#50 O.J. Watson Park – 3022 S McLean Blvd.
After rain and stormy weather. We finally got to park #50. We wanted to do something special for this visit. Enter our friends Rachel and Josh. Rachel’s dad, Dan, was Watson Park manager for four decades, he also served as mayor of Rose Hill and on the Butler County Commission. He started there in 1974 as a boat boy and retired park manager. This was his first visit to the park with his 5 year old grandson, Spencer.
Watson is a big park and features a number of jungle gyms. It also offers miniature golf, fishing, paddle boats, pony rides and a train ride.
Background: O.J. Watson Park was dedicated on May 22, 1965. Named in honor of former Park Commissioner President O.J. Watson, it is one of the largest parks in the City of Wichita park system. Prior to development, the site was four sand pits.
Dan, as you can imagine is a fountain of knowledge on the park. He talked about the changes he had seen over the years. He remembered the first train at the park was C.P. Huntington #51. It was built by Chance manufacturing in Wichita, they number each train in the order they are built. So do you wonder where train #1 is? We’re not exactly sure where train #1 is now, but it rolled down the tracks at Joyland for years. Speaking of Joyland, it’s predecessor was Kiddieland. (Where the Wichita Mall is now) When Kiddieland closed to create Joyland, they donated their ponies to Watson Park to start the program.
Speaking of the ponies, the barn near the ponies is the only remaining structure from the original farm that rested on the property along the river. It was donated by the Shepler Family. (Of Shepler’s western wear)
What we did: Dan joined us along with a group of people including. Rachel (Dan’s daughter), her husband Josh and their kid Spencer (This was Spencer’s first visit to the park.
Justin (Josh’s brother) and his family: Beverly, Stella and Sloane. Plus our friend Billy.
We all started with a traditional picnic on the deck overlooking the lake, which was full of people in paddle boats. With three small kids and the clock ticking down to nap time we decided to start with a train ride on #389 (This is the park’s 5th train since it opened.)
After walking around in the sun and warmth, it was nice to sit down. As we went around a turn on the tracks the train started bouncing. The conductor stopped the train and everyone got out. The wheels right beneath Jeremy and I, had gone off the rails (Jeremy thinking it was a sign, that we should lose weight) but Dan the train expert spotted a bad joint in the track which he said led to the derailing. A crew showed up to try and get the train on track, after a few pictures we decided to walk back to the entrance.
We crossed the train bridge and followed the yellow brick road to the concession stand. At one time the yellow brick road was actually made out of bricks, it’s now cement with a pattern in it.
Along the walk Wichita artist Geno Salero carved all the Wizard of Oz characters out of dead trees, which was a big hit for years. The gazebo above was originally at Naftzger Park. It will anchor a new meeting space in Watson. I know this is getting long so let me wrap with one more story.
Along the walk I mentioned the pumpkin carriage to Dan. At some point the carriage was deemed dangerous and was dismantled and sold to Rose Hill for one of their parks. (Do you remember I mentioned Dan was the mayor of Rose Hill?) It kept locals happy for a number of years until again, it was deemed unsafe. The pumpkin was once again dismantled and sold at auction to a collector in Rose Hill… where it still stands in the backyard.