The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABCs of Lowell History continues with a look at Island Park, a popular spot for family picnics and Fourth of July celebrations. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
Island Park in Lowell was once a popular summer destination. In the 1880’s local resident J. C. Train donated the islands in the Flat River south of Main Street to the city and Island Park began. Each year footbridges to the east and west banks were built to provide access to the park. In 1894, bridges were built to connect the lower three islands to the large upper one increasing tripling the size of the park. On July 4th, crowds of people would gather on the Island for patriotic speeches from the speaker’s platform and then they would enjoy a picnic lunch.
The Grand Rapids, Belding & Saginaw Railroad Company built trestle and footbridges in 1899. The train trestle can still be seen today. It was built across the north end of Island Park and in exchange, the Grand Rapids, Belding & Saginaw Railroad Company furnished two foot bridges along the side of it.
Island Park inspired the naming of local organizations such as the Island City Rebekah Chapter No. 282 of the I.O.O.F. They used Island Park for summertime picnics and meetings. In 1912 St. Mary’s Parish published the Island City Cook Book.
The 1926 Lowell Home-coming Jubilee included a picnic dinner at Island Park. No mention is made of Island Park’s use after 1926. The Islands were taken over by poison ivy. Several attempts to re-establish the park has been made over the years including in 1971 and 1980 but were never completed.
The following is a remembrance of the park by local resident Thelma Peckham Hahn:
The large island in Flat River, south of the railway trestle, often referred to as Island Park, was enjoyed by many people during the summer months. Lodge and Club picnics, family and church picnics were held there in spite of the mosquitos, flies, and a few water snakes. A Revival or community service was sometimes held on a Sunday evening before darkness descended.
Each spring after the flooding subsided, wooden foot bridges were constructed below, along the side of the trestle connecting the island to the mainland on the east and the west sides. There were wide cracks between the long planks, and railings ran along each side to protect the little children from the river. After that construction, the tall grass had to be scythed and the autumn leaves had to be raked and burned. The green growth was lush. Many wildflowers bloomed. A wooden platform in the middle of the island had to be reinforced each spring to accommodate the town band, political speakers and evangelists. A few long planks on wooden horses served as tables. After the 4th of July parades ended, the sightseers went to the island with their picnic baskets.