Excerpt from The Annals and Scandals of Henderson County, Kentucky, 1775-1975:

In 1893. John C. Atkinson was elected mayor and soon appointed a committee, composed of S.K. Sneed and James E. Rankin, who reported on May 7, 1895, that the land above and adjoining the water works ground on the Ohio River could be purchased from the Barret heirs for $100 per acre, if bought for park purposes.

On May 21st, Mayor Atkinson was absent and sent John W. Lockett who read the following letter from the Mayor:

“Gentlemen of the Council: with a sense of profound disappointment in being forced to relinquish matured plans and a settled purpose, acting upon medical advice which necessitates a change of residence at least temporarily, I hereby tender my resignation of the office of mayor of the city of Henderson, and respectfully ask its immediate acceptance.”

“My original intention to present to the city the salary derived from the office during the period for which I was elected, or its equivalent, as a humble memorial of my father, the late John C. Atkinson, is observed, so far as the amount involved is concerned, in the proposition herewith submitted.”

Lockett then read a deed from the heirs of A.B. Barret for 35.36 acres of land to the city of Henderson for which they acknowledged receipt of $3536.12 from Atkinson. At the same meeting the council accepted the gift and officially named the park the “John C. Atkinson Park.” However, when the deed was filed on May 29, 1895, it was for 74.54 acres with an additional $3000 to be paid by the “Water Commissioners” over a period of four years. This land adjoined the tract bought for the water works (also from Barret heirs) in 1874 for $7438. One councilman commented that the park purchase was a better bargain than the $200 per acre they had paid for the earlier tract.

In 1901, Park Commissioner W.A. Towles made an annual report to Mayor J.E. Powell of his plans for the park. At that time driveways had been extended for two miles under magnificent forest trees and another half mile was projected. A pavilion had been built and, during the past year, a room had been cut off and properly furnished for the accomodation of ladies.

“On the elevated plateau, a driveway has been planned, and is now ready for use in a crude form, planted on either side with native trees of different varieties, alternating each other, so as to present when grown, a pleasing aspect … affording an opportunity to study nature and the nomenclature of our native forest trees. It is also contemplated to have a reserve nursery of young trees for those wishing to transplant them, either on lots or streets. Among other things there has been commenced a bed of ferns, where all the native varieties will in time be found… only ontarenate enthur to make sent, or to of refuge for the song birds, diamond in shape, 200 feet north and south, by 100 east and west… to be left untrimmed, forming a broad case from the ground up; this diamond is situated on the high ridge and divides the avenue in two parts.”

Whether or not Mr. Towles’ coppice for birds was ever developed is unknown. He could not see into the future when a swimming pool and golf course would take precedent over other forms of recreation. The Municipal Swimming Pool came into being as a result of W.P.A. The contract was awarded November 4, 1935, with Bernard Alves as architect and Newton Neel as engineer; and the finished pool was opened to the public on July 10, 1937.

At one time the park had the starting of a zoo, when the Yellowstone Park Commission sent two bears. The female arrived first and then a male was purchased for breeding purposes. A contest among school children for suitable names resulted in Virginia and Dare being selected-commemorating the first white child in America. Unfortunately, Virginia was too old for offspring before Dare arrived. During the Depression, it was decided food for the two bruins was too expensive ($4.00 a week) and they were offered for sale.


The Annals and Scandals of Henderson County, Kentucky, 1775-1975