Legion Memorial Park in Auburn Selected As Hidden Treasure By Heritage Nebraska
For the second consecutive year, a Nemaha County attraction was selected as a Hidden Treasure by Heritage Nebraska representatives.
Legion Memorial Park, Auburn, was nominated by Mary Kruger, Auburn.
In 2011, Coryell Park near Brock was selected after Kruger’s nomination.
Much of the following information is taken from the nomination submitted by Kruger.
The land was owned by Mr. Howe and Mr. Nixon.
In 1929, Auburn city officials became aware that the land was going to be sold. City leaders thought there would never be a better time or location to establish a city park.
In August 1929, a special election was called for September. Voters considered a proposal to allow city officials to use $6,000 in the city park fund or as much of it as may be needed to purchase or improve the former city park. The proposal was approved by a vote of 811 to 283. City officials purchased the property for $6,000 at auction.
“The city officials wanted to make the park not only a useful park, but a beautiful place for the city,” Kruger said.
City officials immediately went to work. They pruned and planted trees, made flower beds, built a fountain at the entry to the park and made plans for public usage of the park. Contributions of $1 and $2 were collected to purchase benches for the park. The Douglas fir tree south of the entryway was dedicated in April 1931.
The park’s original swimming pool was a project started by the American Legion. The pool, which cost $25,000, opened in June 1931 and was dedicated July 4, 1931, in conjunction with a picnic co-sponsored by the Legion and Chamber of Commerce. Opening day attendance was 1,016. At that time, the park became Legion Memorial Park.
“It was known nationally as one of the best designed pools in the United States,” Kruger said.
Playground equipment was made available for the park in 1934-35 north of the pool. The playground was removed when the current pool was built.
Buildings in Legion Memorial Park were constructed with native red granite and limestone rock from quarries west and south of Auburn. Most of the buildings were financed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s.
The picnic shelter, restrooms and three arched bridges were the first buildings to be constructed. The bridges were needed to cross the creek from the south side of the park to the north side. The bridges were originally designed to accommodate the horse and buggy traffic in the park which accounts for the narrow width.
The drainage of storm water was designed to be carried from the south parking lot area into the creek and through the park. To this day, it is still the way for the storm water to get through the park.
The entry way gate was built in 1938. The band shell, built for $7,000, was completed in 1940. It was dedicated Sept. 1, 1940, with a concert featuring the Auburn Municipal Band.
“It was the prettiest band shell of all of those built around the area. It is still quite usable today,” Kruger said.
The band shell has a lower level which was used as a warm place for the police officers in the winter and a dressing room for event participants in the summer.
The large steam engine fly wheel near the creek in the south edge of the park was owned by Western Electric Service Co. of Auburn. Western Electric provided electricity for Auburn residents until it was succeeded by the Auburn Board of Public Works in 1930. The fly wheel was contributed to the park and originally made into a lily pond. The pond existed for a number of years, then renovated into a flower bed, which eventually became a weed bed.
Restoration of the fly wheel was the Eagle Scout service project of Colton Shenefelt. His work began in March 2004 and was completed in September 2005. The fly wheel became a pond again with a water fountain feature and sitting area. The flowers around the pond are being replanted.
The tower east of the band shell was designed with a light at the top. It was to have water cascading down the rock tower and into the creek. As far as is known, the water feature never happened. However, the light was restored and put back in place. There were major improvements to the park in 2004 and 2005. The band shell, entry way gate and original lantern style lighting all underwent major renovation.
Years of neglect to the trees and general appearance of the park were restored to the original intent of “A Thing of Beauty.”
In the early 1950s, a World War II U.S. Army tank, an M4A3, was added to the park. The tank underwent a major cleaning and repainting in 2003, an Eagle Scout project completed by Andrew Boyd. The tank continues to be a major attraction for the young to climb on, photo taking and reminiscing. It is near the Nemaha County Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in May 2011. Expansion of the memorial was recently approved by the Auburn City Council.
In 1994, the existing swimming pool and slide replaced the original pool and bathhouse. It was placed at the site of the old pool with slightly larger dimensions. Cost of the new pool was $1.5 million.
The park is used daily for family picnics, church gatherings, music concerts, special events, class reunions, birthday parties and as a quiet place to rest.
The newer gazebo built near the skate park was the Eagle Scout project of Ben Billesbach.
Park Named To National Register
In 2005 Legion Memorial Park was designated as a National Historic Park site, the sixth such site in Nebraska. A bronze plaque at the entry way designates this prestigious honor, according to Kruger.
Legion Memorial Park is among six Auburn sites included on the National Register of Historic Places. There are 12 sites in Nemaha County listed. Two sites are in Brownville and one site is in Peru. The others are in rural areas.
The park is the most recent addition from the county on the National Register. The National Register was developed to recognize historic places that contribute to the heritage of the United States. To be listed on the National Register, properties must generally be at least 50 years old and retain their historic character.