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Norwalk's Willow Brook Park hosted 'Grand Ice Carnival' in 1904

By HENRY TIMMAN • Dec 28, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Earlier this year I wrote an article about Willow Brook Park for the Discover Norwalk magazine, which appears in this newspaper near the beginning of every other month (i.e., January, March, etc.).

In case you’ve forgotten, Willow Brook was a park on East Main Street just east of Old State Road. It opened in 1904 and closed four years later. There were two lakes for canoeing, a pavilion for dancing and band concerts, a baseball park, and other amusements and diversions for people who eschewed Lake Erie amusements such as Cedar Point.

There was ice skating in the wintertime, even after the 1908 closing and until the middle of the 20th century, despite the diminished water supply for ice. When the park was being built early in 1904, there were the usual scoffers who felt that the ponds would never fill up. Then a rain came in early spring, bringing so much water that it ran over the lower dam near Route 61 and also through a special pipe built into that dam. As usual, there had been naysayers who felt the project was a waste of time and money.

Since writing my original article, I came across an account of a “Grand Ice Carnival” at Willow Brook Park on Dec. 20, 1904. This was the first time such an event had been held in Norwalk. Someone may have earlier considered having one on one of the two reservoirs at Old State and Woodlawn, known as Laning’s Lakes, but the extreme depth of the water would have made venturing onto the ice a risky proposition.

Going back to the first carnival in 1904, it was proposed to have skating and dancing with plenty of lights and music. Interurban cars were scheduled to run out East Main every few minutes, and it was planned to have excursion cars come from surrounding towns.

Publicity pointed out that the galleries on the pavilion had been reinforced and that the dance hall would be heated. (At first I had wondered if they planned to dance on the ice, but as usual, I didn’t read far enough in the news article.)

Well, despite good planning and publicity, the Ice Carnival was not as highly attended as the promoters had hoped. The skating was good, but it was a cold and windy evening and was very close to the busy Christmas week. Also, due to the high wind, they were unable to light the Japanese lanterns around the lakes. Those who were brave enough to attend had the chance to win a prize for best skating or best dancing.

Returning to Laning’s Lakes, there were the same skeptics when those were built in 1897. Dr. Edwin Morrill, a local physician, avowed that those reservoirs would never fill, and that a year after they were completed he’d be able to drive his buggy across their sites and not get the hubs wet.

Well, Dr. Morrill underestimated nature, for in much less than a year, the reservoirs filled and the city had a new and more reliable water supply than they’d had from the old site on the river west of town.

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DON’T FORGET! My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

 

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

 

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