This article originally ran in the Aug. 10, 1952 edition of the Sioux City Journal.
Stone Park -- a magical name that conjures for several generations visions of past and present good times amid a natural setting almost unequalled in beauty -- has been an integral part of Sioux City's outdoor life for 60 years.
Still growing in popularity, the 900 acres of woods and hills are being discovered -- and rediscovered -- this summer by an increasing number of picnickers, naturalists, horseback riders and outdoor enthusiasts in general.
Stone park has been state owned for 17 years. Its varied and sometimes turbulent history from the days of the Indians through private, city and state ownership could fill a best seller.
Its present existence is peaceful, -- a quiet and magnificent peace that even the noisiest picnickers cannot disrupt, for the sounds soon are lost in the vast valleys and hills and in the dense woods.
In fact, one of Stone parks' greatest and most inviting charms is its magnitude as a picnic area. Most public parks put picnickers together in a central location, where one group rubs elbows with the next.
That is not true at Stone park. There are at least seven picnic areas, and each area itself has within it more secluded picnic areas far back into the hills. And for those who don't desire tables and stoves, there are hundreds of secluded, grassy and shaded spots for picnics on the ground.
Variety of Flowers
Stone park is comprised of some 900 acres of wooded hills and valleys, watered by natural springs. More than 70 species of wild flowers, the most unusual of which is the yucca, and wild life, including some deer, make the park of great interest to nature lovers.
In contrast to the smooth rolling prairies of north central Iowa, Stone park has a bold, rugged topography varying in 371 feet in elevation. The highest point is Mount Lookout near the entrance, which is 1,473 feet above sea level, and the lowest point is the Big Sioux river road, which is at 1,102 feet.
To Sioux City's older generations, Stone park brings back memories of the days when the area was privately owned, and hayrack party enthusiasts frolicked at the old Talbott farm to make the gay 90s more gay.
To younger Sioux Cityans, the park recalls the days of the awe-inspiring zoo filled with huge buffalo, lovable bears and comical monkeys. They remember with longing the many winding roads now no longer in existence -- such as the road to Mt. Lucia -- and the old picnic grounds, sometimes forgetting the disastrous results of a hard rain, or the sad effects of a dust storm.
To new Sioux City residents, and to the youngest ones, and to hundreds of residents from the surrounding territory, Stone park means loads of fun -- they are building up their memories.
152,000 Visitors in Year
Proof of the park's popularity are the figures reported by Henry Anderson, park custodian. He estimates that 152,000 persons used the park in 1951, an increase of 4 per cent over 1950. He forecasts a big jump in attendance for 1952, judging from the way picnickers are pouring into the park this year.
There are seven main picnic areas listed by Mr. Anderson -- the new open shelterhouse in Ricketts glen, Mabel's Kitchen on the road to the scout camps, the big picnic area, Dakota point, Elk run, the north side of Coon hollow and the south side of Coon hollow.
This does not include the closed shelterhouse, which may be used for a fee of $7.50. No reservations are needed for any other park areas.
Stone park may be reached from two directions -- from the Big Sioux river road which leaves Military road at the Milwaukee tracks in North Riverside, and from the hill road which leads off Broken Kettle road to Memorial drive, originating in Sioux City on Stone park boulevard. The trees along Memorial drive were planted in memory of Sioux Cityans who lost their lives in world war I.
Some Private Areas
The state conservation commission lists the park as containing 912 acres, whereas other sources state the park is 881 acres. The discrepancy may be due, said Mr. Anderson, to the inclusion of the boy and girl scout and the Salvation army area in the larger total. These areas are privately maintained.
The Boys of '68 cabin, located at the Sioux river entrance to the park, actually is not in the park area, but on the neighboring Miller farm, Mr. Anderson reported. The park's area is very irregular, he pointed out, giving as an example a farm on the Sioux river road which cuts back into the wooded area below Dakota point.
The park today looks much as it did after completion of an extensive project by a veterans' unit shortly after the state received the park from the city.
According to H. C. Kingsbury, who has been city park superintendent for 18 years, the city ceded the park to the federal government in 1935. As the government can't own land within city limits, Mr. Kingsbury explained the park was ceded to the state of Iowa. The city made the gift to the state, he said, because during the depression years the city council decided Sioux City could not afford to maintain the park. Before 1935 the city had 1,543 park acres to maintain, and at present has 742 acres, Mr. Kingsbury said.
Improvements by C. C. C.
Shortly after state ownership was established, a unit of the C. C. C., one of the depression-born government projects, was ordered to Sioux City to improve the park.
Newell F. Guernsey, Sioux City architect who at the time was with the national park service, and Ralph Smith, engineer, began to prepare for the C. C. C. camp in June 1935. The camp was built on the Miller farm property floors for some of the buildings still are in place.
The C. C. C. unit here, Mr. Guernsey explained, was compose of world war 1 veterans, although most C. C. C. camps maintained for much younger men. The camp, which contained an average of 200 men, was maintained until 1938, Mr. Guernsey said.
Accomplishments of the C. C. C., which still are in evidence, include sloping and sodding the clay banks, planting sumac, buckbruch, dogwood, native trees and other vegetation along the drives to five a natural effect and to reduce dust, and improving and blacktopping of raods.
Rustic bridges were built across ravines, parking and picnic area were put in, water facilities installed, and both the closed and open shelterhouses constructed.
The solid oak furniture in the closed shelterhouse, built by C. C. C. craftsmen, still is in excellent condition, and the fire screen built by a C. C. C. blacksmith a work of art.
Two Entrance Gates
Gates were built at both entrances, and the C. C. C. smoothed and widened the Memorial drive entrance, permitting the excellent view of three states from the point.
The road to Mount Lucia was closed, Mr. Guernsey explained, because there were too many roads to maintain and additional roads interfered with wild life in the park.
For those who enjoy walks in native woods, there are foot trails through the park. The bridle path, which Custodian Anderson claims is unexcelled in the state, winds to the top of Mount Lucia.
Some of the work of the C. C. C. was of permanent nature, and some was not. The rustic bridges were built for effect, and not durability. The state conservation commission ordered one dismantled this year, and another cannot be used until it is repaired, the custodian said. The rustic tables gradually are rotting and breaking down, and are being replaced by painted tables.
Maintenance of the park by state includes repairing of roads and picnic areas, mowing the grassing regions, keeping the water system in repair, and general cleanup. Mr. Anderson reported that the park has its own water system and sewer lines.
The custodian has served in the park for 12 years, and lives in the beautiful stone home at the north entrance of the park. The gates of the park never are closed, he said, although state law declares that state parks must close at 10:30 p.m. The entrances are kept open as they are used by nearby farmers.
Although the park facilities are not in use during the winter months, the park is kept open for winter sports lovers who want to make use of the snowy slopes. The shelterhouse originally was constructed as a year round bulding, but the water pipes were put too close to the surface and have to be drained to prevent freezing, Mr. Anderson reported.
Of Interest to Geologists
Geologists always have shown great interest in Stone park, for the loose bluffs which comprise the park once were eastern boundaries of an inland sea which years ago covered the greater part of the middle west. After the ocean receded, glaciers came and covered the land. Erosion, caused by melting glaciers followed by huge dust storms, built dunes of fine dust and dirt to create the rugged hills and deep valleys.
Stone park's immediate history goes back to the 1870s, and to one mae -- Daniel H. Talbot -- as colorful as picturesque an individual as ever came to Sioux City.
Mr. Talbot in 1873 opened an office here for buying land script which the government had issued to soldiers. He accumulated a considerable fortune, much of which he invested in land, including what is now Stone park, and an area extending up the Big Sioux river to what now is Westfield.
Mr. Talbot, however, wasn't popular with the farmers of that time. That is very understandable, for before the farmers knew what had happened, Mr. Talbot was owner of -- and had fenced in -- land on which their cattle had roamed free. In addition, schoolhouses had been constructed on the land he obtained, and he calmly hauled them off to the Stone park are for his worn use.
In retaliation, the farmers many times cut his fences and telephone wires. Mr. Talbot, incidently, was the first in the area to install a telephone system. It reached from his home in Sioux City to his seven houses in Stone park and in the area up to Westfield.
These events were related by Mrs. Lillian Ricketts Smith, curator of the Sioux City museum, who was reared in what now is Stone park, and who lived within the park until 1935.
Mrs. Smith's father, Richard M. Ricketts, a surveyor, entered the employ of Mr. Talbot in 1882. At that time the present park area was called Cosmos park, and there Mr. Talbot conducted experiments and kept buffalo, moose, caribou, deer and other wild animals. His deer and other wild animals. His experiments included attempts to cross buffalo with cattle, and attempts to raise hybrid corn.
His place in the park was a mecca for much social life in the 1890s, and many hayrack rides ended there with picnics or with dances in the Talbot barn.
However, Mr. Talbot's experiments were unprofitable and in the panic of 1893 his fortune was wiped away. Two years later he lost the farm through a mortgage foreclosure to Thomas J. Stone.
The area then, reported Mrs. Smith, was rented by her father and became Minnewauseka park. For a time, an attempt was made to make the area into a summer to make the area into a summer resort, and Tom Galbraith built a swimming pool fed by springs. But when the bank backing the project failed, the summer resort plans halted.
Mr. Ricketts, in the early 1900s, called the area Melhurst springs, and from the springs a lithia water was marketed.
City Acquires Land
Before 1912, a half section of the area was sold to the city by the Stone family for $20,000. In 1912 Mrs. Lucia Wright Stone gave what remained of Stone park to the city. When she died in 1922, the estate returned to the city the $20,000 paid for the first section obtained through purchase. Mount Lucia, incidently, is named for Mrs. Stone.
Mr. Ricketts continued living in the park until his death in 1935. He served as custodian and also was employed in the city city water department. When the state acquired the park, the Ricketts family moved.
No story of Stone park would be complete without mentioning the famous zoo which once attracted hundreds of wide-eyed visitors. The city began operation of the zoo about 1914, Mrs. Smith stated. At one time a great variety of wild animals -- buffalo, deer, monkeys, wolves and bear, were caged for the entertainment of the public. In later years of the zoo, only the bears, monkeys, a few racoons and some birds remained. These animals comprised the zoo in 1934 when Mr. Kingsbury became park superintendent.
When the city gave the park to the state, the city agreed to keep up the zoo. But the depression again affected the park, and the city decided it could no longer afford to feed the animals, so gradually the zoo came to an end and the animals were destroyed.
In 1940, when the present custodian, Mr. Anderson, took over his job, there were a few bears left, but by 1941 nothing remained of the once famous zoo.