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John Olin’s impact on Madison, WI

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Tenney Park developed from marshland | Photo by @badgersbranchout

With the city’s recent announcement of turning the Lake Monona waterfront near Olin Park into a “must-see” destination, we thought it might be time to dive into another Madison legend.

Enter: John Myers Olin

The man dubbed as the “Father of Madison’s park system” was the first president of the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association, which was founded in 1894. At the time of the Association’s founding, the City of Madison only had one park. By the end of Olin’s career, the city had 229 acres of parks.

Olin worked with the city to issue the first bonds for the development of the parks. He was also responsible for John Nolen’s involvement in the city’s landscape architecture. Along with his civic work, Olin was also a graduate of UW-Madison Law School + a prominent attorney. You might recognize the Olin House as the current UW-Madison Chancellor’s House.

Parks developed under his leadership:

🌳 Howard Temin Lakeshore Path: The first project of the group — a bridge spanning Willow Creek to connect the new route of land.

🌳 Wingra Park: The 10-acre parcel — originally home to the Knickerbocker Ice Company storehouse — was developed with $200 from area residents.

🌳 Brittingham Park: Donations from Thomas E. Brittingham helped fund a public bathhouse and boathouse after private ones were lost after the park’s creation.

🌳 Vilas Zoo: Land donated to the Parks and Pleasure Drive Association from Col. and Mrs. Vilas was designated for the “purposes of a public park” + was named in memory of their son.

🌳 Tenney Park: The 14 acres of marshland was turned into a park with a $4,000 grant from Madison attorney, Daniel Tenney.

🌳 Olin Park: Originally called “Monona Park,” the land was used for the Wisconsin Sunday School Assembly before its purchase in 1912 for a campground.

In 1923, Olin Park was renamed in honor of the man who developed Madison’s parks. When the organization disbanded in 1938, the parks under its control were given to the city.

Today, the Madison Parks Division maintains 270 parks with over 6,000 acres of space for all sorts of outdoor activities. If you’re looking for your sign to get outside, this is it.

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