History of Carson Park
Carson Park, named after Eau Claire lumberman William E. Carson, is a 134 acre peninsula surrounded by Half Moon Lake. It is home to the Chippewa Valley Museum, the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, Carson Park Baseball Stadium, Chippewa Valley Railroad, a football field, softball fields, tennis courts, horseshoe courts, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, and more. Half Moon Lake is a great place to fish, canoe or kayak (no gas motors permitted on the lake).
Prior to becoming Carson Park in 1915, the peninsula had been used for recreation, lumber, and as a site for a hospital. People had enjoyed the area for recreational use since the 1850s, and by the end of the 1860s it was intended the land would be preserved as a park. However, an outbreak of small pox caused a hospital to be built. In 1873, the hospital was burned, and the idea of using the land as a park slowly resurfaced. On April 28, 1889, the whole peninsula burned. By that much of the peninsula was owned by the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company. The company purchased the remaining 30 acres it didn’t own from James S. Vail that August.
In the late 1800s, residents referred to the peninsula as Shaw’s Island, Half Moon Lake Island Park, and Horseshoe Island. During this time, local newspapers were calling for the creation of more city parks, and Shaw’s Island was on the top of many people’s list.
Do the people of Eau Claire realize they have within the city limits the best piece of ground in the state for a park? - Eau Claire Leader, 1899
Half Moon Lake posed a serious challenge for development. It effectively cut this prime piece of real estate off from the rest of the city. The Daniel Shaw Lumber Company offered a piece of the “island” for a city park contingent upon the City of Eau Claire building a bridge across the lake, but the offer was rejected. In fact, the City of Eau Claire rejected multiple offers of land on Shaw’s Island due to the added stipulation that the city build a bridge.
Dedicated to the Memory of
William E. Carson arrived in Eau Claire in 1874, and took over presidency of the Valley Lumber Company. According to an 1892 New York Tribune study, eight of Wisconsin’s 64 millionaires hailed from Eau Claire, including Carson. He was one of the wealthiest lumbermen in the Chippewa Valley. William Carson died in 1898.
Carson’s children purchased Shaw’s Island from the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company in 1914, and gave the land to the City of Eau Claire for the express purpose that a city park be created in their father’s name. Conditions of the donation included
- that all land on the peninsula be used as a public park,
- the park be properly maintained by the city for the use of the people,
- the park be named Carson Park and will not be given any other names,
- and the City of Eau Claire would invest $1,250 each year on beautification and improvement to the park until the total expenditure reached $7,500.
In 1915, Carson Park opened to the public.
From Then to Now
Since becoming Carson Park, it has developed into a place of recreation, sport, and culture.
When the heirs of lumber baron William Carson donated the 134 acres that is now Carson Park to the city of Eau Claire in 1914, they never could have imagined all the activities that take place on the scenic peninsula nestled inside Half Moon Lake. - Eau Claire Leader Telegram 9/28/2014.
Did You Know?
A billion years ago, this part of Wisconsin was the center of a mountain range like the Rockies. Over the course of 450 million years, wind and water flattened the mountains. Ocean covered the landscape, and the ocean’s beaches collected sand that later cemented into sandstone. About 200 million years ago, the area was uplifted for the last time leaving buttes and hills. From 2.4 million years ago, to as recently as 15,000 years ago, glaciers came and went. The glaciers flattened the hills, and rivers have shoved around the leftover debris, creating our distinctive natural landscape.
As the Chippewa River cut through the glacial debris into the stone below, it took a meandering path full of loops and bends through the relatively level, soft sandstone. Sometimes, a river loop gets cut off from the rest of the river as the main channel finds a straighter path. Half Moon Lake and nearby Lake Hallie were both formed in this way.