Matter Park

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The Flowing well at Matter Park in 1919, after it was surrounded with cement steps and an iron fence
Before any of the land in Grant County had been set aside for use as a park, the banks of the Mississinewa River were a favorite spot for recreation and rest among the early settlers in the area. Some of the more popular spots in the county were the Sliding Bank and Dunn’s Dam near Matthews and Kidner’s Bridge and Rock Dam north of Gas City (Scenic Spots). Marion and Grant County were soon settled, and began to prosper. It was then, on September 19, 1892, that Phillip Matter donated the area of land to the city of Marion that has come to be known as Matter Park (Kingery).

Contents

Phillip Matter

Phillip Matter moved at an early age from Pennsylvania to Marion. According to his grandson, Bob Matter, “His primary interest was to own farms.” Matter owned about six farms in and around Marion. In addition to farming, Matter was involved in banking and construction. He owned a construction company which built several brick streets in Marion. Additionally, he organized the Marion State Bank, and was a partner in a Hartford City bank (Kingery).

Beginnings of Matter Park

Donation of the Site

Natural artesian well at present-day Matter Park, 1889
Around the year 1900, the Veterans Administration was in search of land to purchase. They decided to look into a fifty-five acre tract of land along the Mississinewa, which was owned by Phillip Matter (Smith 3). During this time, a well was drilled in hopes of securing a well of natural gas. Instead of gas, the drilling yielded a seemingly unending flow of artesian water. Upon this discovery, the Veterans Administration chose not to purchase the land, so it was donated, by Matter, to the city of Marion to serve as a park. Unfortunately, a manufacturing plant across the river drifted into the vein of water that supplied the well, and ever since a pump was required to extract the water from the ground. The water was then pumped to a number of different areas in the park. The natural beauty of the spring was destroyed by the installation of a pump, and later by a pavilion that was built over the pump (Allen).

The Next White City?

Gathering at Matter Park, 1909
Early in its development, it was considered to make Matter Park the next White City. White City, later known as Goldthwait Park, was a privately owned park located near the site of Fox Farm east of Marion on State Road 18. The Marion, Bluffton, and Eastern Traction Company founded White City, which sold concessions and had several amusement features such as a skating rink and boating (Scenic Spots). Matter Park was considered for such a purpose because of its ideal location and natural beauty, as well as the economic growth of Marion at the time. It was planned to build a dancing pavilion, which they would employ an instructor to oversee, as well as several amusement rides such as a roller coaster and a ferris wheel (White City...).

River Road Entrance

Until 1934 there were only two ways to get to Matter Park. “One of these was along the main street and the route of the principle state highway through Marion. The other took in part of a state road and a county road with some hills and sharp curves.” In 1934, however, the riverfront roadway that would come to be known as River Road was finished under the Federal Works Program. River Road stretched four thousand feet, from the residential area northward along the west bank of the river towards Matter Park.

The plans for River Road were drawn up in 1921 by L.V. Sheridan, Consultant of the Indiana Planning Board, at the request of Marion’s City Plan Commission with Henry L. Erlewine as Chairman. Erlewine requested a plan for a system of roads to connect the city of Marion to Matter Park by both banks of the river. Due to a lack of funds, the plans for the road system were not put into action. The plans were given another chance at being carried out by the government’s work relief program, which provided free labor to the city in order to build the road. The project began in December of 1933 with between one hundred and fifty and two hundred workers, beginning at the edge of the city and working their way to the park. The workers used a forty-foot pile of sand and stone to fill in the hills over which the road was to run. They used many wheelbarrows and 18 trucks to remove approximately thirty thousand cubic yards of earth. The road was finished in eight months, and was completed entirely by the laborers provided by the CWA and its successor, the FERA. The City only paid for the maintenance of some trucks, top gravel, and six culverts. Plans were then made to cover the roadway with blacktop or another, similar material (Oatis).

Matter Park Attractions

Children's train at Matter Park, 1958.
Over the years, Matter Park has had many attractions that have made it a very special place. Matter Park at one time housed the Marion Zoo, which was home to twenty-four deer, fifteen monkeys, banty chickens, twelve sheep, two raccoons, four peacocks, two foxes, one bear, seven or eight domestic rabbits, one rhea, one angora goat, a llama, and a lion (Cline). Matter Park also contained playground equipment such as swings, slides, merry-go-rounds, and monkey bars, lighted tennis courts, picnic facilities, a pool, a small train ride, and a roller coaster. In the winter, one could ice skate and sled, and in the summer play games such as badminton, volleyball, hopscotch, croquet, shuffleboard, table tennis, spud, horseshoes, and tagball. The park also provided opportunities for arts and crafts such as sewing, painting, clay modeling, woodcrafts, and drawing (River, Zoo, Parks...)

Decline

However, as a result of poor maintenance and a lack of funds many of the attractions of the park fell into disrepair, and had to be removed.

Zoo Controversy

The bear cage, ca. 1920
One controversy in the history of Matter Park was the Marion Zoo. In the 1970s, many claimed that the conditions of the animals in the zoo were deplorable and demanded that the zoo be closed, while others supported the zoo for the educational benefits and the tourism it drew from the surrounding area. Many people expressed concern about the cleanliness of the animal’s cages, although George Smith, the director of the Matter Park zoo, insisted that, “The monkeys don’t bring the paper cups into the cages. Most of the dirt in the cages is what the public puts in the cages.” Smith contended that aside from the people who insisted on pestering the animals, the environment of the zoo was no worse than that of nature (Cline). Despite the objections of George Smith, the City Council chose to close the zoo. Three years later, in 1976, the Committee For Zoo Development was formed to found another, self-supporting zoo in Matter Park. This effort however proved to be in vain, as there has not been another zoo in Matter Park to this day (Carlson).

General Deterioration

In the following years Matter Park’s appeal began to diminish. The zoo had been shut down, the pool had been demolished, the rides had all been removed, and the bandshell was falling into disrepair. There was neither enough money nor time to maintain the park in the way it would need to be maintained to keep it in the condition it was in during its prime. By the mid-1980’s, the central attraction of Matter Park was the cluster of softball diamonds. Matter Park was still the primary park in Marion, but it was not the same as it had been in earlier years (Smith 1).

Pool Closure

Matter Park Pool at its height, ca. 1950s
In 1990 it was proposed that the Matter Park pool be demolished due to deterioration and the expenses of upkeep. The pool had been built in 1924, and was beginning to show the wear of its age. Several renovations which would have had to have been completed to open the pool were repairing a leak in the roof of the bathhouse, fixing the water heater, the showers, and the toilets in the bathhouse which had not worked in years. The pool’s edges were cracked and chipped, and there were numerous cracks in the pool which were large enough to pose a threat to the health of swimmers. In the spring of 1988, the city filled the diving well of the pool with cement due to problems keeping the water in the pool, thus limiting the uses of the pool in the community (Barnes 2). The City Council voted unanimously to demolish the pool in May of 1990 (Barnes 1), and began the demolition in June of that year (Smith 2).

Steps Toward Renewal

Matter Park is beginning to return to the place it was in its heyday, a place where a family can go for a weekend outing, or one can go to escape the monotony of everyday life. There are also an increasing number of annual events and festivals taking place at Matter Park during the summer months. The end of June signifies the annual car show, Crusin’ in the Park. The fourth of July ushers in the beginning of Riverfest, a festival a raft race and a fishing contest, the Ethnic/International Festival is also held on the fourth of July, this celebration of diversity enables the community to learn about the different cultural groups that live in Grant County, the fourth of July celebration ends with a concert by the Marion Philharmonic Orchestra and a fireworks display. A recent addition to the park is the Riverwalk, a paved path for walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, and bikers that runs from downtown Marion to the center of Matter Park. The park also has several programs for children from tenths lessons to a summer playground program for children from ages five to twelve (Smith 4).

Conclusion

Matter Park came from a very simple beginning to being one of the most innovative parks in the state. However, after many years of neglect, the park diminished to not much more than a large open field with several softball diamonds. Now, through great community involvement, Matter Park is beginning to regain its past glory. The parks department is beginning to start programs through the park to bring the city of Marion together and instill a sense of community.

Works Cited

  • Allen, Glen: “A Touch of Nostalgia” Chronicle-Tribune Magazine, December 7, 19?? Barnes, Amy J.: “Council Oks park pool removal”. Chronicle-Tribune, May 2, 1990.
  • Barnes, Amy J.: “Pull Plug at Matter Park pool, says Slattengren”. Chronicle-Tribune, January 7, 1990.
  • Clime, Mike: Title Unknown. Chronicle-Tribune, Date Unknown.
  • Kingery, Tammy: “Matter Park: 100 years of memories”. Chronicle-Tribune, Date Unknown.
  • Oatis, William Nathan: “The River Front Boulevard at Marion”. The American City, September, 1936.
  • Smith, Sherie: “Parks: A look at Marion’s recreation facilities”. Chronicle-Tribune Magazine, June 23, 1985.
  • Smith, Sherie: “Pool sinks into city’s history: 60-year-old Matter Park Pool has seen Its last summer”. Chronicle-Tribune, June 26, 1990.
  • Smith, Sherie: “Sunday in the park: Circa 1900”. Chronicle-Tribune, Date Unknown.
  • Smith, Sherie: “There’s something here for everyone”. Chronicle-Tribune, May 2, 1999.
  • Author Unknown: “River, zoo, parks, pools make fun for the kids”. Publication Unknown, Date Unknown.
  • Author Unknown: “Scenic Spots”. A Century of Development, Date Unknown.
  • Author Unknown: “White City out of Matter Park”. Marion Leader, June 13, 1906.

Credits

This article was written by Jared Eib and submitted on January 9, 2002 for Mr. Lakes' and Mr. Munn's class.

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