History of Green Bay's Parks

Cooke Memorial Park

The Cooke Bequest

William D. Cooke left over 24 acres of rural land along the Fox River in the Town of Ashwaubenon to the City of Green Bay as a park memorializing himself and his wife, Ida. a William Cooke was a Green Bay resident and retired hardware merchant. When he died in May 25, 1939, he was active in Union Congregational Church, various local charitable organizations, and the Brown County Historical Society (of which he had been a charter member when it was organized in 1926). b Ida M. Cooke came to Green Bay in 1873 to teach in local schools, was active in the Irving library, a forerunner of the Kellogg Public library (eventually the Brown County library), and For almost 30 years whe was state treasurer of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Ida had died early in January of that same year. c The couple had no children. b

The executor's inventory lists the future park property as containing 24.27 acres more or less and valued the property at $5000. d The city accepted the bequest in September, 1939. e The estate was finally settled on February 11, 1941. The ruling, echoing the language of the original will, transfered

That part of Private Claim Number Nineteen (19) West Side of Fox River, and bounded on the North by the property formerly owned by the late L.H. Gilland, on the East by Fox River, on the South by Dutchman's Creek, and on the West by Highway No. 41 * * * to the City of Green Bay * * * to accept said land and incorporate it into its park system and maintain it as a public park perpetually. For the first ten years the City may rent the premises in whole or in part, and use the proceeds towards its development. The name of the park shall be Cooke Memorial Park, and the City shall place thereon and maintain perpetually a bronze tablet * * * f

The precise wording of the memorial tablet was given in the will and repeated in the court order. a f The memorial plaque was erected in honor of the Cookes as stipulated in the will. The tablet cost $450 g and may have been erected in 1948. For many years the marker stood at the right of the entrance from Broadway near the north side of the park. In 2001, after being refurbished and remounted, the tablet was moved to the east side of the park near the Fox River as Tom Sturdy's Eagle Scout project. h The cost of refurbishing, remounting, and moving the original tablet was $1900. i

There appear to have been either 2 or 3 houses on the property in 1938; the majority of the land was cultivated in small fields (or large gardens) with trees, probably an orchard, in the northeasterly corner. j The year after the estate was settled, however, a brick building on the land in question burned k and the Park Board requested that the $1000 insurance payment be placed in a segregated fund. l According to informal notes kept by the park department, a house was rented for $12 a month for a time, and the tenant was restricted to keeping one goat and had limited garden space. At the expiration of the original 10-year period, the tenants were told that the city was unable to rent this house because of the restrictions in the will. m People continued living in the house anyway, and by 1951 it was being cited as a health issue. n

Early Forays at Development

In 1945, the Green Bay Park Board attempted to rally support for joint development of the park with Ashwaubenon and the county. The board suggested that development could be facilitated by using county highway equipment. o The county park commission responded that they found the city's ideas to be a very interesting outline on improvements but that no highway equipment is available and the county park commission had no funds … beyond the heavy load we now carry on the maintenance of parks within the county. p The board's president, Enos Colburn, also wrote to town leaders advocating for a petition drive among Ashwaubenon citizens requesting such cooperation. Since a park, he wrote, will be an asset both to the city as well as the township [sic], and the county-at-large, I see no reason why the city of Green Bay should stand the entire expense of improvements in this park. q Later, in 1951, there were discussions between the City and County about the use of the property for a County golf course. [missing]

Nothing seems to have come of these efforts, since in 1954 the town wrote that Cooke Park was ideal for park purposes but has been idle with little development. Recognizing the difficulties of the city developing a park that was not within city limits, the town suggested asking the county to develop it – essentially repeating Colburn's earlier idea. r

Two years later, the Green Bay Outboard Club asked to put in a boat ramp on Dutchman's Creek and a 20 by 30 foot clubhouse. s This idea seems to have gotten serious consideration, but in 1957 the park board decided that due to the undeveloped condition of the park and the fact that we have given permission to the Museum Board for use of a portion of the park for a railroad museum, we find it inadvisable to put a ramp in this park at this time. t

The Railroad Museum

In 1955 a group including Harold Fuller and H. Weldon McGee approached the park board with a request to locate a steam locomotive as a memorial to the railroad men of Green Bay u in one of the parks. Plans were well advanced to create this memorial in Seymour Park by the fall of that year. v Over the winter of 1955-1956 these simple ideas were superceded by the possibility of a full-scale railroad museum.

In May, 1956, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin formally informed the city that it had been for some time interested in developing … a transportation museum and that Cooke Park would be an ideal site since the property was already in public hands and had easy access to the C&NW rail line and to the new expressway (Highway 41). A further advantage was the support from the Green Bay and Western Railroad, the Association of Commerce, the Railroad Fans, the Railroad Model Builders, the unions, the Truckers' Association and everyone we talked to. The Society assured the city that a museum on the site would not interfere with a future bathing beach, ball grounds, swings and other playground facilities. w

The Association of Commerce called a meeting May 14 at the Northland Hotel to discuss the proposal for a railroad museum with community leaders. x The Historical Society specifically proposed developing a National Railroad (or transportation) Museum on approximately ten acres of the park, confining its activities to the west half of the park so as to interfere as little as possible with the future development of recreational facilities on the river side of the park. y By the end of the month, the park board had unamimously endorsed giving the Society an easement for developing this museum z and by November an easement had been drafted. aa

For several years, the Green Bay Park Department was jealous of its right to someday develop Cooke Park as a recreational area. Already in the summer of 1956, the Historical Society felt it was necessary to assure the city that you will find that our plans do not extend as far toward the river as you suspect and would not interfere with any picnic-playground-beach area which the city might later develop. ab When the museum board, 3 years later, requested that the city allow the National Railroad Museum to use the balance of the property known as Cook [sic] Park ac the park board voted to inform the Historical Society that no building would be allowed outside the original 10-acre lease area. ad

As late as 1963, the museum's installation of a gate across the entrance road resulted in a flurry of communication asserting the city's rights ae — although no park development had in fact yet been undertaken by the city. City Attorney Clarence Nier intervened early in 1964 to suggest that a new easement should be drafted which will cover the current operations of the railroad museum. af The park board took until the fall of 1967 to officially allow the museum to fence the grounds, even then reserving the right of access for a possible future boat ramp. ag

In the meantime, museum operations had expanded dramatically. In the summer of 1960, the Brown County Board approved purchasing some 10 acres of land lying south of Dutchman's Creek from W.D. Cooke Park for use of the National Railroad Museum. ah The additional land would allow the museum to construct the rail loop which twice crosses the creek. John Torinus, who was then President of the railroad musuem, presented the plans to the park board on August 10, 1960; the board approved the idea at that meeting ai and the city council concurred six days later. aj With this change, the museum had expanded not only throughout the full area of Cooke Park but beyond its borders.

In 1962, detailed plans were presented for a build-out of the railroad museum which would utilize most of the park property. This plan included the depot and loop track as known today plus other features, such as a turntable and roundhouse, which were never constructed. ak At a meeting of the park board in January of 1970, Robert Schaeffer presented plans for the train shed. At the same time, Schaeffer reiterated the museum's desire to resolve the easement issues. Chet Miller, now head of the park department, told the board that there were no firm plans for other development in Cooke Park by the city; in particular, he said that a boat landing was not feasible at that time and that the staff did not believe it was a good site for a ramp. al

In December of 1973 a new lease agreement was signed, replacing the old easement. am As suggested a decade earlier, the new agreement was between Green Bay and the National Railroad Museum, Inc. Curiously, however, the committee learned that the Museum Board would like to have the State Historical Society take over operation of this facility an and the lease was drafted with a provision which would have allowed this. am In 1999, the city invoiced the railroad museum for payment of $26: $1 per year from 1973 to 1999. ao

When the Green Bay & Western's Norwood yard roundhouse and shops were shut down (as a byproduct of rail company mergers), there were discussions about either adding them to the museum or moving the entire musuem from Cooke Park to the Norwood yard (which is adjacent to Seymour Park). ap These ideas did not bear fruit, however; the museum stayed in place and the shop buildings were torn down.

The railroad museum and the Children's Museum of Green Bay in 2004 jointly proposed collocating the childrens' museum in Cooke Park. aq The Park Committee approved the request but the children's museum later changed their plans and decided to move back downtown to a new location.


a Copy of William D. Cooke's hand-written will, dated July 1, 1936. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. Had the city not accepted the bequest, the park would have been offered to Brown County.
b Copy of a page from the Green Bay Press-Gazette, May 25, 1939: Pioneer Dies This Morning; Retired Hardware Merchant Active in Civil Affairs The obituary lists 401 Crooks Street as the Cooke's home. A copy of a photograph from the Neville Museum shows the Cooke, Case, and Sorensen store in the 1870s located at 201 North Washington Street (at the NW corner of Washington and Cherry). PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
c Copy of a page from the Green Bay Press-Gazette, January 7, 1939: Old Resident Dies Friday; Two-Year Illness Fatal to Mrs. W.D. Cooke. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
d Copy of executor's inventory, dated July 20, 1939. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. (The current county land information website lists the park as having a little over 18 acres. See Property Tax Record for 2285 South Broadway, parcel VA-115.)
e Copy of a resolution by the Mayor and Council, dated September 5, 1939, formally accepting the gift. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. This is a copy of the certified copy of September 8 which would have been submitted to the court by the city clerk.
f Copy of the order of the court, Carlton Merrill, judge, dated February 11, 1941. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. At this time, highway 41 ran along the Green Bay–De Pere Road, or Broadway.
g Copy of letter from Esther Mye, secretary of the park department, to John Tease, city Comptroller, dated January 21, 1950. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. The letter itemized certain charges which had been incorrectly posted, including $450 to U.S. Bronze.
h National Railroad Museum. Remembering the Cooke's, Rail Lines, Fall 2001. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. Various letters dated from May through September of 2001 tracking the progress of Thomas Sturdy's project; before and after photos. PRF file Cooke Park/Railroad Museum.
i Invoice from Schlaefer-Martin Memorials; spreadsheet of project costs. PRF file Cooke Park/Railroad Museum.
j Aerial photography from 1938; http://maps.gis.co.brown.wi.us/geoprime/, downloaded November 24, 2010. The relevant portion was saved as a PDF copy.
k Copy of letter from Clarence W. Nier, assistant city attorney, to Board of Park Commissioners, dated August 18, 1942. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. This letter was in support of the board's August 10 request for segregating the funds. (See note k.)
l Copy of resolution by the Board of Park Commissioners on August 10, 1942, requesting that the money received from the insurance company … be used solely for the improvement of said park. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
m Copy of letter from M.G. Simonds to Henry Vanenkenvoort, dated November 30, 1949. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. Hand-written notes suggest that this was the third such letter. A formal eviction notice to Henry Van Enkenvoort was prepared on April 11, 1950, but (as the original is in the file) it was probably never served.
n Letter from Arthur Bosur, Chairman of the Town of Ashwaubenon Board of Health, to Marshall G. Simonds, Green Bay Park Department, dated October 12, 1951, communicating the results of an inspection by Ashwaubenon's health officer. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. The health officer's report is quoted as saying that the property was a tremendous fire trap, had a leaky roof, was infested with rats, and had no water supply In addition, the outdoor toilet [was] tipped over and not replaced. The family occupying the house uses a pail in the house as a toilet.
o Copy of letter to the Brown County Park Commission and Special Airport Committee, dated May 3, 1945. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
p Letter from the Brown County Park Commission and Special Airport Committee by its secretary, Cyril La Luzerne. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
q Copy of letter from Enos Colburn, President of the Board of Park Commissioners, to George Garrrity, Riverview Lumber, dated June 21, 1945. (Riverview Lumber was located a short distance north of Cooke Park along Broadway.) A similar letter from Colburn is addressed to A.F. Nelson. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
r Hand-written letter from James H. Smith, town clerk, to Green Bay City Council, dated April 14, 1954. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
s Letter from A.R. Evearts (on Marathon Corporation letterhead) to Mr. Simon, Green Bay Park Board, dated May 7, 1956. (This letter may have been a formal request following an informal presentation at the April 11, 1956, meeting of the park board, to which Evearts had been invited in March letter from Simonds.) PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. Undated sketch map of proposed boat launch showin 6 ramps at the mouth of Dutchman's Creek. PRF file Cooke Park/Railroad Museum.
t Copy of letter from M.G. Simonds to A.R. Evearts, dated July 22, 1957. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
u Letter from Harold E. Fuller (on letterhead of Norcor Manufacturing Co. Inc.) to Tom White of the Green Bay Park Board, dated September 9, 1955. PRF file Park Areas: Seymour Park.
v See Seymour Park.
w Copy of letter from Clifford L. Lord, Director of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, to Mayor Otto Rachals, dated May 11, 1956. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. (Highway 41 had been rerouted from Broadway to the new 4-lane extension of Ashland Avenue.)
x Copy of letter from John A. Borgenson, General Manager of the Association of Commerce, dated May 9, 1956. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
y Copy of letter from Clifford L. Lord, SHSW Director, to Edward J. Perkins, Chairman of the Park Board, dated May 22, 1956. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
z Copy of letter from the Board of Park Commissioners by Esther Mye, Secretary, to Clifford L. Lord, SHSW Director, dated May 28, 1956, reporting the resolution adopted on May 24. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
aa Unsigned copy of easement by Green Bay to State Historical Society of Wisconsin. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
ab Letter from Clifford Lord to M.G. Simonds dated August 14, 1956. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
ac Copy of letter from Harold Fuller, President of the National Railroad Museum, to the mayor and common council, dated May 5, 1959. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
ae Letters from Krieser dated August 15, October 9, and November 12, 1963, and notes of meeting held December 23, 1963. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
af Copy of letter from Clarence Nier to Vernon Krieser, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, dated January 20, 1964. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. The letter further mentions the desirability of dealing directly with the museum corporation (rather than the Historical Society).
ag Copy of letter from Krieser to Russell Winters dated November 8, 1967, reporting a motion adopted by the Board of Park Commissioners. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
ah Letter from John B. Roinus, President, National Railroad Museum, to Don Tilleman, President, Green Bay Park and Recreation Board, date June 2, 1960. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. The June letter indicates an expectation that the county would agree to the purchase; in a subsequent letter on July 18, 1960, to city attorney Clarence Nier, Torinus says, the County Board has approved purchase of lands south of Dutchman's Creek.
ai Copy of minutes of August 10, 1960, meeting of the Board of Park Commissioners. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
aj Copy of signed resolution of City Council, August 16, 1960. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
ak Copy of plans dated April 14, 1962; hand-written note says submitted to Bd. on 8-1-62 by Norbert Leibert. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
al Copy of minutes from January 19, 1970. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park. See also a letter from Robert Schaeffer to the city, dated November 5, 1969. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
am Copy of signed lease dated December 12, 1973. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
an Copy of minutes of park areas committee meeting of October 10, 1973, at which Robert Schaeffer appeared. Copy of Board of Park Commissioners minutes hand dated Nov. 1973. Copy of letter from Chet Miller to Mayor Thomas G. Atkinson and Common Council, dated November 12, 1973, forwarding the draft lease from the city attorney which the Park Board endorses. See also letter from Robert Schaeffer to Clifford Center, city clerk, dated August 21, 1973. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
ao Invoice dated March 8, 1999, addressed to Ralf Justin, National Railroad Museum. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.
ap Copy of letter from Richard D. Hall, Director of Public Works, to Dale Preston, Principal Planner, dated January 3, 1995, raising questions about costs and liabilities. A plan of the Norwood yard and documentation of other aspects of the proposal are included. PRF file Cooke Park/Railroad Museum.
aq Letter from Toni Burnett, Executive Director, Children's Museum of Green Bay, and Pete Chapman, Executive Director, National Railroad Museum, to Mayor James Schmitt, dated April 1, 2004, inquiring about necessary changes to the lease. PRF file Park Areas: Cooke Memorial Park.

Only annotated statements have been verified. Any other historical statements are unverified and based on personal knowledge or informal notes kept by the Green Bay Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department.
Last update: December, 2010
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