wagon trail that E.A. Sherman had used, but now was becoming a city street. The board purchased 10 new cabins for the campgrounds, and decided to charge $1 for a single bed cabin and $2 for a double per night. A community house was built at the campground for the campers, and the nearby swimming beach was again improved. However, by 1931 the swimming area had become a problem. The area was still popular, with the City having over 630 swimming suits on hand for rental. But the river, with its shifting sands and flooding, was considered a poor swimming area. The drought of the 1930s reduced the flow in the river to almost nothing at times. The board began to think about a new swimming area with a more stable and dependable water supply. They had a number of areas investigated as possible swimming pools, including the old slough at Terrace Park. It was found to have a sand bottom, and was fed by springs through the aquifer. The Board of Park Supervisors decided to dredge Covell Lake and create a swimming area there, and in 1931 dredging commenced. Eventually a swimming area was developed at Covell Lake, including a beach and a bathhouse. Although the swimming area at Sherman Park would persist for several more years, it gradually declined in popularity with the public and eventually was closed. Another facility at the park that declined in use was the golf course. The course still used the land south and east of the park that was owned by the Catholic Diocese and used by the Columbus College. However, the City acquired land for a new golf course that became Elmwood Golf Course in 1931, and by 1935 the course at Sherman Park closed.
For many years various parks had displayed zoo animals for the public to enjoy viewing. Sherman Park began to develop a zoo in 1931, and dens and cages were built alongside the West side of Harvard Avenue, North of the 18th Street entrance to Sherman Park. Each year more cages were added to the free zoo, and many animals made the park their home. A den for the bears to winter in was even dug into the North side of the Sherman hill. By 1932 there were over 40 animals located at the zoo. The cages and pens were located close to the west side of Kiwanis Avenue where the picnic area is now located. This zoo would last until the 1960s when a new zoo was built just North of the old one.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was a terrible time for Sherman Park and the rest of the park system. Budgets were repeatedly cut, workers were laid off, and little new development occurred. In 1932, the Sioux Falls Kiwanis Club offered to plant trees alongside Sherman Park, from 12th Street to 22nd Street. Perhaps this is part of the reason why the street was named Kiwanis Avenue in 1932. By 1934, the federal government began to sponsor work programs across the country to "put America back to work." The Workers Progress Administration (WPA) had a project at Sherman Park that planted 15,290 tree seedlings, and provided new grading in the park and riprap for the banks of the river. These projects were designed to make the park more suited to public use, and the jobs they generated provided important paychecks to unemployed workers. In 1935, heavy automobile traffic on the roads of the park required the installation of posts lining the roads to keep cars off the turf. For many years these posts were painted again and again, and remained a fixture of the park until the 1980s when they were finally removed. The drought years of the '30s also affected the swimming beach, and in July of 1937 the beach could only open for one month due to low water levels. In 1938, the Sioux Falls Lawn Bowling Association requested permission to build a lawn bowling area at Sherman Park, to be located in the lower area near the river. The project was approved, and the bowling area was constructed, including lighting for evening play. The bowling green was located on the north side of the present giraffe building at the zoo. In 1939, the National Youth Administration of the WPA built a large decorative water fountain for Sherman Park, and it was placed in a formal garden called the Horseshoe at the park. This area was next to the lower entrance road into the park from 18th street. It was eventually removed along with the garden sometime in the early 1970s.
The drought that had gripped the area began to let up by 1939, and the Board of Park Supervisors had to buy dynamite to blast the ice jams on the river that was flooding the park. The YWCA received permission to build a cottage in the park next to the river for their camping activities. It was also decided that the old cabins located in the tourist camp near the river were no longer needed, and in 1940 the board decided to sell them. By this time there were several privately owned campgrounds in the area, and the owners objected to the City running a campground supported by the taxpayers. In 1942, the cabins were sold at an average price of $69. That ended the era of tenting on the old campground, and gas rationing during World War II closed many campgrounds nationwide.
By the start of the 1940s, Sherman Park was ready for more improvements for the public. In 1940, the final WPA project for the park cleaned the river channel of silt. The board also again discussed moving the Sherman memorial and bust to the upper level of the park, but again nothing was done. Several new proposals were considered for the park, including building an amusement park. In 1944, the board received a letter from Jessica and Phillip Sherman, the children of E. A. Sherman, pleading with the board not to make an amusement park out of their father's gift to the city. The board eventually rejected the idea, but did move ahead with several new improvements at the park. In 1947, the board asked the City Commission to approve a bond issue for raising funds for various improvements at the park, including a supervised playground located west of the walnut grove. Prior to this time, the upper part of Sherman Park had never been developed, with all of the attention being paid to the lower area of the park near the river. The board began to open up the upper portion of the park, providing new picnic tables, play equipment, and even a large gas stove area for cooking. The gas stove became a popular place, and in later years people would actually use the stove for canning fruit and vegetables until the City caught on and stopped it. In 1947, a new restroom was built in the upper portion of the park near the intersection of 22nd Street and Kiwanis Avenue. The building was built by the Bruns Construction Company for $5,598, and lasted until 1996 when it was replaced with a new restroom. In 1948, the old bridge across the river to the former tourist camp was removed, thus ending the campsite that was built for the motoring public. In the fall of 1948, the board met with a group of interested citizens regarding conditions at the Sherman Park Zoo. The people attending this meeting thought the zoo animals should be housed in better quarters, and the board promised that they would do what they could. This may have been the early start of a movement toward a better zoo for the park. There was a lot of unused parkland located north of the main park, and several possibilities were considered for it, included a garbage dump. The board had farmed the land for many years, with much of the farming actually being leased to the Delbridge family. The land was mainly pasture land that was cut for hay for feed for the zoo animals.
In May of 1951, the west side of Kiwanis Avenue alongside Sherman Park had curb and gutter installed on it from 18th Street to 15th Street. A more modern look for the park began in the 1950s as roads received curb and gutter and asphalt paving. In April of 1955, the spur road that ran directly from Kiwanis Avenue to the top of the Sherman Park hill was closed, and the loop road at the top of the hill was paved. The big hill was turned into a sledding hill during the winter, and a boy with his Flexible Flyer sled became a common sight as they zoomed down the hill. A winter ice skating rink was built north of the zoo in 1954, and the board paid $991 for an old ramshackle building to serve as a warming house for the skating rink. In 1954, the old caretaker's house that E.A. Sherman had built on the top of the bluff was converted from coal heat to natural gas, and the garage was torn down and replaced with a three-stall garage and workshop.
In 1955, the board again discussed moving the Sherman bust to a new memorial in upper Sherman Park, but took no action pending more information on the plans for a new flood control project. This is the first indication of the massive flood control project that was proposed by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls. Flooding in 1957 caused damage in the city, and lower Sherman Park was flooded completely, including Kiwanis Avenue. The plans called for the river to be channeled and straightened, thereby eliminating all the twists and turns, particularly at Sherman Park. Fill dirt was needed to build the dikes, and the board considered digging a lake on the land located at the north end of the park before rejecting the idea. This project created three cutoff oxbows of the river in Sherman Park, and they became known to the park crews as first island, second island, and third island. The massive dike system cut right through the middle of lower Sherman Park, and left a piece of land stranded on the west side of the new dike. Gone forever were the swimming beach, the tourist camp, and the picnic grove near the river. The river had been tamed, and no more would pour out its waters onto Sherman Park.
In 1956, somewhat of an oddity came to Sherman Park. The prairie land of Sherman Park is an arid place, with limited rainfall. The waters of the Big Sioux River rise and fall with the seasons, but are never great enough to inspire the poet or the painter. The only boats ever seen on the river were the occasional rowboat or fishing boat. So, why then is there an anchor in the park, and not only an anchor, but one from a sea-going ship? The answer lies with the dreams of two men, Gordon Bell and John Foster. Both men had enjoyed summer days at the seashore during their youth, and wanted something nautical for the park. A 5,000-pound anchor from a 350-ton whaling bark built in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1858, was purchased by the men for the park. Although it is now far from the briny foam, the anchor reminds us of things like Moby Dick or swashbuckling pirates, of tidal rips and tall ships.
One of the attractions of Sherman Park has always been the wild animals that were kept in the park. Many of the early-day parks of the city had wild animals on display, but over the years they were all gradually relocated to the zoo at Sherman Park. The conditions of the cages and dens at the old zoo became a concern to the public, but the Board of Park Supervisors did not have the funds to build a new zoo. In 1957, the first Sioux Falls Zoological Society was formed, and a drive to build a new zoo began. In 1958, the Board of Park Supervisors resolved to allow the society to use the land north of the old zoo for a new, modern zoo. The zoo in San Diego was visited by a number of members of the Zoological Society, and the design of that zoo was incorporated into the new Sioux Falls Zoo. A fund drive was started to raise money for the new zoo, and volunteer labor and donated materials were obtained to help build the zoo. In 1963, the new zoo was dedicated and named The Great Plains Zoo. In May of 1968, a new children's zoo inside of the main zoo was opened. Over the years the zoo would grow and add new exhibits, always providing the animals with the best of care. The zoo has expanded into the area of the old tourist camp at Sherman Park, and the area is called the African savannah. A train ride now chugs through the old tourist camp site where the cabins and campgrounds were once located long ago, as well as the first swimming pool for the city.
As more and more emphasis at Sherman Park switched to the upper portions of the park, the area of the old swimming beach and picnic ground next to the river declined in use. The project to channel the river had left several stranded oxbows of the river, and the area became somewhat neglected. But on February 13, 1958, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, or the Jaycees as they were known, came up with a new idea for the park. They spoke to the board regarding their idea for a unique playground for children, equipped with unusual items for children to play on. The board asked the Jaycees to prepare a plan of their idea, and on May 12, 1959, the board approved the plan. The area was named the Dennis the Menace playground after the popular cartoon character. The playground was located at the south end of the lower portion of the park adjacent to an old oxbow of the river. In 1959, one of the first items brought to the park by the Jaycees was an F-89 jet fighter plane from the SD Air National Guard! That was followed by a 1915 Seagrave fire truck, a WW II armored personnel carrier, and an anti-aircraft artillery gun. Over the years the Park Department would continue to add play items to the park, always trying to use the unusual item at the park. By the 1970s the airplane, the tank, and the fire truck became too dangerous for children to play on due to sharp edges and rusting metal. In July of 1973 the jet plane was returned to the Jaycees, and eventually it ended up on private land near Newton Hills State Park south of Canton. The 1915 Seagrave fire truck was returned to the Fire Department and has been completely restored to running condition. The Park Department began to remove the other items, and by 1988, when the tank was sold, the area was no longer being used as a playground. The Dennis the Menace playground passed into history, and was replaced by the new children's playground at the new Sertoma Park. The land was turned over to the Great Plains Zoo, and is now part of the African savannah. The train ride at the zoo passes through the old playground, and perhaps the sound of children's laughter from long ago can be heard if you listen hard enough.
Sherman Park has always been evolving through the years, as old items fade from view and new ones appear. So it was natural that in April of 1958 the Board of Park Supervisors met with representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Junior Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of this meeting was to consider a request from the organizations to allow the construction of four new baseball fields at Sherman Park. The board approved the request, and a new era of competitive ball games was born. The baseball program was called the junior-junior baseball program, and had begun in 1938, with games being played at the fields next to Covell Lake. It was open to boys 12-15 years of age, and in 1958 the new manager of the program for the Sherman Park fields was Mr. Baltus Fritzemeier, then the coach at Patrick Henry Junior High School. The complex of four fields was called the North Sherman Park Athletic Fields. The fields were located North of the ice skating rink, and many wonderful games of baseball were played there. Many young boys, trusty Louisville Sluggers on their shoulders, would face a feared pitcher with a blazing fastball. Once in awhile (oh the joy!) you would get a base hit, and one would proudly stand on first base after scorching a single to left field! In the idyllic days of the late 1950s, a boy and his baseball glove were partners in the game of baseball at Sherman Park.
Since the early days of Sherman Park, people like E.A. Sherman and Fred Spellerberg had worked to develop the park. Sometimes we tend to think that the park began when E.A. Sherman purchased it in 1886. But the land had for many years before that been home to the native people who had roamed the prairie. They must have also enjoyed the view from on top of the bluff above the river that they had named Tchankasn-data, or thick-wooded river. They picked that bluff as a place to bury their dead, and four Indian burial mounds are located there high above the valley of the Big Sioux River. But who were they, and when did they visit this area? In 1962, in an effort to learn more about the mounds and the people who built them, the City decided to have the mounds opened. City Commissioner Earl McCart contacted the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion with a request for them to come and explore the mounds. In 1963, the second mound from the east was excavated. It revealed four skeletons of native people and the skeleton of a horse. The mounds were determined to be 1,600 years old by dating the carbon from bits of burned wood. The study of the mounds revealed that they had been built by a group of native people called the Woodland Indians, and in 1963 a state historical marker was placed at the site to tell the story of these early inhabitants of the prairie. In 2001, the Minnehaha Historical Society constructed a fifth mound at the site to replace one that had been destroyed. It is the westernmost mound at the site.
With the coming of the year 1964, the Board of Park Supervisors received a report on the bad condition of the old park lodge house that had been built by E.A. Sherman. For years the park caretakers who had lived there had fought a losing battle against time, as the house slowly decayed. In March of 1965, the old house was abandoned, and bids were taken to have it demolished. The adjacent three-stall garage was retained as a park repair shop for a number of years, but it too was finally removed in 2000. At one time there were houses in Elmwood Park, Sherman Park, Cherry Rock Park, Tuthill Park, McKennan Park, Terrace Park, Rotary Park, and Elmwood Golf Course that housed City park employees. The only house that remains is the one in Tuthill Park, which the Park Department makes available for weddings and meetings.
In April of 1963, the USS South Dakota Battleship sailed into Sherman Park. But of course it was not the actual ship, but the idea for a memorial to the most decorated battleship of World War II. The board met with a group of people headed by Evans Nord of KELO TV, and approved the idea of putting the memorial in Sherman Park. In 1962, the US Navy had announced that the ship was going to be scrapped, and a group of people began to work toward obtaining relics from the ship. The state of South Dakota became involved in 1965, and offered $100,000 of state funds for the completion of a memorial. The mast and anchor were placed at the memorial site in 1964, and work began on the remaining portions of the memorial. The memorial was completed in 1969, and since then many items have been added to the memorial. The USS South Dakota served with pride during WW II, especially early in 1942 when victory was not assured yet. There was no safe quarter then, no turning back, and no escape from the evils of war. For once upon a time, on a froth-filled ocean, bombs did fall, shrapnel did fly, and men did die. At the memorial today there is no twisted metal, no blackened bulkheads, no splintered decking. We do have a grand memorial to a fighting man-of-war and to its crew, who performed heroic deeds in the defense of its country. During the war, over 90 men lost their lives in combat aboard the ship, and today many of them sleep forever in the bosom of the Pacific Ocean. They lie near places with names like Guadalcanal, Savo Island, Leyte Island, and Okinawa. "Ah, never think that ships forget a shore or bitter seas, or winds that made them wise; There is a dream upon them, evermore; And there be some who say that old ships rise to seek familiar harbors in the night, appearing in the moonlight mist in their gallant splendor, and ever calling back to its old crew to sail with her again into the deep."
In 1967, the Park Board was requested to move the old lawn bowling green, which was located at the south end of the zoo, to Elmwood Park. The board declined to do this, and perhaps this was one of the first indications that the sport of lawn bowling was declining. By 1969, the old bowling green was in poor shape, and from this point on bowling on the village green gradually faded as an activity at the park. The genteel sport of lawn bowling, so popular at the turn of the century, came to an end at Sherman Park by the 1970s.
By 1968, Sherman Park was filling up with a variety of recreational activities. But, that was the year when a new street project brought the game of softball to Sherman Park. For many years, softball had been played on city-owned ground out by the city water works. There were four softball diamonds located north of the city adjacent to Minnesota Avenue by the City water purification plant. In 1957, the fields had been named Pat Wyman Fields after long-time softball promoter C.P. (Pat) Wyman. He had helped to organize the Sioux Falls Softball Association in 1924, and was the office manager of the City water plant near the fields. As secretary of the association for over 18 years, he was one of the founding fathers of the game in Sioux Falls. In 1968, the City and the State Department of Transportation announced plans for a new four-lane renovation project for Minnesota Avenue. The four softball diamonds were in the way of progress, and had to be removed. At first the fields were to be relocated to City land near Highway 38, North of the city, but it was determined that this location was not acceptable. The Park Board eventually approved a plan to locate four new fast-pitch softball fields at Sherman Park. A grant was obtained from the Federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in 1969, and fast-pitch softball came to Sherman Park. This started a tradition of softball at Sherman Park, and in 1978 three adult slow-pitch softball fields were added to the complex, along with the renovation of two old baseball fields for softball. A total of nine fields are now dedicated to the game of softball that was started by Pat Wyman in 1924. One of the fields at the complex was designated Pat Wyman Field in recognition of his efforts to promote the game. In 1994, the South Dakota Softball Hall of Fame was located at Sherman Park near the complex.
Perhaps Superintendent Fred Spellerberg saw the potential for ball games on the land where the softball complex is now located. He had suggested that the land be purchased in 1920, but the land was not purchased until 1929. However, the river channeling project of the late 1950s had stranded 18 acres of park land on the west side of the river on the south side of 12th Street. This was a heavily wooded area of old oxbows of the original Big Sioux River. There was no access to the area, and it had not been used for any park purposes. In 1984, the Park Board sold the land for a future housing development.
There can be no doubt that Edwin A. Sherman played a pivotal role in the birth of Sherman Park, and even of the system of parks for Sioux Falls. His memory had been kept in Sherman Park by the location of his bust on top of a large granite boulder in the lower section of the park. Several times the board had considered moving the bust to the upper portion of the park where it would be safe from the flood waters of the river. After channeling of the river in the late 1950s, the idea of moving the bust was forgotten. In 1988, the centennial of the State of South Dakota was approaching, and projects that would commemorate statehood in 1889 were being considered. The Park Department decided to create a new garden plaza for the bust as a commemoration of the state's centennial. A grant was obtained from the DAR to help pay for the cost of the project, and a design plan was created by the Southeast Area Vocational/Technical school for the plaza. The plaza was constructed near the lower entrance to the park, and it included a small gazebo to house the bronze bust of E. A. Sherman. The plaza includes quartzite stone cobblestones that were originally used to surface city streets during the early days of Sioux Falls. Perhaps the "Father of the Park System" once walked on these very stones as he made his way through the city. His memory is now enshrined in his park, where he first walked on the prairie sod in 1886. His later life was almost entirely devoted to park issues, both at the state level and in Sioux Falls. Sherman Park has become a salute to the man who, on a day long ago, walked up the bluff above the little river and perhaps gazed into the future and wondered what his park could become. It has become the most active, versatile park in Sioux Falls, and Edwin A. Sherman is indeed the "Father of the Sioux Falls Park System."
Hours of Operation
M-F: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.