Established in 1889, this neighborhood park located by Lincoln High School is home to a significant tree collection similar in character to Wright Park’s. Lincoln Park is 10.41 acres.
In 1889 the Tacoma Land Company donated 40 acres of land for use as a park in the south end to the City of Tacoma. The park was originally known as South Park. In 1901 the Park Commissioners officially changed the name to Lincoln Park in honor of President Abraham Lincoln.
The original park included the land where Lincoln High School now sits and a deep gulch were the Lincoln Bowl is located. When Lincoln Park was dedicated, the gulch was described as a jungle of timber, underbrush, vines, and ferns indigenous to the northwest. Except for some level spots along the top of the gulch, the area was not a very promising prospect for a park
In 1903 opinions of Lincoln Park changed greatly. A newspaper article in the Daily Ledger describes Lincoln Park as, “one of the most picturesque ravines in the West” with “winding paths down deep gulches crossed by rustic bridges, nooks, and resting places along the way, beautiful green terraces, knolls covered with flowers and retreats for a city full of people”
Superintendent Ebenezer Roberts has resolved to build a big playground for the children such as the city does not have elsewhere on the level ground along Thompson Ave.
“It is to be a place that the children can call their own, where they will be free from the molestation of bluecoats and will not be admonished to keep off the grass. The playground is eighty rods long, with room for ball grounds, racetracks, swings and other sports. When it is cleared and leveled a little it will be in shape. Along the street side a hedge of flowers will be planted and inside this hedge the democracy of childhood will reign supreme.”
The article continues to discuss the many talents of Ebenezer Roberts and his work at the park.
“…these effects are secured by simply giving a pat and a prod and a nudge to nature here and there. Everything on the ground is utilized and improved. The rough knolls are covered with ivy or flowers. Old stumps are beautified. Huge rocks are exhumed and made to adorn the bypaths. A rustic bridge is made with two old logs for sills and cedar limbs for rustic sides. A pretty pond and a waterfall are arranged in the bottom of the gulch by piling up the rocks found there. By utilizing this waste material, so to speak, good results, the very best results indeed, are obtained at almost no cost.”
The article concludes:
“The gardening here is part of a general scheme for the entire park, with winding paths down the deep gulches crossed by rustic bridges, nooks and resting places along the way, beautiful green terraces, knolls covered with flowers and retreats for a city full of people. Already 200,000 cuttings of ivy, not to mention 5,000 bulbs, 3,000 rose cuttings and numerous beds of flowers, have been planted. The highest knoll in the park is to be a solid bed of rhododendrons and the school children are to be given the privilege of naming it. Altogether Lincoln Park, although common enough in Tacoma, to be sure would be the envy of almost any other city under the sun.”
A 1906 article continues singing the praises of Lincoln Park. The rose arbor and playgrounds for the children are impressive to park users and Mr. Roberts is now planning for more playgrounds in the other parks. The article notes that Lincoln Park above the reservoir will be improved this year and the parking along the water flume and bicycle track from there to South Park improved.
In 1910 the Park District purchased additional land near Lincoln Park and added even more to Roberts’ early playground area. A sandbox, horizontal bars, ladders, balancing rods, quoits, basketball courts, a limited picnic facility were added.
On December 6, 1911 the City of Tacoma (owners of Lincoln Park) turned over 15 acres of the park’s land to the School District to build Lincoln Park High School. The high school was completed in 1914 at the cost of $436,607.68.
The 1915 Annual Report of the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma states that Lincoln Park is located on Thompson Ave. between South 35th and South 37th Street and north in the gulch to the old bicycle bridge. A comfort station costing $3,400 is well underway. The display of flowers was improved by the addition of another large bed.An active and popular playground program was begun in the 1920s. In 1928, to encourage the outdoor theater movement, a platform was built near a natural amphitheater in the gulch. Virginia Greening Nisker shared this memory of her time at the playground:
“We had a play every week and practiced for it every day. It was performed in a little natural theater using the gulch where the stage was placed down the gully about 100 feet and rows of terraces provided the seating for the audiences. The plays were held on Friday evenings. We usually had quite an audience since there were so many young participants and all of the parents were the appreciative audience. We even put on a puppet play where we made the puppets andthe stage. We had many parades and shows involving pets, toys, dolls, costumes, special abilities, and talents. We had art competition, cooking, and sewing activities. There were small wading pools to play in, but when we became old enough we went over a little foot bridge to Lincoln High School and swam in the big pool.”
A 1928 newspaper article notes that 300 boys and girls took advantage of Lincoln Park daily during the summer. Swings, slides, sand boxes, and wading pools were available for tots. Croquet, horseshoes, volleyball, and baseball for the older children and group games for all fill the hours from 9:30 am to 8:30 pm.
In 1928, Tacoma hosted the annual ‘encampment’ of GAR Conventions of Allied Orders. The Women’s Relief Corps dedicated two bronze plaques and two trees in Lincoln Park to the memory of Clara Barton, famous Civil War nurse (English oak), and Viola Kenyon of Olympia, the first Washington and Alaska Corps department president (Chestnut oak). **
During the 1930s, Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers built walkways and other amenities: landscaped lawn and flower beds; drained the gulch and installed a storm sewer; installed a water system; built a modern community kitchen equipped with hot and cold water and outlets for electrical cooking appliances; built a comfort station and rustic bridges; a fountain and fish pool supplied with water flowing from natural springs were added; tennis courts, roadways, wading pool, and stone columns at the auto and pedestrian entrances were built; and playground and picnic equipment installed.
In 1940 the Park District agreed to lease the gulch portion of the park to the School District for the construction of Lincoln Bowl. The initial plans were opposed by the neighborhood because too many large trees would be cut down. The bowl was moved and the new plans approved.
One year later (1941) the Fawcett footbridge across the head of Lincoln Gulch from South G Street west to Lincoln Park closed indefinitely because of the construction of the Bowl. The bridge had been built in 1923 as a short cut across to the street car line on South G Street.
The Lincoln Lion’s Club was formed in 1946. This group raised money for various civic causes, such as Easter Egg hunts and ice cream for an all Tacoma Playfield Party at Lincoln. In 1948 they sponsored a pet parade with hundreds of dogs, cats, goats, bumble bees, goldfish, mice, 1,000 prizes, free ice cream, and free balloons.
Tacoma resident, George Washington Eldridge died in 1949. In his will he left $15,000 to the Park District for the establishment of a children’s park. He asked that the playground be named in memory of himself and his mother, Celestia Eldridge. The Park District chose to use his donation to purchase additional level property adjacent to Lincoln Park. The property was graded, seeded, and a softball backstop and field installed. The Eldridge Playground addition was opened in 1951.
The Park District entered into a six year lease agreement with Walter McHugh of Coast Contractors in 1954. For the fee of $60 a year, McHugh was able to use the Lincoln Park addition lying north of South 32nds Street to store equipment.
In 1959 the State of Washington began the construction of Interstate Highway 5. At that time it was referred to as Primary State Highway #1. Numerous easements were granted across Lincoln Park lands. A quit claim deed to the State of Washington for freeway purposes north of South 32nd and across Lincoln Gulch (from M Street to Delin) was signed. The Highway Department filled in the remaining gulch areas on either side of the Lincoln Bowl with fill dirt from the construction project.
In 1962 the Park District deeded the land for the Lincoln Bowl to the School District. Prior to this time the School District had a 99 year lease on the land.
A 1989 Community Development grant was awarded to improve accessibility at the park.
In 1990 a significant survey of trees was completed for Wright Park and Lincoln Park. The survey reported that Lincoln Park was a “family oriented recreational area with a rose garden, ball fields, and tennis courts. At this time there were 158 trees in the park, 39 different species, the majority of which were elm, red cedar, and Douglas fir.
According the Pierce County Assessor’s office, Lincoln Park’s original 40 acres are now owned and operated by Metro Parks Tacoma, the City of Tacoma, and the Tacoma School District.
** The GAR stands for the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the Civil War. There were posts in every state and several posts overseas. The organization held a “National Encampment” every year from 1866 to 1949.