What it was like when Manistee was hoping for a riverside park in 1940

In 1940, city officials began work on a project deemed important to beautify the area in and around the river channel. In addition, this project would connect the two main bridges of the city via the construction of a new road.

However, even though these plans were put in place in quick succession, the project would not be fully realized until several years later.

In the early 1920s, one of the biggest issues facing the city was the beautification of the riverfront and ways in which the surrounding area could become more aesthetically pleasing to residents and visitors.

During this time, it was often mentioned in the pages of the Manistee News Advocate that buildings along the channel of the Manistee River needed cleaning as the area had become a dumping ground for trash of all kinds.

One such article, published in the News Advocate on May 11, 1926, paints a startling picture. Parts of the original article follow:

“Tin Can Alley has never had anything on the Manistee River as it runs through the town.

“It’s almost as if anyone has ever had trash, whether it’s ashes, tin cans, old stovepipes, rocks, broken bricks, old crockery, packing boxes, broken glass or whatever they didn’t know what to do with, threw it over the riverbank – and that’s what most cities make parks of their riverbanks.

Over the years, through the efforts of various groups and individuals, the riverbank has become cleaner with at least one of the areas along the river, located behind the cluster of buildings at 350-356 River St., turned into a park called Reddy Park.

In the 1930s, amid the upheavals of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration created a national reform program, called the New Deal, which set up a series of projects across the country as a way to restore the people at work and keep them employed. These projects have been managed by various agencies, including the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.

Due to the New Deal and these agencies, different types of infrastructure were built across the country and in Manistee County which saw the creation of streets, sidewalks, highways like the M-55 and the Coates Highway, bridges like Cooley Bridge, buildings like the Washington School. , the old Michigan State Police Station, Chittenden Nursery, and Manistee National Forest.

Due to the New Deal and these agencies, different types of infrastructure have been built across the country and in Manistee County which has seen the creation of:

• Streets;

• Sidewalks;

• Motorways such as the M-55 and the Coates Highway;

• Bridges like Cooley Bridge;

• Buildings such as the Washington School, the former Michigan State Police Station, the Chittenden Nursery; and

• Manistee National Forest.

Realizing the need to continue this type of work – in addition to the aforementioned need for beautification of the area surrounding the riverside – it was decided by the municipal commission to go ahead with a new project which will be located just north of the river channel. .

Plans for this project originally called for a road, or road, called Riverside Drive, which would run between the Maple Street Bridge and the Memorial Bridge. Other plans for the area included a park and parking lot that would also serve as space for a farmer’s market. Upon completion, the area would culminate with the name Riverside Park.

During the summer of 1940, the proposal was discussed by the city commissioners as well as those responsible for the administration of the progress of the works. All the parties having given their provisional agreement, part of the land in question was purchased by the city from the Père Marquette railway and official plans were drawn up.

An article published September 4, 1940 in the News Advocate details the steps being taken to make the waterfront project a reality:

“Tomorrow, city officials will travel to Grand Rapids to seek official approval for a massive WPA project that will include the development of a riverfront boardwalk and park and a farmers market. on the land between the Memorial and Maple Street bridges.

“The trip to be made tomorrow by the Commissioners and City Manager Otto Damrow will be to complete all the other details.

“The new route between the bridges will be a continuation of Fifth (Avenue) crossing Washington Street. The new paved road will then swing in a long curve along the river bank to join the Memorial Bridge approach. A curb, gutter and sidewalk will be constructed along the south side of the new road, and a railing will be erected along the river bank. Automobile parking space will be available north of the road and in the Washington Street area when not in commercial use.

“The entire area of ​​the park along the river bed will be landscaped.”

In addition to the park, parking lot, and road, plans for the area also called for a restroom to be erected just off Washington Street as well as a bandshell project where concerts could be held.

Although city officials have not received direct approval from the Works Progress Administration to begin work on the park, it has nonetheless been decided to begin the project later this year and next week we will look at the construction of this waterfront park project.

Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Museum. He can be reached by email at [email protected], or by phone at 231-723-5531.

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