One of the points of pride that Sandusky residents have for their city is the system of parks, serving all parts of the community. This park system began with the founding of the city in 1818. In the original plat, three public parks were established south of Jefferson Street: Miami Park, southwest of Poplar Street, bisected by Miami (now Central) Avenue; Columbus Park, at Columbus Avenue and Monroe Street; and Huron Park, along Huron Avenue, southeast of Elm Street. All three of these parks continue to serve the people today.
Another of Sandusky’s original parklands lies near the center of that map. The original transcription attached to the plat map of Sandusky, filed in the Huron County Courthouse on June 5, 1818, declared: “Washington Square is hereby appropriated as and for public grounds parade or walk and is never to be obstructed except that part of it included in lines marked A-A which is hereby appropriated for public buildings for Religious, Literary, State, County, and City purposes but no jail or State prison is to be erected.” (The part marked A-A are the two blocks that now contain the Erie County Courthouse and the former Adams Junior High School.)
The Washington Square of 1818 was quite different than today’s Washington Park, but like today, it served as a central gathering place for the community. In its earliest state, it was simply an open ground that served as a public common, where people – and animals – congregated and roamed. Around 1843, however, the squares on each side of Columbus Avenue were fenced in to keep out roaming animals. A roadway was created on the north side, which is now Washington Row. Further improvements were made in the next few decades, and by 1875, when a law was passed barring residents from allowing their livestock to roam freely through the city, the fences were removed from the park (except around the high school).
The blocks dedicated to public buildings saw much construction over the years. The Academy Building was among the first to go up on the square, in 1828. Built as a schoolhouse, it was converted into the first Erie County Courthouse when the county was created in 1838. Some congregations built their churches on the square in the nineteenth century, beginning with a Methodist Church in 1829, followed by the First Congregational Church and Grace Episcopal Church in 1835, and the Methodist “Beatty Church” around 1837 (a building later acquired by a German Lutheran congregation). Grace Church and the Emmanuel United Church of Christ are the only remaining churches on the public square. A new high school opened for students in 1869 on the east square, serving as the high school until 1957, when it became Adams Junior High. The present Erie County Courthouse was built on the west square in 1874, and was substantially remodeled in the 1930s.
The beauty of Washington Park comes primarily from its horticulture and landscaping, the origin of which is often credited to William Dilger, perhaps Sandusky’s original horticulturalist. He was a landscape gardener, hired by the city to manage its parks and landscaping in the late nineteenth century, and led the way to making our parks a source of pride in Sandusky. Dilger designed Sandusky’s first floral clock around 1889, built an early bandstand in the park, and laid out walkways and flower gardens; he also supervised the planting of trees in the city, and designed the layout of the early Cedar Point park. He left Sandusky in the 1890s to become Superintendent of Parks in Detroit, where he designed Belle Isle and Grand Circus Park.
Although it is not known whether the tradition of floral mounds in Washington Park was Dilger’s idea or the creation of another, the commemorative mound has a long history in Sandusky; images from the Sandusky Library’s photograph collection show mounds from World War I and earlier. Today, Washington Park mounds continue to honor community events and service organizations. With the floral mounds, the gazebo, and, since 1935, the Boy with the Boot, Washington Park has retained some of old Sandusky while maintaining its importance for the people of today.