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History of Lake Park or McKinley Park

The lake on the west edge of Creston was originally built in 1874 by the C.B. & Q Railroad. The lake was forty-five acres in size and was created by damming up a creek that drained thirty thousand acres of land. The entire land area including the lake was an 80 acre tract.  They built it with the purpose of creating a Holly System of Waterworks. A 7 inch water main brought water directly to the center of town from the Lake. It provided water to the Round Houses and Machine Shops as well as many downtown businesses. A communication system was developed so the yard manager could tell the waterworks supervisor when more water must be sent up. In the winter ice was cut from the lake for railroad use between Burlington and Council Bluffs. All the ice used in Creston was also cut from the lake.

The original land area surrounding the lake contained a twenty-five acre grove of native trees. After the lake was built Creston Ice Company's owners John Hall and Herbert M. Spencer took over ownership of the land surrounding the lake. C. B. & Q Railroad Company was still indirectly connected to the lake. The two owners sold ice out of their business and both bred and raised horses as part of their livelyhood. Herbert lived at 600 South Park just across from the property. They came up with the idea of making a park for public use.

It took nearly 10 years for the pair to develop it. In their park was the grove of native trees. There were soft and hard maples, elm, ash, evergreen, birch and beech among others. In the center of the grove was an open area where the two planted pine trees in an arrangement that formed their initials. They built zoological gardens and an aviary. The zoo held bear, elk, deer, antelope, raccoons, coyotes, and wolves. The aviary held beautiful birds that had been imported from many different countries. (Twice Told Tales I p. 142) The ice company built driveways and put up a refreshment stand. Recreation included boating, swimming, and ice skating.

The Daily Advertiser reported on June 1, 1885 that after just two years of operation, the Creston Ice Company decided to close the park. They were having financial problems. The community urged them to open the park again and some suggested that they sell passes for using the park. A few weeks later they reopened it and at that time decided to sell family and individual passes for use of the park. Lake Park was still listed in the city directory in 1889 but in the 1895 directory there is no mention of the park. When it closed for park use is not known. Gerald (Pete) Smith remembers having to crawl over the fence that was put around the park to get to a small pond that was formed when the dam had been opened and the lake drained.

In 1901 the city bought the park and lake area that included thirty acres for the amount of $3,250 and then renamed it after the former president of the United States, McKinley Park.  When Summit Lake was built the dam was opened and the lake drained. It became a pasture for sometime until around 1919 when a community promotion was made to have the citizens of Creston vote to build the lake again. The community voted in favor of the project so sand was shipped in for a beach and they added a diving tower and slide. The diving board was 12 feet above the water and the tower with a stand was 35 feet high. (Our Own Stories p. 137) A bath house was built on the east side of the lake near the tower and slide. Unfortunately many homes surrounding the lakes had been built without the benefit of a sewage system. People started getting ill so swimming was discontinued and the beach was closed. The bath house then was used as the meeting place of the Isaak Walton League until it was torn down in the 1970's. (Our Own Stories p. 147-48)

In the the early 1900's the Chautauquas were very popular and included musical performers and lecturers from all over the country. An octagonal auditorium was built for these programs. The Creston Post of the American Legion took over use of the building when the Chautauquas died out. They had a floor laid for dancing and used the old stage for the orchestra. The dances attracted hundreds of people from all over. Since it was an unheated building the dances were only held in the summer months. The wooden building burned down in the spring of 1943.

Over the years other improvements were made to the park. The swimming pool was built in the 1940's. Other additions to the park included shelter houses, a band shell, playground equipment, horseshoe courts, trap shooting range, baseball field, girl scout cabin, and an all purpose court for tennis, basketball, and other games. In 1954, Mike Ripperger of Afton donated his 8 year old bear to the Cruzen Brothers (Charley and Harry) of Creston. They kept him in a cage at McKinley Park for all to see.

The Union County Historical Society now has their museum complex at the south end of the park. The pool has been rebuilt and plans are underway to build a skate park as well.


Ide, George A., History of Union County. Chicago: The S. J. Publishing Co. 1908, p. 264-265.

"Parks", The Heritage Collection Biography and History of Ringgold and Union Counties,Iowa. Unigraphic, 1888, p. 727.

"Creston Parks and Recreation" Union County History. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1981, p. 15.

Our Own Stories. Creston: Union County Genealogical Society, 1994, pp. 137, 147-148.

Twice Told Tales. Creston: Union County Genealogical Society, Volume 1, 1997, p. 142.

A Directory of Creston and Other Cities and Towns of Union County, Creston: Nixon Waterman, 1889, p. 111.