Narrative History of Olin Park & Turville Point Conservation Park
Henry Turvill (original spelling) and his wife Mary came to the United States from the Town of Alton in Hampshire, England in 1850. They first settled in Ohio and then moved briefly to Canada before coming to Madison with four children in 1852. Madison was but a small village then.
They lived first in the 400 block of West Main Street. Being a descendent of a long line of English farmers, Henry Turvill purchased a large tract of land on the Southern shoreline of Lake Monona to start a farm and moved there in 1854.
Turville Farm and Homes, c. 1937
Henry Turvill sold off a portion of his property in 1854 to George Delaplaine and Elisha Burdick, two early Madison real estate speculators. They built on the site a healing resort called the Water Cure which was opened in 1855. This combination hospital - spa - resort provided various forms of hydrotherapy, a newly developing medical treatment advertized to provide relief from many medical conditions. The building had steam heat and hot and cold running water which was quite rare for most buildings at the time. The Water Cure fell into financial failure after just two years and closed in 1857.
Note: At some point the Water Cure ownership was transferred from Delaplaine and Burdick to J.B. Griffin. Henry Turvill's diary mentions Griffin and his account books show that the Water Cure purchased fresh produce, milk, cream, and butter from the Turvill Farm. The 1861 plat map shows J. B. Griffin as owner of this parcel of land.
For most of the next nine years the Water Cure sat vacant. Then in 1866, Delaplaine and Burdick came back to the property. They refurbished the former Water Cure as a summer resort hotel and renamed it Lakeside House. It became Madison's first successful resort hotel. Guests came from large southern cities such as St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans. Largely they came to escape the summer heat and humidity that was so common in the southern part of the Midwest. In August of 1877 Lakeside House burned to the ground and was not rebuilt. The Turvill family regained control of the property in bankruptcy proceedings. However, Henry Turvill had passed away in 1871 and his oldest son, also named Henry, had taken over management of the family farm.
In 1881, the former Lakeside House property was rented from Henry Turvill by the Wisconsin Sunday School Assembly. A large tent was set up on the property that summer for the first of what became many years of two week gatherings which provided a mix of spiritual and intellectual lectures and outdoor recreational activities. In 1882 Henry Turvill sold the former Lakeside House property to the Wisconsin Sunday School Assembly. A large wooden pavilion replaced the tent and additional structures were build on the property. The property became known as the Monona Lake Assembly and quickly became a popular destination each summer on the South shore of Lake Monona.
In 1895, the wooden pavilion was replaced by a 160 foot diameter circular auditorium with a seating capacity of 5000 people. This auditorium was built by J. H. Findorff and was one of the famous contractor's first major construction projects. The unique structure had no interior columns to obstruct the view. Most of the perimeter of the structure was fitted with huge garage door type openings. The wooden doors were probably mounted with counterweights and opened by lifting them straight up much like an old double hung window. This allowed light and fresh air into the structure when lectures were held but retained the capability to close up the structure in inclement weather and over the winter months.
By 1908, attendance at the Monona Lake Assembly had declined to the point where most of the shareholders of the property wanted to sell the property. A minority of the shareholders were concerned that the property would become yet another lakefront subdivision and a court battle ensued. In 1911, the City of Madison settled the court battle by purchasing the property for $40,000. The former Monona Lake Assembly grounds became known as Monona Park until 1923 when the name was changed to Olin Park in honor of John M. Olin who had pushed for public ownership of the property years earlier.
Henry and Mary Turvill raised six children to adulthood on their farm. They had four other children who died in early childhood. As the children grew to adulthood they helped with the farm chores and played on the gently rolling hills of the beautiful lakeshore farm. Except for the tilled acreage, which is where the prairie is on the property today, the landscape consisted of a mix of open grown oak savanna and woodlands with sedge meadows and marshlands in the lower areas. Though they had a few cows, some horses and chickens, the Turvill farm was not the typical Wisconsin dairy farm. Instead, they concentrated on growing vegetables of all kinds which were then harvested and sold at the farm and in grocery stores and market areas around Madison. The Turvill family grew almost every common vegetable including corn, peas, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga, and squash.
Over time the Turvill farm started growing more and more flowers to sell along with the vegetables. After Henry Turvill passed away in 1899, his brothers, Thomas and William continued the family tradition of providing fresh produce and flowers for the enjoyment of early Madisonians. William would travel by boat daily at dawn across Lake Monona with his boat full of fresh flowers to sell in downtown Madison. Area residents were welcome to visit the farm and admire the gardens and flower beds that made the farm look more like an English park than a Wisconsin farm.
The three adult daughters of Henry and Mary Turvill, Elizabeth, Mary, and Jessie, all married. Elizabeth married Albert Wood and had one son, Kent. However, her husband, Albert Wood, died in 1870 and Elizabeth moved from Kansas back to the Turvill farm to raise her newborn son and lived there the rest of her life. Mary married William T. McConnell and lived on a nearby farm by Lake Waubesa. Jessie Inwood Turvill married Reuben Gold Thwaites. Reuben was for a time editor of the Wisconsin State Journal and for many years was the superintendent of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The Thwaites lived on Langdon Street until 1894 then moved to the Turvill farm and lived there the rest of their lives.
Rueben Gold Thwaites became good friends with President Theodore Roosevelt when the president visited Madison a number of times to do historical research at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The Thwaites entertained President Roosevelt at their home on the Turvill farm. Reuben died of a sudden illness in on October 22, 1913. Reuben and Jessie had a son, Frederick Turvill Thwaites. Frederick grew up with a passion for geology. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin and became a geology instructor there. He also became the first curator of the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum. Frederick lived on the Turvill farm until his mother Jessie passed away in 1938 after which he moved with his family to the University Heights area.
William Turvill never married and passed away in 1916 and his older brother Thomas also never married and passed away in 1924. Henry Lane "Harry" Turvill assumed full control of the Turvill farm after all his brothers and sisters had passed away. He continued the family floristry tradition until he died in 1951.
The older generations of the Turvill family originally spelled their last name without an "e" at the end. However, after about 1905 the "e" was added. It is not known why the spelling of the family name was changed.
Henry Qualtrough Turville, took over the family farm after his father died in 1951. He did not continue the Turvill family flower business but instead owned an office supply store and invested in rental properties in the Madison area.
In 1967 the Monona Basin Project designed by William Wesley Peters was being proposed as an alternative to Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace. This proposed development was to extend all the way from the East side of Law Park across the causeway and included all the shoreline properties along the South shore of Lake Monona to Turville Bay.
In advance preparation for this proposed development, the City of Madison acquired the Turville farm property under the threat of condemnation through the eminent domain process. After months of negotiations with the city, Henry Qualtrough Turville Sr. finally accepted $895,000 for the property on September 1, 1967. The city had already referred the property to the Dane County Condemnation Commission as a final resort to obtain ownership of the property. Henry firmly believed he was forced into the sale with the threat of condemnation looming over him. All the buildings on the property were torn down shortly after the sale. However, by 1969 The Monona Basin Project died in City Hall from a prolonged political stalemate. The former Turville property was mostly neglected by the city for years. This was in part due to a signed agreement between the City of Madison and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation that restricted any development on the Turville property for 20 years.
In 1979, Mayor Joel Scornicka proposed that the new campus for Madison Area Technical College be built in Turville Park. To provide enough room for future expansion, college officials said that they would also like to include Olin Park as part of the proposed new campus. The proposal quickly dies due to lack of political and public support. Some say that the proposal was a political maneuver aimed at getting past a political stalemate over where to site the new MATC campus. The proposal did succeed, however, in raising enough public outcry at the possible destruction of this unique natural area that wheels were set in motion to create a master plan for the Olin Park and Turville Park areas that limited development at the two parks and designated Turville Park as a conservation park.
From 1988 to 1993 the City of Madison attempted to build city's first swimming pool complex at Turville Park. This pool proposal was not popular among area nature lovers. After a prolonged political struggle the pool proposal was defeated by the popular vote of Madison residents that created a charter ordinance that would require a referendum vote whenever a major development is proposed for public property adjoining a lakeshore. Madison eventually built its first city pool across John Nolen Drive from Turville Park In what is now Goodman Park in 2006 after it was approved by popular vote due to this very charter ordinance.
On June 2, 1998 Turville Park was designated a conservation park by the city and was officially named Turville Point Conservation Park. Since 1996 the Madison Parks Department has been conducting spring controlled burns in the park. These fires help to control invasive species in the park. Buckthorn and honeysuckle are very susceptible to fire and will be killed down to the ground by a hot fire. Oak trees are resistant to fire and will normally survive. Volunteers often go through the park before the burn to clear any major debris away from the oak trees to insure they are not damaged by prolonged fire due to debris accumulated near the trunk. In some years volunteers also hand cut buckthorn and honeysuckle that survived the fire in areas that did not burn hot enough. Much of the Olin Park and Turville Point Conservation Park land area was formerly an open oak savanna during the period that Native Americans were living here. Fire was often used by Native Americans to help maintain the open grown oak savanna habitat.
In the winter of 2009 the Madison Parks Department received a $10,000 grant from the Fish and Wildlife Service Private Lands Division This grant was used to fund intensive removal of buckthorn, honeysuckle and undesirable trees in 2010 and 2011. The brush and undesirable trees were mechanically removed in many areas of the park and the stumps were treated to prevent re-sprouting or mechanically grubbed out. While some areas of the park now look like they have been logged out and are much more open than before, this will allow sunlight through to the ground surface which helps acorns to sprout and young oak trees to get established. The increased light in the woods will also help native perennial woodland plants to get established. Some areas will be open enough to allow a gradual transition of that area to more of an open grown oak savanna where grasses grown beneath and between the oak trees. Many native woodland and prairie plant seeds have been spread in areas throughout the park and some of these plants are beginning to get established.
The former tilled acreage in Turville Point Conservation Park has evolved into a restored prairie. Many types of tall prairie grasses and other prairie plants have become established in this area. The prairie area is burned each spring when weather conditions permit. The prairie plants have now become numerous enough that seeds are now collected by volunteers to sow in other areas of the park where openings in the woods have been created from the removal of undesirable tree species.
Today, about the only evidence that the Turville Park was once a historic Madison family farm on the shore of Lake Monona are the faint rows of daffodils that poke up through the ground each spring to the delight of park visitors.
Note: Historical data for this document was obtained from the internet and from the following sources:
"Reuben Gold Thwaites Papers, 1843 - 1960" located in the Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
"Madison A History of the Formative Years" by David V. Mollenhoff
"Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume 1" by Stuart D. Levitan
This historical essay was written by Ron Shutvet, Madison WI.