Riverside Park Has a Rich & Unique History

A pair of stone turrets mark the entrance to Riverside Park in Janesville, Wisconsin
A pair of stone turrets mark the entrance to Riverside Park in Janesville, Wisconsin

Purchased in 1922, Riverside Park became the city’s centerpiece filled with natural beauty and great recreation. This was largely owed to foresight and leadership of Mr. Henry Traxler, Janesville’s first City Manager, and Mr. Joe Lustig, City Engineer.

The park became the city’s outdoor recreational center with its artesian wells, playgrounds, wading pool, shuffleboard and tennis courts, ball diamonds, and eighteen hole golf course. Once there were even rides offered from a tour boat called the Silver Queen and a miniature train, the Riverside and Great Northern Railway. Over decades city residents and visitors from far and wide, were left with many great memories of a very beautiful and enjoyable place to visit.

The Riverside Park land was purchased for the sole purpose of fulfilling Janesville’s urgent need for a large park. Janesville was behind the times for park acquisition and development. The city was long overdue for a park for its people.

The land was perfect; up river away from the dust and noise of the city it had enough acreage for a golf course and park. The land was diverse with wooded areas, scenic river overlooks with room for baseball diamonds and picnic areas. The river even offered a lovely sandy spot for swimming and water recreation.

In 1929 the city began to develop the upper park area known as the Old Stone Quarry. The public works dept. installed the lovely stone steps we see today in the north end of the park. The steps lead to the upper Devil’s Staircase Path. The original or lower path leads along the river. It is still there today.

Riverside Park Through The Years

2015: City’s first Splash Pad opens
Janesville's only splash pad, Riverside Park

After several years of discussion and planning, the City of Janesville’s first public splash pad opened in the summer of 2015. It is located where the sand volleyball pits formerly were located. The splash pad area is about 5,500 sq ft, with the “wet area” measuring approximately 2,550 sq ft.

2006: Friends of Riverside Park formed
Friends of Riverside Park, Janesville, Wisconsin

The Friends of Riverside Park, a 501(c)3 organization, was established in 2006 to revitalize and promote Janesville’s historic and scenic Riverside Park. In the past decade the Friends have donated tens of thousands of hours (and counting!) and tens of thousands of dollars (and counting!) toward park improvements.

1990s: Wading Pool Closure
Janesville Gazette story on Riverside Park wading pool closure

In the 1990s, development in other parts of Janesville caused the springs that fed the artesian wells and wading pool to dry up. As a response the City of Janesville closed these once-popular features of Riverside Park.

1970s: Auto racing hits Riverside Park

During this time, miniature sports car races were held in the park.

1950s and early 1960s: Winter Fun in the Park

During these years the Jaycees ran a downhill-ski program, giving lessons to many Janesville youth. Riverside offered the best sledding hills in town.

1940s and 1950s: The Park’s Railroad
The Riverside & Great Northern Railroad, Riverside Park, Janesville, Wisconsin

The Riverside and Great Northern Railway, a miniature steam train, gave rides from 1940-1953.

1940s: The Silver Queen
The Silver Queen on the Rock River, Riverside Park, Janesville, Wisconsin

The Silver Queen, a large pontoon-type boat that launched from Riverside Park, toured the river.  It had a jukebox, a concession stand and could carry 150 passengers.  People loved to dance on the boat.

1930s: The Park Really Begins To Take Shape
1950s postcard of the artesian well in Riverside Park, Janesville, Wisconsin

Two beautiful artesian wells that fed into natural limestone pools were constructed. The children’s wading pool, tennis courts, and shuffleboard courts were added, along with the pavilions, bathrooms, and concession stands. Workers from the Works Progress Administration project built the south river wall and boat launch.

1920s & 30s: The Park Develops
Riverside Park, 1934, Janesville, Wisconsin

The park’s first two decades were filled with major planning and development activities. The roadways, baseball diamond, and golf course were laid out. The Devil’s Staircase hiking path was developed.

1922: The Park’s Beginning
Fog on the Rock River. Riverside Park in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Janesville purchased a naturally beautiful tract of land along the Rock River that would become Riverside Park. Henry Traxler, Janesville’s first City Manager, and Joe Lustig, City Engineer, developed Riverside into the premier park of Southern Wisconsin. Landscape architect Charles H. Lawrence was hired to design Janesville’s first regional park.