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Olin-Turville Parks and the Arrow of Time
Over the years, many Madison residents and visitors to the area have discovered the natural beauty and fell in love with the unique setting of the lands that comprise Olin Park and Turville Point Conservation Park. Madison is fortunate that these two unique parcels of land have survived through time to retain much of the natural beauty they had in the past. Together, the two parks have the largest city-owned contiguous public lakeshore in Madison. The undulating glacial topography of these parks remains much the same as it was when the last glacier receded about 12,000 years ago. Only the UW Arboretum and the UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve can offer comparable natural beauty in the heart of our city.
The fate of these properties could have been different as the clock ticked through the arrow of time.
Farm for Sale
From January 1870 thru December 1870, Henry Turvill placed several For Sale ads in the Wisconsin State Journal to sell his farm on Lake Monona. Below is a typed reproduction of the Turvill advertisement as the PDF of the original newspaper ad can be hard to read.
VALUABLE FARM FOR SALE
A RARE CHANCE
IS OFFERED TO ANY ONE
wishing a pleasant home on the shore of Lake
Monona. I offer to sell my place, situated on the
south shore of the lake, adjoining the "Lake Side",
containing nearly 80 acres. I have been using
about ten acres of it as a garden for the last fifteen
years, which Includes a good orchard of choice
fruit in full bearing; also grapes and small fruits.
The grove of timber is the best on the lake, and is
estimated to contain about one thousand cords.—
The house, 27x34with wing 20x20, I built for my
own use. Also a good barn 30x40, granary, and
other out-buildings. I propose to sell on very
reasonable terms, as I intend to go South.
Links to farm for sale ads:
Below are links to some of the many Turvill 'farm for sale' advertisements that ran in the Wisconsin State Journal from January to December of 1870. Click one of these links and the entire newspaper page will open. Yellow highlighting will appear at the ad location on the page to highlight the word 'Turvill' to help you locate the ad on the page. If you have time, take a look at the other ads and newspaper articles on the linked pages. They are fascinating to look at. The newspaper reveals a little of what life was like in the Madison area a 150 years ago.
Note: If you have trouble finding the Turvill ad on any of the newspaper pages below, use the search button on the top of the page or type CTRL+F and try using one of the more uncommon words in the replica of the ad shown above. For instance, in the search field type in the word Turvill (but remember to spell it without an 'e' at the end because in the family name was spelled 'Turvill' until the early 1900's). This search method will not always work as some of the newspaper pages are poorly copied to PDF format and some words are difficult for the software to convert to text correctly.
It is not known why the farm was not sold during this time period. Perhaps Henry was asking too much for his farm. Even if he was asking a reasonable price, maybe no one could afford to buy it at the time. Madison went through some roller-coaster economic times from 1854 on.
Something that is interesting to note here is that Henry Turvill wrote in his ad that he intended to move South. Having immigrated from England in 1850 and then settling in Madison in 1852, it must have been hard to get through 18 years of Madison's harsh winters in comparison to the relatively mild winters in England. Perhaps, Henry was longing for those warmer winters back in England and was wanting to move his family far enough south of Madison to make winter more tolerable.
However, on July 10, 1871 Henry Turvill died at age 55 and his oldest son, also named Henry stepped in his place to run the family farm. The Turvill family stayed on the homestead for another 96 years until the land was purchased by the City of Madison in 1967. One can only imagine what this beautiful lakeshore property would look like today had the Turvill farm sold back in 1870. In all likelihood the land would have ultimately been subdivided and sold as residential lots.
In 1854, shortly after Henry first bought his farm on the South shore of Lake Monona he sold off a portion of the property which became the Water Cure, a combination spa, health facility and resort. The Water Cure fell into financial failure and closed in 1857. This property sat vacant for a number of years until 1866 when the original developers of the Water Cure came back to the property and refurbished it to become Madison's first successful summer resort hotel, Lakeside House. However, in 1877 this resort hotel burned to the ground and the Turvill family retained control of this property in bankruptcy proceedings.
In 1881 the former Lakeside House property was rented from Henry Turvill by the Wisconsin Sunday School Assembly. Then in 1882, this organization purchased the property from Henry Turvill. The property became known as the Monona Lake Assembly and quickly became a popular destination for two weeks each summer on the South shore of Lake Monona.
But 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. Had John Olin and other minority shareholders not pushed so hard for preservation of this property for public use, Olin Park could have become yet another lakefront subdivision.
Back on the Turvill farm during this same time period changes were happening. The children and grandchildren of Henry and Mary Turvill were growing up and becoming adults. Some choose to stay on the family farm and others moved to nearby farms or moved elsewhere but later came back to live on the farm again. More houses were built on the property for the family members who chose to live on the farm. However, larger plans were made for the whole farm to be subdivided someday to become a large residential subdivision. The Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society has the original copy of a planned subdivision of the property drawn in 1907. Residential lots and roads almost completely cover the entire property. The only provision for a public park on the property was a small parcel of land near the tip of Turville Point.
The historical record is incomplete on the details of how this proposed subdivision of the property came about and which family members were pushing for this outcome for the property. Henry Turvill (son of Henry and Mary Turvill) died in 1899. With so many adult members of the Turvill family living on the property in separate houses, it seems possible that there were differences of opinion as to the future of the family farm. From 1913 on many of Henry and Mary Turvill's adult children passed away and control of the property was handed down from one family member to another.
In 1951, Henry Lane Turville died. He was the last Turville to actively use the Turville farm to grow vegetables and flowers on the property. His son, Henry Qualtrough Turville Sr., continued to live on the family farm but he owned an office supply store and invested in rental properties across the Madison area. The other houses on the farm were rented to people outside the Turville family as the remaining Turvill family members passed away or moved elsewhere.
Others Have Eyes on the Property
In early September, 1929, the Tonyawatha Amusement Corporation proposed leasing Olin Park to construct a Coney Island style amusement park in Olin Park. The proposal included a large roller coaster, Farris wheel, merry-go-rounds, and other rides. The proposed amusement park would have required the cutting down of most of the trees along the Olin Park lakeshore to make room for the rides. On October 21, 1929, just days before the City Council was to vote on the lease offer, the developer withdrew the proposal under intense opposition from the public and said they would look for another site in the Madison area. Just days later, any further discussion of a Madison area amusement park quickly faded as the stock market crashed and the country entered the Great Depression.
In 1967, the City of Madison purchased the Turville property under the threat of condemnation through the eminent domain process. Henry Qualtrough Turville Sr. was forced to sell his family homestead and move off the property. The homes and other buildings on the property were torn down in 1968. The Turville lands were to become part of the proposed Monona Basin Project, a large lakeshore redevelopment project that stretched from the current site of Monona Terrace all the way to Turville Bay. 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.
Had the Monona Basin Project been approved by the city back in 1969, Olin and Turville Parks would have lost most of its natural looking environment with the construction of numerous roads, parking lots and buildings including a theater, recital hall, restaurant and a marina.
In 1979, a proposal was made to construct a new campus for the Madison Area Technical College on the former Turvill farm. MATC officials also wanted to include Olin Park as part of this proposed new campus. The proposal was defeated in City Hall due to lack of political and public support. 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. MATC built its sprawling new campus on the east side of Madison. The Turville farm continued to be mostly neglected by the city for a few more years until 1987 when the 20 year land use restriction ended. Shortly after this the new master plan preserving the natural beauty of both Olin and Turville Parks was finally approved.
However, from 1989 to 1993 a group of people pushed to create a large swimming complex in a portion of both Olin and Turville Park. The proposal was strongly opposed by many Madison residents who enjoyed the natural beauty of the parks and felt the proposed waterpark was not an appropriate use for such a beautiful natural area. Ultimately, Madison residents prevailed. But only after the creation of a charter ordinance that required a referendum vote on all significant development proposals involving lakeshore parkland.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Olin Park and Turville Point Conservation Park would not exist as we know them today had all these events not played out the way they did. Buildings, roads and parking lots could have covered a large portion of both lakeshore properties. Madison could have been left with far less public parkland on the Lake Monona lakeshore and none that exhibits better the unique undulating glacial topography with its hills, lakes, and streams that drew people to settle here for thousands of years.
After the last glaciers melted away, Native Americans enjoyed the natural beauty and abundance of the area for thousands of years leaving only subtle modifications to the landscape in the form of effigy mounds. In only 175 years, we as the new inhabitants of this area have continued to build up the landscape with ever more buildings and roads and parking lots.
What special places will be saved as the population of Madison grows in the years to come? Will Olin and Turville Parks remain to be the natural areas they are now or will yet another proposal come along to replace the natural beauty with man made structures? Maybe we should try to build up the blighted areas and other underutilized areas of the city that we have already stripped of their natural beauty and strive to preserve the few natural areas that remain. If we can work together to protect and nurture these remaining natural areas to the highest degree possible, future generations will surely thank us.
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