The history of Grand Junction’s Whitman Park
Whitman Park, originally known as Maple Park in the late 1800s and early 1900s, has changed a lot since it was constructed as part of Grand Junction’s original plat from 1881.
On Aug. 1, 1917, its name was changed to Whitman Park, Museum of Western Colorado curator Zebulon Miracle said, in remembrance of a missionary, Marcus Whitman, who traveled throughout the western United States in the first half of the 19th century.
Historic Walking Tour information by the City of Grand Junction said: “Dr. Marcus Whitman and a guide crossed the Grand River just south of the park during the winter of 1842.”
All the names of the original parks have changed, Miracle added.
And local historian Garry Brewer confirmed that in its early days, Maple Park, now Whitman Park, “was the gem of the city,” used often as place for the community to gather.
The Park Opera House originally stood where the Museum of Western Colorado’s parking lot is now, Miracle noted. It was torn down in the 1930s after folks stopped using it in favor of the newer Avalon Theatre on Main Street.
“It was torn apart as a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project,” Miracle said. “Its bricks were used to build schools.”
Brewer said the opera house could hold up to 5,000 people, and in conjunction with the 2.5 acre park, it made for quite an active area within the city.
“Clear into the 1940s, it was a nice, well-used park,” Miracle said, but then Grand Junction’s population shifted and southern downtown was not as well-used. “Suburbs were favored after the war, and development went north.”
According to local historian Debbie Brockett in her book, “George Crawford’s Attic,” published in 2008, Maple Park was also known as City Park in the late 1800s.
“In May 1895, City Park was redesigned and landscaped with shrubbery, and in 1899, the park was finally seeded with bluegrass and white clover,” Brockett wrote. “Citizens were proud, taking advantage of the park for gatherings and celebrations. A bandstand was placed near the center of the park, at the cost of $208.”
In 1903, Brockett noted a visitor wrote to The Daily Sentinel, complaining that the park provided little comfort to travelers coming through Grand Junction by train. She also noted the park, even back then, was “often the stage for trouble,” with rough-and-tumble activities like fistfights and loud arguments.
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