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History of McKinley Park

McKinley Park's strawberry hillOn April 11, 1901 the Tacoma Land and Improvement Company donated 22 acres on the east side of the City to be "…perpetually used and enjoyed as a public park." The land was named East Park. Crews set to work building footpaths and bridle trails throughout the park interspersed with flowerbeds and rustic seating.

Soon after the park was dedicated, President McKinley and his wife, Ida, planned to visit Tacoma. But Ida, who was epileptic, suffered a seizure while they were in San Francisco, and the McKinleys never came to Washington. Several months later President McKinley was shot by an assassin while attending the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition. He died eight days later on September 14, 1901. The next day Martin Hoveland, the foreman of a landscaping crew working in the park, said, "Boys, from now on, this is McKinley Park." Three weeks later, the Board of Park Commissioners adopted a resolution changing the name of the park from East Park to McKinley Park as a memorial to the country's 25th president.

Children cooling off at the swimming poolAt the time of the donation, the land was covered with a heavy growth of native trees, vines, and underbrush as well as wild grasses and ferns. Landscaping crews worked to transform the rough, steep hill into a scenic park. In 1903 an article in the Tacoma Sunday Ledger notes, "But in this park, as in the others, nature is being reinforced by art…. Every natural object that is beautiful and decorative is spared and improved. The common trees are thinned out, the beautiful dogwood, and the rarer varieties remain untouched. Everywhere there are fine little effects." A distinctive feature of the park was a natural spring along the upper edges of the park, which was used to build a large lily pond near the street and a concrete wall contained the water for a swimming pool for boys and girls to enjoy on hot summer days.

During the early development of the park, workmen fashioned the name of the park out of stones on the steep hillside rising up from South 30th Street. These stones were painted white so that the name of the park was plainly visible from boats and trains entering the city. The stones covered such a large area that they had to be removed as park development work progressed.

By the 1920s improvements at McKinley Park included a wading pool, comfort station (restroom), recreation building, volley ball courts, and playground equipment in the park's lower level. Unfortunately, attendance in the park's recreational programs diminished by the 1950s and the facilities and equipment were removed.

McKinley Park was significantly affected by the construction of Interstate Highway 5 or the Tacoma Freeway in 1962 along the northern border of the park.  This new interstate highway required the sale of four acres of the park to the State Highway Commission. When construction was completed in 1965, the roadway effectively walled off McKinley Park from a large portion of the city.

As part of the 2005 Park Improvement Bond program, McKinley Park's pathways were improved, a new restroom was installed, and new playground equipment draws children and families from the surrounding neighborhood to enjoy the beauty of one of Tacoma's first parks.

Further improvements were spurred by the Friends of McKinley Park, volunteer citizens who work tirelessly to improve the park removing invasive plant species, organizing work parties and improving park safety.