Carson Park is a city park located on about 134 acres on the West Side of Eau Claire, surrounded on three sides by an oxbow lake that once formed a bend in the Chippewa River. The park, being almost completely surrounded by water is thus occasionally referred to as an “island.” The park has been official open to the public since 1915.
Prior to its establishment, Carson Park was known under various titles. In the late 1800s it was referred to as Shaw’s Island, after Eugene Shaw, whose lumbering company owned the entire island in 1889. It was also known as Half Moon Lake Island Park and Horseshoe Island.
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Negotiating for Carson Park
The history of Carson Park can be traced to as far back as the late 1800s when several calls for more city parks were made by local newspaper editors. Several locations for a new park were suggested, including a piece of land then owned by the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company.
Between 1879 and 1891, several proposals were made concerning the area. One early plan set aside only 20 acres for park use, with 20 acres going to the Eau Claire normal school and 10 acres going to the City of Eau Claire for the purpose of laying streets. The rest of the land would have been used for commercial and residential development.
The principal problem with developing this area for any purpose, however, was that it was effectively cut off from the rest of the city by Half Moon Lake. Also, the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company’s offer was contingent upon the City of Eau Claire building a bridge across the lake.
In April of 1889, a fire left the island “completely burned over.”
During the 1890s talk about developing the island continued but no action was ever taken. One new proposal would have turned the “island” into fair grounds; another would have built a horse race track. In 1896, Eugene Shaw, son of Daniel Shaw and president and treasurer of his father’s lumber business, offered to donate half of the Half Moon Lake Island to the city if the city would build a bridge spanning the lake at Grand Avenue (then Bridge Street). City officials rejected this more generous offer, however, and did not build a bridge for another two decades.
A New Park is Born
In1914, the heirs of the children of William Carson, an area lumberman, purchased the land now occupied by Carson Park from the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company and deeded the land to the city for the express purpose of a city park in their father’s name. Carson Park opened to the public the following summer.
In the winter of 1916 construction of the elusive footbridge commenced at the spot where the current Carson Park Bridge sits today. The now-defunct Carson Park and Lake Club and the City of Eau Claire jointly funded the project. Automobile access to the park was obtained via Menominee Street, as it is also today. The new bridge afforded better access to the park. Locals previously reached the park by rowboat – a process which reportedly took hours when large numbers of people were present.
Carson Park Today
According to early descriptions of the original plat of Carson Park in the Eau Claire Leader, the original plans for the park called for the creation of picnic grounds, walking paths, playgrounds, and various athletic fields – all the while preserving “the beautiful park woods.”
The current park seems to have stayed fairly true to that original vision. Today, Carson Park has numerous attractions including two softball fields, a football field, horse shoe courts and two museums: the Paul Bunyan Camp Logging Camp Museum and the Chippewa Valley Museum.
Another main attraction that continues to draw a crowd is the park’s baseball stadium, built as a Works Progress Administration Project between 1936 and 1937. Since then, the stadium has been home to many minor league and amateur baseball teams, as well as several high school teams.
Over the decades, many major-league baseball players have played for an Eau Claire team, including Bill Bruton, Wes Covington, Andy Pafko, Joe Torre, and Bob Uecker. Perhaps the most famous, however, is Henry “Hank” Aaron, who played for Eau Claire during the 1952 season. A bronze bust of Aaron has been in place in front of the stadium since 1994.
For memories of Carson Park, see Carson Park - Student Stories.
“James S. Vail Sells His Island Property to the D. Shaw LumberCompany.” Eau Claire Daily Leader. August 6, 1889. “Half Moon Lake Island.” Daily Free Press. December 12, 1889.
“A Noble Offer.” Eau Claire Weekly Leader. June 29, 1891. “Now in Definite Form.” Weekly Free Press. July 2, 1891. “City and County.” Weekly Free Press. April 11, 1895. “Short Notes.” Weekly Free Press. December 3, 1896. “Half Moon Lake Island Deeded to the Public.” Eau Claire Leader. January 17, 1914. “Will Erect Footbridge.” Eau Claire Leader. February 11, 1917. “Carson Park Footbridge in its Making.” Eau Claire Leader. February 24, 1917 “Bridge Across Half Moon Lake.” Eau Claire Leader. December 10, 1916 “Carson Park and Lake Club Holds Annual Meeting.” Eau Claire Leader. August 23, 1917. “Carson Park Bridge is Now Assured Thing.” Eau Claire Leader. November 26, 1916. O'Brien, Christina. "Legacy of Leisure." Leader Telegram. June 19, 1999. Dale Peterson's Notes on Carson Park. On file with the Chippewa Valley Museum.